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Synthesis/Regeneration 38   (Fall 2005)

A Modest Proposal: Lose the “Green”

by Melissa Belvadi

I would like to propose a serious discussion about changing the name of the Green Party. Quite a few things have come together to make me realize that such a drastic action is necessary.

Ralph Nader and the 2000 debacle

We Greens all know it isn’t fair to blame Nader for Gore’s loss in 2000, but this is a losing battle. It is time to face the fact that, among liberal Democrats, one of our best recruiting grounds, the name “Green Party” will forever be tied emotionally to the claim that we cost Gore the election in 2000. We have so few resources to begin with that to use them trying to undo that public relations damage, rather than moving forward with our agenda, is a waste.

A “single issue” party

The few people I speak with who don’t associate the Green Party with Nader assume we’re only about radical environmental issues. While I certainly support the position of the Green Party on environmental issues, we’re about so much more than that. In particular, this image also makes us an immediate turn-off for many people of color, who often perceive environmental issues as white middle-class concerns. Again, we have to waste valuable resources undoing the misimpression that our very name gives.

It’s time we acknowledge that our name has become a liability, not a strength. The associations are all wrong for what we’re trying to accomplish, unless our real goal is to continue to be a fringe political voice. At this point, it would likely take far fewer resources for us to start to build a new image, with a new name, than to undo all the misinformation that the larger liberal community now connects to the old one.

A voice speaking to the power of labels during this past election cycle has been that of George Lakoff, UC Berkeley linguistics professor. He tried throughout the last year to warn the Democrats that they weren’t appropriately countering the Republicans’ sophisticated use of language to frame the issues—advice which fell on the deaf ears of the Democratic leadership. Surely, Greens are more intelligent and will pay closer attention to his analysis of the political use of words, applying them to our own rhetoric, including our name.

How much trouble we are in was made evident in Professor Lakoff’s address to a Green Festival audience in early November. He talked about the “seven basic types of progressives” and listed one as “Greens – those of you who are here, who talk about the sustainability of the earth and the sacredness of the earth.” So a linguist who makes a special study of the political meaning and use of words made it clear that Green equals environmentalism only.

A new name

We need a name that has no negative connotations among the population we seek to reach; a name that is broad enough to encompass all of the issues for which we stand, and possibly one that can draw on positive associations built by others without being misleading about our values.

My suggestion would be “American Progressive Party.” The “American” strongly suggests patriotism. Who among us doesn’t love some aspect of America? Why else would we struggle to make it better when we could so easily move to Canada instead?

The term “progressive” has only positive modern meaning, and for those with some vague sense of their own history, strongly positive political roots in the Midwestern, red-state heartland—roots that are not in disharmony with our own values.

It’s time we acknowledge that our name has become a liability, not a strength.

There are likely even better ideas, but the important first step is to start the dialogue among ourselves to consider a change.

No doubt there are many Greens whose membership in the Green Party in fact does originate with the party’s environmental roots and who may find this suggestion threatening to their sense of party identity. The Green Party, however, stands for so much more. The vast majority of non-Green Americans don’t know this—and they won’t know it as long as our name implies otherwise so strongly that it itself blocks our attempts to communicate our other concerns.

I spent all day on Election Day, 2004, at an all-black and poor polling place, campaigning for a local Green candidate in St. Louis. Every time I mentioned that my candidate was Green, which I had to do to explain that a straight-party (Democrat) vote would not include him, I heard “Oh, Ralph Nader’s party—he cost us the 2000 election.”

After the umpteenth time hearing that from a group of voters that are so totally a natural electorate for us, I stopped even mentioning “Green Party” and just told them to please punch “86” for a candidate who would do various good things for the City. I urge Greens everywhere to consider their own experiences in this context and join me in supporting this vital move for the future of our movement and party.

Melissa Belvadi is a member of the Green Party of St. Louis and an editor of Synthesis/Regeneration.

[28 nov 05]

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