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The Stein Campaign and the Fight for Green Party Independence 

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Photo by Tar Sands Blockade | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Tar Sands Blockade | CC BY 2.0

 

Jill Stein’s 2016 Green Party presidential campaign was the second most successful in the Party’s history that gave us recognition in the national and global media and gave us a strong candidate who did many great things to carry our message.

Jill Stein’s 2016 Green Party presidential campaign portrayed in more than one instance the Green Party as an appendage of the Democrats, and it has been a campaign led by strategists who are too mired in the non-profit world to truly look out for the Green Party’s interests. Both statements can be, and are, true.

I met Jill on July 31, 2015 in Baltimore. She was going around the country appearing at various house parties to get donations to qualify for matching funds. Returning to the Green Party a couple weeks before after leaving in 2007, I had two chief concerns: first, complete and total independence from the Democrats and Republicans as I saw the damage that the 2004 “safe states” Presidential race had done to the Greens and the adverse effects that the Party still carries from this.

Second, support for the Palestinian people. She championed independence and though her answer on Palestine was not the best, it was close enough as she would only be getting in brief soundbites of anything at all on this issue. She was much better on the issue of independence from the Democrats and the Republicans and I felt that this was key in any candidate that we run.

Stein agreed with all of us who were very critical of Bernie Sanders; his horrible foreign policy positions as well as his then recent support for cutting food stamps. My husband and I donated to her campaign and signed up to volunteer.

In late spring, those on the left wing of the Party fought on the GNC (Green National Committee) for the GNC to pass amendment 835, which would make the Green Party eco-socialist and anti-capitalist. There were many young people who were drawn to the Party because of this fight and an on-line petition urging the GNC to pass 835. It garnered over 1100 signatures in two and a half days, some from Greens and many saying that they would join the Green Party if the GNC passed 835.

New people came into the party and helped to lobby the GNC by reaching out to delegates encouraging them to vote. Despite some serious abuse that these newer Greens received from some of the anti-835 delegates when these delegates were contacted, these new people continued working to get this passed. This was likely the largest lobbying effort that the GNC had ever seen and they were not used to being contacted about their votes. One Maine delegate, Jacqui Deveneau, in an email titled, “835: Leave Me Alone,” threatened to vote against the amendment if she received one more email advocating for its passage. She showed distaste for the fact that many new to the Green Party were signing up to get involved in this lobbying effort. Some of these delegates did not realzie that hearing from rank-and-file Greens was a part of their job.

Despite all of this, the amendment passed with 80% support thanks to the hard work of many people whose names no one will ever know and who did not go to any lengths to seek any credit. The loud, shrill minority lost. Some of us immediately went on to become delegates of the GNC because of this fight. Many of us reached out to those on the activist left who in the past did not get involved with the Green Party because they saw it as an capitalist party that was Democrat-lite to try to get them involved in our work.

I only go into the above details to show what we went through and to illustrate that immediately upon 835’s approval from the national committee, our efforts were almost immediately eclipsed by the Stein campaign’s first assault on Green independence. Stein, who only less than a year before in Baltimore was harshly critical of Bernie Sanders, was effusively praising him in the media and then endorsed him for the Calfornia Democratic Party primary, resulting in our loss of potential organizers we wanted to recruit to the Green Party. Some of the more secty socialist groups gleefully posted diatribes against Stein and the Greens on various leftist publications.

While there were many wonderful, principled people who worked for the Stein campaign, some of them who helped the 835 fight, Stein was taking advice from some on the Sanders matter who never had a deep interest in what was best for the Green Party. While it was wise to engage the Sanders supporters and we did win some of those people, Stein crossed the line and compromised our independence from the two parties and confused many young people new to politics, leading them to believe that it does not matter if they are Democrat or Green. We were not at all happy, but Stein was still the best, and really, only choice.

In Stein’s second attack on independence, she invited Sanders to join her on the ticket. Her nomination was pretty much already sealed as she was the only serious candidate in the Green Party race for the Presidential nomination. She did this in early June on Democracy Now! as well as in July in The Guardian. Delegates who would be at the convention the next month were pissed; some of us were threatening a floor fight. We stated that a Democrat could not be on the ticket, it was against the rules, and that this was a top-down decision that was not hers to make. Colorado convention delegates, who all were pledged to Stein, were furious and threatened to go uncommitted. Stein contacted one of the Green Party co-chairs and seemed surprised by the backlash from the rank and file Greens.

The recent decision of the Stein campaign to continue on despite election day passing was also top-down as was her decision to hop onto this recount. On Monday, November 21, the Green Party Steering committee was summoned to a call with Jill Stein and David Cobb at 10 PM and that the call was about deep pocket donors giving money to the party. This is the first time that the campaign has ever reached out to the GP Steering Committee. Not during the campaign and there have not even been any collaborative reachouts, not even after the election. Recently, there was one single fundraising email pitch that was proported to be for the Green Party, but the link went to the Stein campaign, not the Green Party donation page.

During the call, Jill Stein told the steering committee that she was approached by election activists who thought that there was fraud in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Stein wanted the Green Party to open up a new bank account as political parties can take donations up to $10,000 and the Stein campaign could only take $2700 to file suits to demand recounts in these states.

