Green Suppression in Illinois – A Party Mismanaged

After a candidate's voter suppression campaign, Josh Hollandsworth questions the Green Party's commitment to democracy

Green Congressional candidate Rob Sherman: up to dirty tricks

‘Democratic socialism’ is the goal, except when it isn’t. Decision-making by the people is key, except when leadership thinks it’s unrealistic. All candidates should be given a position, except when it may take votes from us. The party should be successful, but not too much so. In its 15 years of existence the Green Party of the United States truly has been a mixed bag. It is largely because of this that they face potentially their best electoral year yet- as the largest independent party that can be called ‘left wing’ in American political metrics, the Green Party potentially has a lot to gain; in particular, from Bernie Sanders supporters who may defect from the Democratic Party out of disgust with presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Bernie’s social democratic views are not far removed from what the Green Party has generally held in its umbrella ideology.

Indeed even leftwing critics of Sanders could find reason to like Jill Stein, who lacks the long history of voting for war crimes that Bernie has. Never one to miss an opportunity, the Greens have now voted to issue a declaration in support of ‘democratic socialism’, a motion that passed the nominating process by a great majority and which will be voted on at the National Convention of their party.1 It is expected to easily pass. With potential for greater success, opportunism is even more visible within the Green Party and their attitudes have become increasingly hostile towards anything left of social democracy. Their halfhearted measure to repaint themselves as ‘democratic socialist’ to match Bernie’s style is just one act that supports this notion, but there are bigger problems afoot.

I am writing this article specifically in response to the Green Party’s involvement in suppression of other third parties, with the most recent case being in the state of Illinois. Rob Sherman, a Green candidate for the Illinois 5th Congressional District, filed a challenge to the ballot access of Mimi Soltysik of the Socialist Party USA as well as Frank Fluckiger and Chad Koppie of the Constitution Party. Under Illinois ballot access laws 50,000 signatures are required for an independent or third party presidential candidate to appear on the ballot, but petitions for ballot access with fewer signatures (even only one) are accepted so long as a formal challenge to the candidacy is not filed. This challenge can be submitted by any citizen in the state of Illinois.

That Sherman, a third party candidate himself, filed these challenges indicates that he is looking for a cheap way of eliminating competition smaller than he. Dirty tricks such as these have been used for years and still are being used against Greens by the Democratic Party, and yet Sherman feels no shame at his anti-democratic act. Notably, this is the second time he’s done this – he did the same thing in 2012 against Stewart Alexander, the Socialist Party’s candidate that year. He was a candidate on the ballot at that time as well.

I became aware of this situation on July 5, when Mimi made a brief post about the matter on his personal Facebook page. His only comment at that moment:  “‘Disgusted’ isn’t a strong enough word.”2 I went over to the Illinois Green Party’s Facebook page where they had made a post celebrating their successful ballot access and asked for a comment on the matter; I was the first person on there to mention the situation. Within an hour, a public statement was posted on the ILGP website regarding it.3

The statement defended the legality of his action, saying that it was the sole act of an individual and protected by Illinois law. This was followed by a low-key jab at the other parties, hiding in its wording an implication that their inability to meet 50,000 signatures was because they “did not make a comparable effort”. Still, the ‘ever-generous’ state branch admitted that:“…it is not the role of our party to police the ballot when all minority parties face a fundamentally unfair electoral system that is heavily stacked against them, all to the benefit of the two corporate parties.”

The party closed their statement saying that they disagreed with high requirements for ballot access and commended the Socialist Party as “…the party of Eugene V. Debs, an historic agent of social progress in America…” and “…a potential ally of the Green Party in the struggle for further social progress.” Huh, interesting way to treat a potential ally!

Nothing in the statement indicated that any action was going to be taken against Sherman. No revocation or threat of revocation of membership, and no statewide dissociation from his candidacy. I pressed the matter further, and responses varied. There were one or two apparent Greens who were angered at this state of affairs and said it was out of character for their party. There were those who suggested simply waiting because surely the party would do something more material! There were those who said that they disagree with Sherman’s act, but it technically didn’t violate the Ten Principles so he couldn’t be removed (I’d say it violates the principle of “Grassroots Democracy” as is posted on their site but hey, what do I know?).

