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The Crisis in the Green Party
by Peter Miguel Camejo
Many Green members want to know when the infighting is going to end. Most Greens are not involved in the day by day or even month by month debate that is now under way in the Green Party. At the 2004 Milwaukee convention, I proposed we accept that there is a sharp difference in the Party; recognize both currents, show respect for each other by endorsing Cobb and Nader, then let Greens in each state use their ballot line in the way they thought best. But that vision was rejected by the Cobb supporters at the convention.
When I speak of Cobb supporters I mean precisely those who are in the leadership of that current. Many of the Greens who voted for or supported Cobb are not in agreement with many of the views being projected by what I call the “Lesser Evil” current. I define that current based on the statement by 18 Green leader supporters of Cobb that refer to themselves as supporters of voting for the Lesser Evil (their words).
They wanted to “win,” to defeat Nader. Looking back we can now see clearly that after being crushed in the primaries (they received 12%) and in most state conventions, the Cobb supporters could not win unless they stacked the convention. By stacking I mean something quite simple. Regardless of the vote in a state convention or primary the Lesser Evil current set out to get as many of their supporters as possible to become delegates. To do this is not only anti-democratic, it is a conscious effort to overturn the will of the membership.
By this “packing,” they refused to accept the wishes of the membership. This fact, more than anything else, is what threatens the Green Party today. If democracy is not respected within the Green Party then what exactly is the Party? Internal democracy is not a negotiable issue.
The 2004 election
All Greens recognize that something rather peculiar has happened in our history. The formal Green Party vote for President dropped 95% in 2004 as compared to 2000—quite unusual even for a third party. We came in sixth, not third like in 2000. We also lost ballot status in seven states and are now down to 15. In many states, the Party has declined.
Two important exceptions stand out at least partially, California and New York. In both states our large registration has held or increased. New York went from 36,000 to 41,000 and California remains above 150,000. In California, we hit a new record of elected officials. Nationwide, our total number of elected officials also increased. So, while we have declined in some areas, we have held our own or increased in others.
Internal democracy is not a negotiable issue.
The pro-Cobb leadership needs to recognize that most Greens who did not vote corporate voted for Nader. Most Greens who actually participated actively for Cobb or Nader were overwhelmingly involved pro-Nader. Nader was only on the ballot in states with half the population of the country, and nonetheless, he received almost 500,000 votes. If one assumes that, in the other states, his vote would have been just half of that, Nader would have received some 750,000 votes in spite of the massive Anybody-but-Bush campaign. If you calculate Cobb’s vote and also project what he might have gotten being on the ballot in all states, you end up with a combined total for both Nader and Cobb of close to 1 million people who refused to vote for either pro-corporate party.
Amazingly, the ratio between Nader and Cobb’s vote followed pretty closely the ratios in the Green primaries and state conventions: about 6 votes for Nader to 1 for Cobb.
With the one exception of the year 2000, this is the largest progressive vote for President in more than 50 years. This is, in great part, due to Nader’s courageous stand against the two corporate parties. It is clear that a large number of people accept being outside of the corporate-controlled parties.
Rather than draw pessimistic conclusions from the last election, let’s recognize that the Green Party is still here. It is imperative that we look towards organizing and unifying these forces in a growing independent political movement. From there we can reach out to the millions of people who feel betrayed by the two parties. We need to reach out to those who either, do not vote at all, or vote Democrat because they are political prisoners in the two-party dictatorship under which we live.
Crises growing in the Green Party
Unfortunately, the current that has organized behind Cobb’s campaign after the elections is moving in another direction. It has become quite clear that they have shown little interest in trying to reach out to the majority current in the Green Party or to the hundreds of thousands who voted for Nader. Instead, they have become quite attracted to the Democratic Party’s latest “progressive” wing—the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). They seem to feel threatened by the existence of a militant pro-independence current in the Green Party.
This red-baiting approach is another way of saying that the Left in the Green Party is the problem and we need to get them out.
