In my previous CounterPunch piece, I attribute some of Jill Stein’s faulty decisions to her advisors from NGO backgrounds. I pointed out how those NGO guns usually bring in a top-down view of organizing. An accurate, but incomplete picture. Credible Green Party members who were directly involved in the campaign have shared with me that Stein was not being passively led around by her top team. For better or for worse, Stein was very much directly involved in every major strategic decisions made by the campaign.
Also, more than a few people close to the Stein campaign have also told me that she likes quick solution schemes, always in search for the political magic wand that would propel her campaign off into a whole new level of support and success. If your intentions transcend merely gaining exposure and votes for your campaign, then you must use your campaign to help build your political party with the people you claim to represent leading the charge. When your candidacy represents a party that needs growth more than anything else, then the only magic wand is to support your organizing base as your primary objective. Stein did not do this during her Presidential run, and is still not doing this. Also, such quick schemes that were employed were allegedly never well thought out, and as a result, they were at times poorly implemented with lackluster results.
These accounts reinforce the narrative of Stein’s campaign being a replication of a typical top-down NGO organizing model that disinvests from ground-up organizing and people-powered structures. It is a model that replaces bottom-up democracy with the idea of political change occurring through the influence and power of the liberal-left leaning bourgeoisie elite and its access to wealth. This very vision, this very approach has hurt the Green Party’s capacity to grow into the truly revolutionary peoples’ party that it needs to be. It also goes a long way in explaining Stein’s flirtations with the Democrats and this recount stunt.
Those flirtations with Democrats not only comprised of the endorsement of Bernie Sanders and her invitation to have him on the Green Presidential ticket with her, it was also reflected in the hiring of some of her campaign staff. While the campaign had some great field organizers from the Green Party, there were those very closely tied to the Democratic Party, including the Stein/Baraka 2016 Southeast Regional Field Coordinator Lawrence Moore from South Carolina. Moore has run for state office a few times, including this year, as a Democrat. There were other Democrats who were hired in the South to work the Stein campaign who had access to the campaign databases and lists. These workers, as strong as they may have been in some respects, were not looking out for the Party in the way that a Green or any other anti-duopoly activist would. It would be one matter if these were merely people new to third party political organizing, or were on their way out of the Dems and they did not yet have their state elections boards scrub the D off of their cards, or even merely ambivalent about the Democratic Party, but there were people like Moore who were strongly attached to the Democratic Party as well as those who were very involved in “progressive” Democratic Party organizations while they were working the Stein campaign.
The South Carolina Green Party likely did not mind having Democrats as Stein employees as SCGP regularly violates Green Party independence by allowing those who are running for office as Democrats to run as Greens as well. South Carolina is one of the few “fusion” states left in the country where candidates for office can run on multiple ballot lines. New York is also a “fusion” state, but the New York State Green Party years ago banned their candidates from fusing with Democrats and Republicans as the NYSGP members are now and have always been some of the fierciest fighters for Green Party independence in the nation.
There were also Bernie Sanders supporters who volunteered for the Stein campaign answering volunteer sign-ups this past summer who changed the automated replies to pro-Bernie messages. These modifications, which were quickly discovered and corrected, are certainly not the fault of the Stein/Baraka campaign or anyone working on the campaign, but realities like this do underscore that there was a great need to make sure that the Stein campaign kept itself independent from the two party system, most especially the Democrats as new people were coming to us from the deflated Bernie movement.
I cite all of this not to condemn Stein, but to help us understand some of the dynamics of the Stein campaign. All leaders have deficiencies, all campaigns make mistakes. Even any POTUS campaigns that would seek to reject the top-down NGO model and truly be people-powered would also have great shortcomings.
