Vivek Jain was standing in the rain outside President Barack Obama’s rally in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday wearing a red armband and collecting signatures for a campaign against one of the most influential Republicans in Washington–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. A softspoken and extremely articulate man who looks even younger than his 31 years, Mr. Jain is a doctor who also helps teach classes at Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s running as an independent.
“Both parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, are beholden to corporate interests,” Mr. Jain told The Politicker. “You’ve only seen the same kind of pro one percent policies from both parties despite their campaign season populist rhetoric.”
In addition to his medical, political and academic careers, Mr. Jain has been an active participant in Occupy Richmond.
“I think every American needs to identify themselves with values that Occupy upholds, for example, justice, democracy, equality,” Mr. Jain explained. “These aren’t limited to a movement. These are fundamental American values which have been undermined, especially over the last 40 years with what’s called neoliberal ideology.”
Throughout our brief conversation with Mr. Jain, we were interrupted by people who came up to sign his petition to put him on the ballot after being attracted by his sign that said “DISLIKE Eric Cantor? U.S. Congress Ballot Petitions HERE.” Mr. Jain had to turn many of supporters away because they didn’t live in his district.
An older black man promised to volunteer for Mr. Jain even though he didn’t live in the right district to vote for him.
“I’m willing to come up here and help you get elected, because I hate that bastard. I’m telling you he is the worst person in the world,” the man said of Cantor.
They exchanged email addresses.
The district in which Mr. Jain is running is solidly Republican and hasn’t had a representative from outside the GOP since 1971. Though he’s a longshot, Mr. Jain says he was compelled to enter the race because he believes his experience as a doctor gives him an important political perspective.
“I’m also a physician, so I’m a health advocate and I also recognize that health has social determinants. So, the environmental conditions, the working conditions, the living conditions in which people grow up and live, and work and play, they all impact a person’s health,” he said. “It’s very important that someone with a complex, nuanced understanding of health and these social issues really advocates for the people, because neither party is doing so at this moment.”
Mr. Jain also said he was motivated to run because he believes it’s important for regular citizens to take an active role in the political process.
“It’s very important to remember that no politician, no politician understands or will acknowledge that change happens from the bottom up, that change doesn’t happen from the top,” said Mr. Jaine. “It doesn’t happen from politicans or presidents doing stuff. It has to come from the mobilization of the public.”
Though his main focus is clearly Mr. Cantor, Mr. Jain is also dissatisfied with the Democratic challenger in the race, Wayne Powell, and President Barack Obama.
“Mr. Powell is unfortunately a very militaristic pro-Israel Democrat and that’s not what Americans need right now. We need someone who stands for the American Constitution,” Mr. Jain said. “Mr. Cantor explicitly, overtly doesn’t make any show of hiding the fact that he’s completely beholden to the financial interests. Let’s also remember that the financial interests also unfortunately backed President Obama. President Obama also hired the likes of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and has undermined any efforts to prosecute Wall Street fraud and white collar crime.”
With the election six months away, Mr. Jain is focused on securing a space on the ballot and challenging Mr. Cantor to a debate.
“I am an advocate for human needs and human rights,” he said. “I think, if Mr. Cantor will dare to have a debate with me, the public will see where the allegiances are. I’m with the people.”