Instead of seeing the danger of co-option by Democrats, John Rensenbrink recently warned of the infiltration of socialists into the Green Party. This red-baiting approach is another way of saying that the Left in the Green Party is the problem and we need to get them out. To Rensenbrink, calling for a vote for Kerry is not the problem; the problem is those “socialists” who won’t vote Kerry. Of course, he never mentions that both the Communist Party and many of the Democratic Socialists of America were solid backers of Kerry. For those socialists to be in the Green Party, I guess, might be okay with Rensenbrink. His problems are with other “socialists” like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) who refuse to vote pro-war, and are helping to build the Green Party.
Since the Nader/LaDuke campaign of 2000, the ISO has worked alongside the Green Party in electoral campaigns, endorsing our candidates, walking precincts, organizing campaign meetings, etc. Many members of the ISO are registered Greens. The ISO also works in various places with Green Party members in non-electoral coalitions against the war, for immigrant rights, against the death penalty, etc. Other socialist groups, like Solidarity, have had members helping to build the Green Party since its founding. In New York we ran a leader of the Socialist Party for Senate.
The facts are exactly the opposite of what Rensenbrink states. It is a hopeful sign for the Green Party that many of the ISO members and Solidarity are helping the Green Party. The ISO has developed a large following, especially among young people. The Green Party is not socialist or capitalist, it welcomes all who are willing to stand by the 10 key values and respect internal democracy. The danger to the Green Party is from the Democratic Party, from pro-corporate forces, not from people supportive of our party.
The issue of control
In their desire to cozy up to the “new” PDA, the Lesser Evil current wants to keep their control of the Green Party. They feel they must stop the membership from being able to alter the present minority control. The fact is the PDA is watching to see if the Lesser Evil wing of the Greens can keep their minority control and help deliver the Greens towards a fusion strategy with the Democrats.
That is why we are now seeing the first signs of Cobb supporters openly speaking out against one Green one vote. They are trying to sow confusion over the issue. They try to claim our call for democracy is somehow hostile to smaller Green Party states. They accuse California of wanting to “take over.” The truth is the exact opposite. Everything we achieve in California we hope will help build the smaller Green Party units. We respect, admire and want to help those states. Rejecting democracy and trying to create a non-existent inter-state conflict is not a way to help the smaller states.
The Lesser Evil current is small
The pro-Cobb current became fully aware of how small they really are as David campaigned. But they also saw that they could control the Green Party by pushing their people forward to fill positions in the Green Party. In most cases whoever volunteers is simply given the position.
Throughout the Cobb/LaMarche campaign, the votecobb.org web site avoided mentioning how many people attended or even sometimes whether there actually were campaign meetings. Most of the campaign was really an organizing effort for the Lesser Evil current within the Green Party. As far as we know, Cobb’s campaign meetings were minuscule. Cobb’s big launch in California managed to draw only 25 or so people even though the Bay Area has over 40,000 registered Greens. That compares with about 1,000 mostly Greens at Nader’s Bay Area opening rally.
The Cobb current wants control. They are prepared to maintain control by a small minority and to refuse to allow democracy in the Green Party. I say this because no leading Cobb supporter (for instance none of the 18 who signed the pro-Lesser Evil statement) has up to now stated they accept that leadership bodies and the nomination of our presidential slate must reflect the will of the membership by establishing a system based on one Green one vote.
Keeping the membership in the dark
Traditionally, part of what right wings do to keep control is to prevent information from reaching the membership of the group they are a part of. For instance, when the primaries and state conventions were being held in preparation for our convention in 2004, the Green Party national website avoided printing how many Greens attended conventions or participated in caucuses or how many voted in our primaries and for whom. They only listed the number of delegates allocated to candidates.
If they had listed the actual votes in the primaries and the size of the State conventions it would have been transparently clear that Cobb lost overwhelmingly inside the Green Party. Do you think for one second if Cobb had done well in the primaries those figures would not have appeared as headlines in the Green Party web site? After being crushed in three primaries where thousands of Greens voted in California, New Mexico and Massachusetts, the pro-Cobb Greens did not want the membership to see those figures. They still do not exist on our national web site.
Now through the effort of Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI) we have started to discover what each state party’s membership is. That is what these states themselves say they have. Do you think for one second the Green Party’s national web site will show the membership what those figures are? In the future, that should become a standard list adjusted once every four years for anyone to see.
