At first glance, Ursula Rozum, who has curly hair and a pierced nose, seems more like your average late-twenties hipster than a congressional candidate. But Rozum was in Baltimore this past weekend to promote her run for Congress in New York—and to support Roseanne Barr as the next president of the United States.
While Roseanne’s candidacy may seem like a joke to some, it’s no laughing matter here in Baltimore’s Holiday Inn ballroom, home to the Green Party’s national convention. Whitley Newman, a delegate from Maine who also wears a nose ring, said she liked Roseanne’s “blunt honesty” and her stance on women’s issues and worker’s rights—and her devotion to the macadamia nut farm the celebrity now owns in Hawaii. But while Rozum and Newman are here to nominate Roseanne, the comedian is nowhere to be found. Angry that Jill Stein, a physician from Massachusetts, beat her out for the nomination, she stayed home, leaving Rozum “disappointed and hurt.”
About 300 Greens (and a few diehards in “Roseanne for President” t-shirts) gathered this past Saturday to nominate their presidential candidate. The Green Party has taken to calling itself the legislative arm of the Occupy Movement, and as I pulled up to the convention, I couldn’t helping thinking it looked more like a gathering of lefty protesters than a typical political event. One middle-aged woman wore what looked like a Native American prayer shawl around her shoulders like a cape; another munched on a cob of raw corn in the lobby. A t-shirt with an image of a cannabis leaf and the words “All plants should be legal” hung in the assembly room. I only saw two men who had opted for the traditional political uniform of dark suits.
In the hotel lobby, disappointment about Roseanne was easily overwhelmed by excitement about “Jill,” as party members call their presidential hopeful. The well-spoken, silver-haired, Harvard-educated internist from Lexington, Massachusetts is brimming with energy (“That was fun,” she trilled as we stepped into an elevator after a press conference), and she’s the most promising presidential candidate to ever rise through the party’s inner ranks. She is already on the ballot in 21 states and petitioning in 19 more, and she has raised over $5,000 in over 20 states, thereby qualifying for federal matching funds, an unprecedented accomplishment for the Greens. (Ralph Nader ran a prominent campaign for the Greens in 2000 in which he qualified for matching and was on the ballot in 43 states and the District of Columbia, but he was already a well-known activist and write-in candidate, not a party insider.)
Despite Stein’s relative successes, a recent Gallup poll puts her national following at a negligible 1 percent. It was no surprise then that I couldn’t find a single person who thought Stein and running-mate Cheri Honkala (a formerly homeless poverty activist whose only previous political experience was an unsuccessful bid for Philadelphia sheriff in 2011) would win in November. Some people laughed awkwardly when I asked about their chances. Others fumbled with platitudes: “Never say never…” When I put the question to Stein, she said without missing a beat, “We have a very uphill battle.” This left me wondering: Why are Green Party members so excited to vote for a candidate who they know doesn’t have a shot?
The pragmatists among them think Stein’s campaign benefits the party in ways that have nothing to do with getting her into the White House. They hope her campaign will create momentum for Greens running at the local and state levels, some of whom actually have a chance of winning. (Though these races are “uphill battles,” too: The Greens hold just 134 seats nationwide, including town and neighborhood councils, school boards, and library trusteeships).
Greens also hope Stein will promote their ideas, especially if she achieves the (right now very distant) 15 percent polling mark that would qualify her for the upcoming presidential debates. Stein calls her platform the “Green New Deal,” and it includes ideas like combating joblessness by employing more Americans as teachers and environmentalists, cutting military spending by 50 percent, and replacing Obamacare with a single-payer healthcare system. Not unlike the Occupy Movement, the Green Party sometimes suffers from too much ideological diversity—pacifists, environmentalists, marijuana advocates, and “Watermelon Greens” (“Red on the inside, green on the outside,” one told me) don’t always agree on political priorities—but Stein’s ideas seem popular with all.
By far the most common answer to my question—“Why vote for a candidate who won’t win?”—is that it’s important to “vote your values.” Greens talk about voting as a form of self-expression, as if it’s irrelevant whether you put someone in office by doing it. (They take a similar tack when asked about the possibility that Stein could siphon votes from Obama and put Romney in office, as Nader is said to have done to Al Gore in 2000.) As far as Greens are concerned, the Democrats and Republicans are, beneath the rhetoric, all the same, and most people vote by picking the “lesser of two evils.”
Stein says her campaign is like “political therapy” for people who have had “self-destructive relationships to politics, like being stuck in an abusive relationship.” And her supporters think it will eventually work: Greens between the ages of 27 and 92 told me they think it’s possible they’ll see a president from the party in their lifetimes—that if they keep offering “political therapy,” mainstream voters who are frustrated by politics will start to want it: maybe in four years, maybe in eight, maybe in 50 or more. Stein says she thinks politics should be “about you, and about us, and about finding our better selves, and about how we lift each other up.” She has until November to convince America.