Farheen Hakeem knew she was doing something right when local Democrats came calling.
In 2006, on the heels of a failed run as a Green Party candidate for mayor of Minneapolis, Hakeem ran for commissioner of Minnesota’s Hennepin County board. Although she lost to long-time Democratic-machine candidate Peter McLaughlin, she earned 33 percent of the vote.
Democrats took notice. Hakeem received e‑mails and phone calls from local Democratic Party activists who were impressed with her skills as a grassroots campaigner. And when Minnesota state Rep. Neva Walker announced she would not be seeking re-election this year, local Democrats urged Hakeem to run for the seat as one of them.
Hakeem declined, deciding instead to enter the race as a Green.
“[The Greens] may be disorganized, but at least I’m not held accountable to any corporate party,” she says. “They’re not going to be asking me to do something I’m not interested in doing.”
She says Democrats on the county board bowed to party pressure in 2006 by approving a new sales tax and hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a Major League Baseball stadium – without the referendum required by law.
Hakeem, an activist and community organizer who works with the Girl Scouts of America organizing young Muslim girls, wears the traditional Islamic headscarf – or hijab – and is wary of letting the Democratic Party capitalize on her likeness.
“Currently, our United States government is bombing people [who] look like me,” she says. “I don’t want them using my image … [and then] say, ‘Get out of Iraq!’ but continue to fund it.”
Hakeem is one of hundreds of Greens running for local, state and national offices this year. In July, many of them attended the party’s national convention in Chicago. A common theme among the attendees was the belief that the Democratic Party is falling short on vital issues.
In West Virginia, Jesse Johnson is running for governor as a Green. He calls his Appalachian state “ground-zero for global climate change” because it’s one of the country’s major coal producers. The incumbent, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, supports mountaintop removal coal mining, a practice that alters landscapes and decimates natural environments. During his 2004 gubernatorial race, Manchin received $571,214 in campaign contributions from coal industry interests.
What’s more, Manchin is anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-marriage equality for same-sex couples, and pro-big business. In 2006, he had the state’s welcome-sign slogan changed from “Welcome to West Virginia” to “Open for Business.” Only after public outcry and a petition drive did Manchin agree to remove the new signs.
Green Party’s Johnson says that West Virginia Democrats have no will to take on the coal industry.
“Any candidate who’s going to bring true progressive values to the political system,” he says, “is going to be stabbed in the back by the Democratic Party.”
In Illinois, Rita Maniotis, an educator and activist, is a Green running for state representative. With the state’s Democratic-controlled government currently discussing lifting its 21-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants, Maniotis is using her candidacy to inform residents of the health and environmental risks posed by such a move. She’s also calling for a complete nuclear phase-out.
“The Democrats right now are using global warming as a cover to try to work nuclear power into the energy plan,” she says. “[They’re] selling out to the nuclear power industry and all the people [who] are going to make money off of this.”