Usurpation in Utah
The main question of interest, at least for some of the Steering Committee (SC) members, was what I said in Utah to the Utah Greens. In Utah the Green Party has a rule that they had to reach a pretty high level of consensus before decisions could be made. Some of the members had asked Cobb to come to Utah for a meeting and others asked that I also be invited so both points of view could be heard. Cobb was unable to make the meeting so it turned out I was there alone to speak to a meeting of about 15 or so Greens.
Some time after my meeting in Utah the Utah Greens could not reach a consensus on what to do regarding whether they would place Nader or Cobb on their ballot and decided not to place either. All three of the delegates sent by the Utah Party to Milwaukee had returned saying they were quite upset by what they saw.
Immediately, the Cobb current went to work and split the Green Party. There were two Greens in charge of the treasury, one a Nader supporter, the other a Cobb supporter. The Cobb supporter went to the bank and cleaned out the $3,000 or so the Green Party had in Utah. They proceeded to hold an emergency conference by phone where only certain Greens were invited and declared other Greens expelled.
They proceeded to “elect” a new leadership so that it would be 100% pro-Cobb and then went into court declaring the Cobb current the Green Party. The lower courts ruled against them. They appealed using the funds they had taken from the Green Party all the way to the State Supreme Court but they failed there as well.
Now, the committee in charge of accrediting states within the Green Party, under the guidance of Steering Committee member Jody Haug, has declared the Cobb split (which I always opposed) to be the legitimate and official Green Party of Utah. To my knowledge, neither the SC nor the Coordinating Committee (CC) has approved that decision. Neither has there been any effort by the national leadership to reunify the Greens, or even to have a non-partisan investigation.
Utah is the first case where such a split has taken place and where Greens were “expelled” for supporting Nader. The “expelled” Greens and many other Greens in Utah who supported Nader waited to see if the SC would stop this split. They informed me that in their opinion Dean Myerson and Holly Hart were orchestrating the split, and that in fact the national leadership supported splitting the Utah party in two. Utah Green candidates withdrew their candidacy in protest against the pro-Cobb coup.
Cobb lost overwhelmingly inside the Green Party
But those who would not go along with Cobb felt the Utah Green Party was being destroyed. Both wings now have a web site. The pro-Nader Greens consider the pro-Cobb Greens part of the Green party. They want unity. The Cobb supporters want to continue the split. The national party web site only lists the Cobb Green’s web site and has refused to include both.
In Utah some Greens pointed out to me that some of the leaders of the splitters were people who had supported Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. They also explained how this was the second time the Greens in Utah had had a split. The first time it was a group that also wanted to work with the Democrats. They split and then decided to join the Democratic Party.
Another example where Jody Haug is involved is Vermont. The Vermont Greens decided not to place anyone on their ballot. Now the Lesser Evil current wants to do something about this. Note the difference in approach.
We GDI Greens who believe the Lesser Evil current did not carry the 2004 convention fairly do not want to expel anyone. We want to try and work things out with them and accept there are differences in our approach to the Democrats. That cannot be achieved without coming to an agreement around issues of democracy. The Lesser Evil current supports the split in Utah, is seeking action against Vermont and opposes one Green one vote.
The Cobb current, which has previously tried to obfuscate their pro-Democratic Party views, is now beginning to become more openly pro-Democrat. Jack Uhrich, a strong “safe state campaign” supporter who should be given an award for honesty, laid out an open call that the Green Party’s future depends on its beginning to endorse Democrats. He wrote his views in John Rensenbrink’s magazine Green Horizon. Not a single Cobb supporter, to my knowledge, has said Uhrich is wrong.
Following Uhrich’s lead, Medea Benjamin has taken a step further and is raising money for the Democrats, specifically the PDA. In the fund appeal for the PDA she says the PDA is not the Democratic Party. This is like saying the Panama Canal is not Panama. The Progressive DEMOCRATS of America are not the Democratic Party but they’re in the Democratic Party. In fact they are the front line fighting to prevent an independent force from developing against the two parties and clearly in competition with the Green Party. Part of their goal is to co-opt the Green Party back into the Democratic Party.
