On Friday evening, a seemingly nondescript meeting on the logistics for the upcoming Green Party of New Jersey State Convention turned into a chaotic and bizarre scene, culminating with two people being rushed to the hospital. One of the injured, Maer Skjöldur (38) of Jefferson, was released from RWJ University Hospital early Saturday morning, while the other, Mark Mingels (35) of Rockaway, remains hospitalized in stable condition.
The event took place at “The Skullcap and Beard,” a popular coffee café near Rutgers University in New Brunswick. As I approached the venue, I saw a young man, who appeared to be of Hispanic descent, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the café and holding a Starbucks cup. He looked disheveled and very haggard. I noticed a number of Greens dropping loose change into his cup, and just as I was about to pass through the door, I overheard one Green ask the apparent itinerant if he needed refugee sanctuary. Obviously distraught, the unidentified man glared at the well-meaning Green, repeatedly saying, “Just leave me the fuck alone!” This prompted the café owner, who sported a skullcap and beard, to come outside and threaten to call the police if the angry man did not leave the area. The man rose to his feet and shuffled away, muttering incoherently.
Shortly after that incident, the meeting began, with GPNJ Chairperson, Hulie Milisandre, being the first to speak to a crowd of 20-plus sitting at six reserved tables at the back of the café. Milisandre firmly laid out the ground rules for the proceedings, stating that there would be no discussion of the proposed bylaw amendments, which were going to be voted upon at the upcoming convention. Some of these bylaws were an ongoing source of contention within the party, and not being able to discuss them did not appear to sit well with some in the audience.
Before discussing the logistics of the convention, Milisandre made a special announcement, strongly recommending a new mobile app, PrivZap, which uses state-of-the-art voice recognition software to detect when a user does not “check their privilege” and subsequently delivers a small electrical shock to the app user. Milisandre made a passionate pitch for the app to the all-white audience, semi-politely emphasizing the members’ general lack of insight. A good portion of the crowd repeatedly nodded in approval, nearly in unison, while others began conversing, mainly discussing how enlightened they were on privilege, “unlike most in America,” and collectively using the word “privilege” a dizzying number of times.
As Milisandre attempted to move the meeting along, a man, later identified as Richard Head, stood up and loudly interrupted the Chair. Head, a rather large but strangely handsome man, began a diatribe about the divisiveness of identity politics, the need to unite the working class, and the necessity for a precise and pragmatic electoral strategy. Most of all, Head expressed his disdain for the proposed bylaw that would mandate limiting the number of “straight” white males on the Green Council – unless they were members of the Self-Flagellating Caucus. In Head’s words, “I refuse to be excluded based on my skin color, my gender, my sexuality, or my skin sensitivity – I scar rather easily.”
Head’s comments were met with a chorus of disapproval, and the meeting began to descend into chaos. Heated exchanges popped up at every table. This not only prompted another round of the word “privilege” being used an inordinate number of times, but also incited several debates about the improper use of pronouns. The fact that the word “intersectionality” was used even once was a surprise to both me and the person who was intended to hear it. Two particular Greens appeared to come unhinged during this time: one was laughing hysterically while repeatedly saying “electoral strategy;” another appeared to be in trance, rocking in her chair and chanting “Hon-ka-la.” Overall, it was a very confusing and disturbing scene.
During the bedlam, the unidentified young man, who had been chased away earlier, stormed into the café and began yelling at the owner. “You owe me a cup of coffee! These dumbass hippies harassed me, and then you threatened to call the cops on me? It’s bullshit, dude!” said the red-faced man. The owner was having none of it, and reached for his cell phone and dialed 911. At the same time, a distracted waiter dropped an entire carafe of coffee, and it shattered as it hit the ground. The shouting lasted no more than a minute before the unidentified man bolted out the door. The police arrived shortly after, and with the aid of a couple of Greens, who demonstrated breathing exercises, relative calm ensued. The calm was short-lived, however.
The unsettled waiter walked to the janitorial closet to retrieve a mop to clean up the mess on the floor. I was actually watching him closely because he appeared to be the only person in the room doing anything constructive. After he unlocked and opened the door, all color left his face and he screamed at the top of his lungs, “HELP!” I quickly ran to his aid. I looked inside, and to my horror, I saw two motionless bodies on the floor. The two police officers, who had yet to leave, were right behind me. They quickly examined the bodies, and one said to the other in an ominous tone, “they’re still alive.”
