Green Party convention-goers are ready to take on President Obama, Mitt Romney


Jill Stein, right, and Cheri Honkala are the Green Party’s candidates for president and vice president, respectively. The pair celebrate at the convention on Saturday. Approximately 290 delegates from 34 states came to the convention at a Baltimore Holiday Inn. (Michael Temchine/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Roseanne is not coming.

This news begins to spread through the Green Party convention in a mixture of tones, accompanied by a range of analyses:

It is sad that Roseanne is not coming. It is bad that Roseanne is not coming. (Roseanne’s not coming? Are you sure?) It is admirable: Should Roseanne really fly all the way from her macadamia nut farm in Hawaii to deliver a 10-minute concession speech acknowledging that she will not, in fact, become the Green Party’s next nominee for president of the United States? Talk about a carbon footprint.

There is a small cohort that will confess, either in an apologetic whisper or in a cranky diatribe, that it’s a blessing Roseanne canceled her planned appearance. Roseanne Barr, who placed second behind Massachusetts physician Jill Stein in the Green Party’s presidential nomination process, is exactly what the party members do not need here. Not when they are trying to be taken seriously, not when they are hoping to make a real impact on the national agenda, not when the mainstream media would just as soon pretend, post-Ralph Nader, that they’re a bunch of woo-woos.

(Oh, look! There is a Washington Post reporter here! Oh, no! The Washington Post reporter writes not for the politics section but the Style section, that notoriously cheeky annex of The Post that is, itself, slightly woo-woo.)


Delegates show their support for presidential candidates Dr. Jill Stein and actress Roseanne Barr at the Green Party presidential nominating convention in Baltimore. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

The Republicans will decamp to Tampa at the end of August; the Democrats will pour into Charlotte during the first week of September.

But here at a Baltimore Holiday Inn, the Green Party — the proud lefties who know they’re right — has gotten a jump-start. Approximately 290 delegates from 34 states have arrived to spend the weekend hashing out the major issues of America (which include, yes, the legalization of hash) and nominating their choice to take on President Obama and presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

At the presidential nomination vote on Saturday, people keep articulating that, with hopeful, optimistic defiance:

“Jill Stein will become the next president of the United States of America!”

And then they chuckle, self-aware, as if unsure about getting too caught up in the dream.

A party on a mission

“I’m going all the way back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” John Rensenbrink says. The abolitionists and the suffragettes, “it took them a long time. But half the battle is just showing up.” This is how he views the mission of the Greens.

Rensenbrink is a co-founder of the Green Party of the United States. He is 84, a white-haired retired political science professor. On Friday, he leads a seminar called “A Proposed Open Letter to the American People.”

Rensenbrink and Karen Young of the Green Party of New York have drafted a multipage missive — about corporate greed; about global warming; about the Occupy movement, which the Green Party has tenderly embraced. In this seminar, they seek editorial feedback from fellow party members.

As this is a very popular seminar, it also contains a fairly accurate cross section of the attendees of this convention: There are more older people than younger people. There are more white people than non-white people. There are more batik prints and grizzly beards than typical in mainstream America, but fewer than one would see in Takoma Park.

“Instead of ‘open letter,’ how about ‘message?’ ” suggests someone who is stuck on the wording.

“Instead of ‘message,’ how about ‘vision?’ ” someone else proposes.

“I would like to see us make a commitment to a multiracial, pluralistic society,” someone else says.

“Good point,” Rensenbrink says, affirming this feedback. “Language is so important.”

The trouble, as the Greens see it, is that people would vote for them if they thought they could win, but they can’t win because nobody votes for them. The party is full of such paradoxes. The Roseanne paradox: How seriously ought one take a candidate whose most recent television project was titled “Roseanne’s Nuts”?

The trouble, as the Greens see it, is an intrinsically whacked system, wherein people vote based on who they think could win, not based on who they want to win.

The Greens are trying to change the system.

To this end, they have brought in a Libertarian.

In another classroom, Frank Atwood of the Libertarian Party of Colorado has arrived to present his panel, “Alternative Voting Methods.”

Could the United States move to instant-runoff voting? What about the Borda count method? Atwood’s personal favorite is approval voting, which allows voters to select more than one candidate, ranked in order of preference.

It is what is used, he explains, by honeybees.

Making an impact in 2000

Let’s have a brief history of third-party candidacies.

On second thought, let’s not.

