To Green or Not to Green?

My first web job was on the web team at a company called Green Mountain Energy Company in Vermont. It was a startup created to sell renewable energy in deregulated states — at that time there were two, with a third in the works, and none of them were Vermont. Unlike the ways most large companies segmented their customer base for the sake of marketing, Green Mountain* tiered their customers not by income or neighborhood, but by dedication to environmental preservation.

If they were True Blues, they recycled (in the days before there was a recycling truck and bins on your driveway), they gave money to environmental causes, they belonged to the Sierra Club, they liked to go hiking, they volunteered for local causes, they believed we should save the whales…you get the picture. Dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists, who would be willing to spend the money on pure wind and solar energy, even if it meant giving up their fair trade coffee. (They didn’t yet fully realize the issues with wind energy and birds.)

Greenback Greens, on the other hand, had a good heart but were more interested in using their cash to assuage environmental guilt than in taking the time to separate their trash or writing a letter to their congressional representative. Greenback Greens might go wind & solar, but more realistically we’d expect them to opt for the broader package, which included hydro and biomass — cleaner than fossil fuels for sure, but not without their own issues. But clean enough to make them feel good and for us to show that there was demand for energy choice.

There were a few more color levels going down from there, mostly describing people who would not become our customers for various reasons. This was 1998-1999.

This election season has had me thinking back to that time, and to the time before when I lived in Portland and used to go door to door for a number of causes and candidates. In 1992 I canvassed for Clinton (his first term) and Ron Wyden (then in Congress, now a senator). I got involved because I was working for Greenpeace (my actual barely-paying job) and running a table at a No on 9 benefit concert featuring Nirvana and Helmet at the racetrack (Jello Biafra was the emcee). During Nirvana, my co-tabler was in the mosh pit (where he would would lose a tooth and return with a bloody mouth and nose), and I started trying to get the people working the other tables to sign petitions and write letters. I think we were trying to get a ban on ocean driftnets and close the Trojan nuclear power plant. At the Clinton/Gore table, the guy working said he’d contribute to my cause if I’d contribute to his. Since I had no money, my side of the trade wound up being in canvassing hours.

From there I started paying attention to and occasionally volunteering for local candidates, including Joe Keating in 1996. Keating was running under the Pacific Party (it was the Green party, but hadn’t added Green to the name yet). His gimmick was something I loved — toilet dams handed over with the slogan “Joe Keating gives a damn!” Hey: If you have a regular toilet and you haven’t installed a dam (or the even easier DIY version of a milk jug filled with water), you are wasting a LOT of water. Google it, and do it. Save money, and save water!

Anyway, if I consider myself a True Blue, and I was supporting Green candidates as far back as 1996, why the heck am I not supporting Jill Stein?

No, seriously, why aren’t I? She’s a woman, she’s not in the pocket of Wall Street, she cares about issues I care about like the environment and reproductive rights, and given that I have a history of choosing who to support based on sometimes seemingly arbitrary emotional criteria, it would probably seem like I would. But I really don’t.

Here’s why.

One: Too Late

She entered my awareness very late in the game… basically when Bernie lost his race and some people I knew started retweeting her. I followed her on Twitter and checked out her website, and had some early, “Hmm, well, maybe?” thoughts, but they were quickly extinguished. If I was only just hearing about her, then probably people like my mom were not hearing about her at all yet. And if we were 6 months from the general election, that didn’t sound like enough time for Stein to get to know the country and make them want to vote for her.

Two: Lack of Experience

Where is her government experience? What other elected offices has she held? Oh. Though she has run for State (MA) Secretary, MA Governor, US Congress, and US President, the only election she has ever won was for a Town Meeting seat in the town of Lexington. If she can’t even win a congressional seat in her home state, why on earth would anyone expect her to win the US Presidency? Which brings me to number 3.

Three: Disingenuous

It seems like she is a very intelligent woman. I mean, magna cum laude from Harvard, then Harvard Medical, and eventually teaching at Harvard Med? Yes, I believe Jill Stein is extremely bright. And with her non-profit/activist background, I believe she really cares about the issues on her platform. What I don’t believe is that she cares about winning the election and actually being the President to enact change from the executive branch of government.

