John Murphy is running an antiwar pro-civil liberties campaign for US Congress from the 16th District of Pennsylvania (www.johnmurphyforcongress.org). Murphy, a Green, was denied his party’s endorsement last month because, as Murphy believes, he supported Ralph Nader and was critical of David Cobb in 2004. Murphy recently spoke with JOSHUA FRANK about his campaign as well as the future of the Green Party.
JOSHUA FRANK: John, you’ve been a Green Party member for a while now. Can you tell us a bit about what capacity you’ve played in your state’s Green Party?
John Murphy: I never wanted to get involved in the internal operations of the state Green Party. I thought this was better left to younger men and women. I have, however been active in helping campaign for Green candidates at the local level. My political activism took on an interesting form in the last few years. I became what some people call a “photo essayist”. I simply began by writing to my friends and business associates several years ago asking them to contact their senators to prevent an unconstitutional transference of legislative power to the executive branch whereby President Bush would be given unlimited power to wage war at his discretion.
These simple letters to friends became more and more sophisticated as I began to embellish them with editorial cartoons, articles written by other people and then my own comments often spicing up my essays with my own form of editorial cartoons. Now I have lost count of how many thousands of people receive them.
I have been active in the antiwar movement ever since the 60s but the Nader campaign of 2004 gave me the opportunity to use many of the skills I have developed over the last 60 years as an educator, union negotiator and business owner in support of his campaign. Consequently when the Nader campaign needed someone to represent Mr. Nader in a series of debate-like forums throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania they chose me. When they wanted someone to speak prior to his press conferences and fundraisers in Philadelphia, they chose me. When they wanted someone to represent the independent candidacy of Nader/Camejo in the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, an organization consisting of the leaders of the “minor parties” organized to change the egregious ballot access laws in Pennsylvania, they again chose me.
My organizational and leadership skills coupled with my seniority were put to much greater use in this capacity than serving in any position as an internal officer in the official state Green Party organization. I paid those kinds of dues many years ago when I held several functional vice-presidencies, including chairman of the board, of a prominent professional association in Philadelphia.
JOSHUA FRANK: Can you talk a little about what it was like being a Nader supporter in the Green Party during the 2004 elections?
John Murphy: First of all you should keep in mind that the entire reason for my joining the Green Party was that since I voted for Mr. Nader in both 1996 and 2000, I simply decided that if there were a couple of hundred thousand people who felt the way I did, at least I ought to join their party.
I had no idea how intimidated the Greens in leadership positions had become as a result of the scapegoating efforts of the Democratic Party after the 2000 election. As the 2004 election approached, a lot of the Pennsylvania Greens were saying things like “we don’t want our Democratic friends to hold us responsible again for Bush’s election”.
Truthfully I was surprised by that entire line of thinking because I never felt “responsible” nor did I hold Mr. Nader “responsible” for Gore’s loss in 2000. I had always held the Democrats responsible for that. In any event there was no way that I could possibly support someone like John Kerry whose position on the Iraq war, the USA Patriot Act and a dozen or so other issues were diametrically opposed to the values espoused by the Green Party. The GPUS as well as the GPPA supported Kerry through his surrogate candidate David Cobb who told the Greens that it would be all right to vote for him in states like Texas and Massachusetts where it didn’t matter but they should vote for Kerry everywhere else.
In the meantime the leadership of the Pennsylvania Green Party had become completely seduced by the “safe-states” philosophy of David Cobb. I am strained to describe in polite language how anyone could embrace this philosophy; especially people I once would have described as courageous. Suffice it to say that any courage that I once believed existed in the Green Party leadership was ephemeral.
I could understand how the Democrats who, in good conscience, thought they were supporting the antiwar movement through the candidacy of Kucinich or even Dean might have been flimflammed by the ABB (Anybody But Bush) strategy of the Democratic Party but I just couldn’t believe that my fellow Greens had gotten sucked into that black hole.
So while I was gathering signatures for Nader’s nominating petitions, the Green Party was working hand in glove with the Democratic Party whose sole purpose was to subvert Nader’s candidacy by denying him ballot access in Pennsylvania. It’s very spooky to realize that while the Democratic Party challenged every one of Nader’s signatures, not even one of David Cobb’s signatures were challenged by the Democratic Party — not even for the sake of appearances.
I did not stop simply at supporting Mr. Nader. I chastised those who came to be known as the “lesser evil Greens” whenever the opportunity arose. Since I had a pretty powerful Internet presence, that opportunity arose on a pretty regular basis.
The events that began to unfold in Pennsylvania even became more bizarre. The Pennsylvania leadership eventually passed a resolution condemning the safe-states philosophy. When I learned of this I immediately thought, well I guess they’re finally going to dump David Cobb. But they did not. In fact they put him on the ballot in a state where he did not even want any votes!
