The ego has landed

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the Green Party National Convention this weekend – an embarrassing turn of events, since I’m a former co-Chair of the Party and here it was happening in my own city.  Furthermore, I was actually in downtown Baltimore on Saturday night, but fates conspired such that I found myself cruising all over the city, ending up in a number of locations where family members were, none of which was the Holiday Inn on Howard Street at Lombard.  It wasn’t a huge loss for the Party, at least, or for Jill Stein: no one asked me to speak, or even comp’ed me a ticket to attend, and I expressed my preference to the Maryland Green Party that I not be selected as a delegate for the Convention.  Further, I didn’t have my podcast, The Secret Frequency, back up and ready to go, so I couldn’t really attend as a member of the press, either.  I don’t feel bad about it because I want to know that the GPUS is capable of dealing with things given a dynamic leadership, and isn’t relying on me for anything special.  No problems there.  I do, however, wish I could have said hello to some old friends.

There are some matters of ego connected with the GPUS and its convention which are worth noting, however.  The first is that Roseanne Barr was a no-show.  To my knowledge, she hasn’t said anything too embarrassing about the Greens or Jill Stein, but as an outside observer, one can’t help but think that this was done in a fit of pique over not receiving either the Presidential or Vice Presidential nomination.  This is an unfortunate side effect of campaigning within the Green context.  The ideal candidate should be willing to throw over the moneyed duopoly in favor of being a larger voice in a smaller pond, but ideally one must also remember that the Greens are a party unto themselves, and one is not truly “independent” for joining them.  The usual niceties and political strategies and nuances that are endemic to being part of a larger group must be obeyed.  There are very, very few that have the ego to do the first and also possess the humility to do the second.  Ralph Nader certainly couldn’t; it was obviously all about him.  The late SWP and Green candidate Peter Camejo also absolutely couldn’t, nor could the other various semi-balanced and unbalanced Nader proxies of 2004 – their tantrums and shrill antics probably did more to propel David Cobb to the nomination than Cobb did himself.  Cynthia McKinney probably couldn’t, but never was seriously tested in this as she emerged as a consensus candidate thanks to her Congressional experience.  Barr now joins the list (along with the unfortunately deluded Rocky Anderson in this cycle, probably scared away from the Greens by his friend Nader) as the latest self-important hopeful to see the Green Party as an unquestioning cheering section in an intensely personal political crusade, only to pick up their bat and ball and go home grousing when Green primary voters required them to show some actual chops.  For all those who attempt it in the future, let’s hope they can keep in mind that “it ain’t about you”.

The second has to do with Stein’s campaign manager Ben Manski, who was omnipresent in every press statement or conference.  (Press coverage was pretty good for a Green event.)  He simply could not seem to let the candidates speak for themselves, which has been fairly consistent with his character since the times I’ve known him.

What he said was not objectionable.  Manski is very smart and committed to intelligent progressive ideas, such as Move to Amend, an effort to seek legislative repeal of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision through a Constitutional amendment.  He is well-organized and knows what to do in a Green campaign for office.  In these regards, he is a good choice for a campaign manager.

He’s also not immune to his own flaws.  In short, he has an ego and knows how to use it.  He exhibits a number of pre-conceived notions about both political actors and sometimes average voters; those who insist on debating past the points he has already settled upon, even if they are nominally in agreement, are liable to find themselves labeled as one of Manski’s – and therefore, in his estimation, the Green Party’s and the progressive cause’s – enemies, in much the same way as Nader, Camejo, McKinney, or others on the above-described list would do.

As one might imagine, I have a history with Manski, stemming from a speech I delivered in 2005 which I concluded with the words, “Thank you very much, and may God grant us the strength to keep going!”  It was the only mention of God (or indeed, any religious idea, if one considers that statement religious in nature) that I made in the speech, and constituted only my personal thanks to the audience for listening to and perhaps heeding my words; I had used a similar expression in an earlier speech – at an Islamic community center in Baltimore, no less – and received no special attention.

My speech was chronicled somewhere in Green circles, causing Ben Manski, a Jew, to object to the GPUS’s Media Coordinators.  To him, the single mention of the word “God” at the very end of my speech was a sign that I was unduly trying to promote my own religion (Christian, although not affiliated with a church at the time) using the Green Party.  He also darkly called attention to a group which I tried to assemble at an earlier point, the Fellowship of Christian Greens, a group unaffiliated with the GPUS or any other Green organization in any way, except to advise and discuss ways to bring Christians into green politics, and help the GPUS in their outreach efforts to the Christian community.  Other parties have dozens of similar groups, but mine, according to Manski, was more sinister, seeking to become a “voting caucus” within the GPUS – a claim I never made and repeatedly discounted to overly paranoid secular Greens.

In actuality, I was quoting Bobby Seale from the scene outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, not any book of the Bible or scary Dominionist preacher…but pointing this out to all involved did no good.  I was told that Greens do not include anything religious in anything they say officially; however, I pointed out the 2004 Convention in Milwaukee, which opened with a speaker invoking a native American prayer and blessing on the assembly.  No one objected to it, including me, though I recall considering it unusual at the time.  If that was allowed, and my Christian expression was expressly not, I pointed out, then this was not simply a separation of “church” from politics, to which I wholeheartedly agree – it was a matter of censorship.  I was allowed to say whatever I wished about religion as a Green – just not my own, as it was too objectionable for some.

Ben Manski responded with a series of emails directly addressed to me – several in the space of an hour.  I can only describe the tone as unhinged.  It was a full-on rant, in which I was called a bigot and a fanatic, out to subvert the Green Party into some sort of evangelical cult.  I’d had my share of abuse from Greens who supported Ralph Nader in the past, during the 2004 campaign in which I worked for David Cobb…but this was so drastically out of proportion to what was actually happening that I gave some consideration to having his email address blocked by my Internet provider.  This was followed by a call from Scott McLarty, then as now one of the GPUS’s Media Directors.  “Look,” he said, “if you are speaking as a Green officer from now on…can you just not use the word ‘God’?”  Nothing about religion, as I’d mentioned before – but specifically the word “God”.  He sounded harried; Manski was almost certainly sending emails to him as well.  I very reluctantly agreed; in truth, from that point onward I subtly deflected most invitations to speak on behalf of the Green Party.

Ben Manski has run for office in his native Wisconsin since that time, as well as beginning the worthy causes I mentioned above; each time I have seen him speak, he’s been measured in political tone, but also self-confident to the point of being brash.  I’ve been mildly supportive of these efforts; my personal history can take a back seat to what’s best for our political future.  I have no idea if Christianity continues to be an irrational trigger for him, and for the sake of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, who are campaigning to lead a nation that is, despite its admirable diversity, almost 75% Christian, I hope not.

As an aside, again, given what I know about him and his personality, I would be surprised if Manski does not run for the Green nomination for President in 2016.

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