So you say you STILL want a revolution? Okay, let’s talk.
With the slamming of the door at the end of the Democratic National Convention still ringing in our ears, it appeared to us Bernie supporters that there were two paths to pursue.
The first was Our Revolution (OR), the outfit set up by Bernie’s top staffers. Yes, many were heaving in the bushes at Bernie himself having not only endorsed Hillary Clinton, but then going on the campaign trail for her. Still, the Greens claimed to be fielding only 279 candidates around the country for a variety of offices, and thousands of seats are up for grabs that the Greens are in no position to contend for. The promise of a vibrant grassroots organization, maintaining the momentum of the Sanders primary campaign, and backing the most progressive down-ticket candidates, seemed like an attractive option. High on that list of such candidates was Tim Canova, who was challenging disgraced former f3DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in Florida in U.S. House District 23.
Now that promise has turned to ashes.
“Vibrant”? Not so much. On the eve of its launching, the only vibrations were generated by Sanders hiring honcho Jeff Weaver as chair of the organization, and setting up Our Revolution as a 501(c)(4). That means that OR’s members cannot coordinate with actual campaign organizations on the ground, for the dubious benefit of being able to accept corporate donations without having to disclose who those donors are. Staffers resigned en masse and a pall was cast over the whole affair.
That move had been foreshadowed by Sanders suddenly yanking his key staffers out of Canova’s campaign, leaving a bitter Canova to lose by over 13% to Wasserman-Schultz in the August 30 primary.
[Canova has since formed a new organization, Progress for All, which states:
“Progress For All has not organized as a 501(c)(4) and will not accept large undisclosed donations or contributions from any corporate PACs. Consistent with Canova’s 2016 campaign, Progress For All is committed to staying true to our progressive principles by limiting itself solely to small donors and small donations.”]
“Grassroots”? Not so much either. On August 24, my wife Rose and I attended an Our Revolution “founding” meeting in St. Petersburg. They played an hour-long video of Sanders recounting his campaign’s glories and goals, followed by an inspirational pep talk from the National Fundraising/Phonebanking Coordinator of Progressive Democrats of America. And then? Time to go home, folks! Except that one member braved a withering glare to announce a Green Party meeting in St. Petersburg the following night. I next got up to ask how Our Revolution was going to work. What is OUR process, how would we in Florida be choosing which candidates we support? My question was totally unexpected and also unwelcome. First I was told that direction would come from Florida’s Democratic Progressive Caucus. But, I persisted, how did WE decide who WE were supporting?
Finally, it was explained that nobody had the slightest idea how the organization would work. Hadn’t got to that yet. But on September 7, OR finally released a Founding Statement: “We are committed to democratic decision-making, transparency, political independence and small-dollar fundraising” — unanimously adopted by all 11 members of OR’s Board of Directors.
An online petition drafted by Michael Albert states that the new organization has “a typical corporate structure including a board and a chief executive but having no explicit membership rights, powers, or even responsibilities.”
Bernie’s “Support Hillary” tour is already fizzling. Wanting to hit three venues in Ohio, Sanders addressed 150 people in Akron, 300 at Kent State University (40,000 students strong), and in Canton … sorry, that one was canceled for lack of interest. So it begins, with Bernie OR Bust becoming Bernie AND Bust.
50 Shades of Green.
Frankly, the Green Party does not have a great reputation. But historic moments have a way of inspiring individuals and organizations to rise to the occasion.
So yes, the party has been hard to even find in many areas. National doesn’t answer or return phone calls. As a confederation of state parties (50 shades), the national party has little to offer its state affiliates. It has suffered from the deeply-rooted cynicism and petty in-fighting endemic to a party that has stayed too small for too long.
Back in 2000, Ralph Nader received 2.74% of the national vote. The party was cowed by the onslaught of accusations that they had cost Joe Lieberman the vice-presidency, so they nominated “safe state” David Cobb in 2004 on his promise that he wouldn’t actively campaign in any state that might hurt that year’s Democratic Party nominee, whose name slips my mind. His loyalty was rewarded with 0.10% of the vote. The damage was little alleviated when in 2008 they ran Cynthia McKinney, who netted 0.12% against Barack Obama.
