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Synthesis/Regeneration 16   (Summer 1998)

State of the Green Movement

by Rick Whaley, Wisconsin Greens

[This is from a presentation to the September, 1997, Wisconsin Greens gathering.]

The main catalyst for Wisconsin Greens currently coming back together is the success of the Nader presidential campaign in Wisconsin November, 1996. Nader garnered 1% of the vote here, enough to gain ballot status for us. Our campaign for Nader-LaDuke stayed in budget; involved people throughout each region of the state; reinvigorated a sense of a state Green presence; and most importantly avoided the split, prominent in other US Green groups, between the movement Greens and the electoral Greens. In Wisconsin, we are the same people and the same organization, and we are, perhaps, a model of how other states might do it.

Greens believe we are at the end of the fossil fuel era, the era of unlimited growth, of piece-of-the-pie politics, a time when the Western, scientific world view and patriarchal model are in dispute. The question for us is: Are Greens poised to take advantage of the paradigm shift? If the times are changing again, will it happen with a Green label on it, and even if it goes in a green direction, will it happen under a Green party banner?

If we understand why liberal-leftism failed and what we have to offer that's different, we may inherit (a share of) the leadership the times demand. The Left failed because people don't listen to the rhetoric of class struggle and oppression. The emphasis on rights instead of citizens' responsibilities fails to address people's yearning for a sense of values and a sense of hope in American life. So also the Left's disdain of spirituality has left it ideologically and strategically weak.

Greens aren't the environmental wing of the Left. The political spectrum is a circle and even folks I would call value-conservatives are moving in green directions

Greens aren't the environmental wing of the Left. The political spectrum is a circle and even folks I would call value-conservatives are moving in green directions: the not-in-my-backyard anti-toxins movements across the country; farmers trying to hang on against Monsanto and bad land economics; Midwest housewives fighting power lines and medical waste incinerators; parents against pesticides; Republican conservationists against sulfide mining; conservative suburbanites uniting with tree huggers to save Milwaukee's County Grounds green space; and fiscal conservatives and taxpayer groups we ought to work with against publicly financing private sports stadiums.

Greens won't be poised to take advantage of the paradigm shift without a sharper sense of realism and a more critical look at what we've done and what our statewide collection of activists can do. Historically, the role of third parties is to influence the major parties, changing their platforms and incorporating new constituencies, then the third parties disappear, co-opted. Enacting progressive legislation usually marks the end of movements. What signs do we see now of impending positive change, of revolutionary movement?

Greens today, statewide and nationally, are a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers and influence of the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements which both put forth third party efforts-the National Black Independent Political Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, respectively. In the best of progressive times in (most of) our lifetimes, those parties failed. Now we live in conservative, backlash times in America, in the midst of Tommy Thompson popular counter-revolution in Wisconsin. The New World Order defines the national economic agenda, labor policy and environmental malfeasance. The corporate media which once sympathized with liberal causes now ignore many community and environmental causes and breakthroughs, the same way they ignored Nader and the Greens in autumn 1996. How are we cracking the opposition enough to put ourselves on the political map to last?

Greens need to work on all fronts. Our main goal this weekend is to empower those people who have run or want to run for office as Greens and to put the state organization together and behind those efforts. The work on movement issues (including in the legislative arena) has brought us to this point as much as the Nader campaign has. The movement efforts and electoral work are symbiotic. Electoral politics can give Green movement issues and ideas a much broader audience and legitimacy. Movement organizing gives the electoral scene the recruits, voters, and depth of program we need, and also steers the party away from piece-of-the-pie politics.

Labor can't succeed as a third party because labor is now part of the system, trying to extend its piece of the pie. (I'm not speaking here of principled labor activists, historically, or the ones we work with today. I'm speaking of unions as no longer the revolutionary social force, per se.) You can't advance a movement over labor's "fair share of the pie" in a world where the planetary systems would collapse if everyone lived the American standard. Greens want to rebake the pie, as it were, to evolve a new system, to ask the new revolutionary questions: how to lessen consumption but increase the quality of life; how to live economically and not destroy planetary and local eco-systems; how should we live in cities? what's best for everybody (the poor, the next seven generations )? The question of how to raise the world up to America's standard of living, to the American definition of success and growth, is now a reactionary question.

Electoral politics can give Green movement issues and ideas a much broader audience and legitimacy. Movement organizing gives the electoral scene the recruits, voters, and depth of program we need...

To create a successful movement, including an electoral party, in multinational corporate-dominated economic and political times, we need to be able to answer some of these broad historical questions as well as the strategic organizing and internal questions. If we can do that we will have defined the first steps before us. If we can't answer those questions, if we only focus on election commission details and choosing candidates, we'll end up doing Zen organizing: it will be good for our inner development, strengthening our heart path. It will be public witness, which we have done, but if that's all it is, it will be only a witness against things we can't change. It will be crossing our fingers and jumping into today's political current and just hoping now's the time one major party disappears, without knowing how or why that happens.

The debates over which structure (party or network) is best for Greens, movement vs. Party, fusion vs. independence, seem less intense than the importance of finally getting back on task with state politics. If we can build on the positives of our group and have a keen sense of the steps ahead, Greens can became a force as a party and a movement.


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