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The Avocado Declaration
by Peter M. Camejo, California Green Party
The Green Party is at a crossroads. The 2004 elections place before us a clear and unavoidable choice. On one side, we can continue on the path of political independence, building a party of, by and for the people by running our own campaign for president of the United States. The other choice is the well-trodden path of lesser evil politics, sacrificing our own voice and independence to support whoever the Democrats nominate in order, we are told, to defeat Bush.
The difference is not over whether to “defeat Bush,” understanding by that the program of corporate globalization and the wars and trampling of the Constitution that come with it, but rather, how to do it. We do not believe it is possible to defeat the “greater” evil by supporting a shamefaced version of the same evil. We believe it is precisely by openly and sharply confronting the two major parties that the policies of the corporate interests these parties represent can be set back and defeated.
We do not believe it is possible to defeat the “greater” evil by supporting a shamefaced version of the same evil.
Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign exposed a crisis of confidence in the two-party system. Nader’s 2.7 million votes marked the first time in modern history that millions voted for a more progressive and independent alternative. Now, after three years of capitulation by the Democratic Party to George Bush, they are launching a pre-emptive strike against a 2004 Ralph Nader campaign or any Green Party challenge. Were the Greens right to run in 2000? Should we do the same in 2004? The Avocado Declaration, based on an analysis of our two-party duopoly and its history, declares we were right and we must run.
Struggles for democracy and social justice
In spite of this pro-corporate political monopoly, mass struggles for social progress and struggles to expand democracy and civil rights have periodically exploded throughout United States history.
Every major gain in our history, even pre-Civil War struggles such as the battles for the Bill of Rights, to end slavery, and to establish free public education, as well as those after the Civil War, have been the product of direct action by movements independent of and in opposition to the two major parties.
Since the Civil War, without exception, the Democratic Party has opposed all mass struggles for democracy and social justice. These include the struggle for ballot reform, for the right of African Americans to vote and against American apartheid (“Jim Crow”); for the right to form unions, for the right of women to vote, against the war in Vietnam; the struggle to make lynching illegal, the fight against the death penalty, the struggle for universal health care, the fight for gay and lesbian rights, and endless others. Many of these struggles were initiated by or helped by the existence of small third parties.
Division of work
When social justice, peace, or civil rights movements become massive in scale, threaten to become uncontrollable and begin to win over large numbers of people, the Democratic Party begins to shift and presents itself as a supposed ally, always seeking to co-opt the movement, demobilize its forces, and block its development into an alternative, independent political force.
The Republican Party has historically acted as the open advocate for a platform to benefit the rule of wealth and corporate domination. It argues ideologically for policies benefiting the corporate rulers. The Republicans seek to convince the middle class and labor to support the rule of the wealthy with the argument that “what’s good for GM is good for the country,” that what benefits corporations is also going to benefit regular people.
The Democratic Party is different. It acts as a “broker,” negotiating and selling influence among broad layers of the people to support the objectives of corporate rule. The Democratic Party’s core group of elected officials is rooted in careerists seeking self-promotion by offering to the corporate rulers their ability to control and deliver mass support. To the people they offer some concessions: modifications on the platform of the Republican Party.
Never in the history of the United States had a magazine claiming to favor democracy run a front page article calling on an individual to not run for president until The Nation did so against Ralph Nader…
One important value of the Democratic Party to the corporate world is that it makes the Republican Party possible through the maintenance of stability essential for business as usual by preventing a genuine mass opposition from developing. Together the two parties offer one of the best possible frameworks within which to rule a people that otherwise would move society towards the rule of the people, i.e., democracy.
Democracy versus co-optation
Democracy remains a great danger for those who have privilege and control. When you are part of the top 1% of the population that has as much income as the bottom 75% of the people, democracy is a permanent threat to your interests. The potential power of the people is so great that it puts sharp limits on what corporations can do. The ability of the Democratic Party to contain, co-opt and demobilize independent movements of the people is a critical element in allowing the continued destruction of our planet, abuse, discrimination and exploitation based on race, gender, sexual preference and class, and the immense misdistribution of wealth.
As we enter the 21st century there is no more important issue than saving our planet from destruction. The world economy is becoming increasingly globalized. Corporate power is now global in nature and leads to massive dislocations and suffering for most people. The planet is overpopulated and the basis of human life declining. The greatest suffering and dislocations exist in the Third World but there is also a downward trend in the United States as globalization leads to a polarization of income and wealth. This shift is making the United States each day closer to a Third World country with an extremely wealthy minority and a growing under class. This polarization adds further fear of democracy for the elite.
