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Green Politics in Ohio & Putting Nader on the Ballot
by Paul Dumouchelle, Central Ohio Green Education Fund
The very definition of a "swing" state, Ohio has a record of backing Presidential winners. The state's varied population and economic base reflect a rough approximation of the nation as a whole and its politics typically reflect national trends. Though every statewide elected office has been held by Republicans for several years, President Clinton won the state in both of his elections. Ohio's majority swings from one party to another, depending on the strength of the candidate and the hot issues of the day. This is similar to the split evidenced currently, where the White House and Congress are held by different parties. In many ways, the fledgling Green movement here reflects national trends.
In the early 1990's the Greens were a growing force with a strong core organized around opposition to a planned low-level radioactive waste dump backed by then Governor, now US Senator, George Voinovich. Though the nuclear dump was defeated, the Greens' momentum for further political or social activism foundered on the rocks of political controversy. The group splintered over the 1996 election and what to do with Candidate Nader. This split reflected the national division between those who favored a strict adherence to Green principles—translated as total avoidance of a corrupt political process—and those who sought to work within the system to advance the Green cause (the former typically associating themselves with the Greens/Green Party USA [GPUSA] and the latter with the Association of State Green Parties [ASGP]). As a result, the Ohio Greens disintegrated.
Ohio's Greens have not held a statewide meeting since the 1996 election.
The 1996 Nader Campaign in Ohio was a microcosm of the national result. The campaign energized many, drawing new blood into the Green effort. Yet the campaign embittered experienced Greens on both sides. To this day, those who supported Nader in 1996 blame their compatriots for undermining the ballot-petition effort and causing the failure to get Candidate Nader on the ballot. Supporters thought they had submitted enough signatures to get Nader on the ballot as an independent, but many signatures were invalidated by the Secretary of State, something which always happens. The final count of "valid" signatures fell just a few hundred short of 5,000. If we had had the enthusiastic support of all Greens throughout Ohio Nader would have surely appeared on the ballot.
Ohio's Greens have not held a statewide meeting since the 1996 election. The inability of GPUSA and ASGP to overcome their own differences is, perhaps, similar.
On January 16, 2000, 11 people from around the state gathered to form a committee to put Nader on Ohio's ballot for this year's Presidential election. Given the restrictive ballot-access laws in Ohio, the result of an undemocratic system that many Greens rightly disdain, we can only hope to have Nader's name appear as an "Independent." Reflecting what we learned from the 1996 effort, we have prioritized the Nader campaign as the most important task at hand. We all would like to see a vibrant Green Party attain ballot status and have agreed to work toward that end.
People working on this campaign include hard-core activists who attended the WTO uprising in Seattle as well as people more familiar with Nader's own organizations and efforts than any kind of Green activities. We also have many of the leaders of the 1996 effort who have maintained relations with Nader and the ASGP. As for myself, I am an individual member of GPUSA and a grassroots activist defending the tiny shards of ecologically intact ecosystems that have somehow survived 200 years of assault from America's mainstream industrial society. My greatest successes have come where activism impacts electoral politics. While the 1996 campaign first attracted me to Green politics, it is the Ten Key Values that keep me committed. We need to keep values such as Ecological Wisdom prominently in our public communication.
A strong Nader candidacy in Ohio would be a great step forward for Greens. Nader can do an excellent job in advocating Social Justice and Grassroots Democracy. His unquestioned integrity is a breath of fresh air in a political environment grown stale from the Republocrats' duopoly.
We are fortunate to have the city of Toledo within our borders. Toledo is the focus of a campaign supported by Nader to challenge the laws that allow global corporations to obtain tax breaks by pitting one state against another in a bidding war to gain corporate investment. Daimler-Chrysler gained several hundred million dollars in tax breaks to rebuild its Jeep plant in that city. Nader is challenging that deal under the Federal interstate commerce rules. He rightly states that small businesses suffer discrimination in these types of handouts which always benefit large, well-connected businesses. The logic behind this effort is impeccable and there is much political gold to be mined in this area. Small businesses should be a focus area for Green recruiting. I would like to see our ongoing critique of massive corporate centralization balanced with policy proposals that will benefit small business.
I would like to see our ongoing critique of massive corporate centralization balanced with policy proposals that will benefit small business.
I am devoting myself to the Nader campaign in Ohio. During and after the election, it will be up to dedicated Greens to take the energy generated by a Nader candidacy and convert it into a long-term Green presence.
What I don't see a Nader candidacy doing is the one thing I find most lacking in too many Green debates. Ecological Wisdom gets shortchanged, and I have yet to see Mr. Nader articulate a compelling vision in this area. From my perspective, Ecological Wisdom grows from simple statements such as Aldo Leopold's oft-quoted Golden Rule of ecology. Why isn't this Golden Rule the basis for more policy initiatives of the Greens? Winona LaDuke's 7th Generation Amendment got at the heart of the issue—we have a right to clean air and water—why isn't this at the forefront of Green politics? LaDuke expresses the essential issue as the choice between the "indigenous world view and industrial world view." We need to state that Greens advocate a fundamental alteration of our relationship with the land.
We must find a way to convince the voting public that the way forward is not an increasing reliance on the transitory material benefits of an excessive faith in science but actions and decisions that bring us more closely into union with that which supports life. This advocacy must occur on many levels—including the political one. When Al Gore talks about supporting genetically engineered food production as long as "good science" shows there are no ill effects he abdicates his claim to environmental responsibility. We can provide for ourselves from the natural bounty of the earth without the mutant offspring of microbiology. We know that the compound effects unintended and unstudied by the advocates of industrial agriculture have corrupted both the nutrition of many Americans and the social structure of rural life. We know this by measuring our actions against our values-that is all we need.
In this ongoing effort we all must realize that science has had a rule of almost 400 years and its passing before the stronger force of Green Values will probably not occur any more easily than the long and sometimes ugly decline of feudalistic privilege. I see the Ohio campaign for Nader in 2000 as one step in this effort. My hope is that all who see a future in Green Values can work together on more steps like this so we can move toward a more promising future more quickly.
My heart can never be with the realos because compromise with our opponents should never betray our Green Values.
While I am a GPUSA member because of this group's strong adherence to Green Values I expect to work with ASGP for the 2000 election. I see here the same split between the "fundis" and the "realos" that exhibits itself in other Green groups such as the German Greens. My heart can never be with the realos because compromise with our opponents should never betray our Green Values. The German Greens betrayed Nonviolence when they supported the first use of German military power in over two generations (in Kosovo) just months after they became the first Greens to gain national elected office. That act proved how corrupting it is to compromise principle to gain power—the fundamental premise the realos follow.
So while I will participate in ASGP activities because my head tells me that working within existing political structures is the best way to advance the Green cause today, my heart is with the GPUSA as the true expression of the reason I am a Green. I believe we must make big decisions with the heart and little ones with the head. This is how I hope things will turn out for the Greens in Ohio. Perhaps in this way we will reflect what can be a way forward for a Green future.
Paul Dumouchelle is a Trustee of the Central Ohio Green Education Fund. He is also Secretary of a local river-protection group, Darby Creek Association, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club.