Can The Green Party Capitalize On Sanders’ Disillusioned Fans?

The Green Party's best chance at the DNC got washed out

Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein REUTERS/Bryan Woolston — REUTERS
Jul 26, 2016 at 5:30 PM ET

The first day of the Democratic National Convention did not showcase the party unity Hillary Clinton was likely hoping for. Even during Monday’s primetime speeches, chants of Bernie! Bernie! and boos when the candidate was mentioned were audible across the stadium (except, of course, for Michelle Obama—everyone still loves her). Outside, crowds of Bernie-or-Busters marched in the blistering heat, chanting and banging on walls as delegates and media passed.

But not everyone was having a bad day. “This might be the pinnacle so far,” said Steven Welzer, treasurer for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Deep in Philadelphia’s FDR park, a tent with 300 seats was filled up, and hundreds sat down on an adjacent hillside waiting for Stein to speak. “Some of the Bernie supporters, they’re going to have to make a decision,” he said. But does the Green Party have the organization to capitalize on Democratic disenchantment?

Adam O’Neil, a Stein staffer, said Stein has been building a profile over the last few years, recently earning enough support to win federal matching funds (meaning she demonstrated enough support to be given $100,000 by the FEC). But, Stein admits, interest in the Greens this cycle has a lot to do with Sanders. “We could not control that Bernie Sanders was going to run, and that his run was going to turn into the phenomenon it did,” he said. “What we could control was to work our asses off to maintain and build our ballot status in places like New York.”

Welzer said the campaign “strategically hoped” Sanders’ would lose the nomination. “Look, if Bernie Sanders had gotten the nomination, then the energy would have stayed in the Democratic Party.”

Sanders’ campaign made brilliant use of loosely coordinated online volunteers. It is unclear the Greens will be able to do the same, but O’Neil understands their value. “A lot of the most important tools for Sanders supporters organizing were not created by the Sanders campaign,” he said, mentioning Coders for Sanders and other online groups that sprung up to support the senator of their own accord. “We have a strong social media presence, we have a strong website,” he says, “But there’s more that we can do.”

O’Neil was cagey when asked about what talent Stein’s campaign was bringing on. “I don’t want to name any names” he said. “I don’t wanna get anyone fired. Volunteering for a Democrat, even a lefty Democrat is one thing. Volunteering for a Green is another.”

The energy in the park around the Green Party tent was mixed—partially due to the overwhelming heat. Shirts were optional, and one woman hit the ground in a thud, medics rushing to treat her. A coal grey thunderhead advanced slowly.

At around 7 p.m., Dr. Stein took the stage, her best opportunity to make a pitch to Sanders’ disenfranchised but enthusiastic army. Stein, a white-haired physician in her mid-60s, ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 2012, getting just under half a million votes—about .36 percent of the total. Last year, she announced she’d try again, and recent polls show her with about 4 percent support.

“They sabotaged his revolutionary campaign!” Stein said, referring to Sanders, chanting elaborately enunciated slogans like “You are the rev-o-lu-tion. We are the rev-o-lu-tion.”

She talked about canceling student debt as chilly wind began blowing through the tent, and then cut off her speech after 10 minutes, to introduce the rapper and activist Immortal Technique. The cold drizzle turned into a cold rain, before a soaking thunderstorm let loose. The event was called off prematurely, leaving everyone to trudge about a mile to the nearest train station.