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The Green Dilemma and Direct Democracy
by Charles D. Johnson, Massachusetts Green Party,
Cape Cod Greens, the Greens/GPUSA
In the last 50 years I have voted for three major party candidates for president: Kennedy, Carter, and Dukakis. Carter lost on his second try, and Dukakis on his first. My batting average—500. I voted in every election! And you know what? I now feel that the whole exercise has been essentially irrelevant. It’s sort of like a game where we are allowed to watch, and to shout or cheer once in a while, but in which the important decisions are made behind the scenes, in the locker room or the board room, and if we really try to influence the play, we soon find that we are persona non grata.
We are ignored, or, if too loud or insistent, showered with tear gas or worse, and charged with disturbing the peace and fined or jailed.
I am not alone. Millions of loyal Americans are more than disillusioned with their national government. They are horrified or angered by many of its policies and actions, and desperate for change. But most feel helpless and hopeless. Their response is to stay away from the polls and to avoid thinking or talking about politics. Not a very useful response when our nation moves deeper into corporate statism and plutocracy and further from any semblance of democracy every day.
Enter the Green Party and Ralph Nader! The Greens backing of Ralph Nader for the presidency brought thousands of new activists into the Greens, on the local, state, and national levels. I was one of those people, a progressive and anti-war activist for many years who had somehow managed to remain unaware of the Greens and the ten key values. After one perusal of the green values and platform(s) (especially the GPUSA platform), I was hooked—out there collecting signatures to help get Nader and the Greens on the ballot in Massachusetts. We hoped for a national tally of at least 5% but came closer to 3%. But that was almost 3 million voters who came out—as Nader would put it—for “a politics of hope and joy!” It was an exciting and even wonderful time.
And then came the morning after. Bush and Gore were so close in Florida that they ended up in court, fighting it out to see who could manipulate the voting tallies, the courts and public opinion so as to win Florida’s electoral votes, and the presidency. It was not pretty to watch. The many ways in which blacks, minorities and the poor are disenfranchised were laid bare, and they are ugly. In the end the five “conservative” justices of the Supreme Court gave the presidency to George W. Bush in perhaps the most flagrant and transparent politically driven findings in the court’s entire history.
Some of the results of Election 2000:
Some Americans realized for the first time that our voting machinery and methods are antiquated and antidemocratic.
- The fact that the Supreme Court is a political tool was brought home to us with a devastating impact on our faith in our government and its so-called checks and balances.
- We found out that our votes don’t really count. The man who lost the popular vote was selected to occupy the White House, and thousands of votes were not even counted. Thousands of qualified voters were denied the right to help choose the president, especially if black or poor.
- The media demonstrated their total subservience to corporate power when within a week they swept all this under the rug, maintaining an eerie silence on these truly momentous events, clearly refusing to engage the government, the corporations, or the people in any real exploration of the problems, which revealed a society deeply flawed in its political life.
So how do we begin to climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves? Those working with the Greens have made a fine beginning. I am proud to espouse every one of the 10 key values, and pleased to witness how green activists work to keep these values alive as they work with the process within the party, and with the problems in our nation and the world. I am especially nourished and supported by the energy which goes into making decisions at the local level—keeping “grassroots democracy” alive and kicking.
Yet there are real difficulties, which show up in the ongoing efforts to form a single national Green party which will function with integrity in the electoral world, and on the local issues and activism level. The local activists, found mostly in the Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA), tend to see those more focused on electoral efforts as having lost touch with the basic Green values of community and consensus-building. Those working on getting Greens into office, found mostly in the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), tend to see the grassroots activists as unrealistic dreamers, whose work will go for naught unless there are Greens elected to government offices to carry out Green policies and plans.
Truly heroic efforts to bridge the gap between these two Green groups have resulted in the ASGP and a minority of the GPUSA forming a “new” national Green Party, which is named the Green Party of the United States. Two of my major opinions on this outcome are these:
- The ASGP and the GPUSA groups both desire the same fundamental changes in our beliefs and actions as a nation and as a people.
- Both feel that their way to achieve these goals is the right way, and the other way has major faults or deficiencies.
For me a useful solution in such a situation usually lies in the “both and” area, and not in an “either or” choice. The question then, is how to channel the enormous power of Green grassroots activism so that it will have positive results and thus become an ongoing force in our public life—and how to utilize the organizational energies of those with interest in electoral efforts so that when the votes are counted, Greens will have reason to cheer. The option I found is not perfect, but it does provide major satisfactions to both Green groups.