The role of the Democratic Party
The usefulness of the Democratic Party in its open defense of the Republican Platform and its attacks on our Constitution and the rule of law internationally would be of little value to those who favor the present policies if it led to the development of a mass independent opposition. The failure of such forces to exist in sufficient strength permits the Democrats to be more open in their support for anti-democratic policies.
Nevertheless, some voices outside the Democratic and Republican Parties are beginning to be heard. Massive anti-war street demonstrations and the voice of a new small party, the Green Party, have gained some attention and respect. In no case did the Democratic Party as an institution support, call for, or help mobilize popular forces for peace and respecting international law. Yet large numbers of its rank and file and many lower level elected officials, against their party, participated in and promoted anti-war protests.
Many lower-level elected officials among the Democrats and even some Republicans who defend the Constitution of the United States are voting to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act at the local level. Even many middle-level Democrats have conflicting views and sometimes take progressive stances in concert with the Green Party’s platform. These individuals live in contradiction with the Party to which they belong and, while we can and should join with them behind specific issues, we do not adopt their error of being in a party that is against the interest of the people, pro-corporate and against the rule of law.
Democrats attack the Green Party
The Democratic Party allows its lower level representatives to present themselves as opposed to the war. Some of its leaders have begun to take on an appearance of disagreeing with “how” the policies of Bush are being implemented. The Democratic Party has unleashed a campaign to divide and conquer those opposed to the pro-war policies. On one hand it tries to appear sympathetic to anti-war sentiment while on the other it tries to silence voices opposed to Bush’s policies.
Soon after the 2000 presidential election, the Democrats began an attack on the Green Party on the grounds that since there is no run-off system, that is, since the Democrats in partnership with the Republicans do not allow free elections, the Green Party’s existence and its candidate for President in 2000, Ralph Nader, should be declared responsible for George Bush becoming the president.
The corporate media has heavily promoted this campaign. It has achieved success in part because of the support it has received by the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party and some of the “progressive” journals controlled by liberal Democrats such as The Nation and Mother Jones.
Progressive Democrats join the attack
Their political message is simple and clear: No voice truly critical of the platform of the Republicans may be permitted; only the Democrats must appear as “opponents” to the Republicans. They have no objection to rightist, pro-war third-party candidates entering the race and promoting their views. They only oppose a voice for peace and the rule of law like that of Ralph Nader in 2000.
Never in the history of the United States had a magazine claiming to favor democracy run a front page article calling on an individual to not run for president until The Nation did so against Ralph Nader running for President in 2004. The fact that polls show 23% of the people favor Nader running (which extrapolated to the total voting population represents about 40 million people) and 65% favored his inclusion in the 2000 debates is of no concern to The Nation, which seeks to silence the only candidate who in 2000 opposed the premises of George Bush’s platform.
Lesser evil leads to greater evil
This campaign’s effectiveness has penetrated within the Green Party where a minority supports the concept that the Green Party should not run in 2004. Behind this view is the concept that politics can be measured by degrees, like temperature, and that the Democrats offer a milder and thus lesser evil alternative to the Republican Platform. This view argues that to support the “lesser evil” weakens the greater evil.
Such a view fails to grasp the essence of the matter. Political dynamics work exactly the opposite. To silence the voice of the Green Party and support the Democrats strengthens George Bush and the Republican Party because only the appearance of forces opposed to the present policies, forces that are clearly independent of corporate domination, can begin to shift the relationship of forces and the center of political debate. Despite the intention of some of its promoters, the anti-Green Party campaign helps the policies pursued by Bush as well as his reelection possibilities.
The two-party system is a self-correcting mechanism that shifts back and forth between the two parties … to maintain corporate political control.
Although some claim that George Bush’s policies represent only a small coterie of neo-conservative extremists, the reality is otherwise. Bush and his friends serve at the will of the corporate rulers. His standing with the American people can be crushed in a moment if the corporate rulers so choose just by the power of their media, which today are concentrated in the hands of a half dozen giant conglomerates.
It is presently in the interests of the corporate effort to pursue a new colonialism to have Bush reelected, thereby legitimizing his government before the world. In order to safely achieve that, the voices that truly oppose Bush’s policies need to be silenced.
Opposition is rising
Opposition is rising against Bush. The overwhelming majority of the world is against Bush’s war policies. The resistance to the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inability of the US media and government to prevent the world from hearing the truth about these events, is weakening Bush’s standing. The corporate interests and their media apparently want to make a great effort to get Bush elected, but if this becomes too difficult, the Democratic Party will be prepared to appear as an “opposition” that will continue the essence of Bush’s policy with new justifications, modifications, and adjusted forms.