How could the Pennsylvania Greens take this action? How could they condemn the safe states gospel and then actually put its evangelist on the ballot? How could they have squandered our meager resources in such a way when they were so desperately needed to support Mr. Nader whose position actually reflected what Greens like to call their “ten key values”?
When it became clear that they couldn’t even come up with enough volunteers to collect a sufficient number of signatures for David Cobb the chairman of the Green Party himself financed a private contractor to collect the balance of the necessary signatures. What were these people thinking? Clearly the Pennsylvania Greens didn’t want this guy Cobb but the chairman himself paid to have him put on the ballot!
For some reason I still considered myself a member of the Green Party but I had become part of an internal movement called the “GDI” — Greens for Democracy and Independence which had developed a series of proposals that would prevent another bastardization of the democratic process like the Milwaukee convention where David Cobb who actually had gotten only 12% of the Green Party votes ended up as the official candidate.
JOSHUA FRANK: I’ve heard quite a few stories like yours, and there are purportedly a lot of things going on within the Green Party; a split between Cobb Greens and Camejo Greens and even the impeachment of a few Steering Committee members. Not to open up all those issues here, but can you expand more on what has recently happened with your campaign for Congress? Was it more personal than strategic on the part of those who didn’t support you? I’m assuming that the majority of them were, and are, Cobb supporters? Are the Greens in PA trying to dump the Naderites?
John Murphy: Yes, there was a failed effort to impeach five members of the steering committee because they refused to seat a validly elected member of the GDI. It had to do with two separate results from the IRV voting that took place at the plenary meeting of the Green Party in Tulsa last July. Two different programs were used yielding two separate results. But the truth of the matter is they simply did not want to seat a Naderite!
JOSHUA FRANK: Can you tell us more about the GDI?
John Murphy: Sure, for all practical purposes the GDI is composed of former Nader supporters. There may be one or two repentant Cobbites in the group but the “lesser evil Greens” want absolutely nothing to do with the GDI members whom they see as some kind of a radical fringe. There has even been an incredible amount of red-baiting going on. But you’re correct; trying to delve into this business would take quite some time. To make a long story short however if the GDI is not ultimately successful in getting its proposals passed, I find it hard to imagine how the Green Party will survive after 2008.
The Green Party in Pennsylvania decided not to nominate me for House of Representatives in the 16th Congressional District. The reasons leading up to this decision are truly byzantine.
JOSHUA FRANK: What is the nominating process like for Greens in Pennsylvania?
John Murphy: In order to receive the nomination of the PA Green Party you must first have the endorsement of your local party. Four members of the Chester County Green Party (my local Green Party) met in secret and decided not to call the local party into session for a period of six months in order to avoid the possibility that I might show up with sufficient supporters to obtain the local party’s endorsement. These four former officers actually admitted this abuse of the democratic process in front of the chairman of the Pennsylvania Green Party, three officers of the Pennsylvania Green Party, nine of my supporters along with my wife and children! There are two ways you can destroy democracy. One way is by preventing people from voting the other is by preventing worthy candidates from ever appearing on the ballot. The Green Party of Pennsylvania has chosen the latter.
When the Chester County Green Party was forced to have a reorganization meeting on January 30, the party chairman tried to cut a deal in order to prevent this disgrace from becoming public. Since they deliberately prohibited the Chester County Green Party from meeting in order to endorse me, the party chairman tried to get a motion passed whereby my endorsement would be deferred to the delegates of the Green Party itself. Although it looked like these four former officers were going to go along with the deal he was trying to cut, a few days later one of them went on the listserv of the Pennsylvania delegates and told them that the Green Party of Chester County could not recommend me for endorsement. A feeding frenzy followed whereby the Cobbites trotted out one red herring after another for condemning my candidacy. At the Green Party convention they would use this as the linchpin upon which they would hang their refusal to grant me their nomination.
Tragically, but not unexpectedly, the Green Party chairman in a monumental act of CYA did not even tell the delegates what he witnessed at the meeting at the Chester County Green Party.
I attended the Pennsylvania state Green Party convention last week (February 25 and 26). It was a cross between a high school pep rally and a meeting of a religious cult. Of course not having a beard and ponytail, as I had back in 1967, made me a bit out of place. Guess I just never recovered form going “clean for Gene” in ’68.
