COLORADO SPRINGS — “I’m ashamed.”
The two words came around noon on Friday from a middle-aged man in a beard and sunglasses who was sporting a Jill Stein 2016 T-shirt as he waited in a downtown park for the arrival of the Green Party’s nominee for president.
The reason Geoff Cleveland, 52, who came from Denver to see Stein that day, was ashamed, is because he hasn’t ever actually voted for a Green Party candidate for president— even though he’s one of the roughly 10,000 registered party members in Colorado.
Why? In 2012, the election seemed too close in this swing state. Cleveland worried Republican Mitt Romney might win if he didn’t cast his ballot to re-elect President Barack Obama.
“I was doing the whole, you know, fear, lesser evil voting,” he said.
But that won’t happen this November.
“I’m going to vote for Jill,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”
Stein, a physician and environmental health advocate from Massachusetts, carried the presidential banner for her party in 2012 when she received 0.36 percent of the national popular vote. This year she’s hoping to engage disaffected supporters of Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential hopeful who beat Hillary Clinton by 19 points in Colorado’s Democratic caucuses, but lost the national nomination.
On Friday, Stein began a two-day swing up Colorado’s Front Range, kicking it off with a speech to about 75 supporters at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs.
With the silhouette of Pikes Peak behind her, Stein singled out Colorado as one of the leading states for fracking. She railed against the “war industry,” student loan debt and a “climate catastrophe,” and promoted her Green New Deal plan she promises would achieve 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030 and slap an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Stein thanked her supporters for standing up to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a supporter of hydraulic fracturing, and to the Supreme Court of Colorado, which recently ruled municipalities do not have the right to enact fracking bans at the ballot box, as multiple cities have. She said she would bail out graduates with student loan debt like the government bailed out big banks.
And she took on Hillary Clinton, blaming a recent rise in right-wing extremism in part on “policies where the Clintons led the way,” like Wall Street deregulation and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Now they’re trying to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she said. “I wouldn’t trust the flip-flop for a minute, because who did Hillary appoint to be her transition director? None other than [former Colorado U.S Sen.] Ken Salazar, the biggest friend and advocate of the TPP that’s out there.”
She called the pressure to vote for a lesser evil a “propaganda campaign.”
But nearby, Jim McGreavey, 69, a retired federal Food and Drug Administration investigator who supports Stein, said the Green Party’s nominee would only get his vote this year if Clinton is running away with it by the time of the election.
“I’ll see how tight the race is in Colorado,” he said. “If it’s tight, I’ll probably vote for Hillary if only because Trump is just totally wrong and I don’t want to do something like what happened in Florida in 2000.”
A ‘more progressive’ candidate
Following her speech, supporters gathered for selfies with Stein as she began a march with followers south down Tejon Street, a main thoroughfare that runs through downtown Colorado Springs.
One of those in the winding line of chanting Greens was Shawna Lease, 29, of Parker, a former registered Republican who, with a young child in tow, said she switched her party affiliation after the state GOP convention in April, prior to which the state party cancelled its straw poll for president.
“I was pretty upset that we really didn’t actually get a choice in Colorado as Republican members,” she said. “I’m also upset because we really don’t get a voice in climate change. I feel like we’re constantly hushed by the Koch brothers’ money in terms of Republicans that actually believe in climate change, so I dropped that party for Sanders and Sanders got cheated, so Stein was the best option.”
Marching down the sidewalk past retail stores, cafes, and restaurants where patrons eating lunch offered sometimes skeptical glances, the Stein entourage chanted, “System change, not climate change” and “Jill, not Hill,” earning honks from city busses and passing cars.
“What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. If we don’t get it, shut it down,” they shouted.
Outside the Ritz Grill, four young women at a lunch table watched the chanting crowd pass. Neither of them had ever heard of Stein, they said.
But as the presidential candidate crossed Tejon Street and started back up the other side toward a Unitarian Universalist church a mile north where she was scheduled to speak, Joe Ayala, 30, joined in. The former supporter of Bernie Sanders who works at a bolt-manufacturing company drove two and a half hours from La Junta in hopes of meeting Stein.
“She’s more progressive than any of the other candidates right now,” he said. “She says stuff that’s not popular. It’s an uphill battle. She might not win it. But at the same time, she’s still out there fighting for the people.”
Bottom line for Ayala: The two-party system is not working for him and he wants to work to change it.