The only force that could upset the general direction set by the bipartisan policies voted over the last few years would be a destabilizing mass development inside the United States along with world public opinion. This occurred during the war in Vietnam and forced a reversal of US policy. Saving Bush from a backlash is now on the agenda and the positions of the Democratic Party help Bush in several ways.
First, they seek to prevent even a small but independent critical political development, that is they try to silence the Green Party, and they orient those opposed to the new colonialism to stop demonstrating and focus instead on the electoral campaigns of their Party.
Second, they seek to convince the people that what was wrong with the invasion of Iraq was just that the United Nations, meaning the undemocratic Security Council dominated by the wealthiest countries, did not lend it political cover, or NATO was not the military form used, or the US did not include France and Germany in stealing Iraq’s resources, or not enough troops are being used or some other question about how things are being done rather than what is being done.
They promise that all will be well if the Democrats can take charge and handle the matter better. With this orientation the Democrats free the hands of corporate America to give their funding and support to Bush. With few exceptions of relatively isolated voices, they offer not real opposition but only nuances. Those isolated voices (Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley-Braun) of opposition within the Democratic Party, no matter how well-intentioned, have a negative consequence. They give legitimacy to the Democrats as “opponents” of the Republicans.
These exceptions to the general rule are allowed on condition that after the primary campaigns they urge a vote for the Democratic nominee. This must be done no matter how different the endorsed candidate’s positions are from the positions taken during the primary. The cover for their political sellout is the winner-take-all system that allows them to posture as just “opposed to Bush” while they support the very party that has supported Bush. Those are the dues you have to pay to “play” in that game; otherwise you will be eliminated and driven out of the House, the Senate, or a Governor’s office.
For the Green Party there is nothing more important or effective long term and short term in stopping Bush than to expose how the corporate interests use their two-party system and the role of the Democrats in that system. We must let all Americans who question the policies of Bush, who favor the rule of law, peace, and our Constitution and Bill of Rights see the Democratic Party’s hypocrisy, how they support the war and the PATRIOT Act.
Success of the Democratic Party
The Democratic Party should be seen historically as the most successful political party in the history of the world in terms of maintaining stability for rule by the privileged few. There is no other example that comes near what the Democratic Party has achieved in maintaining the domination of money over people.
The Democratic Party through trickery co-opted the powerful and massive rise of the Populist movement at the end of the 19th century precisely using the same “lesser evil” arguments now presented against the Green Party.
We may very well receive a lower vote than in 2000. If we do not stand up to this pressure…we will suffer the greatest loss of all.
They blocked the formation of a mass Labor Party when the union movement rose in the 1930s. They derailed, co-opted and dismantled the powerful civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war movement and women’s liberation movement. They have even succeeded in establishing popular myths that they were once for labor, for civil rights and for peace. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Democrats have not abandoned “progressive” positions once held, as some Democrats repeatedly claim, but have simply shifted further to the right as world globalization has advanced, leading to the lowering of democratic rights and the growth of wealth polarization within the United States.
If a massive opposition develops, if the Greens begin to win races and their following grows, the corporations will put more money behind the Democrats, the media will become more sympathetic to the Democrats and promote its more “progressive” voices. The media would also become more critical of the Republicans’ lack of sensitivity, all in an effort to maintain the two-party system. That is, a shift towards the Democrats will occur if the Democrats cannot control the people.
The two-party system is a self-correcting mechanism that shifts back and forth between the two parties, and within different wings of those parties, to maintain corporate political control. Loyalty to the two-party system is inculcated in the educational system, and our electoral laws are rigged to discriminate against third parties.
Green voices must be heard
Those who call for a “lesser evil,” that is, for evil, will unfortunately succeed. The call for a “lesser evil” is what makes possible the greater evil. Those voices who say Nader should not run, that the Greens should consider withdrawing, that the Greens should not campaign in states where the vote is close are, unconsciously, actually helping Bush’s reelection by weakening the development of an opposition political movement that shifts the balance of forces. Nothing is more important than the appearance of candidates and mass actions that tell the full truth, call for the rule of law and respect for the Bill of Rights, and speak out for peace and social justice.
There is nothing more threatening to the rule of the corporations than the consolidation of a party of hundreds of thousands of citizens, especially young people, that fearlessly tell the truth to the American people. Only such a movement can in time become millions, then tens of millions, and eventually win. It is also the best strategy for the short term, to force a shift away from the direction being pursued today.
