Tate Samata / Montana Kaimin @tatesamta
2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein skypes with a group of Missoula green Party supporters during a statewide convention held March 4, at the Payne Native American Center.
The smells of vegetarian chili and gluten-free squash soup wafted through the Payne Family Native American Center while environmental entrepreneurs, veterans and tribal leaders worked to shape the future of the Montana Green Party.
For the first time in 10 years, the Montana Greens held a statewide convention on Saturday at the University of Montana to update their platform, appoint officers and nominate a candidate for the upcoming special election. The event was highlighted by an hour-long video chat with 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Throughout the day-long convention, representatives from local progressive groups and eco-businesses preached against so-called neo-fascism, oligarchies and classism, and also addressed the difficulties of engaging voters.
“We’re all here for the same reason,” said Nathan Hansen, founder of Re:Industries, a local recycling startup. “We’re losing our rights, and we simply do not have a voice anymore.”
Danielle Breck, a philosophy student at UM and newly appointed Green Party coordinator, said the group of about 20 attendees was working to build coalitions with organizations across the vast rural stretches of Montana. She said the party hopes to tap into rural and native communities that have not been adequately represented in any level of government.
“Such a small percentage of people in those communities vote because they have seen themselves go unrepresented by the two-party system,” Breck said. “It isn’t news if we put a Green on the Missoula City Council, but if we can get into these rural areas, then I think we can really start being heard.”
Democrats have become too moderate for many progressives, according to Breck. She said the Green Party holds positions more closely aligned with the Bernie Sanders campaign and believes more young people are realizing the difficulties of changing the Democratic establishment.
Montana Democrats and Republicans held nominating conventions this weekend for the state’s sole U.S. House seat vacated by Ryan Zinke’s recent appointment to secretary of the interior. Breck said the Green Party nominee, her husband Thomas Breck, had a slim chance of getting the thousands of signatures needed to be on the ballot.
According to Thomas Breck, the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was a good thing for American democracy. He said the shock of Trump’s unexpected win could help to eliminate the political complacency of many Americans.
“This is just the stone being dropped in the pond. It’s the ripples that are going to really create change,” he said.
In a Facebook post after he was nominated, Breck said he was confident the Greens could get enough signatures to be on the special election ballot.
At around 2 p.m. Saturday, Jill Stein began her Skype conference with the attendants, reiterating her pride in their enthusiasm. Despite some technical difficulties and interference from her mischievous orange tabby cat, Willy, Stein spent an hour offering advice and voicing her concerns. She talked about the need to recruit the Bernie Sanders supporters who were feeling disenfranchised by the Democratic Party.
“The failure of Bernie just shows that the solution isn’t going to come from Democrats,” she said. “You can’t have a revolutionary candidate in an anti-revolutionary party.”
After her microphone came unplugged, Stein held up the culprit, Willy the cat, inspiring chants of “Willy for president” from the convention-goers.