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In the next couple days, the California Green Party will decide whether or not to hold a state-wide convention to consider putting Nader/Camejo on the ballot. What will the party do?
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I can save the union by freeing none of the slaves, I will do it. If I can save the union by freeing some of the slaves, I will do it. And if I must saved the union by freeing all of the slaves, I will do it.”
In other words, he was confused and he waffled at the beginning of the war. He wasn’t sure what to do. As the war dragged on in 1861 and 1862, with the danger of Britain intervening on the side of the South looming over him, Lincoln decided that the only way to win the war was to rally the North to the cause of emancipation and to arm the slaves to fight for their own freedom. Lincoln did not bind his hands over issues of “process.” He determined that the cause of justice outweighed the inertia of the constitution and took his stand on the side of action.
Today, the Green Party of California, as well as that of Vermont, is engaged in a very sharp debate, and it is not about “process.” It is about the political direction of the party. One group supports David Cobb’s nomination and defends the central pillar of his campaign, the “smart state” strategy. Another group argues that Cobb’s nomination was the result of a rigged convention process that defied the will of the majority Greens by choosing Cobb over Nader/Camejo in order to grant backdoor support to John Kerry.
Perhaps this would have remained an academic debate about internal Green Party process, but two new facts have re-opened it. First, although it was in motion before the Milwaukee convention, the campaign by the Democratic Party to disenfranchise millions of voters who support Nader/Camejo by employing Florida tactics to keep Nader off the ballot has developed into the most serious attack on democratic elections in the United States since the end of Jim Crow. Second, it has come to light in the past 48 hours that the California state Green Party, according to its own election code, can hold a state nominating convention in order to place a candidate on the ballot. These two facts give California Greens the motive and the opportunity to nominate Nader/Camejo for the California ballot, according to the rules and precedents of previous elections.
Most Greens, especially in California, are only just becoming aware of the debate over the Milwaukee convention. The case laid out by Forrest Hill and Carol Miller in their essay “Rigged Convention, Divided Party,” explaining why the Milwaukee vote was undemocratic will be carefully studied by California Greens. Leading Green Dean Myerson has replied in a lengthy rebuttal to some Green Party lists.
However, even some who believe that the rules used in Milwaukee were unfair, but that they could only be reformed next year at the next national convention, are now open to considering changing the California nomination to Nader/Camejo. To begin with, the California Greens can hold a state-wide nominating convention, as the party did in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Holding the state-wide nominating convention will be the best way available at this time to understand the will of the more than 160,000 California rank and file Green Party members in California.
The California Green Party has been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically raise its profile. Far from being a burden, holding a highly publicized nominating convention (in the days before the lunatic circus called the RNC) will act as a megaphone for the youth and the disenfranchised to hear what the party has to say about the need for an alternative to the two pro-war parties. The convention would take place just as campuses across California are opening session and could be the launching pad for an aggressive recruitment drive to win thousands of young people to the party. Besides the war radicalizing students, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democratic majority in Sacramento are ramming through catastrophic cuts to public education, which led to huge walk-outs and protests of state and community college students last spring. These students are alienated from mainstream politics and they are not enthusiastic about Kerry’s Bush-lite program.
Once the preliminary question of the date of the nominating convention is settled, the debate over who the party should nominate will begin.
On the one hand, high profile Greens like Medea Benjamin support Cobb’s strategy of not challenging the Democrats where it counts. They see the point the election as defeating Bush and support Cobb’s campaign because it will not get in the way of calling on Greens and others to “vote Kerry” if and where the election is close. They argue that this strategy will help strengthen alliances between liberal Democrats like Dennis Kucinich and the Green Party. They also worry that the Green Party will once again be blamed by the Democrats for losing another election to Bush. Cobb is virtually unknown beyond narrow Green circles. Yet many of his supporters see Cobb’s “grassroots” campaign’s inability to get much attention at all as a positive thing, because it will not tar local Green candidates’ campaigns with the spoiler brush. Some people are so worried about the spoiler issue that they will say almost anything to oppose California Greens from picking Anybody But Cobb. Just yesterday, Ted Glick issued a statement accusing Nader of trying to “take over” the Green Party and form a “Ralph Nader party.”
On the other hand, although hundreds of thousands of pissed of California students are oblivious to the internal wrangling in Milwaukee, they do know that Ralph Nader is the guy who opposes the occupation of Iraq, uncompromisingly fights both mainstream parties and wants to tax the rich to get money for education. But it’s not just students who the Green Party can attract in California if it acts boldly. Peter Miguel Camejo is the first Latino vice-president candidate in history. Camejo gained the sympathy of millions of Californians in the six televised debates in 2003. He is bi-lingual and is speaking on Spanish language media up and down the state. He is seen as a champion of one of the key modern civil rights issues for undocumented immigrants, namely, the right to get a drivers license in order to provide food for your family. David Cobb may be dedicated to building the Green Party where he can, but he is even less well-known amongst this fastest growing part of the population.
Ralph Nader’s heritage and his principled stand for ending uncritical U.S. backing of Israel’s war against the Palestinians has earned him a surge of support amongst Arab Americans. Backing Nader in 2004 shows remarkable courage from this group of people, who are the most direct victims of Patriot Act repression.
Kerry’s and Edwards’ praise for the Missouri constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage will force tens of thousands of lesbian and gay people in California to wake up from the Anybody But Bush haze and ask, “can we really vote for these bigots?” So too with these folks will Nader be the only candidate to get serious consideration.
Beyond these groups, a large part of the core of the active membership of the California Greens, hundreds of them, have been out organizing for Nader/Camejo, despite the Milwaukee convention, while David Cobb’s campaign has remained almost silent in California. On July 16, over 1,000 people came out to hear and give a standing ovation to Nader, Camejo, Matt Gonzalez, Renee Saucedo, Pat Gray, and many other speakers. On the weekend of July 31 and August 1, hundreds of Greens and other activists met up in 30 cities across the state to gather thousands of petitions in a coordinated effort. Even faced with the prospects of being denied ballot status by California’s ridiculously restrictive laws, which require many more signatures per capita than other states, the Nader/Camejo campaign is proving to be where the action is. This shouldn’t be surprising because California Green Party members voted in the March primary for Camejo giving him an overwhelming victory of 75.4% support as opposed to the 11.8% for Cobb. In third place was Lorna Salzman with 10.8% who today backs Nader/Camejo, bringing combined support for Nader/Camejo to 86.2% a landslide of support. In the past four years, 400,000 Californians have voted for Nader and Camejo. These voters were heavily youth and working people with the highest ratios of votes for Camejo coming from African American and Latinos for his opposition to the racist “3 strikes” laws and the death penalty, and his support for affordable housing and a fair tax system.
A state nominating convention held in the next couple weeks will give the Green Party a chance to decide between two political perspectives. Nominating Cobb will fly the party’s California campaign under the radar screen and avoid the wrath of the Democratic Party. Nominating Nader/Camejo will put the Green Party in the cross-hairs of the two-party dictatorship, but it will also catipult it into the national arena as growing political force that refuses to relegate its opposition to war, racism, homophobia, sexism and the destruction of the planet to the back of the Kerry/Edwards bus.
TODD CHRETIEN was the California student organizer for Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential and Medea Benjamin’s Senatorial campaigns. He is currently serving as the Northern California Field Coordinator for the Nader/Camejo campaign. He is also a regular contributor to the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at: ChretienTodd@aol.com