For me hope lies in the addition of a fourth agency to our government—a Legislature of The People that can operate at all levels, from the town meeting to the federal government. That agency would take the form of an initiative and referendum law and supporting administrative body, an Electoral Trust, which would enable citizens to write laws and policies, to then vote on them, and if approved by the electorate, to have them fully enacted and enforced without any interference from elected or appointed officials.
That agency…which would enable citizens to write laws and policies, to then vote on them, and if approved by the electorate, to have them fully enacted and enforced without any interference from elected or appointed officials.
There are several reasons that I feel the time has arrived for such a radical change in the structure and functioning of our government.
- Representative government is not working! It is clear that our elected “representatives” represent their own and their wealthy supporter’s, not the people’s interests. Too many of us have had the experience of supporting a candidate who promises this, but delivers that after elected.
- The people are finding that they have little influence on the decisions which directly and deeply affect their lives —decisions such as whether to wage war or peace, whether to respect the rights and needs of working people, or to treat them as cannon fodder or wage slaves, whether to create a national health care system which will work for everyone, not just the fortunate or the wealthy—etc. etc.
- Recent advances in communications, and in data management have made it possible, and practical, to hold an election at any level from town to nation, whenever the people in their wisdom decide it is necessary.
The peculiar advantages I see for the Greens (and thus also for all citizens of the nation) include the following:
- Greens could write and submit to their fellow citizens for a vote laws such as a minimum wage of $10/hour, to be increased by $1/hour each year for the next 5 years or a “ten times rule” making it illegal for anyone in a corporation to earn more than 10 times the amount earned by the lowest paid employee or A law mandating 30 miles per gallon for all US cars by 12/31/03, and 33 mpg by 12/31/05 or Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol or Real Tax Reform which would eliminate all loopholes, establish a progressive and just tax rate table applicable equally to individual income and to corporate profits, and put it all on one side of a large postcard—etc. etc.
- The results would depend on our being able to work together to educate ourselves and our neighbors about the need for such basic changes in our laws. I believe this would spark a much higher level of citizen participation in public life, which I see as to everyone’s advantage, including corporate managers and CEOs.
- Our present elected “representatives” somehow manage to remain unaccountable for their actions in office. An effective and clean initiative and referendum law would enable we citizens to inform these “representatives” of our displeasure when necessary with an appropriate referendum.
- It would establish a fourth agency of government, a directly democratic connection between you and I and the seat of our government.
We the people would have the option of actually governing ourselves. We would then be accountable for our own decisions and actions—accountable to ourselves! We would be forced to deal with the results of our own deliberations and votes, good or bad. The stupid game we play now—elect someone else to office and then blame him or her for whatever happens—would be over. The situation would force us to grow up politically or suffer the consequences. A powerful stimulus for growth!
The present structure and operation of government at all levels would remain in place. The only difference—and it is a critical one—would be the universal availability of direct access to the halls of government, for all citizens. Grassroots activism, personal contact, community organizing—these fundamental Green values would become a newly empowered currency in the political world—challenging the old boys clubs and corporate money and lobbyists.
This will not be easy of accomplishment. Politicians’ resistance to this idea has been so fierce at the local and the state levels, that a national initiative and referendum law has never been seriously proposed, until former Senator Mike Gravel began work on the idea in 1991. Since then, by dint of much hard work and consultation with the best legal and political minds, he and his team have crafted the Direct Democracy Constitutional Amendment and the Direct Democracy Act, an addition to federal law. There is a plan to place this before the people in the national election of 2004. The constitutional amendment will require a second electoral effort, which, if successful, will enable the Direct Democracy Act to become federal law.
My prediction is that most politicians will fight tooth and nail to prevent this. Why? Because it presents a major challenge to their absolute control of government. Because it gives a real voice to the millions who are now disenfranchised. Their political hegemony would be ended!
In my view the only force that will be able to overcome this resistance will be people-power. We are talking here about the only real threat to our present plutocracy, real democracy—direct democracy. I believe that the people will rise to the occasion. I also believe that the people most likely to see the potential of this effort, and to be energized by it, are the Greens—who realize fully and deeply the crying need for fundamental, revolutionary change in our government and society. And since this is a truly non violent revolution, it should have a powerful appeal to Greens.
The results of Gravel’s work, and much other information on initiative and referendum experience at the state level can be found at the Philadelphia 2 web site http://www.P2DD.org/. I encourage you to explore this excellent source of information, inspiration, and answers to questions.
You may also contact me at either 508-540-2238 or mailto:email@example.com