For many Bernie Sanders supporters, the move to the Green Party’s Jill Stein was easily laid out. On Monday afternoon, hours before their candidate took the Democratic convention stage to reiterate his support for Hillary Clinton to the boos of some of his own delegates, a young man with a loudspeaker directed protesters to a park down the road from the Wells Fargo Center.
“The real revolution is down the street, to your left,” he told them, as others handed out “Jill 2016” posters to people still wearing their “Bernie 2016” shirts.
As several hundred people sat on a grass field waiting for Stein, the vibe was as much Coachella as it was leftist political rally. The crowd — as with Sanders rallies, largely white — lit up joints and hung out under trees, as speakers called attendees comrades, shouted out indigenous movements in Central America and the boycott movement in Palestine, and spoke in Spanish about Jill being “the only revolutionary.”
Stein, who took the stage in a sleeveless top and green scarf, introduced by Cornel West and hailed by a roaring crowd chanting “Jill not Hill,” welcomed Sanders supporters to her party, calling the move a “marriage made in heaven.”
“Many hearts are broken about the sabotage of the Bernie Sanders campaign,” she said, billing herself as the natural next choice for those broken hearts. “To all those delegates who are witnessing the demise of a movement inside the Democratic Party: There’s a new movement being born outside the Democratic Party.”
“This revolutionary campaign deserves a revolutionary party,” she added, thanking people for “refusing to let this revolution be intimidated.”
Stein, whose progressive platform has much in common with Sanders’s — from the focus on accessible education to the rejection of big money in politics — has marketed herself as the only possible continuation of his promises ever since he endorsed Clinton. And for many who were driven by Sanders’s vision more than by his party affiliation, switching to the Green Party felt more honest than supporting Clinton.
“I feel like it’s just a natural progression. It’s not really like saying goodbye to Bernie, it’s more like, see you on the other side,” said Rebecca Jurasin, who traveled to Philadelphia from Florida and carried a green sign reading “Berner for Jill.”
Jurasin said that Sanders’s Clinton endorsement came as a “punch in the gut,” but that she got over it quickly and still credits him for showing her the way now pointing her to the Green Party. “What he’s been telling us all along is that it’s really about us, it’s not about him,” she said. “He has inspired a whole generation of people, so my heartache only lasted a few seconds before I realized that what he has really done is he has brought all of us out here to really talk about the ideas and figure out what we want to see for our country in the future.”
Jurasin always knew about the Green Party but never gave it serious thought because she was so “entrenched” in the two-party system, she said, and the notion that stepping outside of it meant “you’re throwing your vote away.” But she no longer feels that way, and her priority right now is less on winning this election than on putting more options on the table for the future.
“For too long America has played the short-term game, and I think it’s time for us to play the long-term game,” she said. “We need more representation in this country, and you cannot get that in the two-party system.”
That was the message speaker after speaker delivered in support of Stein — in speeches high on idealism if scarce on details on the third party’s impact on the current election.
“We have to get out there and spread the word that people can vote for the greater good,” said Joshua Harris, a young black man who’s running for mayor of Baltimore on an independent ticket. “We don’t have to settle for anything less. No longer will we vote for the lesser of two evils.”
A common refrain on the streets of Philadelphia since the convention kicked off, the rejection of the “lesser of two evils” argument is what the Green Party has been banking on.
“When everybody asks you, Are you scared of Donald Trump? I am actually scared of Donald Trump. But you know what, I’m scared of Hillary Clinton too,” anti-war activist and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin said in a speech endorsing Stein. “We can’t let our fear overcome us. Our fear has to turn to anger, and our anger has to turn into the determination to change the whole damn system.”
While many of the crowd members and speakers — Stein included — showed nothing but appreciation for Sanders, a few speakers aimed some subtle criticism at him, for instance, by promising the crowd that Stein “would never betray you.”
That message, too, resonated with some in the crowd. “I hung with him as long as I could, but he seems to be buying into it,” said Mary Ellen Marino, who was wearing a green Vote Jill pin over her pink Bernie 2016 shirt. “Hillary has stolen the election, taken him under her wing to the point that he’s no longer of value for us. And Jill is there, saying all the right things.”
Speaking as a huge storm cut the rally short, and as rapper Immortal Technique tried to get hundreds of people huddled under a tent to find shelter somewhere safer, Marino, who heads the Progressive Democrats of New Jersey, said she had been a Democrat “for 75 years” and was even a delegate at the 1972 DNC.
But she first considered voting out of her party this week, after hearing Stein speak at two different events. “Everything that she said was amazing.”