Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Talking Heads; The Headless Horseman; Or,

Searching for a Fully Embodied Social Movement

by Greta Gaard, Green Party of Minnesota

The most important question for Greens and other progressives today is "What will it take to build a popular movement for social transformation, a movement for economic, ecological and political democracy?" Yet neither Sheasby nor Chester addresses this question.

From the start, the entire Nader campaign has been offered to Green party members and other progressives for our signature, not our consideration.

Walt Sheasby's "Handy Hints" starts from the premise that readers have already decided to support the Nader campaign, a strategy which allows him to sidestep any need to offer persuasive reasons why we should support Nader, why we should run a presidential campaign, or how this particular campaign is supposed to help build a Green movement. Of course, Sheasby is not alone in this shortcoming: from the start, the entire Nader campaign has been offered to Green party members and other progressives for our signature, not our consideration. The lack of internal democracy among Green party electoralists is one reason that some Greens have been less than enthusiastic about the Nader campaign.

Eric Chester's article names the other reasons. Nader's refusal to be bound by the Green platform, and his reticence (occasionally bordering on obtuseness) on issues of social justice are most startling in a campaign ostensibly focussed on democracy, run by a party supposedly priding itself on accountability. What does it say about the Greens when the party embraces a candidate who not only refuses membership but refuses to run on a Green platform, while in the same election a longtime Green chooses to run for office on a Socialist party ticket instead? Comparing the processes, platforms, and candidacies of the two, the Socialist Party ticket of Mary Cal Hollis and Eric Chester seems even more principled, more democratic, more genuine—and rather boring.

I wish it weren't so. Certainly the Hollis/Chester ticket speaks to my values. But as I read about their campaign, I felt no quickening of the pulse, no gasp of "this-is-the-strategy-that-will-spark-the-next-social-movement" recognition. Principled presidential candidates with unrecognized names aren't going to light that spark. What both the Nader campaigners have acted upon (but not named) and what Chester has articulated (but not acted upon) is accurate: the U.S. populace is affected by glitz, by celebrity status, and by the appeal of the quick fix. We ignore these facts at our peril.

To be successful, activists have to start with a clear perception of what is—not what we wish things were.

Another point that both essays ignore is the question of whether a presidential campaign alone is capable of sparking a social movement. As many Greens have observed, the problem with presidential politics is that it sends the message that simply changing the "head" will heal the entire political body. Not only is this message not true-but the people know it's not true, and they won't be moved by it. Social movements begin when people see that they have an actual choice. A single candidate-even a presidential candidate—isn't enough of a choice. Electoral politics won't spark a social movement until the American public sees a wider slate of progressive candidates, running at all levels across the nation. This slate of progressive candidates (with a few celebrities for that all-American glitz) will offer a real choice. It's the goal of the Independent Progressive Politics Network, and it's a goal worth working for.

Finally, the most basic question is whether social movements can even be sparked through electoral politics—or whether social movements require a more fundamental element of cultural transformation, which in turn produces a change in electoral politics. Without a change in people's values, no one will elect that slate of progressives anyway. Bringing about that change in values together with a change in economic and political structures used to be the whole body of the Green movement. But now we're known through talking heads, and the body of the real Green movement has galloped away.

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