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The G/GPUSA Congress and the ASGP Conference: Authentic Grassroots Democracy vs. Packaged Public Relations
by Susan Nelson, Calif. State Caucus G/GPUSA,
Los Angeles Greens
Becoming Green Authentic Grassroots Democracy vs. Packaged Public Relations The G/GPUSA Congress and the ASGP Conference by Susan Nelson, CA State Caucus G/GPUSA, Los Angeles Greens
Democracy requires struggle. The familiar parliamentary form, in most places, is narrowly based and limited to the rich and powerful. Whatever remnants remain need constant renewal. Electoral politics is only one of several arenas. Democracy must be sought in the community and the work place as well as the campaign trail.
Since its founding a decade ago, the Greens/Green Party USA (G/GPUSA) has pursued both electoral and movement politics. Within its eclectic membership, it has sought to keep democracy alive while challenging the present US electoral system. The more narrowly based Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), with a following of potential candidates and traditional party focus, has consistently sought to belittle and dismember G/GPUSA. It has wanted to take away G/GPUSA’s name and website, to remove its party status, and to drive it from the national scene.
Liberals plan burial of activism
The 2001 G/GPUSA Congress at Carbondale, Illinois and the ASGP Conference in Montecito, California a week later can best be understood in terms of a conflict between grassroots activists and liberals. The ASGP funded and organized the 2000 Green Party Denver Convention that nominated Ralph Nader for President. G/GPUSA supported the convention, despite being rebuffed as a cosponsor. G/GPUSA volunteers embraced the Nader campaign, including going door to door. The official Nader campaign was paid for by outside donors.
Hiding behind Nader’s name, ASGP supporters authored the Boston Proposal that would have replaced G/GPUSA’s national status with its own. It appeared that if they could knock “party” out of the G/GPUSA’s name and website, ASGP would not have to share funds from the election. This point became moot when Nader, in spite of a spirited and intelligent campaign, did not achieve the required 5% of the vote.
…if they could knock “party” out of the G/GPUSA’s name and website, ASGP would not have to share funds from the election.
ASGP selected a negotiating team to arrange the death of G/GPUSA. Harvard mediators were hired and seemed to snow naïve negotiators chosen to represent G/GPUSA.
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) had recognized G/GPUSA in 1996 as being a national party for the purposes of FEC election law. The ASGP had no national committee and no national standing. The ASGP wanted its less progressive platform to be accepted without changes. G/GPUSA was willing to develop its platform. It had a national office and a membership base. The ASGP had a few people at the top, a post office box, and a listserv, but no national office.
G/GPUSA Coordinating Committee member Howie Hawkins and Starlene Rankin, G/GPUSA Clearinghouse Secretary (who had membership lists at hand) became forceful supporters of the giveaway. They wanted immediate approval of the BP, but were unable to make it happen. People began sharing information, especially by e-mail. A special issue of Synthesis/Regeneration published a full array of views supporting and opposing the BP. Many rank and file members became shocked and began to see the BP as a means of takeover, not a friendly merge. Resistance in New York, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Maine won the day. Taking heart from one another and leaders in each state they were successful at holding their own at the GNC meeting in St. Louis in March 2001. Although Don Fitz offered amendments offered as a condition of renegotiating the BP, Howie refused to accept them.
What held was the steadfastness of G/GPUSA members who did not want to see the organization dissolved.
What held was the steadfastness of G/GPUSA members who did not want to see the organization dissolved. The GNC elected a Gathering Committee (GC) for the annual Congress. The GC minority attempted to force an immediate meeting over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, presumably to say a brief farewell to G/GPUSA. Instead the GC majority approved holding a full Congress in July, which allowed ample time to discuss issues.
The G/GPUSA 2001 Gathering/Congress at Carbondale, Illinois, July 20–23 proved to be a case of democracy defending itself from those who would liquidate the organization. The GC succeeded in securing the Touch of Nature Environmental Center, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, the home of negotiator/BP-proponent Rich Whitney. Claiming at first that the site was not available, Rich Whitney worked well with the GC in setting up the parallel Illinois/Missouri Regional Conference. The interconnected Conference attracted many local people to hear discussion of issues such as Police Abuse, Political Prisoners, the Prison Industrial Complex, Forests and Public Lands, Energy, Public Power and Coal, Electoral Reform, and Utopian Visions and Forced Growth in American Cities.
The GC appointed a Credentials Committee which began meeting Friday afternoon, July 20 to review delegate information. However a day passed before the Congress could convene and two days before the BP was finally discussed and came to a vote.
Understanding that a two-thirds vote would be necessary to dissolve the organization, the rank and file of G/GPUSA defeated the Boston Proposal at a full session on Sunday morning, July 22. ASGP supporters had made two attempts to sidetrack the vote. ASGP loyalist John Stith attempted on Saturday to adjourn the Congress for one year. His motion failed.
…the rank and file of G/GPUSA defeated the Boston Proposal at a full session on Sunday morning, July 22.
