“So who here believes in conspiracy theories?”
I bit my lip as a group of people discussed whether or not Hillary Clinton was actually dead, and had been replaced by a body double. I had arrived early at this particular rally, and at this point there were about ten people gathered under a pavilion. When it was announced that Jill Stein would be holding a rally near my university a few days ago, I decided that it would be interesting to go. However, as the conversation in the pavilion turned to how Hillary Clinton had parkinson’s, my more rational side was starting to regret the decision.
To disclose, I am a registered member of the Green Party. The best way to describe my political alignment would be too crazy for the Democratic Party and too sane for the Green Party, but cynical enough not to mindlessly follow either. Knowing people in the local Green Party, however, I decided that it would be the best place for me.
The larger the group got, the more moderate the conversation became. It became less about the shortcomings of the Democrats and Republicans, and became more about the strengths of the Greens. Candidates for various offices began to arrive: state representatives, state senators, and national representative. The nagging feeling that I was walking into a liberal version of a Trump rally began to fade slightly. Eventually, the small crowd was directed into the building.
It’s easy to see why the Green Party can be off-putting to many people. There is an intense focus on inclusiveness in the party, to the point where it becomes less inclusive to those who don’t share that intense passion for it.
“Ugh, this crowd is pretty light. Too many white people.” I heard this as we were all walked into the building. The line wasn’t muttered in contempt, but in disappointment. For a party that puts an immense amount of effort into courting the support of minorities, very few minorities ever show support. A majority of the party’s base is middle-class white people who have both the time and security to participate in political movements outside the mainstream. As if to demonstrate this, once we were inside, the pre-rally entertainment was two older white folks and an immigrant from Senegal playing traditional African music on the drums.
After about thirty minutes of drums and introductions, the main event started as Jill Stein took the small stage in front of a crowd numbering just under one hundred. The mic setup was shoddy, but Stein managed to project.
“Are you ready to make history?”
The speech started out relatively stumpy, with many platitudes about change and history, but eventually Stein, with no visible teleprompter, started to turn to more topical information.
“I just got back from travelling all across the Midwest: Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota.”
At North Dakota, there was a large cheer. Stein made headlines recently by participating in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests there earlier that week, and had been issued an arrest warrant for vandalizing construction equipment with graffiti. This is not the first time that she has been arrested. In 2012, Stein was detained while trying to break into the first presidential debate, which she had not been invited to. However, this is not seen as a negative to most of her supporters. Greens celebrate the protest culture as much as they celebrate diversity. For Stein, this arrest warrant was worn as a badge of honor.
Stein’s speech went on for about forty-five minutes. It hit all of the main Green Party messages. We need to get money out of politics. We need to stop invading other countries. We need to switch to renewable energy. She also took plenty of time to go after both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“Did you hear that Hillary Clinton is going to be spending millions of dollars into getting third party supporters to vote for her?”
Many people don’t seem to understand why the members of the Green Party focus so much on deriding Democrats, when they lie much closer to the Greens on the political spectrum than the Republicans do. But in that room, it seemed crystal clear. There was a sense of betrayal among many members of the Green Party. They had been former Democrats with a passion for a certain issue, whether it be the environment or electoral reform. Then, they had seen these issues traded off for other, and (in their minds) less important, issues. Even Stein talked about an experience she had when she had been a Democrat.
“There was a ranked choice voting bill that was being put through the legislature in Massachusetts. And yet, even though the Democrats had a majority, it never made it out of committee. Later that year I switched my party registration to Green.”
After the rally had come to a close, and a group picture had been taken, people began milling around and talking. But now, none of that borderline hostile conversation I had seen earlier was present. People were talking about the rally, and the ideas that were expressed. They talked about what they could do to help, what offices they could potentially run for. As I left, I tried to reconcile it all in my head.
There is a certain level of bitterness behind the members of the Green Party. They feel betrayed by the government that was supposed to represent them. They feel thoroughly unconvinced that the two major parties are going to be able to make any progress. But there’s also a certain level of hope. A hope that, if you work hard enough, you can do anything, accomplish anything. There is a desire to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is. And, when all things are said and done, isn’t that the American way?