The Green Party is a bottom-up party, at least it is supposed to be. However, it would obviously be unfair and unrealistic to expect Stein to run a horizontal Presidential campaign with input on every decision from the Party. Now on decisions such as: endorsing Bernie Sanders for the California primary; inviting Sanders onto the Presidential ticket even though Stein had absolutely no authorization to do so; and launching a recount at the urging of elite Democratic Party partisans who care nothing about the Green Party or its future, these are all Stein’s choices that will affect the Greens for a long time after the Stein campaign is no more. That is why such decisions must be made with the input of the Green Party itself. Regardless of any principled criticisms one may have about the Green Party’s structure, the Green Party of the United States Steering Committee is our current leadership.
The Stein Campaign Approaches the Steering Committee
It has been widely reported that John Bonifaz, a Boston attorney and elections activist approached Jill Stein and asked her to initiate the recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, three states where Hillary Clinton barely lost. Bonifaz reached out to Stein after the plan for this three state recount was rebuffed by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
In my previous article in CounterPunch, I reported that Jill Stein and her manager David Cobb had reached out to the Green Party of the United States Steering Committee with virtually no notice to have a 10PM conference call with the Steering Committee to lobby them to sign onto the recount. I also reported that Stein wanted GPUS to open a bank account just for receiving donations since GPUS could take up to $10,000.
It turns out that I under-reported this amount. The amount that GPUS could take was up to $100,000, which Stein and Cobb knew, which GPUS Steering Committee member Chris Blankenhorn has confirmed. Stein and Cobb wanted this to quickly occur as they had donors who were ready to immediately donate large sums to fund a recount effort. Stein and Cobb did not give the names of these potential donors to the Steering Committee. Stein and Cobb stated that they did not know who these donors were, but that the election integrity activists who approached the Stein campaign did know.
It is important to understand that the Steering Committee consists of seven co-chairs, a secretary, and a treasurer. All are unpaid positions. The SC members volunteer commitments are even greater than that of a full-time job: they keep the Green Party running. As stated above, they took the call at 10 PM at the request of Stein and Cobb with very little notice.
If the SC had voted to take on this recount, it would have meant that the GPUS would be a fiduciary shell to funnel money from wealthy Democrats to fund a recount plan that was originally birthed by Democrats. Some Steering Committee members soon realized that they could not offer input into the three states’ plan or modify it in any way as the recipe was cooked up by the Democrat activists, and the plan was delivered ready-baked to the Stein camp. If the SC would have voted to take on this recount, the project could conceivably have opened up the SC members to a great level of personal liability. Not only would any unsavory donations or donors tarnish the Green Party, it could have conceivably open up these volunteers to enormous legal and financial risks.
At least half of the SC is working class; one member is meeting ends working at a fast food joint. The heavy lobbying of the SC by Stein, Cobb, and Ben Manski to get the SC to sign on to satify the wishes of rich, Democratic Party-supporting donors reeks of a level of classism that comes from the NGO mindset of organizing.
Poorly thought out quick schemes indeed.
Immediately after the SC voted to not be the fiduciary shell for the recount, the Stein campaign itself launched the fundraising drive for the recount. One could donate to the up to $2700 to the Stein campaign and up to $10,000 each to the state Green Parties of Ohio and Massachusetts. Currently, the campaign is accepting donations of up to $2700 and there is no longer any mention of Ohio and Massachusetts accepting donations for this recount. Now, they go to great lengths to let everyone know that they are being funded by “small donations.”
Is there is any explanation for Jill Stein to latch onto the jingoistic, Cold War rhetoric of Russian hacking conspiracies that come straight from the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and the White House? Not even poorly thought out schemes explain this one. When Stein first announced that she was launching the recount, she also had this type of rhetoric in the following statement that has since been sanitized on her site, but not before it was was picked up in various outlets such as The Telegraph and CNBC:
“After a divisive and painful presidential race, in which foreign agents hacked into party databases, private email servers, and voter databases in certain states, many Americans are wondering if our election results are reliable. That’s why the unexpected results of the election and reported anomalies need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust.”