Short term versus long term
The idea that there is a conflict between the short term and the long term is a cover for capitulation. It has been the endless argument of the Democrats against challenges to their policies. When independent movements appear they call on people to enter the Democratic Party and work from within. There is no time to go outside the two-party framework, they argue. This argument was made 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago and, of course, remains with us today. Millions have agreed there’s no time to do the right thing. Very powerful groups, like the AFL-CIO, have followed their advice. As a result the number of workers in unions has dropped from 37% of the work force to 12% as the unions politically subordinated themselves to the pro-corporate Democratic Party.
Rather than success, these movements have found the Democratic Party to be the burial ground for mass movements and of third-party efforts that sought to defend the interest of the people throughout American history.
The Green Party can and will win the hearts and minds of people when they see us as reliable and unshakeable…
If we follow the advice of the “left” Democrats who call on Greens to return to the Democratic Party, the Green Party will collapse like the New Party did for fear of confronting the Democrats. The exact opposite is needed. We need to encourage those Democrats who are opposing the policies of their party to follow the lead of Congressman Dan Hamburg and break with the Democrats and join with us in developing an alternative force, fighting for democracy, social justice and peace.
All people who believe in democracy need to call on The Nation and others to stop their campaign against the Greens, a campaign at the service of corporate America. Instead they should join with the Greens in a battle for democracy in the same manner in which many progressive Democrats in San Francisco rejected their party’s nomination for mayor and joined with the Greens to create a progressive alternative. We need to suggest to “progressive” Democrats that they should concentrate their attacks on their leadership’s support for George Bush’s policies, and not on the Greens for telling the truth and actually fighting for the ideals many of these Democrats claim to hold.
The Green Party, 2004 and beyond
The year 2004 will be a critical year for the Greens. The campaign of the Democrats will be powerful and to some extent effective. Some will abandon us but others will be attracted by our courage and our principled stance. In California Green registration continues to rise even as the campaign against the Green Party grows. We may very well receive a lower vote than in 2000. If we do not stand up to this pressure and hold our banner high, fight them and defend our right to exist, to have our voice heard, to run candidates that expose the two-party system and the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party and its complicity with the Republicans, we will suffer the greatest loss of all.
The Green Party can and will win the hearts and minds of people when they see us as reliable and unshakeable, if we stand our ground. In time this leads to respect and then support. Those Greens who agree with our Ten Points but have disagreements with this Avocado Declaration need to be respected. We need to allow an open and honest debate as an essential part of our culture.
Truth can only be ascertained through the conflict of ideas. Thus democracy is essential for society but also for our internal process. The present discussion around the 2004 elections is one that will not end but will be with us for a long time. It finds expression in many forms because it is the most fundamental issue of American politics in our time. Are we willing to stand up to the rule of corporate domination and its central political agent that has deceived and betrayed our people, the Democratic Party?
The Green Party seeks to bring all those who agree with its Ten Key Points into one unified political party. It welcomes diversity, debate and discussion on issues of strategy, tactics and methods of functioning. A healthy organization that fights for the interest of the people by its nature will always have all kinds of internal conflicts, sharp differences, personality difficulties and all other things human. This is not only normal, it is healthy. The Greens do not consider themselves a substitute for other movements or organizations, such as peace organizations and other specific issue groups that seek to unite people of all political persuasions around a specific platform. We welcome diversity with other groups that seek to move in the same direction with us but have not agreed to join us. We will try to work with such organizations where common ground exists. Thus the Avocado Declaration includes a call for the Greens to accept diversity and maintain unity as we seek to build an effective mass organization.
Let those who agree with the Avocado Declaration help protect and build the Green Party as a vehicle for democracy, freedom, liberty and justice for all.
[1 Jan 2004]
This article is abridged. The entire text of the Avocado Declaration can be viewed at http://www.swans.com/library/art10/camejo01.html or in Acrobat at http://www.avocadoeducationproject.org/pdf/THE_AVOCADO_DECLARATION.pdf
See also: Avocado Education Project
Peter Miguel Camejo has fought for social and environmental justice for over 40 years. He has worked to defend the rights of Latino workers in the US and to free political prisoners in Latin America. In 1976 he ran for President of the United States as a socialist, gaining ballot status in 30 states. Camejo ran in the California gubernatorial elections in both 2002 and 2003 (recall) as the candidate of the Green Party. He is Chair and Co-Founder of Progressive Asset Management, Inc., a broker-dealer firm which promotes socially responsible investments. This document is modified and published with the verbal authorization of its author.
[5 apr 04]