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The Maine Green Party (MGP) lost its official status this past March because Ralph Nader got only 2.4% of the vote for President (the MGP needed 5% to keep official status). To many Greens, being an "official" party meant little since we can run candidates by getting signatures and do our activist work, too.
However, some care very much about being an "official" party. To become an official party again, the Maine Greens need to get 5% of the vote in this year's gubernatorial election.
The possibility of being able to initiate a genuine activist party, which runs candidates to build support for important issues, is truly exciting.
John Rensenbrink and others enamored of "official" status looked around for a candidate who might bring home the 5%, whether or not s/he supported or even knew about green values. They convinced Pat LaMarche, a registered Democrat (until she disenrolled to run), who has never been a registered Green or a Green Party activist, to run for Governor of Maine. She had been a Portland-area "media personality," which may have led them to think she could appeal to enough Maine people.
Unfortunately, they announced her as the MGP candidate for Governor without the approval of the Maine Green Party State Council, a convention, or any other Green body. This action has split the Maine Greens and caused many to drop out in disgust.
If the Maine Green Council had thought Pat LaMarche a suitable candidate and had endorsed her, all would have been well. Despite her pleadings, though, the Council refused to endorse her. She was obviously inappropriate as a Green Party candidate. (She is only involved in mainstream liberal activities rather than advocating fundamental social change and, when she did jail time for drunk driving, she embarrassed the Greens with her announcement on TV she wouldn't drink again until after the election.)
The Rensenbrink faction announced her candidacy as a Green Party candidate, making it a fait accompli. This is how they did it:
- 1. At the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) national meeting in Maine in Fall 1997, John Rensenbrink introduced Pat LaMarche as a potential Green Party candidate for governor, and had her give a candidate-type speech. The other potential candidate for governor, Charles Fitzgerald, was not invited.
- 2. At that time, most of us had never met LaMarche. Many of us didn't even know who she was. She and Rensenbrink are from southern coastal Maine, while most Greens are from the more rural or small town Maine.
- 3. Rensenbrink and Jonathan Carter (former Green candidate and LaMarche's friend and employer) started dropping hints to the press about the "upcoming announcement of the Maine Green Party candidate." Then LaMarche's name became attached to these hints, all without the State Council having had any say in the matter.
- 4. In November, 1997 LaMarche and Charles Fitzgerald met with some Greens for a question-and-answer session. When asked to name one environmental problem in Maine and what she would do about it as governor, she was stumped and could come up with nothing.
- 5. In December LaMarche met with the Council. I wasn't at that meeting, but I understand she said she wouldn't run if another Green ran because, if she came in second, that would jeopardize her chances of getting a high-level media job when the campaign was over.
- 6. The arrogant fait accompli-ism and the lack of any kind of democratic decision-making had the e-mail wires humming into January (and to this day). Two heavy-handed patriarchs completely ignored a primary Key Value, grassroots democracy, in the Maine Greens.
- 7. At the end of January, LaMarche came to the Green State Council meeting and again asked for our endorsement. We gave her over four hours, but it was clear that support just wasn't there. She was finally told she could call herself a "green independent," as could anyone, but not a MGP candidate.
- 8. The very next day, the Rensenbrink faction got into the Green Party office and used Green Party letterhead to announce Pat's candidacy, sending it to the media from the Green Party fax machine.
- 9. You can imagine the reaction from Green Council members. Immediate divisiveness, people leaving in disgust, disarray, meltdown. The meltdown deepens as they remain unrepentant, and continue to call LaMarche the MGP candidate for Governor. Though they have been told otherwise, the media often repeat this claim. Perhaps this was the Rensenbrink plan.
- 10. About a week after their announcement, while angry e-mails were still flying, Jonathan Carter introduced LaMarche to a forestry conference at Bowdoin College as the MGP candidate for Governor. The Rensenbrink faction is using the reputations of people who've spent years trying to build the Maine Greens into something that made a difference, instead of a stepping stone to LaMarche's "high-level media job."
- 11. Horrified, people called us saying, "We could never support her! Now who can we vote for?" Because of the principles that had been breached, and because of LaMarche's clear unsuitability for either the candidacy or, especially, the job of governor, several Maine Greens asked me to run. (Fitzgerald dropped out.)
- 12. I decided to run for Governor in order to put forth a genuine environmental platform (see website below), and as an activist who has progressive ideas and can defend her positions. Some Greens are supporting me, but most Maine Greens are just sitting this out. Like most rank-and-file, they don't want to get in the middle of major upheavals.
- 13. Meanwhile, April's Council meeting was canceled. Nancy Allen (Maine Green co-chair and ASGP co-chair) and John Rensenbrink went to Santa Fe to a national ASGP meeting without one word of discussion of what the issues were or what was expected to transpire. (I asked Nancy Allen what the issues were and she said, "Oh, you don't have to worry about all that. It's just some bad people [meaning GP/GPUSA] trying to ruin everything.")
- 14. As of early May, no Maine Green convention had been called for 1998, even though we're supposed to have one. It would be there that either LaMarche or myself would get the Green endorsement. Some of us are determined to have a convention, where major decisions should be made.
- 15. Both LaMarche and myself are trying to get the 4,000+ signatures to get on the ballot, and we're both out here giving speeches. My understanding is that she has never seen all the e-mails and heavy discussion and debate that's gone on since last year about her candidacy. She seemed amazed that we didn't jump up and down because she was willing to "sacrifice" herself for us. So we've concluded that, while she's using the Greens as a stepping-stone to a media job, she is also being used.
Whither the Maine Greens? Who knows? A lot depends upon what happens in November. If either of us gets the magic 5% of the vote, then either of us can start an official party. The possibility of being able to initiate a genuine activist party, which runs candidates to build support for important issues, is truly exciting.
There's been so much do-nothing-ism and wrangling in the Greens for so long that a chance to work with people who actually take stands on issues and do something would be wonderful.
For your information, I've initiated a Citizens Referendum to ban aerial pesticide spraying and keep pesticides out of Maine's waters, with affected people getting to vote on any exemptions. We need about 56,000 signatures to get it on the ballot, and we're hoping to use the campaign to organize the Referendum signature-gathering. The Referendum's wording is on the campaign website (below) along with our fact sheets.
Cliche though it sounds, we all know we need to build a massive, independent movement capable of getting thousands, then millions onto the streets so we can end the poisoning and destruction of Earth. I hope we can expend our energies doing what's effective, or we'll never make it in time.
This usurpation of the Maine Green Party name and the patriarchal, autocratic disdain for grassroots democracy in the Maine Greens shows us that destructive and dishonest manipulations cannot be allowed to stand. They must be challenged and exposed to the light of day. Cries for "unity" around undemocratic decisions must be called the demagoguery they are. This would help deter others who might think they could do the same with impunity.
I'm hoping the Biodevastation Gathering in St. Louis in July will call for actions not only around genetically-engineered life forms, but around the destruction and poisoning of Earth as a whole. We need to come up with actions which will enhance everyone's environmental work, and I believe we can.
Nancy Oden can be reached at P.O. Box 186, Jonesboro ME 04648, by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 207-622-0094, web site: http://www.cleanmaine.org/
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