August 22, 2016

A word from the Green Party's Big Mac Caucus

Sam Smith

I’m taking it in the chops from some Green Party members for not supporting Jill Stein for president. It’s nothing new for me. I’ve tried to discourage Green Party runs for president for a long time, feeling that, in most cases, building from the bottom up is the most useful thing a third party can do and – absent fusion politics or ranked choice voting – there is little to come of a presidential run other than a lot distraction from more meaningful efforts.

My third party experience goes back four decades as I was one of the founders of the DC Statehood Party which would have representation on the city’s council and/or school board for many years. I was also involved in getting the national Green Party off the ground.

In looking back, there was a striking difference between the two parties. The Statehood Party was formed by 1960s civil rights, anti-freeway and anti-war activists. For my part, I saw politics not as salvation but as a tool largely unused during the previous decade. It wasn’t designed to replace 1960s activism but to serve and add to it. Further, we organized by issue rather than by ideology or social identity. For example, strange is it may seem today, DC’s successful anti-freeway movement was kicked off by black and white middle class homeowners who didn’t want their neighborhood wrecked. And nobody asked them where they stood on other matters.

When, in the 1990s, John Rensenbrink called me about coming to a gathering aimed at a launching a national Green Party, I told him that I wasn’t good enough to be a Green. He said that was all right and that there would be a Libertarian there as well. I ended up helping to get the Green Party started, albeit declaring myself chair of its Big Mac Caucus to help cover for my imperfections.

Although I would make many friends in the party, my first reaction reflected what I now perceive as a difference between the DC Statehood Party and the Greens. The former’s only real test was whether you supported its issues; the latter was more a formal community, like say a church or club, complete with ten key values.

When I was in the Statehood Party, I even kept some voting registration forms in a file so if I wanted to switch to Democratic for a few months when a hot primary fight was going I could do so. I would never admit doing so as a Green.

In fact, the only important matter on which I would split from the Greens was presidential candidacies. These struck me as a waste of time, money and, except in special cases, an invitation for the powerful – as they falsely did with Nader in 2000 - to blame Greens for the Democrats’ problems. There was a century’s history of third party failure to back this up. And the exceptions were special – like Populists who were so successful at fusion politics (where candidates appeared on two tickets) that this system was outlawed in most American states.

The record of the Green Party’s presidential races finds that in 2000 Ralph Nader got only 2.7% of the popular vote and in her last effort Jill Stein got only 16% of Nader’s total. And there is little evidence that these White House contests improved the Greens overall condition in any way.

What I had also hoped was that, like the DC Statehood Party, the Greens would put their emphasis on more local politics. As I wrote back then:
Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. And conservative columnist William Safire admits that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureacracy' were often leveled at centralized authority." The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results.
The Greens have been showing this same top-down bias to their own disadvantage. It is, among other things, ahistorical, as the bulk of serious positive change – such as with abolition, the environment, marijuana and gay rights – starts at the bottom and works its way up.

You get a sense of this in my state of Maine, where the American Greens not only got their start but has been one of the party’s more successful centers. Its major city, Portland, has had elected Greens since 2001 and there are about 40,000 party members statewide.

You are not a nut if you are a Maine Green but a member of a group that best defines progressivism in that state and one that has helped in no small way to create a culture that this fall will vote on referendums calling for a three percent tax on household income over $200,000, a minimum wage of $12 an hour, an end to marijuana prohibition, $100 million in bonds for transportation projects, and statewide ranked choice voting (which Portland already has)

But despite the role the Greens have and could have in moving us, a check of the Maine and other Green websites finds an obsession with the Jill Stein campaign for president.

I learned my politics in places like Philadelphia, greater Boston and Washington. Call me – as Marion Barry once did – a “cynical cat” but I’m conscious of the huge difference between treating politics as a tool as opposed to an ideology, theology or certification of one’s own virtue. It is actually like protests and boycotts, and the trick is to use it wisely, not to prove how good you are.

Which is why I am voting for the Democratic candidate for president – who sadly is Hillary Clinton - because that seems the best way to save the Supreme Court, the Senate, our laws such as Social Security, and other pieces of our democracy. I’m choosing a battlefield over pointless proof of my own virtue.

And one week later, I will attend the next meeting of  the Brunswick, Greens to talk with others about what we do next.


Anonymous said...

Ugh! - Sam is a lesser-evilist.

Don't you see, Sam, that you violate the very foundations of democracy when you do that?

The Greeks wanted people to be able to vote their conscience.

If one does not do that, one negates the basic tenet of democracy: vote for the person who most nearly reflects your preferences.

Anonymous said...

Not so much a cynical cat as a blind one. Glen Ford accurately calls it, Hillary, just as with Obama, will be the more effective evil. By her staff selections already, it is clear that hers will be a continuation of the corporate subservient/war mongering status quo. It is practically a sure bet TPP/TTIP/TISA WILL BE SIGNED. Under the rules of arbitration that go along with these surrenders to oligarchy, arguments regarding Supreme Court nominees become irrelevant as US sovereignty will have been dismantled. And of course, folks like Kenny Salazar offer up a clear signal that any hope of addressing our suicidal fossil fuel addiction is pretty much nixed.
But why be concerned about climate change, because Hillary's bound to render that concern irrelevant due to the promise of the nuclear annihilation from the World War she'll likely trigger.
Jesus Sam, how can you fail to perceive this. Hillary Clinton is possibly the most dangerous person on the planet.

