He was a Burgher for Bernie, but now he’s backing Jill Stein

Stein surrogate YahNe Ndgo will speak at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater tonight.

Jill Stein in Arizona

Jill Stein in Arizona

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

After weeks of campaign visits to the Pittsburgh area from surrogates for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s turn tonight.

Artist and activist YahNe Ndgo, a prominent Bernie or Bust-er who recently went Green, will campaign for Stein at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty tonight. The event was organized by the Green Party of Allegheny County.

Stein was scheduled to appear, but she’s recovering from pneumonia.

Stein’s chances of winning Pennsylvania — or the presidency — are slim to none. She’s polling at around 2 percent nationally, according to Real Clear Politics.

The Green Party is also facing an uphill battle in firmly blue Allegheny County. As of Oct. 24, there were 539,701 registered Democrats in the county, 259,454 Republicans, 72,703 unaffiliated voters and 51,744 in the “other” category, according to state records.

Mark Brown of Pittsburgh supported Democrat Bernie Sanders during the primary and had helped found Burghers for Bernie.

Now, he’s backing Stein.

“I’m working pretty hard around Pittsburgh to get more support,” Brown, who formed the group Steel City for Stein, told The Incline while putting up fliers in East Liberty to promote tonight’s Stein event.

He and more than a dozen other people involved with the grassroots Stein movement in Pittsburgh are talking to voters, recruiting supporters, collecting signatures and soliciting donations, Brown said.

“Our goal is to get her elected,” he said.

More realistically, Stein supporters are trying to get her at least 5 percent of the vote, which would make an estimated $8 to $10 million in federal funding available to the Green Party for the 2020 election. Meeting this threshold would also make it easier for the Greens to get on state ballots.

Brown said he’s had a hard time talking to Clinton supporters about Stein. These conversations, he’s found, turn into an “instant fight,” especially online. Others haven’t heard of Stein, he said, but are open to hearing about her positions.

This election has also caused a rift between local progressives, something Brown said he witnessed first-hand. The way he sees it, the Bernie supporters who are better off were able to support Clinton — however reluctantly — while those who can’t afford to go to the doctor or get an apartment went with Stein.

Brown got involved in politics after he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2009 with a degree to become a microbiologist and $65,000 in debt.

“The cost of college had gone insane,” he said.

Brown said he had heard President Barack Obama urging people to join STEM fields, only to find “the pay wasn’t there.” Sequestration led to cuts in science funding, and Brown said he lost two lab positions in one year.

It was around this time that Brown said he got “deeply concerned about politics” and learned about Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

He became active locally in Sanders’ campaign for president and eventually helped form Burghers for Bernie. But he left the grassroots group this summer following the Democratic National Convention, after some members said they would vote for Clinton in the general election — something Brown said he cannot do.

Brown’s reasons for not supporting Clinton are many: she’s “untrustworthy,” “beholden to people on Wall Street” and will “answer to her corporate masters.” He called Clinton’s statement on the pipeline protest happening near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota “incredibly callous.”

“I actually think she’s the greater evil,” Brown said of Clinton versus Trump.

Brown plans to stay involved with the Green Party after the election is over. He sees it as a changing party, one that has been infused “with Bernie’s energy” and has a chance of disrupting the two-party system in the future.

He also thinks the Green Party needs to get involved in other causes like union struggles, homelessness and gentrification. To “put our money where our mouth is.”