2012 showed a small uptick as Jill Stein and VP running-mate Cheri Honkala got 0.36%. The media took little note, but …
Something happened. For one thing, independent Bernie Sanders had decided to run for President in the Democratic primaries. To everyone’s surprise (including his), tens of thousands flocked to his rallies, and signed on as volunteers. A multitude of Greens were swept into the crusade. Still, Jill Stein soldiered on. But the party itself spent most of its energy, reflected in its discussion pages, in endless histrionics about how Sanders had the blood of Palestinian children on his imperialistic hands, and indeed his record against U.S. imperial adventures was not particularly strong. The real freakout, of course, was that Sanders was drawing money and volunteers from their efforts to get Stein on the ballot. It wasn’t going all that well.
Per a June 4 interview in Mother Jones magazine, California Green Party spokesman Mike Feinstein cried:
“The Sanders campaign is absolutely destroying us. They intentionally went after our voters because they are low-lying fruit on the issues … I am apoplectically mad right now.”
The Sanders campaign had ruthlessly sent out a mailer to registered Greens. Since Bernie’s announcement, the California Greens had lost 30% of their registrants, who were registering Democrat just to vote for Sanders in the primaries.
It was this infusion of independents, not merely Greens but NPA’s (No Party Affiliation) in general, that ultimately brought Sanders within a whisker of winning the Democratic nomination. But as everyone said, even hoping against hope, the game was indeed rigged. Hillary and the DNC slammed the door after the smoke from the last primaries cleared away, then nailed the door shut in Philadelphia with the thunder of “USA! USA!” drowning out the cries of the fallen.
Developments #1 (ballot access).
But then something wonderful happened. To the untutored eye, the Stein campaign appeared to be doing badly. It had only gotten on the ballot in 22 states, and Democrats cackled that in most states you couldn’t even vote for her. The polls showed Stein hovering around 3%, although even that small showing was enough to send Hillary supporters into Bugshit Crazyland. But even while Stein’s numbers were low, she was running a solid, competent operation.
As the DNC was pounding in the last nail, the DemExit began, both money and volunteers flowing into the Stein campaign, with a cool million dollars coming in over one 10-day stretch. As Stein herself put it, “There’s been an explosion of Berners coming in through every portal of the campaign.”
While the media don’t mind crowing that Stein is still polling around 3%, they resolutely fail to mention that Stein is now in the ballot in 45 states (including DC), and qualifies for a write-in vote in 3 more. This year Stein has raised $2,762,007 as of August 31, compared to $900,000 in all of 2012.
Developments #2 (getting their shit together)
For Greens, this growth is not only an opportunity, but a challenge. The Party is at least being honest about it. At last summer’s national nominating convention, Howie Hawkins (who received 5% of the vote for governor against neo-liberal Andrew Cuomo in New York) and Bruce Dixon (an editor of Black Agenda Report and a leader of the Georgia Green Party) addressed a session on “Building the Green Party into a Mass Membership Organization” in which they went into the nuts and bolts:
Dixon: Are we a fit home for the thousands of folks who are looking for a political home right now? Anyone thinks we are?
Audience member: Ideologically yes.
Dixon: But in [New York], if 200 people walked in the door tomorrow, 300 walked in the door tomorrow, could you handle that? Administratively or any other way? You couldn’t do it. And who thinks there aren’t 300 people [ready to walk in] in California or Illinois or Pennsylvania or Georgia? There are. I guarantee you there are. Why can’t we handle it? We’re too weak to compete. We’re underfunded and understaffed. We’re unable to communicate. Why? We’re too weak to compete because we’re imitating the organizing model of the Republicans and Democrats. Democrats and Republicans both use their money and corporate media to communicate with their followers, and lead a mass following. Their campaigns are completely independent of and completely not responsible to the local party organizations or their voters. … The Green Party’s been following their model. Only without the money, and without the media. How’s that working?
