“Fuck,” Mike tells me, “that’s like Kirk Douglas in Spartacus endorsing the Roman Senate.”
We’re sitting in the theater in the University of Houston’s Student Center South building, a room that holds, at maximum capacity, 270 people. On this, the first weekend of August, it is also the home of the 2016 Green Party National Convention. Delegates are shuffling back after a truncated lunch and preparing for the roll call that will eventually nominate Dr. Jill Stein for her second consecutive presidential bid. Meanwhile, Mike, a trader from Texas, is telling me why he’s here in the first place.
“I mean, really, that’s like fucking Spartacus endorsing Caesar!”
He’s talking about Bernie Sanders throwing his weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, a topic that has brought Mike, who describes himself as a Democrat and a “Berner,” to sit in this theater with a Green Party sign in his lap.
“Here’s another one,” he says, nodding at a man a few rows down who looks up, squints, and asks where they know each other from. “I’ve seen you at fundraisers,” Mike says and the guy realizes that’s exactly right. “Here we are, just a couple of unhappy Democrats.”
His friend chuckles, adds: “Tell your readers I’m tired of being held hostage. Maybe I can’t change the course of an election but I can vote my conscience.”
Mike and his acquaintance are exactly what the Green Party is looking for. Since Bernie Sanders lost his bid for the Democratic nomination, and especially since WikiLeaks released 20,000 hacked e-mails that appeared to show some Democratic National Committee members rooting for Clinton behind the scenes, the Green Party has been putting on a full-court press to nab any disillusioned Sanders supporters. This included a fishing a trip to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Stein and others Green Partiers joined protesters outside to rally against the DNC’s supposed election-tampering, an event Stein referred to as the streets being “overrun with love.”
“We want to congratulate you on the work that you have done to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president,” an open letter on the party’s website reads. “You self-organized to phone bank and reached 75 million voters. You created a social media machine that overcame the commercial media’s attempts to ignore the campaign. You created cool swag, wrote songs, and cooked ‘Feel the Bern’ hot sauce. You painted your cars, your houses, and giant murals with the words and likeness of Bernie. It was amazing…
“It will be no surprise to you that we are skeptical that Clinton, the candidate of war, Wall Street, and Walmart, will be open to the agenda that Sanders is promoting.
“You have choices.”
Polls show that upwards of 90 percent of Sanders supporters are planning to vote for Clinton in the fall. But apparently some listened to the Green Party’s call, because when Dr. Stein comes out and gives a speech—the crowd welcoming her with a chant of “Jill Not Hill!”—she quickly asks any former Bernie supporters to stand up and be recognized. More than half the crowd stands and gives themselves a round of applause.
One of them holds up a sheet of paper with the now-infamous picture of Hillary and Bill Clinton at Donald Trump’s most recent wedding.
Another has written “Hillary For Prison” in Sharpie on his STEIN/BARAKA 2016 sign, a phrase that would be perfectly at home at a Donald Trump rally.
Then, as Stein speaks about her hopes for the party, and for the bright future of an upstart political organization she swears can win the presidency, a tweet from a Green Party member watching from home zips across the social media live stream being projected behind her: Time to lock up Crooked Hillary.
Before Julian Assange beams into the theater, former nominee David Cobb says the Green Party considers Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Anonymous, and Assange—who lives in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition for rape charges in Sweden—to be heroes, an assertion that Stein later echoes.
When Assange finally appears, the crowd gives him a hero’s welcome, chanting, “WikiLeaks! WikiLeaks! WikiLeaks!” Assange then compares the choice between Clinton and Trump to choosing between “cholera and gonorrhea,” and calls Clinton’s campaign strategy to present herself as a vastly superior alternative “extortion.”
The crowd eats that up, their cheers growing louder with every recrimination. Someone yells out, “Where’s the smoking gun?” Another: “Where’s the big e-mail?” These are references to the belief that Clinton is one unearthed email away from being indicted by the FBI.
When the Skype session ends, the delegates file out and order Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets from the onsite McDonald’s, some taking the opportunity to find a seat or hit the bathrooms, which is where I overhear two of them discussing Assange’s talk.
“He sure as hell gave it to her,” one says.
“Hell yes,” says the other.
Washing my hands, I notice one is wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt. A Bernie 2016 pin hangs from his lanyard. “You’re a Bernie guy?” I ask.
“You bet,” he says, ripping off some paper towel.
“And now you’re with the Greens?”
He gives me a look like I’ve misunderstood something. “I’ve always been with the Greens.”
“You have completely changed the political dynamics going forward,” Stein says in her acceptance speech. “It will never be the same and there will be no stopping you, there will be no stopping us…”
Whether she is speaking to the Green Party or to the Sanders supporters who’ve crossed lines is unclear.
“Voters are in revolt, are rejecting the Democratic and Republican candidates at record numbers. ... People are clamoring for more choices. We are that other choice.”
The speech goes on and on. The Green Party, with support from disgruntled Democrats, can finally climb onto the national stage and change the world. They’re going to shock the Republicans (“The party of hate,” Stein calls them) and the Democrats (“The party of deportations, detentions, and midnight raids”).
The problem, however, may be that the Green Party is too focused on who they can recruit rather than why they should come. And there was very little discussion of how its proposals—to abolish student debt, vastly cut military spending, and guarantee living wages for every American—could be put into practice by policy if the unthinkable were to happen and Stein were elected president.
Later, after Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka take their curtain call, they appear in a press conference where the majority of questions come from Green-friendly “journalists” who asked softball questions like, “What are you most looking forward to in your CNN town hall?” When pressed on harder issues, including Assange’s ties to the Russian government and how a third-party president could ever hope to push an agenda through a two-party Congress, the nominee struggles.
The difference between Stein and Hillary Clinton is striking, and leaves little doubt as to the former’s lack of preparedness for the office. Her performance more closely resembles the debacle of a Trump presser, especially when Stein bumbles her way through an explanation of her muddled position on vaccinations, which skirts dangerously close to anti-vax territory.
In this and other ways, the Green Party National Convention exposes an uncomfortable truth about the Bernie Sanders movement: it was composed of members of the hard left who never had any intention of working with the Democrats if Sanders lost. The convention is an opportunity for discontented Sanders supporters, many of whom were already fans of the Green Party before Bernie’s run, to blow off some steam. The voters who could put the group into the thick of things, a group to which my friend Mike belongs, may have flirted with the idea, but need more than a vilification of Clinton to go completely Green.
There is, after all, Donald Trump to contend with, a figure who has even the most ardent critics of Clinton ready to pull the lever for her in November.
how I see it,” Mike tells me, “if you live in a swing state, it’s a different
situation. But I’m here in Texas and Texas is red. Down here, I can vote
If he were in a swing state?
“That’s a different story.”
Does he think he’ll end up back with the Democrats after this election?
“Yeah, maybe,” he says. “Sure.”