The Green Party Campaign
— Michael Rubin and Linda Thompson
THE STAKES IN the 2012 presidential election are high: global warming manifesting itself in the hottest summer ever, wreaking havoc on agriculture and weather patterns; the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline all but approved; and the unmitigated effects of the BP oil spill and plans for drilling for oil in the Artic proceeding apace.
Yet these, along with other key issues of war, civil liberties and racism aren’t even part of the Democratic-Republican debate. When addressing issues of the economy, the two major parties present competing versions of austerity for the working class.
The Green Party presidential nominating convention, held in Baltimore July 12-15, showed that the party is confronting these issues head on. It is poised to build on the popular energy generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Occupations it inspired across the country.
Jill Stein was chosen from a field of four candidates, including popular TV actress and political activist Roseanne Barr.
Convention speakers included grassroots Green Party candidates and activists. George Martin spoke as a member of the Green Party of the United States International Committee and a founding member of the party’s Black Caucus. Martin served as Program Director of Peace Action Wisconsin, and initiated the Milwaukee Bring the Troops Home Referendum Campaign and the Wisconsin Peace Voter Campaign.
Reverend Ed Pinkney, NAACP Branch President from Benton Harbor, Michigan (a largely Black town recently taken over by an Emergency Manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder) spoke on Public Act 4, the law granting unprecedented dictatorial powers to the state’s Emergency Managers (EMs) to break union contracts, take over pension systems, set school curriculums and even to dissolve or disincorporate municipalities.
Leland Pan, an Occupy student leader, and pediatrician Margaret Flowers, a national leader for single payer health care, also spoke at the nominating rally.
Gar Alperovitz’s inspirational keynote address was remarkable for his references to socialism and the positive response of the delegates. He said their challenge was “the transformation of the most powerful corporate capitalistic system in the history of the world — that’s what it’s about . . . not simply a gesture, not simply a new party, not simply a green movement. . .”
Alperovitz concluded by referring to two recent polls that showed 49% of youth had a favorable opinion of socialism. The same poll found that a majority (53%) of Democrats believe capitalism and Christian values are at odds. He drew the obvious conclusion that there are unprecedented opportunities to transform the system. (The speech can be viewed at http://www.democracynow.org/2012/7/16/gar_alperovitzs_green_party_keynote_we.)
Jill Stein’s Activist Appeal
Jill Stein had campaigned for the nomination over the past year. As a physician, she is a well-known advocate for single payer health care. She has testified before legislative panels and governmental bodies on environmental issues, successfully opposing the construction of trash incinerators and campaigning to clean up the “Filthy Five” coal plants in Massachusetts, her home state.
Stein previously ran against Milt Romney when she ran as a Green-Rainbow candidate for Massachusetts Governor in 2002. She also represented the party in races for State Representative in 2004 and for Secretary of State two years later. That year she won the votes of over 350,000 Massachusetts citizens, the highest vote total for a Green-Rainbow candidate.
In her spirited acceptance speech Stein stated, “We need real public servants who listen to the people — not to the corporate lobbyists that funnel campaign checks into the big war chest.” Stein told applauding supporters, “That’s what brought me to the Green Party, the only national party that is not bought and paid for by corporate money.
“It is yet another sign that we are in a different historical moment right now — that people are taking the stakes here very seriously and understanding that it is we, ourselves, who are going to get us out of this mess, we, the American people.
“The corporate-sponsored political parties — the establishment — isn’t going to change the status quo for us. We’ve got to do it.”
Chants of “Bring the Troops Home Now” erupted when Stein denounced the illegal wars waged by the United States and called for closing the 1000 U.S. military bases around the world. When she addressed the Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation planks of the Greens to democratize the elections, call-and-response chants of “Tell me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like!” reverberated around the room. She condemned the National Defense Authorization Act, the use of drones, the Patriot Act, the racist Arizona immigration laws, and called for repealing NAFTA.
Jill Stein introduced Cheri Honkala as her vice-presidential running mate at a press conference at the National Press Club on the opening day of the convention. (Videos from the press conference are at: http://www.jillstein.org/cheri_honkala_vp_candidate.)
Honkala recently ran for Sheriff of Philadelphia as a Green candidate, pledging to serve the interests of the people instead of the banks. She also founded the local Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) and the national Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign.
Stein and Honkala are running on a platform called a Green “New Deal”— an emergency program designed to create 25 million jobs and jump-start a green economy for the 21st century to help address climate change and make wars for oil obsolete.
An Important Campaign
A strong Green campaign and showing could have an important impact on the country’s political direction. Just as the Tea Party moved political discourse to the right, a strong third party campaign coupled with a reinvigorated Occupy movement could halt this retrograde trend.
