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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)


Whither US Greens?

Letters from Mitchel Cohen, Dean Myerson, Patrick Mazza, and Eugene Carrington

Dear Association of State Green Parties,

The question of how to achieve unity of the Green movement in the US is a common discussion among rank-and-file Greens in New York. The Brooklyn Greens have worked closely with other Green locals on many community projects such as a campaign against the use of Bovine Growth Hormone milk in public schools and numerous forums and actions against the launching of the Cassini plutonium probe. We've effectively opposed the racism inherent in the standardized tests used to place children in public school gifted programs-and we won that battle. Dressed as sunflowers along with the Park Slope Greens, we protested the Botanic Gardens management's decision to charge people for visiting the Gardens. Also with the Park Slope Greens, we've begun circulating our own money—Brooklyn Greenbacks! We're running Errol Louis on the Green Party line and Mitchel Cohen (on the Independence Party line) for City Council in the November elections. We're deeply involved in campaigns to halt police brutality, to stop development on the waterfront, and to clean up NYC drinking water. We've participated in a citywide movement to shut down all of New York City's incinerators-and, last June, we won! We have our own monthly cable TV show and are regularly quoted in local newspapers and radio.

Our desire for unity, however, is strained to the limit when we move from abstract concern to practical experiences with the 3 or 4 "guiding lights" of the group that calls itself "the actually existing New York State Green Party." How could a handful of people, regardless of their politics, consider themselves a Party, let alone purport to represent New York geographically? That they claim the Green Party name as their own, pimping off the excellent community work we've done for years in the name of the Greens, is indicative of the kind of arrogance we're facing. For me, a member of the Brooklyn Greens and the Green Party of New York, any discussions of unity within New York state has to begin with such divisive and intentionally confusing appropriation of the Green Party name.

More important are political disagreements among Greens over what we mean by the term "party" and what is our vision for a new society. I am one of those who maintains a "blocking objection" to Brooklyn Greens and GPoNY joining ASGP because of what I believe to be principled political differences. (I did support sending two observers to the recent ASGP meeting in Maine, and will continue to support sending observers in the future.) But-after meeting a few ASGAPpers at the Lawrence gathering, I realized that I was seeing ASGP partly through the representations of NYSGP, which had been purporting itself to be ASGP's embodiment in New York for the last year, and that I have an obligation: to clearly outline what my objections are based on so that we can clarify political differences and explore ways of unifying the Green movement, or at least find the most mutually productive ways of going forward together even with those differences. Here are some of them:

a. The question of "us" joining "you:" I still maintain, for now, my blocking objection to GPoNY joining ASGP. To even consider doing so feels to me like an endorsement of everything ASGP has said and done during and after your split from GPUSA, including some pretty reprehensible (in my opinion) things some ASGP leaders did during the Nader campaign. We need to rethink our structural unity in terms of this concern.

b. The question of "party:" Green structures should be guided by what best facilitates the mass movement and direct action politics of the Greens. Under no circumstances should Green organizations structure ourselves according to the supposed need to meet the requirements of the State for becoming an electoral party. We should be challenging those requirements, not conforming to them. The real organizational forms we create must be answerable to the Movement, not the State.

c. The question of "locals:" Any member of the Greens has to be a member of an existing local, or form a new one. (We can negotiate over what constitutes a local.) Signing a petition is simply not sufficient to be considered a Green, even though it might be required by the State for receiving funds or ballot line. Greens have to be involved in working with their local on projects, and not just electoral work. NYSGP is dead set against this requirement, claiming it infringes on "individual freedom," which they define to mean the individual is accountable to no one and could say or do whatever they feel like in the name of the Greens.

d. The question of "politics:" The Greens need to be anti-capitalist in critique and actions, and offer a coherent communalist vision not only of a different world but of ways of getting there through direct actions, which electoral politics must serve. We've got to stop watering down (or "yellow ribboning") our politics. Please note: this is not a call to use as much rhetoric as possible, but to stop fetishizing elections as politics. The electoral must serve and be controlled by the movement. It is the movement that is politics.

e. The question of "honcho-ism:" I agree almost completely with Brian Tokar's critique of the Nader campaign as printed in Z magazine. If I hadn't seen it happening myself—Greens competing with each other for all the privileges, ego and patriarchal power (yes, women as well as men)—I probably wouldn't think all that much of it. But here were Greens vying to control "power" politics and money and getting off on it. Do we really want a line on the ballot if it brings out all the worst aspects in us and destroys us? I don't think we've built up our locals strongly enough to keep those impulses in check. We've hardly even talked about it! What ever happened to the German Greens' original idea of rotating people in office, of being elected collectively?! Just because the state rings the bell of elections doesn't mean we have to salivate on cue, forgetting, in the process, our values and vision of creating a new human being.

Perhaps, as people from each of our groups involve themselves in common projects, working together and getting to know each other through action, these concerns will be overcome, or at least mitigated.

Mitchel Cohen

Dear S/R:

Synthesis/Regeneration 14 had a number of articles about relations between the Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA) and the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP). Although many issues were raised there is one that I want to comment on: the influence of the Green Politics Network (GPN).

I have never been a member of the GPN so I can't comment on the GPN itself but I can comment on its influence or lack thereof. The ASGP contains many member states. Some states include activists long connected with the GPN. Other states include activists who were members of the G/GPUSA for many years. Many states are new to Green activism and know nothing of the splits and arguments among US Greens, the GPN or the G/GPUSA. No one from the GPN is on the current Steering Committee of the ASGP, although one member was previously. Furthermore, recent efforts to change the structure of the G/GPUSA were pushed by some long-term G/GPUSA members with no connection to the GPN.