There were those who chortled at the SPUSA’s inability to collect as many signatures as they and who suggested it was completely justified on this basis. Then there was the ILGP itself, whose comments on the thread gave the appearance of neutrality but which happened to “like” one or two of the more deprecating comments made by other Greens. They did mention that:

“He is not endorsed by the ILGP or any chapters. Furthermore, he is not recognized by the Green Party of Chicago or the DuPage County Green Party.”4

Oh, okay… Case closed guys, let’s go home! Wait, he’s still on their website. And in another comment they’ve confirmed that he is still a member. So what gives? Says the Party: “he is listed as a Green Party candidate because he was recognized by the Chicago Greens even though he is not recognized by the DuPage greens and the GP of Chicago.”

I think the next commenter summed up my reaction rather well: “So the Green Party doesn’t claim him….but you won’t disown him either???”

Seeing that my efforts with the ILGP were fruitless, I decided the next bubble to burst was William Kreml’s. The recently announced Vice Presidential partner for Jill Stein managed to eke out a single state (his own state of South Carolina) in the Green Party’s presidential primaries, being the only candidate to beat Stein in a state primary. Judging by how Illinois played out, one would almost expect Stein to “challenge” his candidacy and remove him from the whole process! But instead she took him up by her side and now he stands as potentially the second biggest voice in the party. He, too, was celebrating the Green Party’s ballot access victory in Illinois when I jumped in with this:

“Not on the ballot is the SPUSA candidate, who members of your Illinois state branch acted to remove. What is the GP leadership doing about this? It doesn’t exactly send good messages for an independent party claiming to be ‘democratic socialist’ to attack another which has supported socialism from its inception.”

This was ignored, though it did get a somewhat humorous response from another Green who insisted they weren’t actually trying to be democratic socialists. The next day I pressed the matter again, specifically asking if he had a comment on the situation as it had developed. This time I got a response. His words:

“I am going to confess that I do not know what the ILGP will decide to do about Rob, if anything. I do not want to represent I know something that I don’t. I can only say that the good folks I know in the ILGP have had it with Rob. Whether that leads to any disciplinary action regarding someone who did win the primary for his CD [Congressional district] I cannot say.”5

Okay, let me give him some benefit of the doubt; Illinois isn’t exactly his department. But if he knows about it then the whole national leadership has to as well! Sadly this is where my little adventure comes to an end. In a private message, the ILGP stated that they have “no additional comments on this matter,” and I’ve not heard of any action by the national branch to intervene in this state of affairs. What does this say about the nature of the Green Party?

Marxists know that social democracy is a dead-end street – it cannot address the contradictions of capitalism, only move its oppression and theft from workers into a nicer package. Though there are indeed some people with real socialist sentiments in the Green Party, the material actions (and inactions) of the leadership indicate a general disinterest in serious commitment to creating a workers’ republic. This is a critical element for any organization that calls itself revolutionary.

Indeed the issues I have observed with the handling of this situation could amount to a microcosm of the Party’s issues – there was reluctance to commit to supposed ideological principles, empty lip service to socialist ideals, lack of organization between branches, tacit support for suppression of independents, and yet still an insistence on maintaining support for the Party’s position (whatever it was supposed to be.) I voted Green in 2012; they were the third party I first turned to when I abandoned neoliberalism.

This election cycle there are many, many more people who are in the position I was. Let us continue along the path I followed then, constantly critiquing and questioning capitalism, looking to what can (and must) replace it, and investigating who truly fights it and who just borrows revolutionary language to describe stale European liberalism. Jill Stein said of the Democratic Party “…you can’t have a revolution in a counter-revolutionary party,” as members of her group use the bourgeois state’s system to suppress others in the same manner as her more significant opponents have done. Who, then, are the real counter-revolutionaries?