Anonymous said...

Sam, if we don't get a third or multi-party system established in this country, we will never escape the political cycle we are in now - where donors fund both sides and there is little real difference between parties when it comes to results.

How you can vote for the Clinton's - who as Pat Caddell has said established the most corrupt enterprise in US history in the State Department and now want to move that operation to the White House - is beyond me!

Anonymous said...

When Matt Gonzales ran for the Mayor of San Francisco as a Green and was ahead in the polls the Dem party brought in all their heavyweights like Bill Clinton, lots of money and attacked Gonzales viciously to ensure the more centrist Gavin Newsome won. So weather local or top down, if it's important, the new right center Dem party will attack progressives. The Bush's are willing to support Clinton over Trump to keep the money flowing into their wars and we're supposed to ignore this and cheer about possible Supreme Court appointments? Follow the money to trillion dollar wars and ask yourself what you're really voting for?

Joan Roelofs said...

I was active in the local (Monadnock, NH) Greens and the national movement from 1985-1993. I was on the national coordinating committee from 92-93.
At that time, the Green movement was about issues. The reason I and many others participated was because our issues were diverse, and only in the Greens could we address or express them: anti-nuclear, anti-war, feminism,
anti-racist, etc. While some time was spent discussing key values and mission statements, we didn't get very far with them. In many of the locals, ideology was not an issue; we got on with the work. My colleagues in the Greens, or Greenrades, were opposed to presidential campaigns. On the other hand, local ones, for example, the NH State House, even Governor, were very useful for informing people of our existence. We had to collect ballot petitions, and thereby explain to individuals what Greens were all about. In the early 1990s, there was a split, and the presidential and party people became the dominant faction. From my perspective, one factor that doomed the Greens as a both national and grassroots activism group was the cost of meeting and organizing on a national basis. People like me, and John R., and other academics could show up because of university travel funds, but it was a stretch, even with couch surfing provided, for most activists.

greg gerritt said...

Sam is missing the boat on this one. This time round Jill will do as well as Nader's best and she is dong what Ralph did not and building the party, which is the real purpose of presidential races. it is the unique oppoortuinity in American politics to get the word out on the Green party.

Tom Puckett said...

There’s a lot of talk- about how bad Trump is, Clinton would be worse or not, but very little about the real issues & what we should do about them. Its obvious the Dem-O-Publicans & their corporate media are sucking the air out of the room.

Vote for Hillary if you have to, but stop talking about her being the only choice, if one follows some secondary/tertiary logic to protect things we want. One of Jill Stein's most trenchant points is that voting for the lesser evil paves the way & gets us the greater evil, after all.

Instead, play UP the Green/Stein message of problems & their obvious solutions & help to get their message before all the people.

Its way too soon to be "deciding" on who to vote for. Anything can happen in two & a half months. Instead, save that decision until days before the election, & move H & E to get Jill into the debates. Treat her as a viable candidate, & she just might become one!

Let's be honest. If by some set of curcumstances - no need to try to figure which set – if the Green/Stein ticket were running unopposed or were so far ahead that their election was certain, wouldn't you be voting for them because their policies are clearly the best for us & the planet right now?

OK, if that is so, why not act as though that was the case in the next couple of months, & promote that to each & all. Plenty of time to reassess the weekend before the election or if you vote absentee take an extra week.

Act as though possessing all power & you may just get a boost from the real source of power, hint: not any human institution. If everyone wanted something bad enough do you think we woulnd't get it?

And whether Bobo The Butcher Boy gets to be president or not, getting our consciousness firmly fixed on what our problems are & what needs to be done about them is a good exercise & might rub off on Bobo.

This talk of I'm voting for so & so seems like a dismissal of all others, which I think is too early right now.

Let Hillary earn my vote (she hasn't yet); my take on it is that I'm voting for what I want, as an appeal to the Universe, rather then to second guess some projected outcome. You don't know that the Supreme Court will turn out one way or another, you just create that reality by thinking that way.

Voting for what is right & good might be a side-step into a different future, although accordiong to the Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics, any undesirable future you fear - a Trump presidency for example - exists along side of the one you do want:
[Many-worlds implies that all possible alternate histories & futures are real…]

Try to see yourself in the future you want to be in, & making a decision as to which future you want this early in the game seems a poor way of getting it. Or maybe just a slow way.

No one should be giving it to you in the chops for not supporting Jill Stein for president. Rather, they should be encouraging you to hold her up as an example & prophet of what it is we are all striving for - someone talking truth to power, which power clearly doesn't want what's right & good.

Power & those that seek it may have no imagination. But we should be able to make a cash settlement with big war profiteers, oil, pharma & agra. Let's pay them to retool along the lines of Stein's 20 year push to be energy independent. No one said people couldn't continue to make gobs of money even when doing the right thing. Eliminating the waste in the current systems will surely cover the costs of converting & phasing out the old ways. Glad to see the coming to a close of private prison contracts, in the news recently, for example.

Let's try to do better in this climate of political awareness to put forth the good words & plans!

Cheers, Tom