If Stein is looking for the Bernie or bust vote in Colorado, it was working Friday afternoon. Passing by Poor Richard’s, a bookstore and cafe near the Colorado College campus, a supporter caught up to Stein to tell her she offered everything Sanders had “but more.”
Just north of the Wild Goose Meeting House on Tejon and Boulder Streets, Colorado’s Green Party co-chair Bill Bartlett of Greeley pointed towards the Colorado Springs office of Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. He used the opportunity to chant the name of the Green Party’s nominee in the race, Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner.
Bennet, Bartlett said as the line neared its destination, “has sold out to pretty much every big business there is to sell out to,” and is tied at the hip to Clinton, whom he supports for president.
No endorsement of ColoradoCare in the Springs
By the time Stein arrived at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, the pews were full. Menconi kept the crowd revved up as Stein sat for interviews with reporters at a table in another room. Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, a black human rights activist, wasn’t present.
Asked by The Colorado Independent what her pitch would be to an oil-and-gas worker in Colorado who might feel anxious about the idea of abruptly ending fossil fuel production, Stein said part of her Green New Deal plan would ensure such a worker would not be laid off until he or she has another job or at least the guarantee of income or benefits in a transition.
“We’re talking about replacing dirty and toxic fossil fuel jobs … with a far safer job, equivalent income and training as needed for that job,” she said. “The Green New Deal leverages 20 million new jobs that bring us to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030. So this means a lot of jobs in manufacturing, in the installation for wind towers, for solar cells, for geothermal, and also efficiency devices and insulating our homes.”
In the same interview, Stein declined to offer an endorsement of the ColoradoCare universal health care measure on the ballot here in November, saying she had concerns about gaps and loopholes in the language of the initiative. (Later, at a stop in Denver the following day, Stein would call for a Medicare-for-all system at the federal level, and say, “We support what Colorado is doing with Amendment 69 to get us along that pathway.”)
As for legalized marijuana, the Green Party nominee for president said Colorado did a good job “getting the ball rolling,” but she has heard it takes a lot of money to get into the industry, which has squeezed out some who have been part of its culture.
“That’s a problem we want to fix,” she said if recreational legalization made its way nationally.
“As a medical doctor, what’s really dangerous about marijuana is the illegality of it,” she said. “And it’s the underground economy of marijuana that creates the violence and the real danger. So, from a public health point of view, it’s really important in my view to legalize it, even recreational marijuana, but to regulate it so that it’s not being used by underaged groups and so that we’re actually taxing it and using those dollars for good public health benefits.”
Stein, who is polling around 7 percent in Colorado, said she hopes voters in the state will take a look at the Green Party this year because the party isn’t accepting money from corporations, lobbyists and Super PACs. Her party is also standing up for a jobs program that will “solve the emergency of climate change,” bail out those overburdened with student loans and make public higher education free. She wants to institute a “welcoming path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in this country,” and demilitarize the police. She said the federal budget is bankrupted by wars for oil, and she’s concerned about nuclear proliferation.
Voters, she’s afraid, are “kind of being scolded by the pundits and the corporate media” to “be good little boys and girls” and are being told it’s “hopeless” to vote for a third party.
A ‘realignment election’
Speaking from a lectern in the Unitarian Universalist Church, Stein spoke to a packed crowd that looked like a general cross-section of Colorado Springs. A show of hands showed more than a dozen came from out of town.
“Bombs and bullets are not the solution to terrorism, they are the cause of it,” she said in a foreign policy portion of her speech in which she also accused the U.S. of funding and training terrorists.
Stein said Clinton wants to start an air-war with Russia over Syria by declaring a no-fly zone.
“When people say to me, ‘Aren’t you scared of Donald Trump,’ I say ‘Yes, I am scared of Donald Trump, and I am just as scared of Hillary Clinton’,” she said to booming applause. “For the record, be clear: Donald Trump is a walking and talking disaster. He is a billionaire on steroids who is essentially preying upon people of misery and this is exactly what happens in times of great economic stress … people become very vulnerable to demagogues.”
Stein framed 2016 as one in which the Republican Party has moved toward an extremist candidate and pushed Republican mainstays toward Clinton, whom Stein says is also moving to the right, and whom she also accused of sabotaging the potential nomination of Bernie Sanders.
“This,” Stein said, “is a realignment election.”