Dixon and Hawkins both argued that the party needed to develop a more structured, dues-paying, mass membership structure, that would guarantee both adequate funding and accountability of the party leadership to its membership:
Hawkins: The little people who make little contributions can fund a mass movement — the Bernie Sanders campaign proved that, with 2.5 million contributors who raised $200 million. The idea that you can’t fund it relying on the little people has been disproven. This solution enables mass participation. So we talk about grassroots democracy, but if you can’t go to your local Green Party meeting, and talk about what issues we’ve got to address? How do we organize a campaign? What should our position be on some issue? Who should our leaders be if they aren’t representing us? How can we replace them? If we’re going to have a mass party, we’ve got to have the masses be engaged.
Dixon debunks the condescending liberal notion that poor people shouldn’t be asked to contribute to their own party.
Dixon: So where’s the money going to come from? Where? Dues. Tithes. What do you pay in church? Tithes. It’s still dues, what’s the difference? Dues give us the financial resources we need. Sanders is only the most recent example. It’s also proven by the 10’s of thousands of churches that run off of the tithes of their believers. Who are often poor. If people buy what you are doing, they’ll contribute.
They point out that treating the poor as charity cases robs them of their agency (per Merriam-Webster, “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power”). Liberal rhetoric notwithstanding, it wouldn’t really be THEIR organization, would it?
To what extent the party embraces this approach remains to be seen, but facing the problem is an important step on the road to recovery.
Developments #3 (the politics).
This summer, the party made a significant revision to its platform on Ecological Economics, paragraph 4, the change driven by its younger members.
Old language (in part): We need to remake commerce to encourage diversity and variety, responding to the enormous complexity of global and local conditions. Big business is not about appropriateness and adaptability, but about power and market control. Greens support small business, responsible stakeholder capitalism, and broad and diverse forms of economic cooperation.
Replaced en toto by language more explicitly anti-capitalist (website not yet updated to reflect this change):
New language (in part): Greens seek to build an alternative economic system based on ecology and decentralization of power, an alternative system that rejects both the capitalist system that maintains private ownership over almost all production as well as the old narrative of state socialism that assumes control over industries without democratic, local decision making. … Instead Greens will build an economy based on large-scale public works, municipalization, and workplace and community democracy.
An addendum states, “This new platform plank does not promote expropriation of privately owned small businesses.” By implication, expropriation of corporate giants is neither called for NOR ruled out. Such is progress. The process of party self-definition is ongoing, but the direction is increasingly radical.
In addition, the party’s new growth raises myriad political issues in integrating the Sanders people with the Stein campaign and the existing party locals. The heart of the Stein campaign is its Economic Bill of Rights. The driving principle is that jobs, income, housing, healthcare, education, etc., are FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS. (This is itself a shift in emphasis from the party’s more exclusively ecological focus.) The Sanders agenda — at least when he was running against the neo-liberal Hillary — ran roughly parallel to Stein’s message.
But it’s more than programmatics, narrowly defined. The fundamental difference is that Sanders claims that these reforms can be won simply through a Political Revolution, opening up the democratic process, reforming rather than challenging the basic tenets of capitalism itself. The Green Party, on the other hand, seeks transformation of the capitalist system into a different kind of system.
The dialogue continues within (and outside) the party. Most important at this point is that they are now asking the right questions.
Developments #4 (Ajamu Baraka).
The CIA and State Department are ratcheting up the rhetoric and more for direct confrontation with the Russians in Syria. They are more and more openly offering advanced weapons to the terrorist jihadis waging war against the people of Syria. Now with Hillary Clinton calling for the U.S. to declare a No-Fly Zone (for Russians and Syrians) over terrorist-held territory in Syria, the party makes a powerful statement with its choice of Black human rights activist Ajamu Baraka as Stein’s running mate. If Stein is strong on issues of imperialism (and she certainly is), Baraka is downright ruthless. One example: in a November 20, 2015 article in Counterpunch, he has written:
“In the context of the existing global power relations, crimes committed by Western states and those states aligned with the West as well as their paramilitary institutions escape accountability for crimes committed in the non-European world. In fact some states -like the United States- proudly claim their ‘exceptionality,’ meaning impunity from international norms, as a self-evident natural right.”
Developments #5 (state and local races).
