HOUSTON ― Three Green Party activists walked into a McDonald’s.
It sounds like the start of a bad joke ― and in a way, it was ― but three Green Party activists actually did walk into a McDonald’s on Saturday; specifically the McDonald’s in the University of Houston’s student center, where the far-left party had convened to nominate physician Jill Stein and human rights activist Ajamu Baraka as its presidential and vice presidential candidates.
“I try not to buy things from Walmart and eat at McDonald’s,” one said, frowning, his politics laid bare by his T-shirt: “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE USA? Capitalism and Greed | Racism (White Supremacy) | Religion.” However, most of the center’s dining options were closed for the weekend, meaning attendees faced the unappetizing option of going hungry or stomaching a tray full of corporatist, anti-worker, GMO-laden bile washed down with a McFlurry.
So the attendee and a number of his compatriots cast aside their McSkepticism and made do with what was at hand ― the salad wraps appeared to be the move. It was just about the only time this weekend that members of the Green Party reconciled themselves with reality, and if the party’s convention is any indication, the Greens are not only unprepared to wage a national campaign, they can’t even get their act together enough to craft a coherent and resonant message.
That’s a shame: In an election cycle where the pressing matter of global warming is an afterthought; where both candidates mostly support hydraulic fracking; where one candidate is threatening to kill the families of terrorists and the other is lobbying Henry Kissinger for an endorsement; where one is deeply indebted to Wall Street and the other is proposing a moratorium on all financial regulation, having a highly visible third-party ticket clearly articulating a progressive message wouldn’t be the worst thing for the polity.
But the disorganization, borderline paranoia and participation-ribbon mentality (literally, if the press badges were to be believed) on display left little hope that the Green Party will be anything more than an unproductive nuisance through November. Even when one calibrates one’s expectations ― it’s a given that the Green Party convention will more closely resemble a gathering of nursery school music teachers than hardened political operators ― what transpired was dismaying.
There was the convention’s agenda. It allotted ample time for privilege-checking and inventorying of everyone’s contributions to the dominant paradigm, but very little attention for nuts-and-bolts organizing, get-out-the-vote plotting and press strategizing. During one of the first gatherings of party officials Saturday morning, delegates spent nearly an hour on breathing exercises and aimless discussion about their “anti-oppression skills.” Participants came away knowing how to locate the “deep blue indigo tunnel” at the “throat center,” but not how to write an effective fundraising email.
There was the roll call vote, a disorderly and poorly managed process that, even by the standards of this year’s sometimes raucous and discordant conventions, was an utter shit-show. When the very first delegate, a white gentleman from Alabama, stood up to deliver his state’s votes, many in the crowd booed him. “THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, HUH?” one delegate yelled.
There was the convention’s disproportionate focus on America’s Native peoples ― which is not a bad thing, but most of that attention was focused on broken 19th-century treaties and not on the urgent issues that beset many Native American communities today, such as widespread drug addiction, violence against women and crumbling schools. Many contended that there is intersectionality between the oppressions of yesteryear and, say, the disproportionate number of Native peoples subject to overzealous policing. Once the country finally learns what “intersectionality” means, it’ll be sure to let President Trump know all about it.
Then there was Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyowasifza-Curry, a long-shot Green Party presidential candidate who regularly interrupted the proceedings to proclaim that the primary had been rigged against her. Anytime someone mispronounced her name or refused to repeat it in full, she would halt the proceedings with a yell. Rather than shut her down, the party secretaries typically yielded to pressure from the crowd not to muffle anyone’s voice, no matter how out of order they were. They made Reince Priebus seem like an exemplar of command and control.
The ticket didn’t acquit itself terribly well during a press conference held after the convention gaveled out of session. As the convention chugged along Saturday, photos emerged on Twitter of Stein appearing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner last December marking the anniversary of Russia Today, an English-language news outlet with close ties to the Kremlin. Video of Stein praising the event also resurfaced.
It wasn’t a great look, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that the campaign, or Stein herself, would prep an answer, yet when The Huffington Post asked Stein about a Tweet in which she compared the Democratic National Committee activity depicted in the WikiLeaks dump to hackers possibly allied to the Russian government, Stein was caught off guard. “I think all of this is underhanded and sneaky,” she stammered, before proceeding to blame the media for not covering the leaks enough. Baraka added that the media was too quick to blame Russia, despite plausible evidence supporting the country’s involvement.
Stein rightly criticized Hillary Clinton for not holding a press conference in over seven months, but the journalists convened that afternoon were primarily from amateur and activist outlets sympathetic to her agenda, and their questions dominated the proceedings. One attendee asked about the “unbelievable election fraud” in the Democratic primary and another was heard loudly cheering the convention proceedings earlier in the day. Stein dropped her criticism of the mainstream media when asked about her upcoming town hall on CNN.
A reporter from the progressive “Democracy Now!” program quizzed Stein about her views on vaccination policy ― specifically California’s move to limit vaccine exemptions. Though Stein has publicly affirmed the efficacy of vaccines, she has continually shrouded her answers in criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry and government regulators, a tactic common to anti-vaccine activists. Not surprisingly, Stein dodged the question, calling it the “birther issue” of the 2016 campaign, and proceeded to lambast the pharmaceutical industry. When the Green Party’s candidate is being tripped up by “Democracy Now!,” you know it has problems.
For these reasons and more, it rang hollow when Stein tried to tie her campaign to Bernie Sanders’ primary bid. “The Green Party has been ready for Bernie from the start,” she said, going so far to claim that the two campaigns had “merged.” Stein told reporters that she and Green Party officials had been reaching out to Sanders since the middle of last decade, though neglected to elaborate on how Sanders had rebuffed their entreaties.
But Bernie Sanders had a mostly disciplined campaign behind him, one that filled his campaign coffers and helped his proclamations, in his rich Brooklyn accent, about the mill-yuhn-aires and bill-yun-aires become household slogans.
There was no such discipline on display this weekend in Houston. It recalled a prophecy made by Vladimir Lenin nearly 100 years ago: “Under socialism, all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing.” Lenin couldn’t have been more right, but not in the way he anticipated. He never met Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyowasifza-Curry.