“Americans’ View of ‘Most Important Problem Continues to be Iraq.” “Americans’ Confidence in Congress at All-Time Low.” “Congressional Job Approval Dips Again This Month.” Thus read three major headings in the Gallup Poll Weekly Briefing of June 22. And the crisis has started to consume our liberties, with the police state growing in power to the point where even that most ancient of protections, habeas corpus, has been suspended in some cases.
The core of the crisis is that the political system is unable to respond to the demands of the people for peace. And everyone knows it. Cindy Sheehan said it as well as anyone last May 26 in a letter addressed to the Democrats in Congress: I will now “try and figure a way out of this ‘two’ party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives. As for myself, I am leaving the Democratic Party. You have completely failed those who put you in power to change the direction our country is heading. We do not condone our government’s violent meddling in sovereign countries and we condemn the continued murderous occupation of Iraq. We gave you a chance; you betrayed us.”
The present crisis appears comparable to the state of affairs in the 1850s when the question of slavery dominated the national consciousness and could not be resolved with the compromises of 1820 and 1850. But there was no anti-slavery party. Then in 1854 under pressure from both abolitionists and northern capitalists, the Republican Party was formed. In 1856 it ran its first presidential candidate who lost, and in 1860 it ran Lincoln who won. Six years was all it took–even without the internet. The point is that in times of crisis things can move faster than anyone might imagine.
What greater opportunity could there be for the Green Party? The vast majority of the public knows by now that neither mainstream party wants to end the occupation of Iraq. And they are making noises, both of them, about going after Iran, Sudan and others. After the 2006 elections and Democratic votes to continue the war funding, few can deny that the Democrats are a party of war and empire. This fact is abundantly evident to one and all for the first time since the end of the Cold War, which masked the reality of the U.S. empire. But we have no large antiwar party. The crisis seems to be as close to that of 1854 as historical analogy permits.
In this moment, how have the Greens done? It is true that the Greens alone among the non-Socialist parties have stuck to principle in opposing the war–and that puts us light years ahead of others. But in practice the Greens appear distracted, disorganized and downright dysfunctional, this last word all too often applied to our Party. We are not widely known as an antiwar party, and too often we have kept the antiwar movement at arms length. In certain states in the 2004 and 2006 elections we caved to the Dems. Some of us have seen ourselves as no more than “better” Dems, a complete missing of the mark. As a consequence we have failed to draw pointed distinctions between them and us, and to be sharply critical of them, thus hiding the truth from the people. Ralph Nader in contrast has been very combative with the Dems, and his approach should be a lesson to the rest of us. As another example, look at the announcement for the coming Green National Meeting in Reading PA. In it, there is no mention of the war!! In fact the most space went to a campaign to prevent the privatization of water resources, a laudable goal, but hardly the one most on the minds of the people. What happened to the idea of bringing our principles to the people using the issues that concern them most? Are we ready to move aggressively on the issues of war and empire? Or are we going to spare the Dems the kind of criticism coming from Nader and Sheehan?
So here we stand on the eve of the Green Party National Meeting on July 12-15 in Reading, PA. What will happen there? Will it be business as usual? The time is ripe, and the people are with us. We have a responsibility to get organized and get going. Failure to do so will mean millions more will perish in present and future conflagrations, which the empire holds in store for us. Will we take matters in hand or let the moment pass?
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com. He is a member of the Green/Rainbow Party of MA, the merger of the MA Greens and Mel King’s Rainbow Coalition.