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Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy

A dominant issue at the Green Party 2017 Annual National Meeting was inclusion of and leadership by oppressed communities. The Green Party began as a party of primarily white environmentalists, but that has been changing over the past decade. In the current corporate kleptocracy, there is a dire need for a party of and by marginalized communities that builds effective political power for transformational change in our society. The Green Party might be that vehicle, but undergoing that change will result in conflict and growing pains as we struggle to practice our values.

Following the election of the new Steering Committee at the Annual National Meeting, outrage was expressed that the three African American candidates lost. The Black Caucus and other caucuses protested, and steps are now being taken to write a proposal to address their legitimate concerns. That will be presented to the Steering Committee and National Committee for debate and consideration.

In addition to concerns about white supremacy in the party, there are also concerns about democracy and independence from the duopoly parties. A negative campaign was waged against the current Steering Committee member who was up for reelection, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, and a slate of candidates was run to oppose her. It appears that this was retaliation for her efforts to build inclusion and independence. The negative campaign sowed division and distrust within the party. It raises questions about the integrity of the party and whether the Green Party can differentiate itself from the power plays typical of the duopoly parties. This exposé is intended to add to the debate of the future of the Green Party.

Former presidential candidates Jill Stein and David Cobb, the latter who also served as Stein’s 2016 campaign manager, worked behind the scenes to control the outcome of the 2017 election for the Steering Committee of the Green Party. Stein and Cobb wanted to remove Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, a Latina who is a co-chair of the Colorado and national parties. Mérida has done a great deal of work to confront white supremacy in the Green Party, including leading an effort to pass a very strong bylaw amendment in Colorado on the issue. She also led an effort to expand the representation of the Black Caucus and other caucuses by urging they have more delegates to the National Committee.

Stein and Cobb wanted Mérida out of the co-chair position because she blocked their repeated attempts to control and steer the party in directions that benefited their interests over the interests of the party. The strange and divisive move they championed with the recount was a graphic example of that tendency.

In late November, 2016, Stein and Cobb came to the Green Party Steering Committee (SC) asking the Green Party of the United States to serve as a fiscal agent for the post-2016 election recount. The Stein campaign refused to say who their donors were, but they had donors prepared to give up to $100,000 to the recount. The Stein campaign was only legally allowed to take donations of $2,700 while a political party could take up to $100,000 per donor. Mérida opposed this and a majority of the steering committee agreed. Not accepting defeat on this, Stein and Cobb forced the SC to vote three times and three times Andrea and a majority stood firm in opposing the proposal that would have destroyed the reputation of the party as an independent political force. The backstory that emerged affirmed the political commonsense exercised by the SC.

The recount was designed by a Democratic Party lawyer, John Bonifaz, who developed it to change the outcome of the election and make Hillary Clinton president. When Clinton refused to seek a recount, he brought the same proposal to Stein. Stein took the proposal, without any changes, in an effort, as she told Margaret Flowers, to “flip the election.” The Stein campaign used a Democratic Party PR firm, Democratic Party talking points, including on the fake Russiagate scandal, and hired Democratic Party lawyers, including a lawyer in Michigan who was the former Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party for nearly 30 years and who sued to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot. The recount was funded by Democratic Party political action groups MoveOn and Democracy For America and raised millions, more than was spent on the entire Stein campaign.

The recount failed to flip the election, but it did show voting irregularities and Stein did change her rhetoric to focus on a very real and well-known problem – Jim Crow voting procedures in the US, which undermine the right to vote in black communities.

Mérida standing up to Stein resulted in a retaliatory campaign against her, led by Stein and Cobb. Not only did Stein campaign against her re-election as a national co-chair, but people also report that Stein contacted members of the Colorado Green Party to urge Mérida’s removal from leadership at the state level.

During the Green Party 2017 Annual National Meeting in Newark, NJ, Margaret Flowers, Mérida and I were having lunch at a diner where Cobb and three others were also coincidentally having lunch. We were trying to take a break from the toxic atmosphere of the attacks on Mérida. When we left, Cobb’s companions also exitted, among them were Gary C. Frazier, Jr. of Camden and Kohmee Parrett of Chicago . We spoke outside and they urged us to stop the conflict with Cobb. We explained that there would be a lot less conflict if Cobb was not running a campaign attacking Mérida to prevent her from being re-elected. Cobb came out and Parrett asked him if it was true that he was working to prevent Mérida’s re-election. Cobb replied, “Yes, I am doing what I can to stop Mérida from being re-elected.”

