HEMPSTEAD, NY — The revolutionaries were trying to get themselves arrested, but having a tricky time picking a spot. Two dozen supporters of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein faced off against a blue line of police in the parking lot of an empty office park. It seemed a dull spot to make a stand. The two sides talked and then the protest moved around the corner, toward a higher-profile location.
On the walk over, cannabis activist Todd Hinden, a 51-year-old with a salt-and-pepper ponytail, was on the phone with his compatriots and getting irked: They were supposed to demonstrate together with a 50-foot inflatable joint, but where were they?
“Do you have the wagon with you? Or just the joint and the blower thing?” he shouted. “Oh man, you guys should have been there a lot earlier.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Stein, a 66-year-old doctor from Lexington, has marched around the country, spending up to 29 days a month on the road, amid an eclectic group of acolytes drawn together by a shared sense that the “two-party tyranny” of modern American politics doesn’t speak for them.
Jill Stein won’t win the election — that’s something on which even Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could agree. But anxious liberals are gnawing their fingernails over the notion that Stein and her merry band could siphon off enough votes from Clinton to hand the election to Trump. Though neither Stein nor her supporters seemed to care about that possibility, on a recent New York campaign swing.
“I’m not going to sleep well at night with either of them in office,” Stein insisted. Speaking by megaphone to her roadside rally, Stein lumped the two major parties together as the corrupt tools of a long list of corporate puppeteers: “predatory banks,” “fossil fuel giants,” “war profiteers,” “insurance companies,” the “big banks” again as well as “Wall Street investment companies,” and lobbyists.
That’s the sort of burn-down-the-establishment language that fires up Stein backers. What many nervous Democrats don’t realize is that Stein’s base probably wouldn’t vote for Clinton anyway. Take, for example, Sue Hammond, a 69-year old retired Syracuse doctor, who said she once supported the presidential aspirations of former Ohio representative Dennis Kucinich, one of the leftyist lefties ever elected to the Congress. That was until Kucinich sold out, in her mind, by voting for Obamacare instead of holding out for single-payer health care. She has decided, “There’s no point in electing progressive Democrats. When push comes to shove, it’s party over principle.”
The Stein protesters on Monday eventually sat down en masse in a public street, as close as they could get, given all the police roadblocks, to Hofstra University, where Clinton and Trump were preparing to debate. Their demand was that the Commission on Presidential Debates assign Stein a podium at the debate, and they intended to be taken away in handcuffs to make the point. Neither Stein nor Libertarian Gary Johnson met the threshold of 15 percent support in national polls for an invitation to the debate. In fact, Stein was the opposite of invited — she was escorted off campus that afternoon, for lacking credentials.
The police were cooperative, arresting 24 protesters, according to the Green Party, including Hammond, her first arrest in an act of civil disobedience.
Hinden, a New Yorker who said he’s looking for a place to live in Boston, was not arrested that night, but never found his friends, he later said, and saw no news coverage of their 50-foot inflatable joint. He attributed the screwup to “a lack of organizational skills” within the pro-cannabis group.
Stein’s campaign push continued in the morning with a media tour in Manhattan. An interviewer from the left-leaning Huffington Post asked the question Democrats scream at their televisions when they see Jill Stein.
How would you feel if Donald Trump wins and you played a considerable role?
“How will you feel,” Stein answered, sharply, in true worst-case-scenario mode, “if Hillary Clinton wins and then we’re in a nuclear war with Russia?”
Between interviews, the candidate filmed a campaign video on the sidewalk of West 25th Street, along a streetscape of apartments, bulging air conditioners, and fire escapes. The videographers didn’t want people walking through the shot. So Stein’s campaign manager, David Cobb, stood 50 yards down the sidewalk, asking every approaching pedestrian if they wouldn’t mind crossing the street. Cobb, 53, was the Green Party’s 2004 presidential nominee. He has an outgoing, sunny manner. One after another, famously hurried New Yorkers shrugged and crossed the street.
“Rachael Ray?” one woman asked, with a glance toward the videographers.
“Jill Stein,” Cobb told her. “Green Party candidate for president.”
“Ha!” the woman called out from the street. “She needs to drop out so Hillary can win.”
Yeah, Cobb said, they get that a lot. “But if you have to hold your nose when you pull the lever, at least acknowledge the stink.”
For those Stein fans arrested outside Hofstra, it was a long wait for fingerprints and mug shots on Long Island. Officers confiscated bags and belts. Hammond said they wanted to remove the drawstring from her scrubs. “I said, ‘If you take that cord my pants will fall down,’ ” she recalled later. The authorities backed off. But they renditioned her turkey sandwich to some unknown black site. She never saw it again. Hammond said she is charged with “obstructing governmental administration in the second degree,” under the penal code of New York. Her day in court will be Nov. 2. She’s working on her speech.