The question that tied up the opening of the Congress was the seating of the California and New Jersey delegations. The New Jersey matter was decided by agreement; but the California delegation was bitterly challenged. After learning that the California State Caucus had convened in February 2001 and elected delegates to the GNC meeting in St. Louis opposed to the BP, BP-supporter Walt Sheasby had gone on a rampage. He arrived in Carbondale with ballots he personally solicited that offered only an up-or-down “Fast Track” vote. The California State Caucus polls showed that while members did want unity, they preferred discussion and negotiation and not a predigested BP. The Credentials Committee approved 7 State Caucus votes for Sheasby (as a minority delegate) and 14 votes for the legitimate State Caucus. Although the State Caucus reps viewed the votes awarded to Sheasby as a giveaway, it was not enough for Sheasby and his allies. On Sunday, Rich Whitney moved to seat the California delegation only if it would vote based upon Sheasby’s ballots. Several ASGP adherents began to distance themselves from such a blatant maneuver. Whitney’s motion lost.
Decisions connected to facilitation occupied much Congress time. Heavily stacked with ASGP delegates, the Congress refused to accept experienced facilitators G/GPUSA nominees Marge Buckley and Marc Loveless. It chose instead to pair largely inexperienced facilitators, one from each side. Thus the Congress and the facilitators were divided along lines of those who wanted to preserve or kill G/GPUSA. It did not go smoothly. But patience, perseverance, and general good will overcame the confusion. It was democratic and never boring.
While the Congress decided against the BP it voted in favor of Don Fitz’s motion for continued negotiation. At the conclusion of the vote, the losers adjourned into the Shawnee Forest to rearrange their multiple agendas. Some passed into a new organization, first called the Green Movement, which then became the Green Alliance. Meanwhile, ASGP members prepared to attend its Conference the following week in California.
The Green National Committee (GNC) convened on the final day of the Congress on Monday, July 23. It elected a new Coordinating Committee and a Treasurer. Moe St. Evergreen celebrated by streaking the GNC Meeting. Everyone applauded. When BP supporter Moe, was asked the following week in California why he did not streak the ASGP Conference, he replied, “They might call the police.”
California conference transforms ASGP into GPUS
ASGP leaders had decided in favor of a parallel public relations Conference in Montecito, California (wealthy suburb of wealthy suburban Santa Barbara). Without a public credentials process, the delegates appeared to be seated by approval of the Steering Committee. The Conference had the appearance of democracy but not the feel of it. According to the program, two votes were given to each of 33 states represented. ASGP supporters Steve Herrick, Ben Manski, Amy Mondloch, Moe St. Evergreen and Eric Waite, coming directly from Carbondale, were voting delegates. There were no angry blocking actions as happened at Carbondale. Instead they gave full attention to the prepared agenda which had little room for substantive discussion or dissent.
…they gave full attention to the prepared agenda which had little room for substantive discussion or dissent.
At the opening, the ASGP Steering Committee, much like a corporate board, consisted of Annie Goeke, Steve Herrick, Greg Gerritt, David Cobb, Lynn Serpe, Mike Feinstein, Jo Chamberlain and Dean Meyerson. After a round robin, there were several statements that indicated some dismay about the failure of the ASGP to overtake G/GPUSA and destroy it. Steve Herrick announced that it did not matter what happened at Carbondale and that ASGP must go ahead with establishing the Green Party of the United States (GPUS). He did not mention G/GPUSA, nor the approved motion for continued negotiation. Ben Manski, of the Campus Greens, seconded Herrick’s statement to great applause. Disappointment was in the air, but there would be no concession. Later Manski proudly announced his disaffiliation from G/GPUSA.
ASGP Secretary Greg Gerritt clarified the dilemma in his report summing up the year’s activities. It showed ASGP trying to match G/GPUSA on conditions of the FEC filing by attempting to create a National Committee through e-mail. He outlined a top down structure that was the main feature of ASGP (and now GPUS). Former ASGP Steering Committee Annie Goeke announced the new Green Party of the United States the day after the ASGP Conference adjourned. Dean Meyerson was hired to direct GPUS at $1800 a month with four organizers and a national office in Washington DC.
…several statements…indicated some dismay about the failure of the ASGP to overtake G/GPUSA and destroy it.
The Conference was smooth, boring and without much substance. Whatever was important was hidden behind carefully chosen words like consensus. Does one vote at a Conference? The answer is “yes.” Facilitator Lynn Serpe moved effortlessly through the agenda, using contemporary parliamentary procedure to by-pass questions or much comment. The point was to adjust the bylaws so as to come close to democratic structure without handing power over to any but a chosen few. What was being born was a new look which would contrast with the disorderly democracy of G/GPUSA. Pre-determined words were calculated to throw the undecided and skeptical off the scent of deceit. If anyone wanted to serve in the future structure, beyond those appointed to the National Committee, he or she had to be elected within a Congressional District. This was as close as they were going to get to the grassroots and to the people. The day ended with the delegates standing as at boot camp chanting for a new Green Party and an FEC filing.
Saturday evening John Strawn of the Santa Barbara Greens presented a medley of speakers (including the excellent California State Green Party candidate Medea Benjamin). It was designed to appeal to the emerging radicalism among the delegates. Strawn, a liberal, gave it the old Americans for Democracy Action punch—lots of rhetoric with no plan of action other than a GPUS fundraising and public relations campaign.