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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

The Crisis in Green Politics, Direct Democracy, and the Future of the Green Party Movement in the U.S.

by Kwazi Nkrumah, Los Angeles Green Party

The Ralph Nader Green Presidential campaign, as contradictory as it was in many respects, represented a major stage in the advance of the Green Party Movement in the United States. Nader was on the ballot in 22 states and was a write-in candidate in several others. But whether he was on the ballot or not, his candidacy in itself, even in the absence of an adequate campaign strategy, funding or organization, gave a tremendous boost to the work and public presence of almost every Green Party organization or associated group in the country. Hundreds of new activists have joined the ranks of the Greens, tens of thousands more signed petitions, read our literature and searched eagerly for news about the Green Party and the Nader Campaign on TV and radio, in the alternative media and in the mainstream (corporate) press. An avalanche of phone calls, memberships, mailings, and information requests of every description flooded the national clearinghouse of the Greens/Green Party, USA to the extent that six months later, our sole staff person -- a diligent work-a-holic, who, thank god, has a tremendous reserve of dedication and goodwill toward our organization -- was still working overtime on the excavations.

Nearly three quarters of a million people actually voted for Nader as the Green Party Presidential candidate, thereby out-polling all other independent candidates, with the exception of billionaire Ross Perot. (Most of the other independent party groups that received much attention in the media were right-wing, and several ran campaigns that were well organized and financed.) Through the Nader campaign, literally millions of Amerikkkans became aware for the first time that the Green Party exists and that it is possible to develop something other than a right-wing alternative to the Demo-Publican party system.

All of this would seem like more than enough to give Greens something to stand up and cheer about, something to lift our spirits, unify us as a movement and instill a greater sense of collective purpose and resolution into our work.

Instead, what we are finding is a sense of mounting confusion and conflict, even a sense of demoralization descending on many old and new activists alike. As we survey the national field we see that our movement, which is just beginning to see the light of day in many respects, may actually be moving in the direction of a major national split, complete with heated ideological disputes, rival party organizations, and embittered personal relations between activists.

If this is the scenario that Greens opt to play out between now and the year 2000, it is doubtful that we will enter the new millennium playing a leading role in the construction of a new social contract. We are much more likely to be victims in a mutual suicide pact.

The obvious question, especially to those who are new to the Green movement is why all this "negativity" and conflict? Or as one famous victim of negativity and social chaos once so eloquently put it: "Can't we all just get along?" So far, the answer seems to be "No!"

The Green movement has been extremely "eclectic" from the beginning. It has been made up of people with a wide range of political, social and philosophical views: "liberals," "progressives," "spiritualists," "anarchists," "cooperativists," "eco-feminists," "deep ecologists," "Marxists"-the list of interests, objectives and backgrounds could go on and on. This internal diversity is actually one of the greatest potential strengths of the Greens, but in a society which is as materialistic and conflict-ridden as ours, it has almost naturally become the basis for contention, power struggles and instability-whether people want to admit it or not. When you get right down to it, most Greens have not been willing to admit that they are affected by the same trends and tendencies in our culture that most other people are: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, elitism, anti-communism, sectarianism -- all the negative "isms" have plagued the Green movement from the beginning. This, in spite of the fact that most of the movement has taken "positions" against all of these things.

Most of the internal relationships within the Green movement at this time are just mirror images of what's going on outside of it!

There is no great mystery to all this. It is simply the power of social conditioning, and it is not just based on conscious ill-will or deceit in most cases. Up until recently at least, I believe that just the opposite has more often been true-most Greens, regardless of their political views or social outlook, have been extremely "idealistic" in their basic motivations. Unfortunately, idealism cuts both ways: it can simultaneously imply high moral aspirations and low levels of practical, common sense. And look out when it comes to "frustrated idealists," because they often turn into the most cynical, grasping materialists you've ever seen! In fact, this is the social origin of many a stone opportunist! Most of those whose political behavior falls most clearly into this category today, in our movement, in fact come from just such a background.

