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Thinking Makes It So

One may hate and despise the Electoral College, but it is the law of the land regarding presidential elections.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

– William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act II, Scene ii

If you happened to pass through Park Street station in Boston during the early summer of 2000, there’s a fair chance you saw me. I was the fellow sweating and hustling outside the exit/entrance, clipboard in hand, collecting signatures from any and all, to put Green Party candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in Massachusetts in the race for President of the United States. My reasons for this were straightforward: Gore was going to carry Massachusetts by at least a dozen percentage points come November, and it would do the country a world of good to have a third-party candidate in the mix who could keep the conversation honest.

I spent a great deal of time in 2001 beating myself up for that bit of activism after the deal went down in Florida and D.C., until I realized something: kiss my ass. Might as well blame the 300 people I got to sign my petition. Might as well blame the pavement I paced collecting those names. Might as well remember that votes don’t belong to anyone until they are cast, and if some other candidate didn’t get them, it means that other candidate didn’t work hard enough for them. There are plenty of Democrats who will spit fire when reading this, but so be it; Massachusetts at the time was the safest state in the union for a Democrat to run against a third-party candidate, more voices involved in a democracy are an absolute good, and one guy with a clipboard had no effect whatsoever on what happened in Florida and in the Supreme Court that December.

Twelve years later, the Green Party has fielded a new face to carry their standard in the upcoming presidential election, and they could not have made a better choice. Jill Stein is an extraordinary person. She was the class of the field when she ran against Mitt Romney for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, and again when she ran for a House seat out of her home town of Lexington in 2004. Stein is Harvard-educated, a doctor, a teacher of internal medicine, and has spent her life as a community organizer and activist for the worthiest of causes. She was recently arrested in Philadelphia while participating in a protest against Fannie Mae, a fact that only augments her credibility: if the other candidates in this race knew what it feels like to have the cold steel of handcuffs placed around their wrists for no less a crime than standing up for their beliefs, they’d not only be better candidates, but better leaders.

Recently, Truthout’s excellent Yana Kunichoff interviewed Jill Stein about her life, her beliefs, and her intentions in this election. What emerged from their conversation was a picture of a candidate who would do great good, not only for this nation, but for the world:

It’s about bringing the fight that’s going on at the grassroots level, for our homes, for jobs, for affordable healthcare, to have tuitions that a student can afford. These fights are actively going on in our communities, but they are not currently represented in electoral politics. They are not on the horizon of two major parties, they are busy talking about Mitt Romney’s tax forms or latest gaffes, anything but the real problems that Americans are struggling with and how we are going to fix them. Bringing the grassroots struggle into electoral politics and challenging the hijack of our electoral system and Wall Street gives me the liberty to talk about what we need and how we are going to fix these things. We need a green economy if we are going to survive.

The Green New Deal is an emergency plan based on the New Deal that has a track record. It substantially got us out of the depression and this plan is modeled on that. It would create 25 million jobs, community jobs and living wage jobs at the same time that it jumpstarts the green economy that can make wars for oil obsolete because it meets our energy needs here at home. It would not be a Washington driven cookie cutter program, but a bottom up program that puts communities in charge of finding what jobs they need to be sustainable.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans are offering strategies for the crisis we are in, none of them have an exit strategy and yet Democrats are asking us won’t we please use our votes as weapons against ourselves? Our successes historically have always come from a social movement on the ground. It’s time to stand with the politics of courage, not fear, and take our political life back from our political abusers.

How great is that? Instead of a candidate talking about tax returns or who was born where, here is a presidential candidate holding forth on the issues that are life-and-death for this nation and its people. As I said, Jill Stein was the class of the field when she ran against Romney in 2002, and ten years later, she is the class of the field once again.

This is a fact that sets my teeth to grinding. A fact that makes my stomach churn. A fact that keeps me up nights because – and it breaks my heart to say it – I will not be voting for Jill Stein come November. I will not stand in the hot sun collecting signatures to place her on the ballot. I will not argue in her defense, nor will I try to convince others to support her. As much as I want to, and as much as she personally deserves every ounce of energy I have to give, I will not stand with her.

I will tell you why.

It has been twelve years since the Green Party became known to the American public as a potential alternative to the sold-out similarities that are the two main political parties. The country was starved for an alternative then, and more than 4,300 days later, that starvation has become critical. Despite the condemnation Ralph Nader absorbed for his role in the 2000 election, the Green Party had the beginnings of an opportunity then and there. They were a known quantity, and no one could say they didn’t have some weight to throw.

