Can we move beyond the tattered fragments of post-modern protest politics, pick up the scraps of movement battle flags, and construct some unity and organization out of the chaos? Can we all have a hand in putting together a quilt that has everyone's name on it, with no circle rubbed out, that truly proclaims, "We are the leaders we have been looking for?"
To me that seems to be at the heart of the questions posed by the activists in this roundtable. This soul-searching comes at the end of what should have been a banner-year in progressive politics, as Ted Glick says, with "the historic founding of the Labor Party and the Ralph Nader Presidential campaign." Glick has often pointed out that polls last year showed two-thirds of voters wanted a third party and a majority of those wanted it to have a progressive platform.
Nader was on 22 ballots and a write-in candidate in as many more states, receiving, however, less than 1% of the national vote. On election day, pollsters found that 13% of voters did not know Ross Perot was running on the Reform Party ticket, and 86% didn't have a clue who Pat Choate was; the pollsters didn't even bother to ask about Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.
Tremendous organizational gains and unprecedented free media coverage more than justified the Nader effort, but the voting results should not be given any bright spin. The balloting revealed just how narrow the national base actually is for a left challenge to an incumbent backed to the hilt by the corporate center, but, more alarmingly, the Nader campaign even failed to rally the existing radical constituency.
The ratio of Nader votes per Green / P & F registration was only 1.4, meaning that it took five apostles to drag every two neophytes into the baptismal waters. That is not very good evangelism.
California is the flagship of left politics, so take a look at what happened there. Nader polled only 229,862 votes and Peace and Freedom Party (which had pledged 10 of 54 electors to Nader) brought the total to 254,543 left votes or 2.6%. The ratio of Nader votes per Green / P & F registration was only 1.4, meaning that it took five apostles to drag every two neophytes into the baptismal waters. That is not very good evangelism.
By contrast, in 1994 in the California Secretary of State race, political unknowns with no campaign or money drew 289,302 votes for the Green, and 91,611 for the Peace and Freedom Party, running against a well-liked liberal and openly gay Democrat incumbent, for a total of 380,913 or 4.8%. In the US Senate race against Dianne Feinstein, the two left parties shared 358,917 votes or 4.7%. These races showed that the California rival siblings together controlled a core base of about 5% in races against moderate Democratic incumbents.
A decline of half the percent of the vote from the election two years ago shows that, even with Nader's dedication and reputation, we are ever more the "Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players."
Despite the results, some Greens have taken a bewildering triumphalist attitude, putting themselves at the head of an Association that will hoist the flag of a new Green Party of America as it claims the mountain from the less centralized, less electoral Greens/Green Party USA.
Howie Hawkins, like many others who worked actively on the Nader campaign, says that, "Grassroots Greens don't want a split. The split is coming from the top." There are issues that divide the two forces, but the Greens should take seriously the words of their candidate: "As Ralph Nader said repeatedly during the campaign, "Democracy is the greatest problem-solver." If it doesn't work within the Greens, why should others take us or Nader seriously?
If Greens are honest with themselves, they will admit that the failure last year to achieve integration of the Green Politics Network (which later organized the DC Draft Nader Clearinghouse) with the Greens/Green Party USA drastically hurt Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.
In my view, while there are many variables that go into an analysis of the outcome of People's Campaign '96, the most obvious is the failure to consolidate a base within the existing left constituencies. Kit Costello, a leader of the California Nurses Association and the Labor Party, hits the nail on the head in her description of the task: "The Labor Party's broad social vision invites alliances with others looking for political solutions to curbing corporate power and achieving economic justice. This includes the Green Party, health care activists, welfare rights organizations and organizations dedicated to confronting racial discrimination and inequity."
Just as the Third Parties '96 Summits largely ignored these activists in favor of a show of unity with the Reform and Libertarian Parties, Nader himself largely ignored social justice issues and made no attempt to integrate the struggles for affirmative action and immigrant rights into his "majoritarian" oriented People's Campaign. [See S/R 10, pp. 32-33, for a full discussion of Third Parties '96. --Ed.] While many of us tried to correct for those deficiencies, on our own and by prodding Nader, we have to admit our failures.
Claire M. Cohen of the Campaign for a New Tomorrow in Pittsburgh says, "...we must focus on grassroots organizing among our constituencies on the local level, building a deep as well as broad base....People of color must play a central leadership role in building progressive independent politics."
Jim McGrath of the New Party in Missoula, Montana, says, "For me, the real work is empowering the citizens (particularly those least powerful, such as the low-income and minorities), creating the framework for people to have significant control over their lives and communities, and the ability to create a sustainable society."
Ted Glick argues that, "The three major national efforts, the Greens, the Labor Party and the New Party all have weaknesses, some serious, when it comes to issues having to do with racism."
The Nader electoral quilt was less monochromatic than most gatherings of Greens, but not by much. In California, 4% of Whites, 3% of Blacks, 1% of Latinos, and less than 0.5% of Asians voted for Nader/LaDuke.
Constructing a political quilt requires not only multi-cultural leadership, it requires an open intellectual climate and a willingness to experiment with radical colors and fabrics. In the November, 1996 Z magazine, Brian Tokar, while himself demonizing the DC Clearinghouse folks, quotes a California Green Party activist as saying the streamlined Association of State Green Parties would "shed their radical wing." Some Greens believe the best way to make a quilt is with lots of bleach.
Red-baiting and other demonizing has often been a problem within the Greens.
Red-baiting and other demonizing has often been a problem within the Greens, and an organized response is clearly demanded. One answer is provided by Mary Cal Hollis, the Socialist Party candidate for President and a member of the Green Party and the Labor Party, who reminds us that Martin Luther King Jr. said that we should consider some form of socialism for the United States.
She says, "We need to educate people that 90% of us have a lot in common, we shouldn't be splintered, as the ruling class works to make us." Like Mary Cal, I think the consideration of "some form of socialism" should be an important task within the Greens, and so I would propose that all of us who agree form a public and open caucus called the Watermelon Patch.
The term, often used by right-wingers here, comes from Roberto D'Aubisson of the Salvadoran death squads, who was fond of using a machete to split open a watermelon (symbolizing the opposition party) while haranguing, "See, they are green on the outside, but RED on the inside!"
In this informal caucus, the Watermelon Patch kids should promote discussion of a Red-Green synthesis in a range of organizations and parties, and should not pursue any sectarian goal.
Joint membership should be encouraged among members of the Greens, New Party, Labor Party, Socialist Party, Democratic Socialists of America, Solidarity, Committees of Correspondence, the Alliance for Democracy, We the People, the Campaign for a New Tomorrow, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the Independent Progressive Party being organized by Ron Daniels, and other forces on the left. Hollis is absolutely correct: "We need to give up the idea that a coalition means, 'Quit your group and join mine.' Perhaps we should be glad to have diversity on the left."
No perhaps about it. That's the only way you make a proper quilt.