In recent years, a wide cycle of polyphonic and innovative fights have been going through American society under the spotlight on official policy: Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the student protests for free higher education, the People’s Climate March, the strikes of service workers and education, the battle of Wisconsin and, last month, the environmental struggles of Native Americans in North Dakota and protests in American prisons. Sanders’ candidacy at the Democratic primary elections had helped to bring together some of these movements and to give them a voice and a common political perspective. Sanders’ defeat and his endorsement to Clinton have left the race for his symbolic and electoral heritage open.
Who will take over the baton of the political revolution? How are the militants and groups who had mobilized behaving now? Who will they vote for? One of the options is to follow the slogan “Jill, not Hill!” launched by some Berners at the Convention to encourage the vote for the Green Party. The Green Party was founded in 2001 by the Association of Green Parties and has slowly taken over the place of the Greens, the party of the green activists of the ‘80s. With mixed trends, the Green Party has chosen over the years to combine the strategies of anti-institutional action and anti-politics.
Ideologically, the American Greens approve the four pillars of the international green movement: ecology, social justice, participatory democracy, peace and nonviolence. They also add gender equality, anti-racism and LGBTIQ rights. Geographically, the green votes are mainly concentrated in the West Coast, the Great Lakes and Northeast, and they are, for the most part, white liberals of the middle and upper classes.
In the political memory of the American left, the Greens were indirectly guilty of contributing to the victory of George W. Bush in 2000, when the exploits of the Green candidate Ralph Nader (who got almost 3 million votes) marked the defeat of Al Gore. Since then, the left looks at the Green Party with suspicion, and they never again reached the 2.74 percent of the votes they got in 2000.
The Green candidate for the presidential elections in 2016, a party self-defined as an eco-socialist party, is the environmental activist and doctor Jill Stein, former candidate in 2012 (0.36 percent), together with Vice-President candidate activist Ajamu Baraka. In February 2015 (three months before Sanders officially launched his campaign), Stein declared that the old political system is collapsing, and it left a void. She called the 2016 elections her opportunity to fill it. The Greens present a Green New Deal, which calls for the complete conversion to renewable energy by 2030, new immigration and education laws, and health care reform, to be financed through the cut to defense spending.
According to the polls, they will get just below 3 percent in the 2016 presidential elections. Yet, considering the space for progressive politics and the general discontent towards bipartisanship, 3 percent is not an exceptional result. There are several reasons for such a weak result.
Stein stresses the almost non-existent media coverage, caused by her choice of running a low cost campaign and the censorship of the mass media, who, on the other hand, are giving some attention to the other minority candidate, libertarian Gary Johnson.
But there’s more. First, the Green Party does not have a solid demographic settlement, it is hardly present at intermediate institutional levels and it does not enjoy good press (The Washington Post has called its program “a fairy tale”) nor a lot of credibility in public opinion, which often labels the Green positions as extravagant or “conspiracies.” Second, in the first-past-the-post American bipartisan system, voting for a third party is traditionally penalized — which gives space to the blackmail of the “useful vote” — and the decision to set up a third pole to the presidential elections does not reward.
There is a strategic reason that explains the relative success of Sanders’ candidacy and Stein’s difficulties: Sanders has exploited the opportunity for visibility to a job within the Democratic Party and has now decided to stake everything on the local and state representatives, realizing that it is not possible now for the left to win a presidential race.
So there is a fundamental incompatibility between the Sanders movement, on the one hand, and the Green Party on the other: the first has grown within the anti-politics and abstentionism, it is recognized by the left populism and has a majority vocation. The Greens, however, have a story of being the party under 1 percent, a minority vocation and an electorate historically white, educated and potentially wealthy.
In the United States of identity politics, a group of people from different origin, ethnicity and social class gathered around the old white Vermont senator. Some of these people — individuals and organizations like Socialist Alternative — will vote for Jill Stein. But the vast majority will march towards abstention, to Clinton and some, not too surprisingly, will vote for Johnson or even Trump. The political revolution will not pass by the White House, at least for now.