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After the election of ’08 it is clearer than ever that the Green Party of the U.S. (GPUS) now lies in the political graveyard. GPUS, R.I.P. Here we attempt a badly needed postmortem.
Full disclosure. In the summer of 2007 when I was newly elected to the GPUS National Committee as a representative from MA, I felt that the GPUS was indeed viable. In fact I responded then in CounterPunch to an article by Joshua Frank, warning that the GPUS was breathing its last. In retrospect, he was a far better diagnostician than I. And I squandered a lot of time searching for signs of longevity in the GPUS. I write this in part to save others from a similar, futile, very unappetizing and at times downright painful experience.
To begin. At the national GPUS convention in 2007, my first, the most electrifying moment was Ralph Nader’s speech. Ralph is always inspiring and substantive, and he was especially good that evening, bringing the delegates to their feet again and again. Cynthia McKinney also put in an appearance after the convention adjourned, but Ralph was the crowd pleaser. And well it should have been, for the GPUS was a largely unknown entity before 1996 and 2000 when Ralph lent it his good name, based on a lifetime of principled politics, intelligence and hard work. (The guy seems to work like a dog and live like a monk.) In my home state, MA, for example, there was no GP until Ralph ran. After the 2007 convention the focus turned to the presidential elections of 2008, and the GPUS presidential nominating convention in the summer of 2008.
Democracy Defeated in the GPUS. One Green-one vote sunk.
As the GPUS presidential nominating convention of summer, 2008, drew closer there was an important resolution placed before the National Committee, resolution #324. It was designed to resolve a long-standing, contentious question: the delegate allotment to each state at the presidential nominating convention. This dispute reflected several deeper divisions and factions. There were pro- and anti-Nader groupings, the latter including many “DemoGreens” – Green on the outside, Dem on the inside. These despise Nader because they see him as a real threat to the Dem Party, not simply a symbolic one. Another division was that between states with larger active Green membership and others with little membership or activity, the so-called “paper states.” In addition there was the simple problem of counting the number of Greens in a state, since party registration laws differ from state to state.
After close to a year of effort a committee representing the various factions had worked out a compromise, which enjoyed the backing of those who very often held very different opinions, for example Cat Woods of CA and Phil Huckleberry of IL. And this unusual triumph of compromise was supported by a very solid majority on the National Committee. However, a determined minority set out to sink the compromise. And when the vote was duly recorded, the measure received “only” 64% of the National Committee vote. “Only,” I say, because the GPUS demands a 2/3 vote on almost everything – except candidate nomination. (Since, however, the process of selecting nominating delegates demands 2/3 approval, everything depends on a super majority.) The failure of #324 meant that one Green/one vote was abandoned in favor of a nominating representation that with a closer resemblance to that of the U.S. Senate, which a leader of the minority from RI hailed as more “American” for that reason. After the defeat of #324, it was pretty much all downhill for the GPUS.
Little Ballot Access Work and Less Fund Raising.
As 2008 unfolded, it was clear to all that ballot access was priority number one for the GPUS and fundraising priority number two. So I volunteered to be on the Ballot Access Committee, whose chair was also co-chair of the entire National Committee. But the Ballot Access Committee was completely inactive, much to my surprise; it had few members, no co-chair as required, and had never held a conference call! I tried to arrange a conference call, but the chair was clearly not eager to do so. Another GPUS activist from CT joined my effort, and together we eventually managed a conference call. But the talk was empty and impractical. As it came time for our first ballot access effort in one Western state, we were stymied by lack of funds. The fund raising effort was also non-existent. We managed to raise enough money for that first effort due to a bootstrap effort by a CA activist and Nader supporter who was not even on the committee. But it was clear that there was no meaningful fund raising effort. No serious ballot access work, priority one; and no serious fund raising, priority two. It became crystal clear that the GPUS was “not serious,” as has been said so often. Shortly thereafter I resigned from the NC.
Nader Decides Not to Challenge McKinney for 2008 Presidential Nomination.
