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Synthesis/Regeneration 22   (Spring 2000)

Local Green Politics

Green Caucus Forms in Vermont [#below]

Why We Run

by Rebecca Kaplan,
Green Party At-large Candidate for Oakland, Calif., City Council

This is the most fun, exciting, all-consuming, exasperating, frustrating, time-consuming, exhausting and wonderful thing I have done. The "this" is running as a Green for the Oakland City Council. I am now in the final stretch and there is still a huge amount of work to be done, and a great many unknowns. Thanks to California's new early primary, the time for campaigning is compressed, so the same amount of work must be done in less time. Many organizations are still not used to the new schedule, and thus important groups like the Sierra Club and the California Nurses Association have not yet completed their endorsement decisions—so I, and other candidates, are trying to plan our leaflets and mailers while waiting to hear from key endorsers and potential donors.

But all of that is not the most important part. The vital, crucial part of this campaign consists of attending meetings, groups and events all over the city, meeting with people of widely divergent backgrounds, ethnicities, economic status and life experience, and watching their faces light up when they hear that this time there is a real choice—that there is a candidate running who is not beholden to corporate interests, and who will put the people of our city first!

People want to be engaged in the political life of their region, but often aren't. This "non-voting" is not an indication that people think all is well; rather it is an indication that people have given up hope that their actions can make a difference. One of our biggest tasks as political candidates is to incite hope! People need to first believe that things can be different—that is the first step, which can lead to taking action to improve our world.

I don't think that people should need such education and experience to run for city council—but it certainly has helped me...

I have been an activist throughout my life, and I see running for city council as an extension of my activism. I found myself spending many hours in meetings of various grassroots groups, attempting to deal with issues from unjust evictions of tenants, to hazardous emissions from a waste incinerator in east Oakland, to efforts to increase public transit service. In all of these meetings, we would discuss what we wished the city council were doing differently—and I realized that by being on the city council, I could have direct impact on many crucial issues of social justice, ecological sustainability and grassroots democracy.

With my experience and training in law and policy, I have the skills to be an effective councilperson. My education includes an M.A. in Urban and Environmental Policy, (Tufts University) and a J.D. from Stanford law school. My work experience includes both city and state government offices, and working as a public interest lawyer handling civil rights, tenants, labor, and environmental toxin cases. As potentially the first Green (as well as the first lesbian, bi or gay person) on the Oakland city council, it has been very useful to be able to talk about these credentials, to alleviate fears that I don't "have what it takes" to serve on the council. I don't think that people should need such education and experience to run for city council—but it certainly has helped me, and it helps build the credibility of the Green Party as capable and competent.

The campaign has been remarkably successful thus far-I have obtained an amazing array of endorsements, and many wonderful volunteers. My endorsements include Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, the Green Party, the National Women's Political Caucus, the Oakland Tenants Union, ACORN PAC, the Pile Drivers Union Local 34, president of the Bus Riders Union, and many others. The endorsements build on one another, each one giving me the credibility to seek others.

...it is important that we run people as more than just "protest candidates."

Still, the most important aspect of the campaign is direct person-to-person contact. I spend much of my time attending meetings and community events, giving talks, and speaking directly with local residents. This allows them to see me as a real person, and to ask questions, and should be a major part of any campaign.

I see the campaign as part of movement building. Although the city council is officially a non-partisan race, everyone knows I am running as a "Green"—and this is building the visibility of the party. Also, my strong connection with issues such as public transit and tenants' rights is helping to build support for the Green Party among low-income communities and communities of color—many of whom previously thought that Greens just cared about protecting remote ecosystems. If we are to continue to grow, we must make our commitment to social justice clear and powerful.

People are ready to vote for "third party" candidates—dissatisfaction with the RepubliCrats is at an all-time high. We can harness these feelings, and the general growing concern with ecological and economic justice, and become a catalyst for positive change in the coming century.

I do think a great deal can be accomplished by running candidates for office, but it needs to be well thought out. At this time, as the Green presence and visibility is growing, I think it is important that we run people as more than just "protest candidates." What I mean is that we should run with the attitude, expectation, and willingness to win. Of course, I don't mean that we shouldn't run a race that we are unlikely to win, but rather, we should run with the mindset that we can win. Specifically, we should not nominate candidates who would not actually want to, or be able to, serve in office. Potential candidates should be warned that running requires a great deal of time and effort, and can be very draining if you aren't truly excited by it, or if you have significant other time commitments in your life. Still, I think running for office is fun, inspiring and meaningful—and if you are comfortable with public speaking, and want to apply activism and community building in the public arena, I would encourage Greens to run for local offices, school board, and other positions.

One of the questions that invariably comes up is, "what will you be able to accomplish on the council, as one voice?" The answer has several parts. First, even though I would be the only registered Green, I wouldn't be the only progressive. There are others on the city council who are progressive, and who share my views on a variety of issues. Therefore, I would often have allies in my efforts. Also, I believe that mobilizing our grassroots supporters is a crucial part of governance. If I am advocating for a policy which I know will benefit the people of the city, and other council people are opposing it, then I would mobilize the press and the public to bring attention to the issue, and to mobilize people to call other council people to urge them to change their vote.


Green Caucus Forms in Vermont

by George Plumb, Vermont Green Caucus

Vermont, the "Green Mountain State" and generally recognized as very forward thinking on many issues including the environment, finally has a statewide organization of Greens. Although local groups of Green activists have existed before, this is the first time that there has been a statewide Green Caucus. The Caucus held its first gathering on February 1, 2000 to meet each other, share ideas, adopt bylaws, and discuss pending legislation, and how to network with others, including the newly formed Vermont Progressive Party.

The Vermont Progressive Party shares many of the Green values, and has a Progressive Mayor of Burlington, the state's largest city, and four Progressive members of the Vermont legislature. At least two Greens are members of the Progressive Party State Committee and will be working to encourage the Vermont Progressive Party to affiliate with the national Green Parties. In the meantime the Vermont Green Caucus will do what it can without causing a split in left leaning politics in Vermont.

For further information on the Vermont Green Caucus see our web page at Hyperlink http://www.middlebury.edu/~holzapfel/greenvermont.html
or contact George Plumb at 305 Plumb Lane, Washington, VT 045675,
802-883-2313, or email plumb@together.net

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