As a new member of the ASGP Steering Committee and a delegate on the Coordinating Committee, I have not felt any undue influence on myself by any GPN members. I was previously a member of the G/GPUSA and although my organizational affiliation has changed, my values haven't. As a representative of the Green Party of Colorado within the ASGP, I will stand up for those values if I believe them under attack but I have seen no such attack yet.

I did like some of the article written by Kwazi Nkrumah. I know that many local Greens, including myself, are well aware that aspects of Green values which we oppose in society are in our hearts and souls also. I hope that by recognizing this I can continue to improve myself and lessen the oppression that I unwillingly contribute to even as I oppose it. But I also believe that you don't have to be perfect to try and change the world.

At its recent meeting in Maine, the ASGP passed a resolution by consensus to form a committee to talk to the G/GPUSA. This committee is not dependent on any structural change within the G/GPUSA and is in fact directed not to discuss such issues. Although some Greens were not happy with the structural proposal that passed at the G/GPUSA Congress it is my hope that with the structure issue behind us we can find a way to work against the villains that can be found in corporate board rooms, Congressional offices and so on rather than in each other's Green organizations. That is certainly what most ASGP delegates said when the proposal to talk to the G/GPUSA was discussed. There are valid points of disagreement between various Greens but I do not believe that progress will be made on those disagreements by focusing upon historic villainous Greens. We have a lot of work to do and powerful forces arrayed against us. Let's get to work.

Dean Myerson

Dean Myerson is a member of the Boulder Green Alliance and the Green Party of Colorado. He is the Secretary of the ASGP but is writing for himself.

Dear Don,

There is a bit of contradiction between the old paradigm and new paradigm thinking you try to shoe-horn into your piece, "Who Are the Greens?" in the Fall '97 Synthesis/Regeneration.

You are on the mark when you state we should embrace the diversity of identity, local, regional and state groups into which Greens organize themselves, rather than try to force an organizational monoculture. But in the way you pose the question, you set up a straw man: "In other words, will Greens develop a rigid ideology that a state party structure must be imposed on members whether they seek it or not; or will the sunflower blossom to embrace a diversity of organizational structures?"

The obvious choice is the latter.

The ungrounded assumption on which this false dichotomy is based comes a couple of paragraphs down where you state, "As Greens move toward creating a unified organization, the essential question will be: Who will formulate the plan for unity?" So though we have a "diversity of organizational structures," we also have a "unified organization" that brings all these structures under one overarching system of authority. You draw the issue as whether that authority will be held by a small leadership group that induces the rank-and-file to rubber stamp, or a larger "grand meeting" of "all contending groups" "to select between and refine formulas for unification."

Internal democracy is clearly a key value we should seek to embody in all our organizational structures. But the way you draw the issue begs the question of whether we should have a single organizational structure at all. Should we have one overarching system of authority over the really-existing diversity of Green groups, or should we operate under autonomous systems? I would propose that the search for a grand, unifying design is deeply rooted in the old paradigms of Western culture-the emperor, the pope, the universe as predictable Newtonian machine, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Whereas autonomy is more a new paradigm, ecological approach-the need of organisms to self-regulate-and quantum physics-no one model can encompass and explain all phenomena. Paradox and seemingly contradictory opposites are embedded in nature. They are part of the ground we walk on.

I embrace your call for organizational diversity and point out it neither implies nor necessitates, and in many ways contradicts, the concept of a "unified organization." Why not movement-based structures for a movement-oriented organization and electorally-based structures for an electorally-oriented organization?

Earnestly seeking your response.

Patrick Mazza

Dear Patrick,

I appreciate the concerns you raise in your letter addressing "Who Are The Greens?" Your suggestions that people with different orientations work in different groups is not without merit. After years of disagreement, which has often been bitter, it might appear that the most sensible way to approach the rift in US Greens is for each group to go its own way.

A problem comes up as soon as each group is running candidates for public office. Some states will not allow more than one party to use the name "Green." Even if this were resolved by one group's using a different name, there would still be two parties with an environmental focus competing for votes. This could do more than reduce the chances of making an impact. It could lead many voters to ask, "If these groups cannot work together before the election, how could they expect to work with even more diverse groups if they were elected to office?"

A central tenet of many Greens is that Green candidates should come from Green movements. This is what distinguishes Greens from the parties of corporate power. The Green Party should be an organization where environmental and social justice activists develop their political skills. If Greens were to accept a dichotomy between activists in a movement and candidates in a party, then they would look very much like the Democratic Party.

Solidarity, Don Fitz,
Editor, S/R

We Need Earth Week—Not Earth Day

The Brooklyn Green Party is demanding that Earth Day be expanded to Earth Week because we feel that the sentiment with the present Earth Day is one of a quick, cheap public relations festival. Earth Day allows some of the dirtiest of the greedy capitalist corporations to display their banners and logos. (Also to lie and mislead the public about how "green" they are.) We must educate the public, especially the youth, about the crisis our Mother Earth is suffering. Earth Week would give environmentalists ang green organizations more time to expose the big time polluters. Up with Earth Week. Down with Earth Day.

Eugene Carrington

Brooklyn Greens Earth Week Committee

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