They make this perfectly clear themselves. Kevin Spidel, National Field Director for Kucinich for President and now Deputy National Director for Progressive Democrats of America, said:
The most important thing we do is that inside-outside strategy: Pulling together members of the Green Party, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the hip-hop community, the civil rights community, our allies in congress, the anti-war community. We are bringing together all the social movements within the Democratic Party under one effective tent, and we will do it better if people can contribute to our cause.
To make her position even clearer, Medea Benjamin has also stated that she now feels it was wrong to vote Green in 2000, that is, to vote for Nader at least in some states. This follows quite logically from her position of support to Kerry. If you believe a vote for the Green Party candidate could result in shifting whether a bad Republican gets elected versus a milder Democrat, then you will, over time, rarely vote Green in partisan races, since we have no runoffs. That is the whole point of the two-party dictatorship.
Set it up so people will never vote for what is in their interest. When voters are not in agreement with the Republican, openly pro-corporate platform, they have another way, a milder way, to vote pro-corporate. What Medea is challenging is the whole reason for having a Green Party. Clearly this is the New Party strategy. Run only local candidates, vote lesser evil in partisan races, with an exception once in a while.
The problem all the progressive-minded Democrats have is that their party is rapidly moving further rightward and more openly showing how pro-Bush, pro-Republican the party really is. Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean are now openly questioning the Democrats’ traditional positions on reproductive rights for women; Hillary Clinton has also joined in the right wing “abstinence” campaign that both Kerry and Bush pushed in the presidential “debates.”
Let us not forget the massive totalitarian campaign to not allow a pro-peace candidate, Ralph Nader, to be on the ballot. Not one elected Democrat in the nation publicly opposed their party’s campaign against democracy. Not one leader of the PDA said one word in opposition to this totalitarian campaign.
Greens and the PDA
Our attitude should not be sectarian towards the PDA. We should reach out to the members of the PDA where we have agreement to engage in actions together. We need to recognize that there are many specific points where we have agreement with the PDA. We should show respect for them as individuals and not engage in personalized attacks. We should also not confuse political differences with personal attacks.
The last thing we should do, however, is suggest to them that membership in a pro-war, pro-corporate party is the way to go. Neither should we follow Jack Uhrich’s proposal to follow the fusion policies of the now defunct New Party; a policy that will only tear the Greens apart by arguing over what Democrat to support. In the end the road towards fusion is the road to oblivion. That is what has happened throughout the history of our nation. Wherever progressives, trying to build an independent political force, were seduced into a fusion strategy they ended up being destroyed.
The Cobb current is free to endorse all the Democrats they want. That is acceptable, but not in our name. The Green Party, as an institution, must remain independent. The Green Party belongs to all its members, not just the Lesser Evil current.
The PDA held a national convention with about 600 people present where they invited Medea Benjamin and David Cobb to speak. They refused to allow Ralph Nader, who had just gotten almost 500,000 votes for president, to come and be heard. Isn’t it clear? To the PDA the condition for political collaboration is that you are willing to vote for war, for the Patriot Act, for pro-corporate candidates like Kerry or you are not welcome.
California and New York
In California, our May plenary considered a proposal to establish internal democracy nationally based on one Green one vote. The argument the Cobb supporters are raising to confuse the issue is how difficult it is to find a formula that will work for every state. This issue has been discussed at length by the Greens for Democracy and Independence. In California, we have come up with a simple approach. We are simply suggesting that we let each state tell us how many members they have. In general, it would be very difficult to exaggerate too much since in most states we have discovered many members know pretty closely what their membership is. In some states they even post it on their web sites.
The truth is that the abuse we now live under is so extreme that is difficult to believe people who consider themselves Greens can try to justify it. For instance in Iowa a membership of 83 has the same representation in our leadership and to determine our national ticket as 35,000 Greens in California (assuming only 155,000 Greens in California). So maybe the figure of 83 is not accurate and instead it is 100 or 200 or 300 or 1,000, the point remains the same. What it is not is 35,000 or anything near it.
Ohio, a state with something over 1,200 members, has five delegates or the equivalent of the representation of almost 60,000 members in California.
Texas probably has only a tenth of the membership of New York but it has more representatives on our national CC than New York and therefore more delegates to pick our presidential ticket. So it goes until you end up with a tiny group of Greens having majority control of the party and by gosh they happen to be Lesser Evil supporters!