Page one, point number 3:
“The petitioner is informed and believes that:
a. In August 2016, it was widely reported that foreign operators breached voter registration databases in at least two states and stole hundreds of thousands of voter records.”
Page two, point f:
“f. The well-documented and conclusive evidence of foreign interference in the presidential race before the election, along with irregularities observed in Wisconsin, call into question the results and indicate the possibility that widespread breach occurred.”
The argument cannot be made that Jill Stein is unaware that this anti-Russian propaganda is in her petition and the earlier draft of the Michigan petition. Her notarized signature appears right under her main “The Russians did it” points.
In a detailed account written by Michigan Green Party activist LuAnn Kozma that has been publicly posted, Kozma points out that the Stein camp hired Democratic Party operatives to run the recount in her state, bypassing leftist legal outfits such as the local National Lawyers Guild and those who worked on state’s marijuana legalization campaign. She also points out that the Stein/Baraka electors were being successfully lobbied to sign onto the campaign’s Michigan legal brief:
“[W]hy is Stein’s Democratic Party-led legal team asking and pressuring our 16 electors –telling them they could even talk to Jill if they were uncertain about signing along on the petition with her?” Kozma asks. “In Michigan [Stein] recruited some of our 16 electors to sign along with her, and agree to those preposterous statements. Amazingly, many did.”
It is also important to note that Kozma is a paralegal and her spouse is an attorney. Both are members of the local National Lawyers’ Guild. They certainly would have known where to point the Stein campaign as far as hiring a legal team. Also, while the final copy of the Michigan recount petition submitted did not have the Russian hacking conspiracy theories, an earlier copy certainly did. This earlier copy is the one that Kozma refers to in her letter posted on-line.
“Why couldn’t she have just done one state?” Kozma asked me in a recent phone interview. “Why did she have to do the three where Hillary barely lost?”
Greg Palast recently chimed in on the blame the Russians theory and attempted to absolve the Stein campaign of promoting any of this nonsense. In the final paragraph of his article, Palast rightfully excortiates computer science professor J. Alex Halderman for doing so: “Professor Halderman, if you want to help the recount, put down the James Bond novels and pick up some Opti-Scan ballots.”
Either Palast did not bother to pick up the Stein Wisconsin recount petition or he is ignoring its contents. The Stein camp’s main expert in the the “Russians did it” argument is none other than, guess who? J. Alex Halderman himself. His testimony and credentials take up a chunk of Stein’s Wisconsin recount petition.
While doing our best to point out how racist and disenfranchising our election system has always been and working with anyone who is willing to work with us on election issues, we need to understand that Palast, like the rest of the election integrity movement, is foundation funded. They bat for the Democrats. In any alliance that we Greens and other anti-duopoly activists form with these folks, we need to discern any and all attempts to try to co-opt us and to water down our message. That wasn’t done with this recount, unfortunately. Not only do we have our 2016 Green Party candidate raising money and hiring Democratic Party operatives to recount three states that Hillary Clinton barely lost, we have our candidate parroting Hillary’s discredited anti-Russia talking points.
New York State delegate Dani Liebling chimed in on the Green National Committee listserv:
“ ‘I have talked to Jill and she is aware that some on this list are expressing a concern about the appearance of ‘red-baiting’ in the petitions and/or about working too closely with the Democrats. She assured me that neither are the case. She explained clearly that when attempting to get the states to allow the recounts, arguments had to be referred to that state officials would see as legitimate (such as Clinton’s claim’s of Russian hacking). If state officials were not convinced of valid reasons for going forward, there was risk of recount petitions being rejected.’”
It is unfortunate to see this type of equivocating from Stein. Appearances matter in politics even more so than intent, and because of this reality, the Stein recount effort is about helping the Democrats no matter what the initial intent may have been. When working with Democratic Party players, it is easy to get in over one’s heads if one is not careful, and the line of independence gets crossed.