Cobb confirmed what we already knew about both him and Stein. Stein and Cobb had created a slate of candidates to run to defeat Mérida. National delegates told us they had been called by Stein and Cobb urging them to vote for the Stein-Cobb slate and to oppose Mérida. People who endorsed Mérida received angry calls from Cobb or Stein. It became a very nasty election. Stein entered a vote as an alternate delegate, voting for her slate of candidates, as did Cobb, who is a delegate.

Despite Stein and Cobb’s efforts, and despite false allegations in the form of complaints posted to the National Committee delegate listserv just before and repeatedly during the SC election, Mérida won reelection easily; she was the second highest vote getter of first-ranked choices. All three African American candidates lost. Two were on the Stein-Cobb slate.

When the results became known, members of the Black Caucus were understandably angry. Even though 88% of the national delegates voted for at least one black candidate, the election loss of three black candidates seemed racist. The Caucus and others took to the street and protested at a fundraiser for the NJ Greens that election night.

At the fundraiser, the seven steering committee members present were confronted with the question of whether they would be willing to resign from the SC. Two steering committee members had not yet arrived at the event. The only way for Stein-Cobb to get rid of Mérida, as they have been working to do for seven months, is for all of the steering committee to resign. So far, only two members have formally resigned in writing.

While the conflict over Mérida was a catalyst, Stein and Cobb took advantage of long standing anger and frustration among some caucuses about the ways that the Green Party has been slow to adopt internal reforms that live up to its values. The pain and anger expressed in Newark is real, even if the specific issue at hand was distorted by behind the scenes electioneering. This manipulation of real grievances is among the most troubling things that occurred.

Where does all of this leave the Green Party? Nothing is resolved regarding the election, as that is still being worked out and discussed in the Black Caucus and other caucuses, among National Committee delegates and by the Steering Committee. Darryl! Moch, with assistance from Stein, presented a proposal at the conclusion of the meeting that will be submitted for the Steering Committee and National Committee to consider.

Out of this there are two things needed. First, we need to get the full story on the extent of Stein-Cobb interference in elections. Did they have any involvement in the negative smears against Mérida? Did they pressure members of the Green Party of Colorado to attack Mérida? Was there any involvement between them and a false, smear letter about Mérida at Standing Rock? Why didn’t Stein and Cobb publicly endorse what came to be considered their slate? Why were they making calls in private instead of being public? Delegates are supposed to represent their state, so was the Stein-Cobb interference a violation of Green ethics? What role did they have with the Black Caucus’ action?

The second task is even more important. The Greens need to continue to face up to internal race issues. The Green Party needs to put systems in place that will ensure black people, youths, women and other groups are represented throughout the party and play key leadership roles. Members of the various caucuses need to be at the forefront in designing these new systems.

All of these issues have been evident. The Green Party Power group, which I was part of, wrote a letter in December of 2016 signed by hundreds of Greens, that called for Greens being an independent party that opposed the corporate duopoly and expanded our ranks by building from the bottom up in dispossessed communities, especially black communities. Among the actions we called for were:

“We urge the Green Party US to actively address issues within the party that perpetuate racial and class dominance, sexism, cis-heterosexism, ableism, and all manifestations of oppressive and White supremacist culture.

“We also urge the Green Party US to encourage members to support working class and front line struggles, to prioritize the voices of those engaged in struggle and to run candidates from communities in struggle.”

In the end, our hope is this becomes an opportunity for growth of the party and expansion with people from communities left behind, neglected and mistreated by the two corporate parties. And, that we define ourselves as independent of both parties and in opposition to a country that was built on ethnic cleansing and racism, taking advantage of workers as well as on militarism and imperialism.

This is an important juncture in the party for it to publicly declare its opposition to all forms of political opportunism that mirror the politics of the kleptocratic political duopoly. Confronting these issues and creating a radical opposition party will make the Green Party a greater influence in US politics.

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Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.

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