One of the Steering Committee members suggested consulting legal counsel, and Stein immediately suggested an attorney she already had in mind. The Steering committee met on the phone with this attorney the next day. Reportedly, there was a lot of pressure for the Steering Committee to pass this. Stein, Cobb, and Ben Manski, a long time Green activist, would go on to heavily lobby various members of the Steering Committee to pass this scheme.

Fortunately, the Steering Committee did not. 5 no, 3 yes, and 1 abstain.

Stein and Cobb were clearly shopping this elsewhere as they were able to get two state parties who were gullible enough to accept donations on behalf of this scheme: Massachusetts and Ohio. They can each take $10,000 for the recount and the Stein camp can take $2700. So one can donate $29,700 to this effort. Not a dime of this money goes to the Green Party, a party that has an annual budget of about $300k per year. A party that sorely needs literally 100 times that amount on the national level. The Green Party of Michigan, one of the three states where the Stein camp is demanding a recount, has not even been approached about any of this. These three states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are states that Hillary narrowly lost. There are states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, that Hillary narrowly won.  Those states are not a part of the Stein campaign’s recount.

There are two problems at play here: first, a toxic, top-down NGO culture unfortunately permeates the Green Party, leaving us wide open for rich Democratic Party loyalists and liberal astroturf organizations like Moveon.org to take advantage of us, which is what they are doing now. Stein had too many NGO players advising her. It was reported that David Cobb kept out other advisors in a recent meeting who would have told Jill Stein that this was a very bad idea. However, Cobb cannot be blamed for the Bernie Sanders endorsements or trying to get him on the ticket, as Cobb has only been the campaign manager since September 1. Other NGOers gave her that crummy advice.

This non-profit culture shows disdain for the rank-and-file of the Green Party, and really, the rank-and-file of any organization. It attracts those who call our new eco-socalist plank, “a new economy”, empty words that mean nothing. It attracts those who are more interested in building their own personal brands and rubbing shoulders with big names on the book-publishing, talk curcuit left than they are in building any peoples’ movements, and NGO people are always angling for their next jobs or next pot of money for whatever project for which they need funding. That money comes from the elite Democrats as they pretty much own the liberal NGO networks.

We will not know within the Greens whose organizations will be receiving funding as a thank you for working this recount. We’ll have to wait for those records to come out. However, the Liberty Tree Foundation sent out a notice with the following message: “The news that Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka will file for recounts of the presidential elections in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania has given many people a reason for thanksgiving.”

We’ll see whether or not Liberty Tree will be giving thanks for any benefits that this recount brings when the donor information is out. Also, many of us are not sure what Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka thinks about this. It appears that he has left the campaign and gone back to his day job.

The second problem at play here is the lack of accountability to the rank-and-file or Green Party leadership that this campaign, and really all campaigns have. This recount scheme was the first and only time that the campaign made any contact with the Steering Committee when the campaign all along should have been working in partnership with the SC. To be fair, none of the GPUS campaigns have so far, but the culture needs to change. No one is looking out for the Green party here, except for the steering Committee majority who voted NO and we owe them a debt of thanks.

Part of the proposal of making locals membership-based, dues paying entities is that Greens will be able to hold their leaders and their candidates accountable. Even locally here in Maryland, we have this problem. We have a Baltimore City Council candidate who went into another council district and colluded with a “progressive” Democrat who was marinated in dirty money, even though Baltimore Greens always run a candidate in that district. Now he is gearing up to wage an attack on independence by proposing a scheme to run with Democrats as a slate in local, partisan races. Also, a Maryland co-chair was speaking to voters at a forum this past summer and he told them how he switched party affiliation to Democrat, while he was a Green Party co-chair, and voted for Bernie Sanders.

If we are not going to promote ourselves and treat ourselves like we are the imperative, why should anyone else? If we are not going to raise funds for ourselves, why should anyone else do so? Where is the loyalty to our own?Right now, it seems that the biggest champions of the Democrats are the Greens. We do their recounts and promote their candidates. We need to get all of our campaigns, especially the POTUS campaign, under greater democratic control. And election day is over, it is time for the Stein campaign to close down shop.

I do not mention names above for the most part because it does not matter: names are not important. The recount and this scheme of endorsing Sanders and other Democrats is about so much more than individuals, thought it will benefit a few individuals and make people like Palast relevant again. This is about a battle of ideas. Should the Green Party be independent from the two party system or should we be a wing of the Democrats?

That question is tied to the other issue of should the Green Party duplicate the non-profit model, or should it be a dues-paying, membership-based organization whose leaders and candidates are accountable to the rank and file?

The dues-paying structure predates the non-profit model, which started in the 60s. Should we have leaders whose interests are growing the Party or should we have people in high places who are going to direct the Party based upon their own personal career goals? As well-meaning as these NGOers may personally be, it is not possible to have one as a leader in a Green political campaign without career interests marring the work.

Jill Stein made a lot of gains for the Green Party in this year and made many sacrifices since before 2012 to do it. She did a great job in media interviews and for the most part, articulated our message. She went to Standing Rock when no other Presidential candidate did.

No candidate is perfect, but this year, she has marred our fight for independence from the Democrats and Republicans. We need future candidates who are uncompromisingly independent from the two party system and who have people working under them who are not mired in the toxic and anti-democratic, emocratic Party-controlled liberal non-profit culture that will always seek to snuff out the Greens and any other authentic peoples’ movements.

Brandy Baker is a Green National Committee delegate for Maryland.

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