Synthesis/Regeneration 12   (Winter 1997)

The Greens After the Nader Campaign

by Howie Hawkins, Syracuse Green Party

The Greens after the Nader campaign have a tremendous opportunity. We are now positioned to project Green alternatives to corporate rule to a much broader public and accelerate the growth of our movement. But we will blow this opportunity if the Greens fight with each other instead of fighting the corporations.

The attempt to form a new national Green Party outside and separate from the existing Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA) should be rejected by grassroots Greens. Grassroots Greens don't want a split. The split is coming from the top. The grassroots of the movement can maintain unity in the states and locals even while the national leaders squabble. This is basically what has happened since the call for an association of state Green parties outside the GPUSA first went out in 1992.

We need one national Green Party that merges the Greens/Green Party USA, the Draft Nader Clearinghouse (DNC), the unaffiliated state Green parties, and the state Draft Nader Committees. As Ralph Nader said repeatedly during the campaign, "Democracy is the great problem solver." That is true for the Greens as well as for society. Unity is a process, not a final destination. Democracy is the means of building unity.

There are important political issues that feed into the divisions, but the bottom line reason for the split is a failure of leadership on both sides to talk to each other and allow these issues to be decided democratically by the rank-and-file of the movement. The rank-and-file should reject the split at the top, force their leaders into unity discussions with each other and the grassroots, and reject leadership that continues to put their factional interests ahead of the interests of the movement as a whole. The rank-and-file can still build unity from below, state by state, no matter how stupidly the national leaderships act. Corporate rule is the enemy, not other Greens.

Positive Action

The Nader campaign, whatever its shortcomings and mistakes, did bring many new activists into the Green movement and give the Greens more national visibility than ever before. The Nader campaign was a common national action with broad support in the Green movement. In the post-campaign period, the Greens need to pick a few issues around which they can campaign together and keep building the activist base. The movement of activists building popular understanding and support for Green demands is our only realistic basis for Green electoral strength because, unlike the Democrats and Republicans, we are not going to buy our way into office with corporate money.

I think welfare repeal is one issue we should address by going on the offensive and campaigning for an Economic Bill of Rights featuring universal rights to a living-wage job, a minimum living income, and quality health care, housing, and education. Repealing the 1872 Mining Law, which allows mining corporations to take public lands for as little as $2.50 an acre, is a winnable issue-we win either by exposing Clinton and the Democrats as corporate hacks or by forcing them to concede our demand. We could campaign for the renegotiation of NAFTA and GATT in order to establish international labor and environmental standards and permit social tariffs to enforce the standards. We could fashion and campaign for a Green Peace Conversion Plan to fund conversion to eco-technologies and the rebuilding of our inner cities with the "peace dividend" from deep military spending cuts. But whatever the issues we pick, they must be issues the grassroots of the movement will really mobilize around because the states and locals will be the legs of the campaign. And we need to move fairly quickly on this before the media and public forget the Nader campaign and the Greens.

Participatory Democracy

Aside from leadership egos and rivalries, the question that contributes most to the division the Greens face is structural. The GPUSA, since it was founded in 1984 as the Committees of Correspondence, has been a party of activists with a structure of participatory democracy. As Greens have entered the electoral arena and sought the benefits of ballot status, the state has imposed a party of registrants with a structure of plebiscitory democracy.

In a participatory democracy, the grassroots membership participates in the formulation of policy and leadership/candidate selection as well as their final approval. In the plebiscitory democracy set up by state election laws, a representative elite formulates policy and leadership/candidate selection and the grassroots only get to vote in a plebiscite for options already chosen by the elite. In the activist party, participation is constant and voting rights go to those who are active in locals, pay dues, and agree with the principles. In the registrant party, participation is, at best, a vote in a primary or caucus once every two years, yet the voting rights go to anyone who registers with the party in the voter rolls kept by the state, regardless of their principles, their activity, or their commitment to the party.

If there's one thing almost all Greens agree on it is that we are anti-corporate-against corporate domination of our economy, government, and culture.

One example to study is the Workers Party of Brazil. Brazil's party law imposes a plebiscitory structure requiring municipal, regional, and national committees and conventions that leave the grassroots out. The Workers Party chose to conform to this party law to get its ballot line, but it made its state-imposed structure accountable to a grassroots structure of its own with two key features: grassroots units called party nuclei (like GPUSA's locals) that give instructions to the state-structured committees, and pre-conventions where the grassroots membership participates and gives instructions to the state-structured conventions.

The principle rap on GPUSA is that it has no place for ballot status state parties. The principle rap on the Draft Nader Clearinghouse (DNC) is that it is a self-appointed leadership competing instead of cooperating with the elected leadership of GPUSA. The grassroots can resolve these problems. First, they can amend GPUSA's structure to allow representation of ballot status state parties in the Green Congress and Green National Committee, provided these parties have active members organized in grassroots units and democratic statewide structures to which the state-imposed registrant party structure is accountable. Then, they can demand that the DNC leadership take their talent, energy, and resources into the democratic GPUSA structure.

Organizational Changes

GPUSA (or a successor involving a merger with DNC and the unaffiliated state parties and Draft Nader Committees) would benefit from some other organizational changes:

Rainbow Populism

If there's one thing almost all Greens agree on it is that we are anti-corporate-against corporate domination of our economy, government, and culture. Greens have a long-standing discussion about whether that means we are anti-capitalist, but I'll leave that aside for this article. The issue I want to address here is how we are anti-corporate.