As the nominating convention drew near in the summer of 2008, the two leading candidates were Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney. Both have done many fine things, but Nader clearly was the better known candidate with more fund raising prowess and with likelihood of having an impact in ’08. But he scared the hell out of the DemoGreens who knew quite well that he would challenge Obama on many issues ranging from the war on Afghanistan to Single-payer health care in an effective way that would receive more publicity than McKinney, whatever her other virtues, might garner. The DemoGreens wanted no compromise when it came to Nader. And although Nader could surely have won the nomination, he withdrew wishing no fight with McKinney, which would have only exacerbated the divisions in the GPUS. Here Nader was not only magnanimous, but he was right in a larger sense as shown below.
The Presidential Election and the Humiliating Performance of the GPUS.
The great fear among the Naderites was that without the help of the GPUS, Nader could not get on the ballot in a sufficient number of states since the GPUS already had ballot access in many places due to the work of many at the grass roots (this author included) . So how did the election work out? The statistics are quite revealing. Starting from scratch and raising money as he went, Nader got on the ballot in 45 states plus DC. McKinney using the Green “infrastructure” got on the ballot in only 32 states, less than Barr for the Libertarians (45 states) or Baldwin and the Constitutionalists (37 states). Nader did better on his own with his own activist following than did the Greens. In fact he got on the ballot in more states than he did in 2000 when he was the GPUS nominee. If one looks at fundraising the contrast is just as stark, with Nader raising $4,496,180 and McKinney a skimpy $240,130 which is not even sufficient for a decent Congressional campaign. And the popular vote among third party candidates was: 736,804 for Nader, 524,524 for Barr, 196,461 for Baldwin and 161,195 for McKinney. These numbers alone are testimony to the abject failure of the GPUS as an electoral force.
The GPUS Demeans Cynthia McKinney.
But the behavior of the GPUS toward McKinney was downright insulting. The insult to McKinney came in two ways. First of all, DemoGreens went over to Obama, giving Cynthia a pat on the head as they went. A good example is Green guru Ted Glick who proclaimed that, although he “supported” McKinney, he hoped Obama would win and was contributing to the Obama campaign, said dollar contribution being a first for him. What kind of party i turns on its own candidate? But the insult came in another way. Cynthia McKinney took many extraordinarily courageous positions in Congress over the years. She was an outstanding leader there on issues of peace and justice. But this record was always secondary in the campaign that the GPUS ran. She was first and foremost a black woman candidate running with another minority female candidate. Now that in itself is a very good thing, although Obama upstaged them with this kind of Identity Politics. But what about McKinney’s other achievements? Most notably she is the first major Democratic politician and the first Congressperson to jump ship on the Democrat Party. Of course the DemoGreens wanted no such cutting edge claim to a GPUS campaign. So the GPUS was happy to see the color of McKinney’s skin as more important than the content of her character! This is the road down which “gonadal politics” leads us. (It is also hard to comprehend why Ralph Nader, gets no credit from the Gonadal Politicians for being an Arab American, perhaps the group suffering most discrimination these days.)
The GPUS is very much in the hands of those who are not serious about elections and have little to offer other than Gonadal Politics which is now more or less the province of the Dems. And given the 2/3 voting rule, there is scant possibility of change. But some state parties have done great work, for example California, where Nader’s running mate Matt Gonzalez has made a considerable mark, and Massachusetts where Jill Stein ran an impressive gubernatorial campaign in 2002. And then there are all the rank and file activists in the GPUS who have done a lot good work over the years and have run viable campaigns at the state level. Add to these the hundreds of thousands who voted for, worked for and contributed to Nader in ’08 and before. (Almost 1% of the electorate voted for Nader, more than enough to begin a serious movement.) It seems that these strands of tough-minded, serious, capable, talented and committed activists should come together. There is no doubt that viable state Green parties have to break decisively with the national GPUS, the Identity Politicians, the various dogmatic interlopers and the DemoGreens, if there is to be any chance for progress. And Ralph Nader has begun an effort called “November 5.” The coming years with a depression upon us and empire run amok offer a chance for gaining ground last seen in the 1930s. We may even quote Rahm Emanuel, “Every crisis is an opportunity.” The multiple crises we now face offer a prospect that is breathtaking.
JOHN WALSH can be reached at email@example.com. In his home state of MA he witnessed the unseemly efforts of the Identity Politicians, to deprive Nader of the votes he won in the MA Green Party primary. How Cynthia McKinney ended up in this crowd continues to mystify him.