Synthesis/Regeneration 12   (Winter 1997)

Building a Political Alternative

by Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance

Authors began writing for this roundtable upon the conclusion of one of the most significant Green efforts in the US-the Nader for President campaign of 1996. When Nader announced that his campaign would focus on the single topic of corporate domination, there was loud applause. But many felt left out. In March, 1996, Margaret Garcia wrote in Z Magazine that women in California were disappointed that the first Green presidential candidate's was a white male.

Greta Gaard expressed dismay in the Summer, '96 Green Politics that "On the Phil Donahue show Nader refused to address reproductive choice, claiming it was a 'private' issue." Gaard felt that "From an ecofeminist perspective, democracy which does not include our bodies is not a true democracy." In the same issue of Green Politics, editor Mark Anderlik voiced his concern that Nader would not agree to an interview with the paper of the party he was supposedly representing.

Others observed that the campaign did not reflect the Green commitment to sweeping social change. In the Spring, 1996 S/R, Lloyd Strecker noted that the Nader campaign seemed oriented to "placing the 'right' people in positions of power" rather than aiming "to accomplish a thorough re-organization of power as such."

In the Fall, 1996 S/R, Eric Chester worried that the next Green candidate could go off in a direction quite distant from Green values: "Nader has made it clear that he is not bound by the Green platform, or, indeed, any other platform, and that he will avoid controversial issues such as abortion and gay liberation. . . Greens are setting a precedent that will be difficult to overcome in the future."

Whatever the shortcomings of the campaign, many Americans enthusiastically welcomed a progressive alternative to Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, there were some who used the Nader campaign for less than noble ends.

The 1991 Green Gathering in West Virginia was the occasion for a critical vote on whether the Greens would be limited to running candidates for office or be a broad movement for social change with electoral efforts as one component. After the social movement orientation won, several people who wanted an election-only approach devoted the next few years to urging state parties to drop out of the Greens.

As soon as Nader announced his candidacy, they attempted to treat the campaign as their own. They created a "Draft Nader Clearinghouse" in Washington DC in direct competition with the Greens' clearinghouse. As Brian Tokar wrote in the November, 1996 Z, they aimed to help state parties to "shed their radical wing" and confine themselves to mainstream electoral goals.

Soon after the elections, one of the ugliest events in the movement's history occurred. When those who had been using the Nader campaign to set up a rival organization met in Middleburg, VA on November 16, 1996, they physically barred WV delegate Jana Cutlip from entering. The act flagrantly violent Green principles of open meetings. It seemed that those who were unable to win a democratic vote decided that the shortest road to victory was keeping those who disagreed out of meetings. Even more shocking was the excuse: "We warned her if she came we wouldn't let her in." One only wonders if Newt Gingrich would enjoy using such logic to claim that "if we warn people that we intend to get rid of civil rights, then that makes it okay to do so."

If this commentary devotes more attention to negatives than positives, it is because we must identify mistakes if we are to avoid repeating them. Greens are hardly the first movement to be tormented by divisiveness. But Greens are acutely aware that the way they treat each other during moments of hostility portends how they would deal with conflict in a new, post-capitalist society.

The roundtable concludes with the story of my favorite campaign. Guy Chichester's run for governor while under the threat of jail should be a model for all Greens. Perhaps if we could all show Guy's deep green commitment of being willing to go to jail to oppose nukes, then, instead of fighting with each other, Greens could inspire an alliance

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