Some people in the Greens have been arguing recently that GPUSA puts too much emphasis on "identity politics," meaning feminism, anti-racism, and gay liberation. These people want an anti-corporate populism that avoids the social issues like Perot's Reform Party. Nader's approach in the campaign is held up as the model: attack the common enemy, the corporations, but avoid the "divisive" questions of abortion, immigration, affirmative action, and gay rights. This view advocates a "middle-of-road populism:" attack the corporations but avoid both the reactionary social positions of a conservative populist like Pat Buchanan and the progressive social positions of a liberal populist like Jesse Jackson.

"Middle-of-the-road populism" is strategic suicide, not to mention moral bankruptcy. I think Nader lost a lot of votes by his reticence to address these so-called "wedge issues." If you stand in the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides. You don't get support from either side.

Robert and Pamela Allen's Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United States (Washington: Howard University Press, 1976) should be required reading for every activist. It documents the sorry story of how progressive movements in America -- abolitionists, suffragists, populists, socialists, labor -- have repeatedly undermined themselves by compromising with racism in order to build a broader white base. Racism divides whether it is fought openly or subordinated to "higher" priorities -- and will always divide and weaken our movements until we uproot and eradicate it.

Linking issues and constituencies builds bridges, not walls. We need a "rainbow populism" that advances the anti-corporate material interests of the popular classes, the anti-oppression interests of women, people of color, and gays, and the general human survival interests in peace and a sustainable environment-without privileging or subordinating any of these interests.

Refusing to subordinate any of these interests is one of the signature features of Green politics the world over. The European Greens have stood up for immigrants against mass xenophobia and stood up against the vested interests of both labor and corporate parties in protecting polluting industries, counterposing a system of eco-production with job and income guarantees. The Brazilian Greens have not dissolved into the Workers Party in part because the Greens are the only party that is standing up uncompromisingly for feminism and gay liberation against the machismo culture. It would be sheer hypocrisy for the American Greens, who have long defined themselves as a value-based movement, to avoid the ethical questions involved in these social issues.

Independent Progressive Party Alliance

No matter how principled the Green Party is in its practice of a rainbow populism, the reality in the US is that different independent progressive parties are going to be able to organize more effectively in different sectors of this big, diverse country: the Labor Party in the unions, the Campaign for New Tomorrow in the African American community, the New Party in the community organizations associated with ACORN, the 21st Century Party in the women's movement linked to NOW, the Socialist Party in the anti-capitalist left, and the independent progressive state parties like Peace and Freedom and DC Statehood in their respective states. Each party has particular programmatic insight and expertise as well as organized bases to bring to a broader alliance.

Instead of splitting into two Green parties, the Greens should be working together and building alliances with the other progressive independent parties. The Independent Progressive Politics Network, with which GPUSA is affiliated, already links several of these parties as well as grassroots organizations supportive of independent progressive politics. The Greens should encourage, within the IPPN framework, a formal inter-party alliance to institutionalize inter-party consultations and explore development of joint campaigns for such demands as proportional representation, joint fundraising and resource sharing, and the possibilities of electoral cooperation, such as non-competition in the same electoral districts in states where more than one progressive party has a ballot line, creating and sharing ballot lines for our parties in states where there is no progressive ballot line, and running a united progressive presidential campaign in 2000, with a shared candidate slate and shadow cabinet.

Municipal Program

Finally, while we struggle to get our national organizational house in order, let us not lose sight of what happened in Arcata and almost happened in the island of Hawai'i. Greens now have and are going to going to get majority control of more and more municipal and county governments. We will still run for state and national office to create and maintain our ballot lines and raise our issues. But how the Green Party is judged as an electoral vehicle for progressive change is going to be determined in the foreseeable future by our role in the local offices to which we are being increasingly elected.

What do Greens do when they take over local government? What is our municipal program? How do we advance the movement and not get trapped into administering the system we started out to change? How do we deal with the fiscal constraints imposed by the central state and the effective veto over progressive reforms exercised by the mobility of private capital and its threat of disinvestment?

Here we come back to grassroots democracy, the great problem solver. A Green municipal program has to start with popular participation in the deliberations and decisions on how to deal with the constraints imposed by the central state and mobile private capital. We have to bring the people in on these difficult decisions in order to maintain our governing legitimacy, to popularize understanding of the constraints a local government faces, and to mobilize popular support and, if need be, direct action to counter extra-legislative resistance to reforms by corporate power structures.

How do we change city charters to decentralize power into neighborhood assemblies and coordinate citywide from below through mandated and recallable city council representatives?

So I think the most important political challenge for the Green movement, next to maintaining grassroots unity, is to develop a Green municipal program. How do we change city charters to decentralize power into neighborhood assemblies and coordinate citywide from below through mandated and recallable city council representatives? How do we organize and sustain popular participation in neighborhood assemblies? How do we democratize strategic community assets through municipal and cooperative ownership so that we own our own jobs and economy? How do we do begin democratizing the local economy without the bond raters crippling our ability to finance community acquisitions? Can we build alliances with worker-controlled pension funds that will help finance innovative municipal reforms? Can we link Green cities for common campaigns to win reforms from the central state and concessions from the corporations? What can we learn from the experiences of the left in local power: the left coalition in Kerala, India; the left Labor regional councils in the UK in the early 1980s; the Workers Party municipal administrations in Brazil; the Italian left in the Emilia-Romagna region around Bologna; and, of course, Green and Red-Green municipal administrations in northern and central Europe?

I hope in the coming year we spend a lot more time and effort on the question of Green municipal power than we do on organizational infighting.

Howie Hawkins is a co-op developer and active in the Green Party in Syracuse, New York.

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