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Synthesis/Regeneration 36   (Winter 2005)

Taking Stock

by Robin Hahnel

Election 2004 was destined to be a problematic nightmare for the Green Party from the beginning. Before the election cycle began, the country had discovered that, instead of a centrist Republican without a mandate, 9/11 and its aftermath had saddled us with a radical right wing presidency, pushing US imperial ambitions to new heights and threatening to develop an American version of fascism if re-elected. Most progressives, with notable exceptions like Ralph Nader and CounterPunch, realized that ridding the world of Bush-Cheney and trying to reverse the slim Republican majority in the US Senate were the overwhelming political priorities of the 2004 election.

At the expense of a great deal of internal strife, the Green Party made the right choice at our Milwaukee convention and refused to endorse the politically irresponsible candidacy of Ralph Nader. Instead we voted for the only honorable option open to us: we ran a low profile, safe state presidential campaign that did everything possible to make clear that while we recognized the priority of defeating Bush-Cheney, we were under no illusions that the Democratic Party would be a vehicle for progressive change. When our vice-presidential candidate declared that she would not vote for herself in a swing state, she did herself and the Green Party proud. It is time to cash in on our wisdom and our political maturity.

The critical issue in the aftermath of the 2004 election is what will happen to the millions of people who rallied to the failed cause of defeating Bush-Cheney. During the summer and fall of 2004 there were two armies of organizers fighting for the minds and hearts of the electorate in every battleground state, with support troops pouring in from neighboring safe states every weekend. On one side was the well-funded Republican Party, working with conservative churches.

On the other side were independent political organizations like ACT and Move-On, working along with the traditional civil rights, labor, women's, gay, and peace groups—all of whom were mobilized like never before. The Democratic Party and Kerry-Edwards campaign fluttered above the real political battles, largely powerless to do anything other than make life difficult for the independent progressive political armies fighting their battles for them.

By joining those who waged the good fight against Bush-Cheney in the summer and fall of 2004, rather than sabotaging their efforts, and by continually reminding progressives that they cannot rely on the Democratic Party, the Green Party is now in an ideal position to reach out to millions who have just demonstrated their commitment to progressive activism through truly heroic actions. Driven by the winner-take-all logic of the electoral system, some of them will continue to believe they must work through the Democratic Party. Greens should be able to persuade many of them that by joining the Green Party and working through Green locals they can more effectively promote their progressive causes on a daily basis, and still cast their votes strategically on Election Day. Those who recognized in Bush-Cheney the threat to everything progressives hold dear, and who overcame the culture of cynicism to answer the call to battle in the election of 2004, should be our immediate priority. They number in the millions, and our chances of bringing them into the Green Party have never been better.

The battleground will temporarily shift from the ballot box to the streets. The peace movement, with a majority of the US supporting us, will put millions in the streets over the next 12 months. At some point in the next four years, the women’s movement, with a majority of the US supporting us, will put millions in the streets to save women’s right to chose. Two elections in a row the Democratic Party has failed to defend the right to vote of their most loyal constituency. The civil rights movement has little choice but to go back into the streets to protest the escalating disenfranchisement of African Americans.

Having taken a back seat, first to the antiwar movement and then to the election, the anti-globalization movement will once again escalate our protests against neo-liberalism at home and abroad. The gay movement will continue its struggle to be allowed to celebrate love and commitment on the same terms afforded heterosexuals. With no chance of moving their agenda in Congress or in the White House, the labor movement will have to concentrate more on organizing campaigns, and may launch a major campaign to unionize Wal-Mart.

It is time to cash in on our wisdom and our political maturity.

With even less leverage at the national level, the environmental movement will have to move into the court rooms and into the streets, and concentrate on initiatives at the state and local levels. Beside our leadership in local campaigns and initiatives of all kinds, and beside our leadership in the struggle for electoral reform, whose urgency the 2004 election has highlighted, the Green Party will participate in all of these national efforts, as we always have.

As we do, we should encourage those we work with to register as Greens and join Green chapters, and we should anticipate greater success than ever before. The Democratic Party has once again palpably failed to serve as a vehicle to promote a progressive agenda. More dramatically, the Democratic Party has proven itself no longer even capable of keeping the dogs of fascism from barking at our door. The Green Party, on the other hand, has just demonstrated its political wisdom and maturity, and consequently has every reason to expect our ranks to grow considerably in the next few years.

Robin Hahnel is Professor of Economics at American University and an active member of the Southern Maryland Greens. His most recent books are Economic Justice and Democracy (Routledge, forthcoming 2005) and The ABCs of Political Economy (Pluto, 2002).

[27 dec 04]

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