The Green Party website claims (hopefully under-reports) 279 state and local candidates, averaging about 5 per state. They only report specifically on 22 states with 235 races. This is not impressive. However, the table below paints an interesting picture. 10 states (81.3%) are running 191 of those 235), with 40 candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, 48 for State House and 15 for State Senate seats.
Developments #6 (local growth).
One can (and should) bemoan the uneven state of the party across the country, with many state parties barely functional. Calling the glass half-full, however, I hold that those 10 states constitute a strong foundation to build on, if the party were structured so that each state organization wasn’t so “on its own.” One might also gain hope from Florida (the scene of the “crime” in 2000), Population 20,271,272, and running 2 candidates for local Soil and Water Boards. Yet Florida is blooming anew, with meetings of Berners and old Greens (the minority) in cities that had no presence before, and having prospects of doubling the number of current locals (6) to 12.
A September 28 Jill Stein appearance in Tampa drew a multi-racial, working-class crowd of about 500. At one point, Stein asked people how many of them were Berners. Over three-quarters of the attendees raised their hands. Significant. Another high point was the Black Lives Matter representative directly endorsing Stein.
But it would be a serious mistake to treat the current growth of the Green Party as a RESULT of the Sanders campaign. Rather, the broader social motion —springing from the increasing impoverisation of the American people, and the profound insult that the Hillary/Trump contest delivers to them — drove both the Sanders campaign and now the Green Party. The Green Party is the continuation of the Political Revolution for all of us.
Developments #7 (working under the radar).
Growth is never easy, not real growth.
The infusion of Berners must be integrated into the party, lest that energy be dissipated. That requires personal and political growth from both the Berners and the veterans. The Sanders campaign unleashed a lot of energy. But it left too many of its people organizationally stunted. Putting almost all the eggs into a national, topdown phonebanking operation left its volunteers atomized, individualized, under-developed. And veterans need to stop finding reasons why every new idea won’t work, as though this new growth doesn’t transform our possibilities.
Dixon and Hawkins have laid out some serious hurdles the party must jump just to become a force. The party is very small, considering the size of the major players in American politics today. Some try to put a gloss on this. Gallup reports, “42% identify as independents, 29% as Democrats, 26% as Republicans.” Many of the principles of Stein’s Green New Deal are in fact the majority positions of the American people. Stein can win the White House, some say. That may be correct strategically, but …
No she can’t, not this year. Yes, if only her positions could be gotten out to the American people, explained, organized for …
But that’s the catch. If only. The Green Party simply does not have the organized force to get their message out to enough people. Some pray that media coverage can turn the trick. But the bloody, imperialistic, anti-poor, capitalist, lying media is not going to be the engine of our salvation. We have to recognize and be proud of the fact that in 2016 we’re making a damn good start. Per Hawkins and Dixon, now we have to professionalize. No phone call must be unanswered or unreturned. The party must somehow overcome touting their being a disorganized confederation of state parties as some kind of holy virtue.
Meetings have to be held, leaders have to be accountable. Communications must be transformed. The fact that some parties don’t even report the votes of their own candidates is an obscenity that can no longer be tolerated.
The party needs to take itself seriously. One of the most intriguing points in the Dixon/Hawkins presentation was their calling for the Green Party to begin respecting itself as leadership:
Developments #8 (looking to lead).
Dixon: Through their locals, the Green Party has to contend for leadership of the social movement with the non-profits [aka Democrats]. If we’re not doing that, they’re going to eat our lunch. And we’re going to be irrelevant, or we’ll continue to be marginally irrelevant. People will rise up on their own accord when they’re outraged enough, but when the outrage dies down, who comes in? They’ve got staff, they’re funded, you’re not. So the churches and non-profits, often the same people, are the only players on the scene with any staying power. Active staff people from active locals and active green parties should bring new support to existing movements, or they can initiate them. We can’t. I’m in Georgia, the prisoners go on strike, they call us, and ask what the hell can we do? You know what? We don’t have enough money to accept all the collect phone calls from prison that we got after the prison strike, let alone to help these people.
