After Storms Wash Out Speeches, Green Party Rallies Under I-95

Green candidate Jill Stein gave a stump speech under I-95. Cornel West helped lead a singalong of “War.” It was a unique, impromptu campaign rally.

Jill Stein speaks under I-95 in South Philadelphia

Jill Stein speaks to supporters under I-95 in FDR Park after thunderstorms forced the Green Party to halt its rally. | Photo: Dan McQuade

Thunderstorms were starting to roll in around 6:45 on Monday night, and the Green Party seemed in disarray.

There was feedback on the microphone. Organizers were running on and off the stage, trying to figure out what to do next. Rapper Mic Crenshaw did a song, then stalled for time by doing another one. He’s pretty good, so this wouldn’t have been a problem except for the rain that was starting outside the rally tent in FDR Park in South Philadelphia.

The heat index had reached 109 degrees. There was a 10-minute delay to fix the microphones and get someone in the crowd medical assistance. Then professor and philosopher Cornel West, the biggest celebrity in attendance, came on stage. He introduced Jill Stein.

“We say to the DNC, we say to Hillary: No thank you,” Stein said to a crowd of several hundred under the tent and outside it. “The demise of the movement inside of the Democratic party leads to a new movement being born.” She called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, free higher education, the legalization of marijuana, and a “new green deal.” She urged Sanders to withdraw his endorsement of Clinton and collaborate with the Green Party. (He didn’t.)

Still, she plowed through her speech. Longtime Philadelphia activist Cheri Honkala, Stein’s running mate in 2012 who had organized a march to FDR Park before the rally, grabbed the microphone and began to speak. She was promptly cut off as organizers told everyone to run from the approaching storms.

Yes, nature turned against the Green Party. Things were chaotic. People ran. The skies opened up. A few people took shelter in Port-a-Potties. Others darted toward the FDR Park exit. Initial announcements as to where to seek shelter weren’t clear or loud enough. A handful of protesters (and me) walked to I-95, where we could avoid the rain under the highway. Police kicked us out to a different underpass, then different cops kicked us out of where we were moved to. Eventually, about 100 protesters (and a few reporters) sheltered under 95 in South Philadelphia.

As rain poured down, the mood was surprisingly festive. People sang. Then Cornel West and Jill Stein showed up. The crowd screamed. West, who had endorsed Stein before the convention, helped lead a singalong of “War” that included parody verses mocking Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Then, speaking through a megaphone, Jill Stein addressed supporters for about 15 minutes. She delivered the parts of her stump speech she hadn’t been able to get to before the thunderstorm rolled in, speaking at length about instant runoff voting and reiterating that she would cancel predatory student loan debt.

“If we can bail out the crooks on Wall Street,” she said, “it’s about time we bailed out their victims holding predatory student loan debt. You were enticed into these loans with the promise of good jobs. Well, we don’t have those jobs because Wall Street crashed the economy. They have torn up the contract. It’s over and done. Forget the guilt trip.”

Supporters exited FDR Park (or headed to a “Funeral for Democracy” protest) after Stein’s speech. The rain may have halted the proceedings for a majority of the crowd, but those who fled for shelter got an up-close look at the Green Party’s presidential candidate.

In RealClearPolitics’ general election polling averages, Stein currently pulls about 3 percent of the vote.