But here’s the thing: like it or lump it, the fact of the matter is that no candidate – whether they run for dog-catcher, sheriff, alderman, mayor, governor, House, Senate or President – has a snowball’s chance in Hades without a geographic base, i.e. a core of votes to build on, a region to depend on, a place to call home.

It is the first rule of electioneering: have home ground, and win it. The current Tea Party House of Representatives exists because the GOP controls the South and large swaths of the West. President Obama sleeps with a retinue of armed Secret Service agents at 1600 Pennsylvania because the Democrats controlled New York, California, Illinois and most of New England in 2008.

A candidate without a geographic base is a doomed candidate. Period. End of file.

One may hate and despise the Electoral College, but it is the law of the land regarding presidential elections. Pretending it doesn’t matter is the equivalent of entering a marathon, standing still on the starting line when the pistol fires, and chanting “Thinking makes it so” as the other runners disappear over the horizon.

In the immortal words of Molly Ivins, “You got to dance with them what brung you.” The necessity of winning 270 Electoral College votes is fact. If you don’t like the Electoral College, you have to win to change it. If you don’t like the two-party system, you have to win to change it. If you don’t like what you have to do to win in order to change it, you should find another hobby, because this is serious business.

I stood up for the Green Party twelve years ago because I believed they were the vanguard of a better way of American politics. At the time, I shouted and screamed for the Greens to make my Massachusetts their foothold. They had their chances; in 2004 and 2008, Jill Stein was first among sixteen candidates to win Town Meeting Seat, Precinct 2, in Lexington. She could have been the first of many winning candidates in the state, a groundswell of influence and political control – Massachusetts was and remains fertile ground – but there was no follow-up of any significance, and it all fell to dust.

As of this date, the Green Party enjoys no geographic base anywhere. They have no chance of winning even one Electoral College vote in the 2012 presidential election. None. Zero. Zip. And they have only themselves to blame.

I do not hold Jill Stein responsible for any of this. She is exceptional, a national treasure, and is the class of any field she chooses to enter. I hold the Green Party responsible. It does not at all matter how much you hate, disparage or disagree with the two dominant political parties, or the power enjoyed by the Electoral College. The Green Party has had twelve years to deploy this basic strategy – secure a geographic base, win Electoral College votes – and have failed utterly to do so.

Their negligence is a disservice to every American who has been waiting patiently for a viable alternative, and a disservice to Jill Stein, a candidate who deserves better than a half-baked chance to fail across the board. Which she will. No matter who wins come November, Jill Stein’s showing will be paltry and pathetic, and for one reason: the party she stands for has had twelve years to make a legitimate go of things somewhere they can build from, and frittered the chance away.

I have very few quibbles with the Green Party’s platform, and as stated, I think Jill Stein is simply magnificent. But “thinking makes it so” is not going to get the job done, and the Green Party has squandered twelve long years’ worth of national awareness chanting exactly that, to no avail. Any political party seeking the presidency that does not make winning Electoral College votes the hood ornament of its effort is wasting everyone’s valuable time, and further, is betraying the cause of change they champion. I don’t care how righteous you are: if you’re not in it to win it, you are masturbating in public. Period. End of file.

Thus, in the manner many people seek to punish the two main parties by refusing to vote for their candidates, I intend to punish the Green Party for its incomprehensible failure to understand the ground upon which it has been fighting. A third-party Green vote is a wasted vote, and for one reason: the Green Party has had twelve years to position themselves for a legitimate run by securing a geographic base in the fertile ground that waits for them in so many places, and has failed utterly to do so. Supporting them now is an endorsement for them to spend another twelve years letting you down.

For the record, this is in no way an argument for you to vote for one of the main party candidates. I don’t give a tinker’s damn who you vote for, so long as you vote. You deserve better than this. The very first day the Green Party – or any other party with progressive intentions – decides to dance with them what brung them, dig in, and secure a geographic base of political power from which to actually move the pile and win, I will be first in line with my clipboard, my heart, and my whole soul.

“Thinking makes it so” is an empty socket. Shoe leather, time, effort and a geographic base wins elections. If you’re going to enter a presidential race with the presumption that votes for you will translate into actual change, you owe it to those voters to be something other than a windmill to tilt at. The Green Party has had twelve years to do so – especially in Massachusetts, where Jill Stein is known, where Cambridge and Northampton could send representatives to Congress, and where Electoral College votes are ripe for the plucking should a better alternative actually take time to present itself – and has squandered that opportunity.

It’s not all the Big Bad Democrats and Republicans fault. Twelve years is a long God damned time to waste. Maybe, if you’re of a mind to vote third party, you might mention this to the Green folks currently wasting Jill Stein’s valuable time, and yours. She deserves better. So do we all.