Turning the Grassroots Green

Mark Berlin

The Green Party is holding their national convention this weekend in Chicago. Former Georgia Congresswoman (and former Democrat) Cynthia McKinney is favored to beat out three other candidates to win the presidential nomination. Earlier this week she tapped community organizer and Hip-Hop activist Rosa Clemente to be her running mate. Despite the quixotic vibe running through the halls at the historic Palmer House Hotel, I don't think anyone has any illusions as to the Greens' presidential chances this November. The real action in the Greenosphere, however, is happening on the local level. "It's the grassroots where we make a difference," said Scott Summers, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois. The Green Party boasts 231 elected officials across the country, from mayors to school board representatives. I talked to a few of the Greens who are running on local tickets this year. There was a common theme of Greens stepping up to act where Democrats are falling short. Farheen Hakeem is a Green running for state representative in Minnesota. (Hakeem is also a Muslim woman who wears the hijab.) In 2005 she ran as a Green for mayor of Minneapolis and received 14% of the vote, coming in third out of twelve candidates. Then in 2006 Hakeem ran for a county commissioner seat. Even though she lost, Hakeem garnered 33% of the vote as a relative unknown in a race that pit her against a long-time Democratic machine candidate. That impressive showing caused the Minnesota Democratic Party to take notice. They came calling and tried to convince her to run for state representative as a Democrat. I asked her why she decided to snub the Dems and stay a Green. "Mostly it's their corporate agenda," she said, expressing frustration with what she sees as pressure from the Party to protect the wrong interests. Hakeem went on to recount an instance where the county board authorized a new sales tax to pay for a baseball stadium without the necessary referendum that the law requires. The Democrats on the board, she said, were forced by the Party establishment to approve the measure. Such episodes reinforce her belief that being a Green affords a level of independence that she would otherwise not have as a Democrat. "No matter how much [the Democrats] try to woo me, they're not gonna get me away from [the Greens]," she said. Hakeem says that she is now favored to win the state representative race. More coverage from the convention to come…

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Mark Berlin is an editorial intern at In These Times.
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