Which Way Forward for the Green Party?
their 2005 Annual National Meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Green Party
delegates voted down resolutions offered by the Greens for Democracy
and Independence (GDI) designed to ensure proportional representation
inside the party, national delegates accountable to the expressed
will of the membership, and political independence from the two
corporate parties. The votes against these proposals fly in the
face of everything that the Green Party’s platform and membership
At Tulsa two currents came into conflict over the future of the
party—a radical wing embodied by the GDI and a liberal wing
led by David Cobb and others closely tied to the Progressive Democrats
of America (PDA).
GDI argues that the Green Party must become the political expression
of social movements that challenge the corporate duopoly at the
ballot box and can only be successful in this endeavor by conducting
its affairs, setting policies, and nominating candidates who are
completely independent from corporate-sponsored parties and policies.
GDI came into being to resolve the political and organizational
crises in the Green Party that threatened to sideline it as
a progressive electoral force in the national political arena.
The Nominating Process
The current crises originated in the period
leading up to the nomination of Green presidential candidate David
Cobb who argued for a “safe states” strategy during the
2004 campaign. This tactic was viewed by many Greens as a backhanded
way of sustaining the centrist Democratic Party in order to defeat
Bush at the expense of Green Party interests. Cobb’s running
mate, Pat LaMarche, had spent the primary season arguing for complete
abstention from the presidential race.
Cobb’s strategy enjoyed only minority support in the Green
Party, but his forces were able to win the nomination by rallying
leaders of the small state parties who had a disproportionate number
of delegates allotted to them and by convincing several delegates
to change their assigned positions and vote against the expressed
will of their state party’s membership. Cobb thereby won the
nomination and official support for his “lesser-evil”
strategy. The Green membership and potential Green- leaning voters
registered their disapproval as the Cobb campaign for president
won less than 120,000 votes, or about one-third of the registered
Greens in the country and less than 4 percent of the Green Party’s
previous national tally.
As a result of this disastrous showing, Green Parties in 7 of the
22 states with Green Party ballot lines lost them, which resulted
in those states’ election boards purging computers of Green
Party membership databases and terminating enrollment rights. The
enhanced vote totals and membership increases Cobb and his promoters
had assured the Green Party would result from his lesser-evil approach
failed to materialize. Despite accommodating the “Anybody But
Bush” forces and the high-profile position Cobb and the Green
Party took in the ballot challenges and recounts in Ohio and elsewhere,
Green Party membership declined, local candidacies declined sharply
in numbers and vote totals, and the Green Party continues to teeter
on the brink of bankruptcy.
Since the election, the division
between GDI supporters and the liberal wing of the national Green
Party has become more apparent and more severe. It has been exacerbated
by the arrival of a new political action group rising from the ashes
of the Dean and Kucinich campaigns and the easy willingness of the
failed lesser evil Greens to stay their liberal-accommodating course
through pathways provided and funded by Democrats, serving as a
wedge to widen the rift.
Under Cobb’s leadership, many in the liberal wing aligned themselves
with the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) whose stated aim
is to transform the Democratic Party through a policy of encouraging
progressives to think “realistically” about the immutability
of the two-party system and apply their energies inside the Democratic
Party, rather than through third-party challengers. Cobb has appeared
on many PDA panels as an “alliance partner.” Cobb ally,
Medea Benjamin, of Global Exchange and Code Pink, wrote a glowing
fundraising letter for PDA, which was disseminated in Green Party
Like many inside/outside formations, such as the Working Families
Party, PDA exists to shepherd progressives into the left wing of
the duopoly’s electoral pen and reinforce the two party system
and its consequences. If the AFL-CIO and mainstream civil rights
groups— heavily integrated into the Democratic Party and backed
with millions of members and millions of dollars—have failed
to bring progress with this technique, the PDA, with its meager
forces, stands no chance of succeeding.
The Tulsa meeting was essentially a contest between the two wings
of the party played out through the same undemocratic scheme that
distorted the outcome of the 2004 Milwaukee Convention. Under this
scheme California and New York control only about 16 percent of
the Green National Committee (GNC), even though 65 percent of all
registered Greens reside in these two states. By process of this
disproportionate allocation system, liberals constitute as much
as 75 percent of GNC representation and, through the Tulsa Green
Party Convention, control 100 percent of the executive power vested
in the steering committee (now reduced to a still unassailable 89
percent) and a similar percentage of standing committee and working
group positions. These allocations can only be altered by a two-thirds
majority vote and are thereby effectively self-sustaining.
Conflict between the two wings erupted early in the convention over
which delegates to seat from Utah, a state where two groups claim
to be the official Green Party. The original Utah Greens split into
two factions in 2004 over which candidate—Cobb or Nader—
to put on their state’s ballot line. The small Cobb-supporting
wing was officially recognized by the national steering committee
as the sole representative of the Utah Greens. By contrast, the
Nader- supporting wing, ten times the size of the Cobb-supporting
wing, was recognized by the Utah secretary of state as the official
Green Party of Utah, but was barred from access to the national
Green Party by internal executive fiat.