The Jill Stein campaign has qualified for federal matching funds by raising at least $5000 in a minimum of 20 states, with only the first $250 from any one contributor counting. Historically, this is a first for the Green Party.
This Green Party convention had the feel of a movement event. There were numerous references to the Occupy movement, to which delegates responded enthusiastically. With the campaign slogan of “Occupy the Elections,” the party declared its solidarity with the goals of the Occupy movement and the 99% who are not represented by the two corporate parties.
While “lesser evilism” is far from dead, the hopes placed in Obama as a transformative president have definitely faded. Just before the convention a group of well-known political activists on the left — Noam Chomsky, David Swanson, Medea Benjamin, Leah Bolger, Bruce Gagnon, Chris Hedges, George Martin and Kevin Zeese — issued a statement of support for Jill Stein.
Responding to the “spoiler” argument that plagued Green Party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000, David Cobb in 2004 and Cynthia McKinney in 2008, Stein declared that “You can’t spoil something that is already rotten,” adding that “you don’t get democracy by silencing the voice of the public interest.” Interviewed for the first time by Amy Goodman on ”Democracy Now,” Stein argued that keeping silent and voting for the lesser evil has brought us everything that we were afraid of from economic recession to increased wars, to unemployment and loss of civil liberties.
Of the almost 300 convention delegates, the largest number were from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. The majority were white and over 40, but there was a critical element of enthusiastic students and youth who can take advantage of the openings that the Occupy movement has provided.
While there is considerable variation among state parties, in some places the Greens are a substantial electoral party with locals running candidates for office regularly. In other states the entire party has the character of a small political club.
Ballot access for a new political party is almost impossible in some states. Currently the party has ballot status in 21 states and expects to be on the ballot in 40 states (or more) in time for the November election, and is earmarking the federal matching funds for ballot access drives.
Green leaders from Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Benin and the executive director of the Heinrich Boell foundation (an international organization that in Germany serves as the educative arm of the German Greens) were present, offering an extended opportunity to learn about their electoral history. The Germans also came to appreciate how draconian U.S. ballot access and election laws are. Joachim Denkinger, Deputy Secretary of the European Green group of elected MP’s in the European Union Parliament, reported that “European Greens would never have been so successful electorally if they did not have proportional representation.”
The Role of Independent Politics
From its original formation around ecological issues, the Green Party has become a social-justice-based party, clearly on the left although not exclusively so.
Within the party there’s a wide political variation from left-liberal to socialist, but the party’s direction under the impact of the recession is to become more radical. Women, African Americans and Latinos have organized themselves into caucuses within the party and have run for office. There is an ongoing effort to organize a caucus of labor activists as well.
The largest state party is the California Green Party with over 100,000 registrants, although only a fraction of these are active in the party. There are active groups in 24 of the state’s 58 counties. In Oakland, where there’s been an upswing in Green activity there will be at least four candidates for local office in November (City Council and School Board), including three people of color.
Many Greens are ex-Democrats and can remember exactly when they left, and what particular outrage drove them out of, the Democratic Party, even if some Greens still pull the lever for Democrats at times.
Roseanne Barr, the noted comedian, had recently joined the Green Party and presented herself as a presidential candidate. By the time she appeared at a forum with Jill Stein in San Francisco last May, she was an effective speaker whose identification with the working class came across as genuine and heartfelt.
Barr has now left the Green Party and is running for president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket with Cindy Sheehan as her running mate. This is an unfortunate development.
Marcy Winograd, a leader of the Progressive Democrats of America in southern California, ran against Jane Harman (a leading Congressional Democratic Party warmonger) in the 2010 Democratic primary. She has now joined the Green Party.
Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, also very publicly left the Democratic Party. Burned by a fight inside the Green Party in his state, he is running as a presidential candidate on the Justice Party, a party that he is forming.
Independent political action is an important part of a socialist strategy. A broad radical electoral party would be a big step forward in changing the U.S. political situation.
Both authors feel strongly that socialists and activists should support Green Party candidates, and vote for them wherever possible. Despite the party’s weaknesses and shortcomings, it represents the the best option today for advancing independent political action.
Saying “don’t vote for the Democrats” without posing a concrete alternative, or urging people not to vote at all, strikes us as ineffectual. Breaking away from the Democratic Party is a necessary step towards the construction of a Left worthy of the name.
The Green Party provides not only an electoral alternative, but a link with the Occupy, labor, Black, Latino and women’s movements. Socialists are welcome and prominent in the GP, give workshops on socialism at the gatherings, and are referred to favorably by Jill Stein as supporters in her campaign speeches. It is imperative that socialists take note and not stand aside from a party taking on corporate America with energy, dedication and a bevy of courageous and seasoned activists and organizers who intend, in the words of Gar Alperovitz, “to change the world.”
September/October 2012, ATC 160