I think she’s a disruptor. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good disruptor (and past employers have called me one more than once), but come on. If you have never worked in a manufacturing plant, you don’t get hired to run the floor. If you’ve been a gardener and have worked with local restaurants to get them to use your organic produce, you don’t get hired to run the busiest dining room in town if you’ve never worked as a cook, bartender, or waitress.

Side note: I was a waitress for many years, and I’m not ashamed of it. I do not prefer the gender-neutral term server, as to me it sounds like servant. Which technically is accurate when you’re waiting on someone, but I can remember being a little girl and really wanting to be a waitress. Saying waiter for everyone (like actor) or waitron is fine, but I just really liked being a waitress. So I still use that word.

So if Stein is intelligent, which I’m taking as a given, then she knows this, too. And if she knows this, and is still running (vs the Green Party nominating someone who’s at least won a state election before), then she’s doing it as a disruption. And if she’s deliberately doing it as a disruption, and not because she really thinks she could win, then she is being disingenuous and is hurting this particular race.

Raising awareness for the Green Party? Sure. Reminding people that the two-party system is a giant suckfest? Hopefully. But actually getting anything done? Doesn’t seem like it. Get seats in Congress and the Senate and start changing laws, or start an actual revolution with some actual overthrowing going on (give me a position, show me where the ammunition is). Complaining that everyone else is corrupt and that you’re not getting a chance is not moving the needle.

Four: Twitter and Tone

Tone policing is a Thing. I’ve been tone policed, and been accused of tone policing. It’s one of those things (like the term public shaming) where I often feel like some people don’t really get the point of intention/protection/activism and think terms like tone policing and public shaming are really just socially acceptable ways of saying, “You said something I don’t like, and now I get to tell you you’re a bad person.” So I don’t want to tone police Jill Stein (or rather, the staff who are manning the social media accounts), but I will say that her tone has been pretty darn inconsistent and  at least one of those social media staffers has done a good job of alienating me.

Anger, I understand, and don’t begrudge. Name-calling, unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing, and spewing vitriolic meanness, on the other hand, I don’t want in a President. Diplomacy is part of the job! If it’s one of the things that makes me not like Donald Trump, it won’t endear someone else to me, even if I agree with them that public college being free would be amazing (completely free is not practical IMO, but that’s another story).

Calling Sanders an actual traitor for endorsing Clinton instead of joining Stein in the Green Party not only pissed me off, it showed how huge a difference there was between Bernie and Jill, though on paper many of their policy proposals aligned. When Bernie lost the nomination, he did the thing that would have the biggest impact toward his goals rather than choosing to focus on himself, and basically traded an endorsement of Clinton for some policy shifts on the Democratic platform. Why? Because he’s been in politics forever, and he knows how things get done.

And I’ll admit, if he’d decided to run as the Green Party candidate, or as an independent write-in candidate, I’d have voted for him, campaigned for him, and been super excited that my favorite candidate was with the party most closely aligned with my values. I wouldn’t have worried about splitting the vote, or wasting my vote, because I’d have believed he had a chance to win, and that he was capable of doing a great job. I don’t have that confidence with Jill Stein.

Five: Bernie Bros

I loved Bernie Sanders. LOVED, as a recent post laid out. Gave money, went to meetings, blah blah blah. What I HATED about the Sanders campaign was that he didn’t do more (or anything of substance, really) to denounce the language and actions of the Bernie Bros. A daily “not in my name” would have been a start. But since the current structure and format of politics means that I generally think all politicians are at least a little corrupt if they’re able to get anything done, there’s a baby/bathwater thing that requires us to choose candidates who present the best of the available options, rather than expecting any candidate to be our ideal person.

It’s one thing to decide not to put your energy into denouncing a contingent of jackasses. It’s another to court that contingent. Jill Stein’s actions during the DNC re recruiting the disaffected Bernie Bros has had my stomach turning. “Stop!” yells my stomach. “Please don’t add to the entitlement of those jerks and give them a platform!” At one point my stomach was yelling so loud I was forced to silence it with frozen mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.