With both delegations asking to be seated, the pro-GDI delegation
from Florida proposed that each Utah group be allowed to seat a
single delegate and that they resolve to work out their disputed
affiliation after the convention. The liberal wing of the GNC, however,
strongly opposed this proposal and the vote to seat one pro-GDI
delegate was defeated 57 to 34 (with 4 abstentions).
Following this telling skirmish,
speeches by Peter Camejo and David Cobb laid out very different
visions and strategies for the future of the party. Camejo stressed
the significance of building the Green Party as the political expression
of mass social movements and argued for the importance of promoting
debate and encouraging many political tendencies to exist within
the Party. He even went so far as to apologize to David Cobb for
any misstatements he may have made about him during the campaign.
Finally, Camejo called on the Green Party to stand up to the Democrats
and argued its independent challenge to the two party system is
“the spirit of the future.”
Cobb repeated several of Camejo’s points, but then emphasized
an exclusionary message. Instead of inviting debate, Cobb condemned
what he called “sectarianism”—his label for anyone
who opposed his safe states strategy or believes in building a left
wing of the party—and did not accept or even acknowledge Camejo’s
olive branch. In answer to a question after his speech about critical
reviews of Green Party performance, authored by prominent Greens
that have appeared periodically in the online progressive magazine
CounterPunch, Cobb assailed these articles and denounced
Counter- Punch editor Alexander Cockburn, saying that he
“represents why the sectarian left has failed.” The not-so-subtle
message was that the Green Party should exclude the left, continue
to support Democrats in their election campaigns, and suppress dissent.
Key leaders of the liberal wing of the GNC made their support for
Cobb’s position clear after the speeches. “I’m not
willing to define us as a party independent of the corporate parties,”
declared Illinois delegate Phil Huckleberry, who heads the Presidential
Campaign Search Committee and co-authored the 2004 Convention Rules.
“I did not join the Green Party to fight against Democrats
and Republicans…. We are more than an independent party; we
are a Green Party.” Similarly, Jody Haug, Green Party co-chair
and delegate from the state of Washington, declared her opposition
to independence from the two corporate parties by arguing, “We
should not paint ourselves into a corner.”
The GDI Proposals
The real conflict broke out when GDI members
presented their proposals to the National Committee. GDI’s
strategy was to present a short overview of each proposal (since
they had already been passed by several state parties and been discussed
on the GNC’s list serve) and then allow delegates to provide
comments, concerns, and amendments.
The liberal wing, however, did not argue against the content of
the proposals. Instead they relied on objections concerning bylaws,
implementation, and procedural concerns. They also attempted to
draw GDI supporters into accepting an alternative proposal from
the DC Statehood Greens that would send the proposals to a committee
without any political direction regarding democracy and independence,
even though party bylaws forbid introduction for vote of new proposals
without the mandatory three-week discussion period.
The GDI wing stood its ground and rejected this “compromise”
as it would have nullified the basic principals of their proposals.
After a long period of confusion—during which the steering
committee frequently left the room to caucus (without explanation)
and anti-GDI forces led delegates in doing the “Wave”
and singing “Oklahoma” and “Take Me Out to the Ball
Game”—the GNC defeated all three proposals.
While the Green National Committee defeated the GDI proposals, there
can be no doubt that this decision expressed the minority view of
grassroots Greens throughout the U.S. Many Greens will be horrified
by the travesty in Tulsa while most will be kept in the dark. The
test now for GDI is to determine how to rally the majority inside
the party and appeal to activists outside the party to build a democratic
alternative dedicated to challenging the corporate duopoly.
If the liberal wing is able to maintain its dominance and orient
the Greens towards subordinating themselves to the Democratic Party,
the Green Party is likely to wither away like the New Party and
other progressive alternatives before them.
The opportunity and responsibility for GDI members is immense. Democrats
continue to ratify the Bush administration’s program of deficit-financed
corporatism, upward economic redistribution, and permanent war,
thereby stoking frustration with the two-party system. Democrats
continue to support the occupation of Iraq, the renewal of the PATRIOT
Act, gave the margin of victory for the passage of CAFTA in the
Senate, and helped confirm the nomination of conservative John Roberts
as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Millions of Americans—workers, women, gays, Latinos, blacks,
Muslims, the foreign-born, other oppressed populations, now including
mainstream anti-war advocates who are finally reaching the majority
of the U.S. public—find no electoral expression for their demands
and aspirations. Millions more have grown frustrated with the failure
and consequences of the lesser-evil strategy of voting for the Democrats
in 2004 and its impending resurgence behind the early card of centrist
Democratic hopefuls for 2008. They are looking for an alternative.
They think it was a mistake to suspend all progressive social movements
and anti-war activities in order to mobilize the vote for Kerry,
who opposed all of their interests.
These millions of people form an electoral force with which GDI
and supporting state Green Parties must connect. Such a coalition
offers the hope of galvanizing the Greens and the broader social
movements to build a genuine third party.
authors of this report are state and national Committee delegates
of the Green Parties of Vermont, California, and New York. All consider
themselves to be active participants in Greens for Democracy and Independence.