Headlined by activist YahNe Ndgo, about 100 supporters showed up at the East Liberty theater from across Western Pennsylvania to hear speeches, songs and poems in favor of love, peace and change, while directing a critical eye at the existing two-party system.
“If you’re going to put your life on the line, put your life on the line for love, not people’s profits,” Ndgo said.
The event went on without Jill Stein, the party’s candidate for President. Stein was supposed to appear, but had to cancel for health reasons, according to Carl Romanelli, the Stein campaign’s Pennsylvania coordinator.
In her place, Ndgo took the role of the keynote speaker, while organizers played a video of a Stein campaign speech.
The third-party activism comes on the heels of the latest Pennsylvania poll from Franklin & Marshall College, which found that 35 percent of Pennsylvania Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton voters support her due to a dislike of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, and that 30 percent support Trump due to dislike of Clinton.
Both answers were also the most common justification for voters’ choice.
The poll found that 49 percent of Pennsylvania voters support Clinton, followed by 38 percent for Trump, 4 percent for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 2 percent for Stein.
Despite some disappointment at Stein’s no-show, the crowd was engaged, cheering and waving orange, green and white “Stein Baraka” signs — Ajamu Baraka, a human-rights activist, being Stein’s running mate.
Cassie Riggs attended the rally with her friend Emma Alkire. Riggs, an East Pittsburgh resident, supported universal health care and peaceful resolutions to world conflicts. Not finding either of those issues on the Democratic or Republican parties’ platforms, she is voting Green in the presidential election.
“My main reason for supporting [Stein] is because the two-party system is inefficient,” Riggs said.
However, down ballot, she planned to vote for Democrats like Senate challenger Katie McGinty and incumbent 14th Congressional District Representative Mike Doyle, as Riggs wasn’t aware of third-party candidates besides Stein.
Ed Bortz and his partner, Sandy Hazley, have been Greens for the past 20 years — Hazley, who’s “never voted for an establishment candidate in [her] life,” supported Stein “since I first heard her name.”
Bortz noted, however, that the Greens “haven’t ran enough local candidates." Historically, Greens have had the most electoral success at the local level, he said. The two, who are North Side residents, neither remembered voting for a successful candidate.
“[The Green Party] doesn’t need to wait for presidential elections,” Bortz said. “We need to find a slate of people for municipal elections.”
Bortz tried unsuccessfully running for Congress before, and has no intention of trying again, but he’ll continue to support the party’s nominees.
Despite the struggles to find local candidates, one regional reformer on the ballot took the theater’s stage Tuesday night after a musical performance by Mike Stout, a labor-organizer-turned-protest musician whose set included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” Then Michael Badges-Canning, a candidate for Pennsylvania's 64th House District in Butler and Venango County, spoke.
Badges-Canning, who was arrested after September’s Shale Insight conference for attempting to enter the Duquesne Club to interrupt a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, rallied the crowd around the Greens positions with a game of call-and-response.
Asking the crowd for a “hell yes” if they supported an issue, Badges-Canning ran through the Greens' positions, eliciting cheers on topics ranging from fracking and the Black Lives Matter movement to electoral reform.
Then, referencing his arrest, Badges-Canning turned against the mainstream candidates.
“[Trump] is not the only fat-cat politician. If Hillary Clinton would come to Pittsburgh I would have talked to her, too,” Badges-Canning said. “We got to dump Trump, and we need Jill, not Hill.” [Editor’s note: Hillary Clinton has been to Pittsburgh several times since January, including an appearance here last weekend, and plans a return trip on Friday; details of the visit are not yet available.]
Carl Redwood, a Hill District Consensus Group member, also attacked the Democrats, seeing the party as complicit in the destruction of inner-city neighborhoods. And despite repeated cries he’s heard from friends, from 1960 to 2016, about the danger of voting a third party due to the spoiler effect — where a vote for a third party hurts the support of ideologically similar candidates — Redwood was insistent on voting for Stein.
"This concept of we have to support the lesser of two evils is a real danger for our community ... [that] always gets you both,” Redwood said.
Her voice raising and lowering, arms gesticulating, Ndgo spent time in her speech attacking both Hillary and her husband, former president Bill Clinton for “push[ing] the Democratic Party to the right” on issues like mass incarceration, welfare and trade deals like NAFTA.
With these issues pushed out of the mainstream, Ndgo wants to make the Green Party a new home for the left.
“The Green Party has set itself up and out to be the electoral arm of the [justice] movements across the country,” Ndgo said.
Seeing young speakers like Ndgo, and at the state of the nation, Bortz can’t help but be excited.
“We're growing,” he said. “A new generation is stepping up.”
With many Pennsylvania residents voting against a presidential candidate, not for one, Green Party activists pitched their platform of reform to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater Tuesday night with a week to go before the general election.