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White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party

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The Green Party held its annual national meeting in Newark last weekend. Amid the workshops, smaller meetings and committeefying, Greens use this meeting to elect people to their 9 member steering committee, the body that conducts the week to week management of the organization. Steering committee members are chosen by and from the 150 member national committee, which is named by state parties and national caucuses, and votes are counted according to a ranked choice scheme. I’ve been on the national committee for several years now. I wasn’t at this year’s meeting due to some health issues, but I know plenty of people who were.

A meeting of the black caucus was in progress when the results of the steering committee election were announced. A Latina delegate observed to the black caucus members present that it was a shame no black candidates for steering committee had won the election. She offered, in solidarity with the black caucus to resign her newly elected seat so that one of the black candidates could replace her, either through an applicable rule if one could be found, or in a new election.

There was already a lot of discontent in the room. Caucus members were already considering how to respond to what they perceived as an unacceptable level of racist insults and slights over the course of the weekend, and they were keenly aware that some members of the national committee had been unable to login and properly cast their votes, though the number of these was not clear. So the caucus members present decided to leave their meeting and walk in on a fundraiser a short distance away which was being livestreamed on Facebook.

On arrival they seized the mic and launched into a series of outraged speeches about how the Green party could not be allowed to continue slighting and insulting and ignoring its black constituencies. They demanded that the entire steering committee, not just those newly elected, resign and be replaced. Another Latina elected to the steering committee also volunteered to resign, and a chorus erupted on social media of Greens mostly congratulating each other for addressing racism inside the organization and acceding to the wishes of the black caucus. Some did balk at having the entire steering committee resign, because then there would be nobody with the power to call new elections, and a few – me among them – found a lot to disagree with in the entire spectacle.

What’s wrong here? Plenty. To begin with the black candidates who lost didn’t much bother to campaign. The universe of possible voters in the election is pretty small, only 150 people and their contact information is readily available to anybody who wants it. One black candidate made the incredible claim that he “didn’t know” he was supposed to actually call national committee members and ask for their votes. So really, it looks like their loss wasn’t due to voter manipulations or structural white supremacy in the Green party. Arguably they were just incompetent candidates.

The strangeness doesn’t end there. Though these black candidates didn’t campaign for themselves, some of the country’s best known Greens were urging their partisans to cast votes for them. But the black caucus, which adopted their cause as its own after they lost also made no effort to campaign for them before the election. So the two elected Latinas who offered their resignations in solidarity with the cause of black liberation are opening the door for themselves to be replaced with black steering committee members who didn’t have enough respect for the party, the national committee and its processes to campaign for themselves before the election. That’s pretty messed up.

This peculiar kind of solidarity is an artifact of white liberal guilt and the tokenism used to assuage it. White liberals look around and see there are too few blacks, Latinas and queers in their ranks. So they pass a rule that says they should get more. They look around for available black, brown and queer heads to fill the spots. They move over and they make room. That’s called diversity, and the black brown and queer faces recruited in this scheme are tokens. A revolutionary party, a mass based party of the left, which is what some of us are trying to build the Greens into requires something entirely different.

It’s a truly difficult problem. All the established political institutions, all the churches and nonprofits, all the unions and such in black and brown communities are pretty much on the Democratic party plantation, and in no hurry to leave thank you very much. How do you crack this nut? Black constituencies across the country are the prisoners of the most rabid right wing neoliberal Democrat politicians imaginable, and they will not be dislodged by simply throwing more money and effort into “black outreach” to the same old players in the same old ways.

The Green party can only successfully grow black constituencies by recruiting outside the institutional bases of Democrats – outside the churches, the nonprofits and most unions. Rather than “making room” for black leadership the Greens will have to grow and/or recruit leaders with their own following outside the institutional strongholds of Democrats, black, brown and queer leaders who will bring their own room, their own space with them. It’s a lot easier said than done. Tokenism, elevating the blacks you already have in the room, is a lot quicker and easier. The problem is that token leaders like these bring no black followers with them. Which brings us to the Green party’s black caucus.

The Green party’s black, Latinx, queer and womens caucuses are wonderful examples of elevating tokens instead of grooming and growing leaders. Green parties state by state are gradually adopting the model of mass based left parties everywhere else on planet Earth, making themselves into sustainable, internally democratic bodies based on dues paying memberships. Membership dues are the only reliable way for a mass organization to remain independent of one percenter funders. Having your officers responsible to a bloc of dues paying members is anchors those officers somewhere in your mass membership.

But Green party caucuses don’t have dues paying members. They just have members, who are defined by showing up at online meetings. Anybody can be a Republican or Democrat or something else on Monday, email the black caucus on Tuesday, and on Wednesday be an accredited member, eligible to elect or to serve on the party’s national committee or its steering committee. Caucuses get automatic seats on the national committee without having to prove their members are anchored in any Green party anywhere, or have done any work with the party. So some black and other caucus members are anchored nowhere and caucus leaders are responsible to nobody in particular except themselves. This is how white liberal tokenism has opened the door to black opportunism in the Green party.

The black caucus didn’t claim or help these black candidates before the election, but its leaders now claim them after they lost. A large number of the black caucus members who seized the mic at the livestreamed Green party fundraiser were newbies in the Green party who didn’t even know these candidates or what, if anything they stood for. Many were Berniecrats till the middle of last year. They appear to have been manipulated by George Martin, one of the non-campaigning black candidates, and by the black caucus chair, who may have inflated the number of glitches in the voting machinery, and spread unsubstantiated rumors that some national committee members were bullied or threatened around their votes. The black caucus didn’t mentor candidates for party office on the state or national level, it didn’t conduct issues forums or events in virtual or meat space. It’s done next to nothing in the years I’ve been in this party. But now it’s woke, and cynically using a handful of newbies to win seats on the party’s steering committee.

The black caucus is expected to produce a report, though the existence of any sort of democratic process inside the caucus is an open question. The report may demand resignations of some steering committee members and their replacement with black candidates, with or without new elections. A fallback proposal might be the creation of additional permanent seats on the steering committee for the unaccountable and anti-democratic caucuses.

There absolutely should be a black caucus in the Green party. But caucuses shouldn’t get automatic votes on the national committee or the steering committee. Those bodies should be elected by state parties instead of being anti-democratic phantom organizations responsible to nobody in particular.

If honchos on the Green steering committee are smart they will persuade the members who have offered their resignations to rescind those offers, as they are invitations for black opportunists to consolidate leadership positions in the Green party. It may fall to the 150 member national committee to decide whether the resignations will be permitted or accepted, and whether any new election will take place. New elections precipitated by the demand of a rump group of newbies sanctified only by their outrage at random insults, a newfound attachment to candidates who didn’t respect the party or its processes enough to wage credible campaigns, and rumors of vote stealing and intimidation would be the worst possible precedent for the Green party. But opportunists don’t care about process, or parties or building movements for peace and justice. They just want to be large, and in charge.

Liberalism offers easy answers to the problem of recruiting token blacks to leadership. But the black leaders you get that way are opportunists, who can only win followings by deception, by manipulation of the unwary and by the laziness or inattention of others responsible for the institution and the mission of the party. That mission is to struggle for power, and to build a movement of movements against capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and endless war. There are no shortcuts.

This piece first appeared in the Black Agenda Report.

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