After the building was cleared, many worried Greens wandered about, discussing what may have happened to the two unconscious people. The prevailing theory seemed to be that vaccinations were the likely cause. Eventually, Milisandre announced that the meeting would reconvene on Sunday afternoon at a local sushi bar. At that point, most of the Greens went home, but several very concerned party members remained.
One of those who stayed was the Chair of the Membership Committee, Ryan Gile, who was standing next to me when I managed to interview a police officer. The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, explained to us that both Mingels and Skjöldur had suffered from carbon dioxide poisoning. “It’s the craziest fucking thing that I have ever seen,” she said. “Apparently, this was a secret backroom meeting, and one of them put a towel at the base of the door to sound proof the closet. What they didn’t know is that they were cutting off the air supply. They talked so much and were in there so long, they sucked up all of the oxygen and filled the closet with CO2. One of the medics told me that the female was in much better shape than the male because she must have fallen asleep while the guy was talking, lowing her breathing rate and taking in less CO2,” said the puzzled officer.
After the officer walked away, I looked at Gile, who had a very concerned look on his face. He explained that he knew about the meeting, and he had attempted to cut it short. Gile explained, “Listen, I love Mark to death. He’s a great guy, but he takes this backchanneling way too far. I went over there at one point and told Mark to come out of the closet, but he didn’t answer. I know Mark wanted Maer to help him be reelected at the convention and support his baby, SIC. The problem is that Mark has a tendency to go off on tangents and talk forever. Lately, he’s been going on and on about not using aggressive prepositions, like ‘off.’ And, he has been ranting that Vegans should not eat animal crackers.”
I asked what SIC was, and Gile told me that it stood for the Socialist Initiative Collective. According to Gile, Mingels had been working for years on an amendment to have all of the socialist parties and the Green Party to run candidates in New Jersey elections under one banner – “The SIC Green Party.” Giles further explained, “There are like 13 different socialist parties in Jersey. We’re talking about like 900 people! Mark wants us to all work together, except Socialist Alternative – he considers SA a cult.”
I pondered what Gile said, and then pointed out that the biggest party in the proposed collective, the Socialist Party of New Jersey, wasn’t exactly a political force; in fact, they were unable to get the 800 petition signatures needed for their 2016 presidential candidate to be on the ballot in the state, which has six million voters. I also added that the word “socialist” might scare many voters away. Gile responded by saying, “Yeah, personally, I would much rather that we focus on flushing FBI informants out of the party. It’s a huge problem . . . ”
I started walking to my car while Gile was still in midsentence. I could not wrap my mind around everything that I had seen and heard this night, and I could not take anymore. As I approached my vehicle, I saw someone walking toward me out of the corner of my eye. He was now wearing a hat and had changed his shirt – to a t-shirt with a picture of Joseph Stalin with a wombat on his lap – but I recognized the person. It was the angry young man from the café.
As he approached, curiosity got the best of me. I stopped in my tracks, turned, and asked, “Hey, how’s it going? You OK?” The man was surprisingly subdued and introduced himself as Diego Lodbrok, a senior at Rutgers and one of the founding members of the All Marxist-Leninist Union (AMLU). He went on to describe what led up to the disturbances at the café. “I had a rough day before I got to the coffee shop. I had three classes in the morning, and I always volunteer at a local soup kitchen at lunchtime. Then, we ALMU members marched with a local striking union, where I was fucking peppered sprayed. On my way home, I got a cup of coffee and sat on the sidewalk because I was beat. And then those morons start dropping coins in my coffee – typical Green Party crap. I just lost it.”
Diego and I went to a local bar. We had some beers and lots of laughs while discussing the absurd events of the evening. As we parted, my new friend left me with this quote from Karl Marx, “Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”
Footnote: The 2017 GPNJ Convention will take place on take place in South Amboy on April 8 and 9. The keynote speaker will be Sun Hines, a Polio survivor and former patient of Dr. Jill Stein.