Ridiculous? Boastful? Impossible? To lead actual masses of people, the Green Party needs to get its shit together in ways delineated above. That’s for sure. But that’s the easy part. But what is meant by the very concept of leadership? Getting speaking slots on marches and rallies? Getting on TV more? If you’re trying to compete in doing what everyone else is doing (marching, speaking, etc.), sorry, others have been at it longer than you have, they got more money, they have the Democratic Party backing them up. Blasphemous but true.
No, to lead, we must come to terms with what exactly we are. You don’t become leadership just by declaring it, by pointing to how radical your program is on paper.
We also have to compete on OUR terms, not theirs. We have to recognize that all too often, “non-partisan” is in fact a cover for “anti-independent.”
We’re a political party, and one thing a political party does is run candidates. So when we work with these other groups and movements, what we must strive for is to be their ELECTORAL representatives, and we don’t concede that to the Democratic Party. We don’t have thousands of foot-soldiers to throw into every cause that comes along (though we should participate — being there is half the battle). But we can run candidates who say things that the Democrats cannot say, we can introduce legislation that shows our commitment to fundamental change, not necessarily to win, but to agitate, to educate. We have to transform our broad platform into concrete specifics. Then we can demand support from our friends, as the Democratic Party keeps sliding right. And if our friends don’t support us, maybe they’re not such good friends. But to make that demand, again, we’ve got to have it together. We don’t have to be big, but we have to be competent. Competence is respected. (For some good advice, by the way, see So You Want to Run for Office by veteran Green Ed Griffith.)
Running for the lower offices may be a way to get started. In a dogcatcher race, we can argue that Greens are better at catching dogs. But our POLITICAL strength lies in the issues we can raise in state legislatures, and in the U.S. House of Representatives. War and peace. Economic policy. (No disrespect, but it’s hard to raise keeping the U.S. from backing the terrorists in Syria from a seat on a Soil and Water Board.)
The Low-Hanging Fruit.
Interestingly enough, across the South, two-thirds of seats in the state legislatures are completely unopposed by one or the other major party. Thus in 2012, Karen Morian, running on the Green Party line in Jacksonville, Florida against an unopposed Republican, got 31.7% of the vote. That had an impact.
It’s not so terribly hard to make the ballot. For instance, to run in Florida for:
Florida House (120 members) requires approx. 1,200 signatures, or a $1,781 filing fee.
Florida Senate (40 members) requires 1,552 signatures, or a $1,781 filing fee.
U.S. House (27 members) requires 2,298 signatures.
There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there, low-hanging and over-ripe, if only we would pluck it.
But alas, we are small. In a post-convention interview with the Real News Network last summer, Bruce Dixon re-defined “winning”:
“Well, first of all, as our presidential candidate Jill Stein says, it’s theoretically possible to win, okay. If all of the–all or most of the people who are affected by this ruinous student debt were to stand up and turn around and face the sun and say, wow, you know, we need to vote for the only candidate that’s going to forgive our debt like the billionaires’ debts were forgiven. So, it’s theoretically possible to win. It’s highly unlikely, of course.
“So, that said, what does a win look like? A win looks like building a movement. A win looks like building a party. The Democrat and Republican parties were not built in a day, all right? We just did a workshop that outlined the history of the Democrat and Republican parties, of the party systems in this country, and none of that stuff was built overnight. We’ve got to get out of the habit of being little kids, of expecting instant gratification.
“We’re going to vote in a presidential election and all our problems are going to be addressed? It doesn’t work that way. It’s never worked that way, and we should grow up. So winning, what winning looks like is, it could be getting 15% and getting in the debates. It could be — in Georgia where I live right now it would be getting 1% of the vote in November because if we don’t get 1% of the vote in November we don’t have the right to run candidates on the local level as state reps, as state senators, as public service commissioners.
“… A win would look like coming up with Green Party locals, active, local branches of the Green Party in 100 cities, or 150 cities, because active, dues-paying locals will be able to work in and initiate parts of the social movements in your community. Active, well-funded Green Party locals will be able to contend for leadership of the social movements with the nonprofit industrial complex.”
So the Revolution begins.
— Jeff Roby
October 9, 2016