A movement in which a high proportion of its membership has spent an inordinate amount of time wrapped up in utopian ideals and pursuits often finds itself unwilling or unable to face harsh realities--particularly if those realities constantly reveal glaring shortcomings in its own internal functioning and makeup. Such a movement may simply implode under the weight of its own errors or evolve into something quite different from the intentions and purposes of its initiators. Even movements which have started with a high level of internal unity and direction have often degenerated into unrecognizability with the passage of time. I believe that the Green movement has reached a critical point in its own process of self-definition--the verdict is not fully in yet, but there are already a number of warning lights flashing.

Greens need to get "real" about the internal contradictions in this movement: In the Greens/Green Party, USA, we have people who sit in leadership positions who have been actively working to undermine the organization. This is unprincipled, but very little is openly said or done about it. The idea behind the principle of decentralization is to make people more powerful at the grassroots level, but many Greens are actually contributing to the disempowerment of local communities by their failure to build and maintain viable processes and structures that allow people from localities to coordinate their work on a national and international basis. Many people in the Greens claim to abhor any doctrine based on class struggles, but they then attempt to build their organizations like private country clubs-"by invitation ONLY-RSVP!" These are just a few examples of what's wrong with us as a movement, and I could give many more.

The greatest obstacle to Green unity at this time has less to do with political differences as such, and even less with the standard slick reference to personality conflicts. There are many instances in history that we can point to where people who couldn't stand each other, and who didn't see eye-to-eye, have worked very effectively together in pursuit of a common purpose. Even enemies engaged in armed conflicts have been known to develop a genuine sense of admiration, respect, and even camaraderie with one another-sometimes right on the battlefield. Given all this, what then is really the problem with the Greens?

In my opinion, the problem is pretty basic: much of the US Green movement has, in practice, already renounced values-based politics and has devolved into just another Euro-Amerikkkan political tendency marked by all the aberrations of the dominant culture. Most of the internal relationships within the Green movement at this time are just mirror images of what's going on outside of it! Check it out: the "me-first-ism" (me first, my local first, my tendency or grouping first-and to hell with all the rest!); the careerism; the lust for power; the capitulations to right-wing politics; the labeling of oppressed communities as "special interest groups," and on and on. This is no longer the "theoretical" threat that Greens used to talk about, folks-it has already happened! A number of the ten key values have already been reduced to "dead letters" in the sense that they are practiced mostly in the breach. Among them are: Respect for diversity; Feminism; Personal and social responsibility; Future focus Non-violence.

How many chain-saws are we going to allow to be taken to our fundamental principles? At what point do Greens stop being Greens?

That's 5 out of 10, folks, which means that with enough collective commitment and serious effort at correction, we might have a 50/50 chance of maintaining the essential foundations of the Green movement. But, lo and behold! Our erstwhile "Green Politicians" are already at work cutting down yet another one of the sequoias in our community - You know the one - we've always called it grassroots democracy! That's the real meaning behind proposals emanating from the ASGP - and some others - to completely eliminate the direct participation of locals in the development of Green national policy! These proposals will be rolling into the National Congress this year. (Among other places. ASGP leaders have "declared" that this proposal must be accepted "in advance" as a "condition" of their participation in negotiations to put an end to their splitting activities in the national movement!) This seems like political clear-cutting to me! How many chain-saws are we going to allow to be taken to our fundamental principles? At what point do Greens stop being Greens? If anybody out there still really believes in "seventh generation" politics, then you'd do well to get a little bit of the Earth First! attitude about you! Let your voices be heard on the question of maintaining the principle of direct democracy and halting political clear-cutting in our movement! Remember: Only the people can bring an end to corrupt political practices, and the best place to being is in your own back yard!

Greens need to realize that being Green in no way exempts us individually or collectively from the contradictions and dilemmas of our society.

Finally, I'd just like to say that I do believe that the Greens have the potential to overcome most of our internal problems, but it will require a new and better approach to dealing with them:

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