“It is also important to note that Kozma is a paralegal and her spouse is an attorney. Both are members of the local National Lawyers’ Guild. They certainly would have known where to point the Stein campaign as far as hiring a legal team. Also, while the final copy of the Michigan recount petition submitted did not have the Russian hacking conspiracy theories, an earlier copy certainly did. This earlier copy is the one that Kozma refers to in her letter. As we go to press, we know that the Russian hacking conspiracy theory were part of the Stein camp’s arguments in Michigan. The judge who threw out the case cites it: “Not even Gremlins, Martians, or Russian hackers.” So while they may not have been in the final petition, they were certainly presented in court”
After the Recount
There’s talk about Stein’s campaign manager David Cobb starting campaign schools in 2017. This discussion that has been going on internally for some time, but now it has recently hit the press. There has also been talk of Cobb and others angling to use the recount as a springboard to organize political entities outside of the Green Party. Whether or not the campaign schools are a part of this plan remains unclear.
The Stein campaign is allegedly doing an election conference in February. That’s wonderful. She is and would continue to be a great spokesperson, but she should do it in alliance with or representing the Green Party of the United States. Wouldn’t it be proper at this point to wrap up the recount, pay off the campaign debt, and shut her campaign down as soon as possible while turning every resource allowable by law over the the Green Party of the United States? Stein will of course be an asset to the Green Party in the years to come, and hopefully will be very supportive of our 2020 Presidential candidate.
The Future of the Green Party
The recount has become a huge distraction for the Greens, and one from which we should move forward. While many individual Greens here in Maryland signed the petition opposing the recount, our state party took a neutral position on it and is focusing on local organizing. A wise decision. Baltimore City has grown tremendously this election cycle thanks partly to the Stein/Baraka campaign, but largely to some strong local campaigns and good organizing. It is one of the most vibrant and energetic Green Party locals in the country. A new local has formed in Baltimore County and they have put full independence from the two party system in the by-laws. The New Jersey State Green Party and its locals are doing some impressive organizing as is the Alabama Green Party. Colorado passed some of the strongest bylaws on independence when their liberal wing was trying to pressure them to endorse Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party primary. The fight for independence in the Green Party remains strong not only locally, but nationally, and the recount battle is yet another example of this reality.
More locals are embracing the membership-based, dues paying model, so there is hope of us eventually stamping out the NGO model of organizing in the Green Party, or at least greatly diluting it. There really are few other nationwide organizations on the left that seeks to empower people in their communities, to be open to others bringing their own struggles into the organization instead of the other way around. We need to forget about the 5% when we run in the Presidential elections and strengthen the local bases first. When the country is ready, they’ll give the Greens their 5%.
The Greens were never supposed to be about top-down schemes: “Safe states”, voter trading, endorsing “progressive” democrats, or partisan recounts.
The Green Party is Jason Justice of Colorado during roll call at the convention wrapped in the Colorado Pride flag naming victims of police shootings. It is Baltimore anti-poverty activist, the Reverend Annie Chambers and recently declaring, “I want to talk about the poor.” It is Baltimore’s Vince Tola who has spent years of his life and who has made personal sacrifices to keep Baltimore Green Party organizing efforts afloat. It’s door knocking, events, meetings, phone calls, emails, Greens all over the nation trying locally to bring people together to make their communities and this country a decent place to live. So what about solid, old-fashioned, bare bones organizing? Not just focusing on electoral politics. Perhaps that should be second or third down the list of our main activities. Organizers talking to people at their jobs, as they come out of night school, as they are sitting on their stoops. It’s not going to happen through social media. As Tony Soprano said, “this is a face to face business.” The Trump years will be tough and the liberal astro-turf organizations disguising themselves as resistance will not provide any solutions. It will be organizations that seek to hold both parties accountable, that see how deeply the systemic rot runs, and that work to bring revolutionary change that will matter. The Greens should strive to be one of those organizations.
Some see old-school organizing as dated and unfashionable.
If that is the case, then let us be unfashionable.