This is not to say that I am happy with how things went down. I’m not. I think the existence of superdelegates is a straight up privilege/power structure meant to devalue the popular vote. I feel the same way about the whole electoral college system, truth be told. And you know what? At any point during his tenure in the house or the senate, Sanders could have introduced legislation to change the way the electoral college worked. He didn’t. He could have lobbied to change how the Democratic Party delegate system works — but wait. He was an Independent, not a Democrat, and didn’t have any leverage to change the Democrats. He was never a Democrat; he only joined their party so that if he could beat Clinton in the primary, he’d have Democrat money behind him in the general election. I loved that he sought out $15 donations from individuals vs Clinton’s $10,000/plate private fundraising dinners, but you know what? Even that’s not worth pinning anything on, because if Bernie had won the primary, he’d have taken all that Democratic Party money to fund the campaign against Trump without the blink of an eye. Including the money Clinton could raise on his behalf.

So the DNC walkouts and protests by Sanders supporters and Jill Stein’s contingent? Certainly their right, but kind of bullshit. The minute Bernie decided to run as a Democrat, he agreed to play by the existing Democratic Party policies. And he knew what those were — he’s been representing Vermont in DC for 35 years!! — even if many of his supporters did not. Bernie supporters walking out of the Democratic convention will do nothing to change the fact that Bernie didn’t win, and it won’t change policies. Deals and legislation will change policies. Jill Stein trying to get all the former Bernie supporters to not only join her but protest the DNC? Ugh. So wasteful. Anyone who really thought Bernie Sanders was the best person for the job should probably respect his opinion about who the next best choice is more than the opinion of a retired doctor who has never been elected to a statewide office, much less a national one.

Again, this comes down to the goals of our actions. When we protest (and I do love a good protest), in theory our goal is to change something, and the form of the protest is based on what will create change in the fastest, least harmful, and most sustainable fashion. Jill Stein’s campaign at this point, doesn’t live up to those things.

  • Fastest: Being elected President, if she could pull it off, would not be fast because the Congress and Senate make the laws, and she’d just get to sign or veto. Without strong connections in both parts of the legislature, she could not accomplish any of her grand plans. Bernie had those connections. Clinton has those connections. Stein does not, and Trump does not.
  • Least Harmful: Her lack of experience could cause harm. In my teens and early twenties I used to say things like, “If only mothers were allowed to be world leaders, there would be no war, ” or “If all world leaders were forced to get a full-body massage during international negotiations, there would be no war, because they would be so relaxed, how could they want to kill anyone?” What can I say, I thought the world had a lot of potential for peace and I had a lot of naive idealism. The fact is, the military is a beast, and if you don’t understand it, good luck leading it. Good luck with foreign leaders who think you’re a rube. Good luck making decisions that are completely outside your frame of reference. This is an important job, and experience is needed. When the job is cutting hair, if the worst thing that could happen is that your bangs are crooked, it’s not that big a deal — yet you still need a cosmetology degree to apply for the job. When we are talking about running/representing one of the most powerful nations in the world…well. Stein was a doctor. Would she have let someone who had belonged to a number of parent advocacy groups but had never gone to medical school step into the operating room to open up her patients?
  • Most Sustainable: The most sustainable things would be to kill the two-party system, enact ranked choice voting, and basically rewrite the rules of the electoral system. The President doesn’t get to do that. No matter what Jefferson sings in Hamilton (“You know what? We can change that! You know why? Because I’m the President.”), changes to the electoral process start in the legislature. So the most sustainable thing would be for the Green Party to run viable candidates in all the congressional and senate races and get a bunch of seats before focusing on the presidency, and start changing the rules.

