By Chris Shorr. Originally published by Bangore Daily News.

Over the past several days, censorship of Maine Green Independent Party (MGIP) members who support U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in his run for the White House has caused bitter dissension in party ranks.

As a member of the MGIP, and recipient of the party’s “Green of the Year” award in 2013, I am one of many party members who hope to see Sanders win the Democratic Party’s nomination to the presidential ballot over Hillary Clinton, which would all but guarantee a win for him in the presidential election — in my opinion.

I’m also one of the many party members who have openly expressed my frustration with MGIP leadership for the censorship.

I was contacted this past weekend by Daniel Stromgren, who is the state party treasurer, member of the party Steering Committee, and 2014 recipient of the “Green of the Year” award.

In response to the ordeal, Stromgren collaborated with other party members (not including myself) to write a press release explaining how the conflict went down and the ensuing fallout- which includes the likely scenario of a brand new political party being started in Maine that would be modeled after the Progressive Party of Vermont.

Here’s what they had to say:

The Great Divide: Recent Conflict in Maine Green Party Highlights Serious Cracks in Maine’s Most Viable Progressive Movement.

The Maine Green Independent Party faced one of its greatest challenges in years as a discussion about supporting Progressive Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont, or Presumptive Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein erupted in vitriol from party activists and threats to leave the party from mainstream and locally elected Greens.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Photo: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters.

The ruckus ended in party moderators removing posts from discussion forums as many Greens made accusations of censorship, stifling of free political speech and openly made threats to leave the 30 year old party.

The flare-up began with the creation of a Greens for Sanders Facebook page by State Party Treasurer and the MGIP’s ‘Green of the Year” for 2014 Daniel Stromgren, and escalated when Stromgren posted links to the group in both MGIP and USGP discussion forums.

“I was supporting Sanders in private forums and outside my leadership role in the MGIP because I believe he is the candidate with the best chance to win the 2016 Presidential Election and will best represent the interests of progressive politics. I have nothing against Jill Stein except that she has very little chance of being elected and most voters outside the Green Party have never heard of her,” said Stromgren.

“I was also trying to provide a safe place and representation for Greens who support Bernie Sanders to avoid the ghosts of Dennis Kucinich in 2004 which saw a mass exodus of Greens so they could participate in the Democrat Party’s nominating process.”

It was not long after the group was posted in these forums that the conflict erupted into a contentious and sometimes bitter debate that saw Greens for both candidates begin to passionately and sometimes angrily attack each other while showing a large ideological split in the party and with some members of the Stein camp demanding the resignation of Stromgren as Party Treasurer.
In response, Sanders Greens threatened to leave the party or stop financial contributions.

“I was told to resign my leadership position by a fellow Steering Committee Member and Former Green Party Chair yet I was elected by the membership of the MGIP. This bullying pushed me to finally push back against censorship and elitism in the MGIP,” Stromgren continued.

Daniel Stromgren campaigning for Maine House District 54 in 2014. Photo- Troy R. Bennett, BDN.
Daniel Stromgren campaigning for Maine House District 54 in 2014. Photo: Troy R. Bennett, BDN.

“I was rebuffed and again they insisted that I step down. Yet the majority of our 40,000 voter membership is going to vote for Sanders if he beats Hillary. I refused and others in the party started to publicly indicate that they also supported Bernie Sanders and found the actions of a select few Portland activists unacceptable. A large portion of the party feels like I do but a small portion has the centralized power. I for one am sick of it.”

One would have thought this was enough but the divide didn’t stop there.

The following morning, Greens logged onto their computers to find the debate thread missing. In its place was a message that the moderators had removed the messages and the posts without issuing warnings or consulting with party leadership.

This created a new round of heated debates, threats and innuendos with the discussion leading to accusations of censorship and limiting free political speech in a party that prides itself on being open to differences.

State Party Senior Advisor Benjamin Meiklejohn addressed the problems associated with any perception of censorship and disenfranchisement of Greens who want to support Sanders and understand why he is running as a Democrat:

“Statistically speaking, if you look at the numbers, between 80% and 97% of our own party’s members will not vote for the Green presidential candidate in the general election. When the party purists reprimand and attack other party members who are not loyal to the party’s presidential candidate, they are essentially turning off and turning away 80% to 97% of our own party.”

In addressing campaigns like the Kucinich Campaign of 2004 he continued:

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, we recognized that this was just a fact of the nature of our own base and membership. While we always encouraged people to support the Green candidate, we also refrained from attacking the vast majority of our members who choose not to.”

Discussions of censorship and references to the Bernie Sanders/Jill Stein issue for the Greens continued to rock the party to its foundations through Sunday. Although it appeared that there was a cooling off period in the public discussion forums, several party members indicated that the attacks had simply moved to private messages and individual confrontations among members.

The question lying in the wings is: how will the Party resolve this issue and can it survive in the wake of one of its most difficult conflicts in years?

There is certainly anger and resentment in both the Sanders and Stein groups with some minimal apologies being offered but also with an obviously great deal of tension between the two factions of the party.

It’s up to the Greens to resolve this problem and decide who they will support in 2016 and how they will do it but the events of the last four days highlight significant challenges for the progressive movement and particularly the Maine Green Independent Party in the coming months.

There has even been talk of a schism in the Green Party with some activists discussing the formation of a Progressive Party in Maine modeled after the successful third party in Vermont. This party was interestingly started after a similar ideological division within the Green Party of Vermont.

“We have to look at what is best for this country and not worry about who takes the credit for it,” Stromgren concluded.

“We will not be censored. We can tone down the message but the message is, ‘we are Greens. This is our forum too.’ I am a registered member and officer of this party. If our posts are censored again, I will ask the leadership to take immediate action against those who remove it.”

It will be interesting to see if Bernie Sanders can maintain and build enough momentum to defeat Hillary. It will be equally interesting to see how the Maine Green Independent Party weathers the progressive dilemma and makes its way through the world of big league politics as a small market team.