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Synthesis/Regeneration 22   (Spring 2000)

Local Green Politics

The Green Party Grows in Iowa

by Dan Coleman, Iowa City Green Party

Begun in the aftermath of the 1996 presidential campaign, Green Party activity is finally starting to take off in the state of Iowa. Green locals have formed in Iowa City and Ames and a fledgling state party network unites those locals with Greens in a number of communities around the state. Iowa Greens are looking forward to the 2000 presidential election's providing a boost to their organizing and membership.

The IAGP, as yet unaffiliated with any national green party organization, is so far keeping national activities at arms length.

The first question that 2000 brought to the Greens of Iowa was how to respond to the upcoming Iowa Caucus (held on January 24). Ideally, Green Party presidential candidates would travel to the state to take advantage of the media attention and participate in a caucus or straw poll. Unfortunately, Ralph Nader had not yet announced his candidacy and neither Joel Kovel nor Stephen Gaskin had the time or resources to come to Iowa. As a result, the Iowa City Green Party (ICGP) teamed up with the Johnson County Labor Party to conduct an "anti-caucus" social event. Attendance was good and a number of people spoke out on the common concerns of Greens and labor. It was felt that a solid foundation of cooperation was being built between these two alternative parties. The local papers covered the anti-caucus, as did The Nation as part of its coverage of the presidential campaign in Iowa.

The Iowa Green Party (IAGP) will be meeting this spring to discuss possible delegates to the Green Party presidential nominating convention in Denver. The IAGP, as yet unaffiliated with any national green party organization, is so far keeping national activities at arms length. Also on the table for the spring IAGP meeting are developing party positions on agriculture, always a hot issue in Iowa and on peace issues.

The big news in 1999 was the election of Steven Kanner to the Iowa City City Council.

Green Elected in Iowa City

The big news in 1999 was the election of Steven Kanner to the Iowa City City Council. Kanner ran on a platform that emphasized neighborhood organizing, exploration of municipally owned electricity, and a living wage. Although the race was non-partisan, Kanner, an ICGP member who had walked across the US in the mid-1980s as a member of the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, ran with the strong support of the local. (The ICGP had previously run a candidate for City Council in 1997. That race fell 26 votes short in the primary.) The ICGP placed an endorsement ad in the weekly paper for Kanner and several members served on Kanner's campaign committee, one of whom coordinated an active canvassing effort. In the end, Kanner came through with a two-vote victory, strong validation for the hard work of many grassroots activists. In his first weeks on the Council he cast the sole dissenting vote against a proposed new downtown parking facility.

Fall, 1999 also marked the launching of the ICGP's City Council Watchdog Project. Two teams of 5-6 members alternate attending City Council meetings. The purpose of the watchdogs is to maintain a progressive presence before the Council, to bring a progressive perspective to bear on issues as they arise, and to communicate back to the community on important City Council discussions, public hearings, and decisions. The ICGP has opened the Watchdogs to all Iowa Citians with progressive leanings and most participants are not actually ICGP members. The project is a great way for Greens to demonstrate their commitment to grassroots activism and affirm that politics takes place year-round, not just on election day.

Greens Off and Running in Ames

Meanwhile, Starlene Rankin, who serves on the Coordinating Committee of Greens/Green Party USA, ran for City Council in Ames. This was the first electoral outing for the Ames Greens, a young and still small local. Rankin, who received about 20% of the vote, with turnout only at 13%, campaigned for neighborhood democracy, community-based economic development, and strong support for the arts and public access television. The Ames Greens have organized around several issues including support for Lori Berenson and Mumia Abu-Jamal, opposition to genetically engineered foods, and protests against the NATO war in Yugoslavia.

A Green Attends the Iowa Caucus

As a recent arrival to the state of Iowa, I could not pass up the chance to experience the Iowa caucus, a legendary institution in American democracy. Attending the caucus meant choosing between the tweedledum party with half a dozen troglodytes vying for the nomination and the tweedledee party with its two compassionate conservatives. To attend the Democratic caucus you had to register as a Democrat, while the Republicans merely required that you proclaim allegiance to their values.

A tough choice. Feeling mischievous, I flirted with the idea of entering the Republican caucus announcing "I believe women should be in the kitchen, blacks in prison, and Gary Bauer in your bedroom" in much the manner in which Arlo Guthrie declared to the psychiatrist in Alice's Restaurant, "Shrink, I want to kill." Unfortunately, irony is pretty much lost on Iowans and I decided to bite the bullet and register for the evening as a Democrat.

The way the caucus works is that the room divides into supporters of each candidate as well as a group of uncommitted. For lack of an alternative, I joined the uncommitted. This group, it is understood, is subject to the exhortations of the various candidates' spokespeople who will generally convince them to support one of the candidates (in this case, Bradley or Gore). But, as a Green Party member in sheep's clothing, I saw a more active role for myself.

In turn, I loudly beseeched the 160 Bradley supporters and the 80 Gore supporters to join the uncommitted. I pointed out that this supposedly grassroots process was really about our putting our stamp of approval on candidates established by the interests of money and power far away from Iowa City. As Iowa Democrats, I implored, we should not support candidates who want to militarize space, support corporate abuse of people and the Earth, or expand the death penalty, etc, etc.

Many heads nodded and a few questioned whether or not I might be suggesting an effective strategy, but I gained no converts. As the Bradley supporters cheered their small victory (what did they win?), I could only look forward to 2004, when the Iowa Green Party will perhaps have a caucus of its own.

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