As for splitting the vote, there are two ways to look at it. One is the Gore argument. That by introducing a second liberal choice for president, you split the liberal vote, and risk a right-wing extremist winning the office. I definitely remember what happened in 2000, and I remember that there were some things about the Florida election that were under hard scrutiny when 9/11 happened and then suddenly it was “unpatriotic” to question the election results anymore because we “needed to be united” under our sitting President (George W. Bush), regardless of the validity of the election that put him in that seat. A number of people have written about their choice to vote Nader in that election, and how if Gore had gotten those votes instead he’d have won. While there is no proof that that’s true —a lot of people didn’t like Gore, some of those Nader folks might have voted for Bush, some might have chosen not to vote at all, and in any case election fraud might have just declared a few more hanging chads — I know that the final numbers showed us that math is a real, provable thing. Nader’s votes were significantly more than the votes Gore lost by in states like NH and FL (winning either state would have changed the outcomes).

screenshot of 2000 Florida vote tallies screenshot showing 2000 US presidential election results for New Hampshire


I don’t want there to be even a microspeck of possibility that my choices contribute to a Trump presidency. And that means lining up behind the candidate that can beat him. Every vote will be important this time around. I don’t consider this “voting from a place of fear” as some people have started labeling it. I consider it understanding the system we have and making the choices most likely to contribute to the outcomes I want.

The other side of the splitting-the-vote argument is that no one is “owed” votes just because they are liberal or conservative, and that people should vote for the candidate they feel will do the best job. I do believe this. I just don’t believe Jill Stein would do the best job. I do believe she has beliefs that align most closely with mine, but I don’t think she has the experience or skills to turn those beliefs into reality through government action. Which is a bummer.

I’d love to vote for a Green presidential candidate, someone I’d have called a True Blue choice back in the day. But the truth is, if the presidency had a hiring process like regular jobs rather than being a popularity contest on par with the 9th grade yearbook votes for “Best Dressed,” Jill Stein wouldn’t even make it past the first resume screening.

It’s time for us to remember that the presidency is a job, not a yearbook contest. (This goes for Trump supporters, too, obviously!) The person who wins doesn’t just get bragging rights, they have to do a really hard, complicated, and specific job for the next four years. So vote for the person you’d hire if you were looking at applications with relevant work experience, professional references, and the ability to command respect from others on the team, not for the person you’d most like to have a drink with. That person? Just go ahead and have a drink with them. [Insert lyric about Burr’s approachability and grabbing a beer with him from “The Election of 1800” from Hamilton here.]

Hillary Clinton is, for many of the people who were hoping for a Bernie Sanders presidency, more of a Greenback Green choice. Just as biomass does create pollution and hydro does negatively impact fish and wildlife, a Clinton presidency has causes for concern if you care about things like who’s funding their election, relationships to big banks, international policies, trade deals, and all the things Sanders called her out on during the primaries. However, there’s a lot of solar in there, too. Protection for women’s health rights, LGBT folks (yes, I know she was late to the party, but she’s here now), disability rights, and a bunch of other issues that us lefties really care about. And not just us lefties. Support for autistic people and families rather than relentlessly searching for a cure. Making super-wealthy people (including herself!) pay a higher share of income tax and getting rid of corporate tax loopholes. Can she really do this? Only if we also win control the house and senate with lefties, so I hope so, but am not holding my breath. But I know that although I hate the status quo on a lot of things, I’d rather see the status quo continue than see Trump and the republicans REDUCE taxes on super-wealthy people and corporations (not to mention all the racist stuff, which I won’t even start on in this post). This is the case on a lot of her positions — she could only succeed with them if the legislature wanted to, but without her there is no chance they will succeed in the next four years.

So, no to the Green Party. Yes to the Greenback Green: Hillary Clinton has my vote.

Note: This post was going to only be about Jill Stein; I want to write about Hillary Clinton separately, but I just couldn’t declare “No Stein” without offering an alternate choice. 

* They would later drop the “Company” from the name and follow my old boss (a pinch hitter brought in from Tivoli, iirc)  to Austin. The Green Mountains are in Vermont, and that boss guy was tired of flying back and forth every week. They were afraid to try actual remote working. Some visionaries. Austin does not have Green Mountains, for the record. Bonus trivia: this same guy, the pinch hitter brought in to take over the web team, didn’t know what an information architect was, and decided a better, more descriptive title was Online Customer Advocate. It always made me think of being able to zap into internet space — like Thursday Next could enter bookspace — and sidle up to customers and take them into court appearances as their public defender. Cue Matlock-esque fantasy sequences. My brain is weird.
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