These folks had decided quite some time ago that there was no way they were going to allow my nomination. They even engaged in emotional blackmail. One of the former officers of Chester County Green Party wrote to the Pennsylvania delegates saying that if the Pennsylvania Green Party nominated me it would destroy the Green Party in Chester County and the PA Green Party could forget about getting any signatures on its nominating petitions in Chester County. As a matter of fact, I have more volunteers from the Chester County Green Party in my campaign than have participated in any meeting of the Chester County Green Party for the past two years. Furthermore, because I have been endorsed by the Libertarian Party, they have already arranged to get all the necessary signatures for my nominating petitions! Now ironically the Green Party candidates will have no signatures on their petitions from Chester County. In a year when they need 67,000 signatures they have essentially thrown away the 5000 signatures that my candidacy would have brought them.
If that were not bad enough one person who constitutes an entire hate group all by himself joined the GDI listserv some time ago under false pretenses. When the GDI was considering endorsing me he tried to blackmail them by telling them that if they gave me their endorsement they could forget all about their three proposals ever passing in Pennsylvania. You might get away with that kind of emotional blackmail in Pennsylvania but the GDI would never buy into something like that and I am pleased to say that I have been endorsed by the GDI as well as by Peter Camejo. I expect to have the formal endorsement of Ralph Nader as soon as he returns from Connecticut.
JOSHUA FRANK: So what is their public rationale for not endorsing you?
John Murphy: The Green Party here has said they can’t have someone like me represent them because of the way I criticized them for supporting David Cobb. This decision was not strategic; it was personal. Unfortunately, the GPPA and by extension the GPUS, has not yet developed the talent for strategic thought. The Republicans are going to be represented in the 16th Congressional District by a man who took money from Jack Abramoff and who blames Homer Simpson for the decline of fatherhood in the United States. This man of course also supports the war, the Patriot Act and countless other pieces of legislative atrocities.
The Democratic Party is being represented by a retired school administrator who believes that terrorists should be tried by military tribunals instead of civilian courts. She too believes that the occupation of Iraq should continue and gives her support to the Patriot Act along with free-trade agreements like NAFTA. The Democrat does not even support equal rights for gays and lesbians and she thinks that individual countries must be held responsible for acts of terrorism committed by their citizens. The implication being that the United States therefore has the right to invade any such country anytime it chooses. The Green Party of Pennsylvania, however, will not allow an antiwar, pro-civil liberties candidate to represent it because he called them a dirty word two years ago!
JOSHUA FRANK: On the whole, does this pro-Cobb sect represent the majority of Greens you know?
John Murphy: Most Greens are well-meaning environmentalists who see the Green Party as some kind of a social club where people should sit around and talk about our stinking air and dirty water but should not sink to the level of electoral politics. The Pennsylvania Greens, following the GPUS in the 2004 presidential contest essentially backed off from the whole question of electoral politics. The Pennsylvania Greens again had an opportunity to back a strong antiwar/pro-civil liberties candidate for House of Representatives in the 16th district against the two warmongering candidates, but again it backed off from that race as well.
If the Green Party ever hopes to overcome its characterization as being a fringe group full of tree hugging hippies it’s definitely going to have to stop electing such politically naïve leaders. The Green Party of Pennsylvania refused to support a truly antiwar candidate in the 2004 presidential election deferring to John Kerry through the surrogacy of David Cobb and now they have decided not to field an antiwar Green candidate to run against the two pro war candidates for House of Representatives in the 16th District.
I will be running as an independent and my ballot line will read “Pennsylvania Populist Party”. As you may recall the Green Party of Maryland refused to endorse Mr. Nader consequently he started the Maryland Populist Party. I will run under the Populist banner in honor of Mr. Nader. Fortunately the local Greens — the real Greens in Chester County — will be supporting me. I will also be endorsed by both the Libertarian Party and the Reform Party. Although the Pennsylvania Socialist Party had endorsed me, they had their hands slapped by their own National Committee whose policy does not permit the endorsement of non-socialists. Nevertheless the rank-and-file members of the Socialist Party will be providing me “feet on the street” during my campaign. I have linked my candidacy not only with Kevin Zeese who is running for Senate in Maryland but to a network of non-duopoly antiwar candidates that has sprung up all over the country.
As far as the Green Party actually trying to get rid of the Naderites; I’m afraid it is really true. Most of the Nader supporters have become members of the GDI. One of our proposals requires the complete independence of the Green Party from the two old parties which of course really means the Democratic Party. There is a strong element in the leadership of the Green Party which, in the words of Jody Haug, one of the co-chairs on the National Steering Committee of the Green Party, “we need to keep our options open”. A large majority of the Green Party’s National Committee refuses to declare its independence from the Democratic Party and wishes to retain the option of supporting a Democrat either openly or simply by running no candidate in closely contested elections. Those of us in the GDI, primarily the Nader supporters, feel that this will spell the death of the Green Party.
JOSHUA FRANK edits the radical news blog www.BrickBurner.org and is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press (2005). Josh can be reached at BrickBurner@gmail.com.