Looking at the ratio of the two examples of Iowa and Ohio you could end up with a majority of our leadership body with the support of only 20,000 Greens, that is about 4 to 5% of our membership. To try and defend the present representative system is to allow the Green Party to be controlled by any group having sufficient money to organize and manipulate in states with a tiny Green Party.
That has occurred in other third parties in the past as Mark Lause has pointed out. Inevitably it is whoever has the most money that can take advantage of such an undemocratic setup. One Green one vote is the safest defense of the rights of the membership since that makes it far harder for anyone with whatever agenda to take control of the Green Party.
It just happens that California and New York combined have about half the membership in the Green Party and both states have democratic internal structures that have elected representatives who favor internal democracy and political independence from the Democrats.
Wherever the majority of the leadership in a State is pro-GDI, care is taken to welcome the Lesser Evil current into leadership positions and include them at all levels. In California’s national delegation, as well as our state leadership, the pro-Cobb current is well represented. More and more reports, however, are coming from Greens complaining that once the Lesser Evil current gets control of a state they act quite differently. While Utah was an open split, what is happening in states where the Lesser Evil current controls is a bleeding split where pro-Nader Greens are made to feel unwanted and begin to drift away from the Green Party.
If the membership in all states could openly vote on the issue of democracy there is no question the majority would vote for democracy even in states like Maine or Ohio controlled by the Lesser Evil current, just as these states voted against Cobb. They will probably never be given a chance to do so.
If we enter our next national meeting with backing from both California and New York along with possibly a series of other states in support of a resolution for democracy, it will be transparent to any honest person that it represents the majority of Greens.
Prepare for the worst; hope for the best
It is quite possible, especially in states like Washington, Maine, Iowa, Wisconsin and so on, where the Lesser Evil current controls the local state apparatus, that the delegates will come opposed to our proposal. If the minority that is presently controlling the national CC rejects internal democracy, this will be unacceptable. One Green one vote is not negotiable. Having internal democracy is not something you negotiate; it is a basic value on which the party is founded. I sense we are gaining ground. As more Greens hear of the debate they naturally gravitate towards one Green one vote, and they favor independence as long as it does not cut across local autonomy. Most Greens do not want a top down party; they want the freedom to act based on their views. Exactly what the GDI current is proposing in California.
Should our proposal be “formally” defeated like Cobb was “nominated,” we should not split from the Green Party. A split is exactly what the Democrats want. It would weaken the Green Party terribly. It would stifle the discussion and debate on these issues. We should, however, organize our current for a long-term struggle in support of democracy and independence.
Keep the door open
We should keep the door open and hope the Lesser Evil current comes to its senses, stops its abuse of our membership and accepts reaching a consensus for a one Green one vote democratic structure.
There are many steps the Lesser Evil current could take to lower the tension in the party. For instance, when John Rensenbrink writes that the Greens in Maine suddenly changed their position when they arrived in Milwaukee, he could assure us he is right just by listing the names of the 19 Maine delegates in Milwaukee and show how each voted in their state caucuses. If the list showed that it reflected how the Greens voted in Maine—only 26% voted for Cobb while 74% voted for other candidates—then we could believe him. But if instead the membership voted one way and a delegation opposed to the membership went to the convention, then we could call that packing.
Most Greens do not want a top down party; they want the freedom to act based on their views.
The most important effort the Lesser Evil current could make to help unify and build the Green Party is to accept that every Green has an equal say in the Party and support a one Green one vote policy. It would also be helpful if they would declare they support the right of Greens who disagree with them to be in the Green Party. The more they clarify their politics, the easier it is to work together. In that sense Jack Uhrich should be congratulated for openly stating what many of them are thinking.
It may be important for the GDI current to hold a national gathering to discuss how best to carry forward our effort to democratize and defend the independence of the Green Party. It has been an enormous personal pleasure for me to see so many Greens working together building the GDI current.
Peter Camejo was Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 2004 presidential election.
1. Ordinary Heroes and the Rising Power of the Roots, an interview by Williams Rivers Pitt, truthout, January 27, 2005.
[28 nov 05]