A small gathering stood outside of Local 121, a restaurant in downtown Providence, on the evening of October 11. “Are you here for Ms. Stein?” I asked; a few people nodded. This menagerie of people waited in the crisp afternoon for the prospect of hearing Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate for the 2012 election. There was no mention, however, of Dr. Stein or Candidate Stein; to everyone, she is fondly known as Jill.
A few articles of green clothing could be seen amongst the crowd, but no one proudly claimed their support for Stein with t-shirts and banners. Instead, what political support could be seen, in the form of buttons and bumper stickers, was in fact for Abel Collins, the organizer of the event and an Independent candidate for Congress in District 2 endorsed by the Green Party.
As it got colder, the crowd shifted inside to the mahogany bar of the restaurant. The total attendance filled less than half the capacity of the small, slender room.While waiting for Stein, the group sat around tables catching up and getting drinks. A waiter repeatedly came by to ask for food orders, perhaps forgetting that he was dealing with a group of people who have organized a national presidential campaign at less than one-thousandth the cost of either of the two leading candidates’. The twenty dollars that could be spent on an entree would constitute a significant donation to Jill Stein. The residents of her home state Massachusetts had donated just over $20,000, as of this summer, making it the state with the most donations to her campaign. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has raised about $13,000,000 in Massachusetts alone.
Jill Stein arrived about two hours later than anticipated, hurrying into the room in a bright blue pantsuit with a colorful scarf tucked behind her collar. She was obliquely feminine and overwhelmingly elegant. After a general hello, she proceeded to shake the hands and hear the name of every person in attendance—even the people just getting a drink at the far end of the bar who may very well have never heard of her until that moment. She seemed thankful for the attendance but rather disappointed by the small turnout.
The Green Party found roots in the United States during the late ‘80s. Inspired by the German Green Party, many American citizens hoped to develop a similar program within the American political system, beginning with the Maine Green Independent Party in 1984. In 1992, the Rhode Island Green Party was formed. The discrete state organizations joined together to form the Green Party of the United States, originally called the Association of State Green Parties in 1996, with both Maine and Rhode Island playing crucial roles in its foundation. Its current platform focuses on environmental issues, like climate change, green energy and recycling. In addition, the party advocates grassroots democracy, decentralization of government, and non-violence in foreign relations.
Stein began her political career in 2002 when she ran for Massachusetts Governor as the candidate of the Green-Rainbow Party, the state branch of the Green Party of the United States. During the course of this race, she debated Mitt Romney; a poll conducted by one local television network revealed that 32% of the viewers believed she had won the debate, compared with the 33% who saw Romney as the winner. Stein, a Harvard educated physician, eventually left behind her previous career to enter politics full-time. Despite her qualifications and amiability, Stein may not break the five percent of the popular vote that the party needs to ensure future success. The Green Party considers itself to be “the one party that is of, by, and for the people,” as Stein mentioned in her speech, yet being by the people means no corporate sponsors like those that aid the Republican and Democrat parties. Although they want to take money out of politics, money is what’s keeping them out of politics in the first place. Stein has qualified for federal matching funds, which required at least $5,000 in donations from at least 20 states. However, Stein’s campaign still lacks the finances needed to compete with the two major parties. The Green Party receives hardly any news coverage from major news networks.
Despite being on 85 percent of the ballots, Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala are barred from the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Stein and Honkala were arrested last Tuesday for trying to get into the presidential debate at Hofstra University.
Former Rhode Island Green Party Chair Greg Gerritt has been a major player in the Green Party since its early days in Maine. Gerritt, considered one of the elders of the party, was the first Green Party candidate to run for the US House of Representatives, running in Maine in 1986. Out of all the candidates he has seen over the years, he believes in Jill Stein. “I was one of the people who said [to Stein], ‘Think real hard about this. We would love to see you run,’” he told me.
Despite his prominence within the party, Gerritt is easy to overlook in person. His long, gray beard only helps to exaggerate his slight lisp as he breaks into political rants. He wears worn jeans and flannel shirts and gesticulates wildly. Gerritt finds it hard to propagate his progressive politics within the state: “I have had several conversations with Lincoln [Chafee]… when he was running for governor … I arranged to meet with him to brief him on my work … and he wanted no part of it.”
“We have really not been able to do much locally. Not much going on, you know, we get an upswing with each presidential campaign, but we really have not developed much infrastructure,” said Gerritt. The party lost statewide ballot status in 2004 when David Cobb, its candidate at the time, failed to receive the 5% needed to qualify the party for future elections, it has not regained it since. In order to get Stein on the Rhode Island ballot, the Rhode Island Green Party collected 2,000 petition signatures that were then validated by the Secretary General of the state.
The Green Party of Rhode Island still hopes to elect a candidate to a local office. The party has backed Abel Collins, an independent candidate running for congress in District 2. Collins has lived his entire life in Rhode Island, attended Brown University, and claims to be a direct descendant of Roger Williams himself. Yet he struggles to break more than six percent in the polls.
Even with the recent numbers, Collins is still optimistic at the possibility of making a considerable dent in the elections. “Rhode Island is ripe for an independent electorate. In my district 50% of the voters are registered Independent,” he told the Independent. The majority of voters, however, is leaning towards the incumbent Democrat James Langevin. Collins was not included in the last public debate, but, after much protestation by his supporters, he is set to be in the next one in November.
Personalities ranging from Noam Chomsky to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama have endorsed the Green Party. The Dalai Lama even mentioned the party in his speech in Providence on Wednesday: “If I had to choose a political party, I would choose the Green Party.” Yet, despite its prominence among the intellectual community, the Green Party is still struggling for broader public recognition.
Undeterred by the venue’s lack of sound system and the 60s pop hits playing the background, Stein stood at the front of the room. After a brief introduction from the state Green Party Chair Tony Affigne and a quick speech from Abel Collins, Stein began her talk, entitled ‘The Politics of Courage’: “Let me start by saying how incredibly grateful I am to be able to be a part of this amazing team that has made history together getting on 85 percent of the ballots for voters." After speaking about her key issues—student debt, military spending, health care, and her Green New Deal economic plan—she talked about the more immediate problem facing the Green Party.
“We are now hoping to raise the amount of money we raised in the primaries, about a half a million dollars. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the Wall Street campaigns, but from a people power campaign it’s a lot of money that we can change politics forever with.” With five percent of the popular vote comes a multitude of benefits, including a $20 million grant from the Federal Election Commission for the next presidential election, and ballot status in nearly every state from the beginning. “If you are able to make a contribution, do it. Any amount of money is a godsend . . . The largest donation we can take now is $2,500—I know that isn’t the spare change most Greens are carrying around in their pockets, but you never know,” said Stein. Tony Affigne of the RI Green Party, standing next to Stein, proceeded to play auctioneer, and askd anyone who would donate $100 to raise a hand. An uncomfortable silence ensued as no one raised a hand. He kept going down in donation size, and at $25, a few hands finally went up.
MARY-EVELYN FARRIOR B’14 is going green.