It’s all been said, all been analyzed. We could go through the Free Soilers, the Southern Democrats, the Populists. We could mention how the Republicans were once a third party of sorts.

Whatever path we took would lead back to Ralph Nader in 2000. He got 2.7 percent of the vote, and anger ensued. The Democrats got angry because they believed Nader spoiled the election for Al Gore. The Greens got angry because the Democrats had smugly expected them to fall in line and vote for their candidate. The only people who didn’t get angry were the Republicans, whose anger, one might argue, the Green Party would have most enjoyed.

That election represents the Green Party’s biggest victory to date.

There are new, true victories, happening now.

Stein will be on the ballot in at least 21 states, with another 20 possible before the November election. Some 300,000 voters are registered Greens across the United States.

The total number of Green representatives holding seats in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governorships or state houses is zero — but the Greens would prefer you look on the bright side, take the long view, honor the small win.

Think not about the numbers but about the “conversation” or the “process.” Think about the 134 Greens that hold elected positions throughout the United States. Think about the town of Fairfax, Calif., the only locale in the country to have a majority-Green town council. Fairfax has banned national chains and invented the “FairBucks” currency, which can only be used at local establishments.

“We would like to announce,” says one Green Party representative from Texas, in explaining the major headway made by his party in recent months, “that one of our candidates for state comptroller got more than 5 percent of the vote.”

God bless them, you know? Or Goddess, if you prefer.

Roseanne speaks up

Breaking: Roseanne is still not coming to the convention. This will not prevent her from hijacking the convention.

Farheen Hakeem, the Green Party member who represented Barr’s campaign, announces to the 300 delegates that Barr has e-mailed a statement to be read out loud.

It is not pretty.

“To smear me as a ‘rich celebrity’ instead of an activist who faced down power, and brought issues right into America’s living rooms week after week in a ground-breaking television show about working-class families and values is repulsive to me,” Hakeem reads from a cellphone. “If I were a man, no one would dare to say any of that.”

(The gender card!)

The audience is not happy with Roseanne’s unhappiness. Out in the hallway, the debate continues, in the most politically correct ways.

Hakeem accuses Stein’s campaign of ignoring the Black Caucus. A Stein-supporting member of the Black Caucus accuses Hakeem of playing the race card.

(The race card!)

“As someone who purports to be a feminist,” you should know better than to interrupt women, Hakeem retaliates.

(The feminist card!)

Multiple people demand their own news conferences, on the spot. The media never wants the truth! one man angrily shouts.

(The media conspiracy card!)

All cards played, everyone goes back inside.

Tensions run high

But what do you expect? Tensions run high, because the stakes seem astronomical. Everybody here fears for the future of the country. While the rest of America either pits Romney as a corporate robot or Obama as a socialist maniac, the people at this convention see them both as the same thing: bad. Romney is like the school bully, says Ben Manski, Stein’s campaign chief, but Obama is like the guy who says he’ll help you fight the bully, then doesn’t show up.

The Greens have had enough.

It is time for the official casting of the ballots.

This process involves delegates from each state giving a brief speech, then declaring their support for Stein, Barr or another candidate.

New Jersey: “I’d like to start by honoring Woody Guthrie.”

Iowa: “Unrestricted growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.”

California: “As a male to female transsexual, I am honored to be here.”

Hawaii: “Greetings from the independent sovereign nation of Hawaii, currently occupied as the 50th United State.”

In the end, Stein, a petite woman whom most people refer to as Jill, is the handy winner. And the vice presidential candidate for the Green Party is Cheri Honkala, an anti-poverty advocate from Pennsylvania. Stein is a longtime member of the party and has run under the party label in Massachusetts for governor, state representative and secretary of state (she has not won, though, her online bio points out, “She has twice been elected to town meeting in Lexington, Massachusetts. She is the founder and past co-chair of a local recycling committee appointed by the Lexington Board of Selectmen.”)

In her acceptance speech, she outlines her Green New Deal plan. It involves free college tuition for public universities, a moratorium on home foreclosures and reducing the size of the military. It involves the legalization of marijuana; the creation of 16 million jobs through community-based, direct-employment initiatives; Medicare for everyone; and the stabilization of medical inflation. It involves a 90 percent tax on bailout bonuses for big bankers and replacing “free trade” with “fair trade.”

“We won’t rest,” she calls, “until we turn the White House into a Green House!”

It’s an in­cred­ibly moving line for this audience.

Everyone claps or goes “Wooooo!”

Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.
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