Avocado vs Leafy Greens

The Green Party has been described as being made up of two factions, the realo and the fundi greens. Being jargon that I am not familiar with, and don’t quite understand, I won’t attempt to explain them to you. Instead I’ve come up with my own view of the two, shall I say, visions of the Green Party. One is the Avocado Green which Peter Camejo has described as being green on the outside and green on the inside. The other is the Leafy Green, also green inside and out. Bare with me, I’ll try and explain the difference.

In January 2004 Peter Camejo declared in the Avocado Declaration that “The Green Party is at a crossroads. The 2004 elections place before us a clear and unavoidable choice. On one side, we can continue on the path of political independence, building a party of, by and for the people by running our own campaign for President of the United States. The other choice is the well-trodden path of lesser-evil politics, sacrificing our own voice and independence to support whoever the Democrats nominate in order, we are told, to defeat Bush.” As a green I had no problem agreeing with Peter as he was describing pretty much, as I understood it, the very reason the Green Party was formed, to challenge the corporate grip on our, and the world’s, governments by joining the fray in the political arena. However, noting that Peter’s “crossroads” only seemed to have two options, as possible directions to go, I was a little suspect. Most crossroads would have four directions to choose from. Was he talking about the road diverging in two directions? Or was he talking about two roads on a collision course?

In February, 2004, Peter Camejo said “But I have a lot of respect for David, and if for some reason we end up running David Cobb, I will be there to help him in whatever way I can.” Again I agreed with Peter that David, a very pleasant, enthusiastic and rhetorically gifted green organizer, seemed like a good choice for a candidate since the word we were getting from Nader was that he would not seek the Green Party nomination. Many of us, including myself, assumed Peter would step into our “celebrity candidate” void since he had made a name for himself in the California gubernatorial debates. Many of us thought Peter would make our best candidate and were surprised to learn that he had decided not to run a serious campaign for the presidency but was instead going to “place hold” for Ralph Nader. For many of us it was as confusing a decision as Nader’s had been and I thought well, so much for having a candidate with any name recognition to speak of.

By June, 2004, David Cobb, the only candidate making a serious effort to campaign for the nomination, had been all over the country showing up at state party conventions and meetings to share his vision of the Green Party and his campaign strategy in this election cycle. And all across the country greens were getting excited about his nuanced strategy to deflect the harsh attacks of the progressive allies we had on many issues, many solidly in favor of the Democrats this election cycle, while at the same time growing the party by juicing the locals. It was a pragmatic decision, certainly, but one I thought we might have fun with. The Green Party of Tennessee’s state convention almost unanimously agreed. The wisdom of this strategy seemed to be that we would be able to level the strong green critique of the Duopoly we had always done but without a celebrity candidate we would not engender fear in the Democrats that we would “spoil” their efforts to dump Bush for Kerry. Ralph Nader seemed to be positioning himself also so as not threaten any “spoiling” by trying to rally the Reform Party, which many believe had “spoiled” the election for Papa Bush putting Clinton into the Whitehouse. (I put spoil in quotes because of what Ralph Nader had said, “How can you spoil what is already rotten?” and what David Cobb has said, “What they call spoiling we call participation.” It is a term we greens do not accept because we believe uncompromisingly that this country needs a multi-party democracy to represent the diverse views and interests of the nation’s population.) It seemed a brilliant combined strategy that would make the movement look even bigger as not one but two campaigns leveled their critique at the corporate owned duopoly while at the same time dumping Bush.

Early in June, 2004, Peter Camejo said “Let me say we should all congratulate David Cobb for the exceptional personal effort he has made to fight for the nomination.” It was quite probably the last nice thing Peter Camejo was to say about David Cobb since later that month Cobb won the Green Party nomination and certain members of the Nader/Camejo camp, as well as Peter himself, embittered by the defeat, began to attack David Cobb, Patricia LaMarche, his VP choice, and their supporters, as well as the convention’s nominating process. The Party’s nominating process had been hammered out in the months leading up to the convention by the elected deliberative governing body of the Green Party, the National Coordinating Committee. The split in views became apparent during that process but concessions were made by both sides and eventually the CC, being generally satisfied voted to approve the rules.

At first the attacks seemed to be just an awful case of sour grapes but after many weeks of vitriol and invective it has begun to look more like the two choices in Peter’s declaration were indeed manifesting as a divergence in the road for the Green Party. With the Nader/Camejo camp attacking the Cobb Campaign as being undemocratic, sold out to the Democrats and worse, it is looking like it could be a much deeper disagreement than one of just strategy. Instead of adhering to his promise of unity, giving support for the GP nominee and showing the grace and class in defeat that most greens expected, Peter has pursued a bitter strategy that seems determined to split in the party. One of Peter’s supporters most recently hurled a pie at David Cobb while others heckled him incessantly, in unison, while he was trying to deliver his speech at the “A Green World is Possible” event in New York the day prior to the big protest. David ducked the pie and delivered a shorter than intended speech. Peter, true to his most recent form, was not at all embarrassed buy this childish display nor did he have the grace to apologize to David for it.

The nearly all volunteer Cobb Campaign personnel has remained calm, cool and collected, a venerable pillar of restraint as the half truths and viciously fraudulent spin assail them. A website, www.greensrespond.org

Before I get back to my analogy, the Avocado Greens and the Leafy Greens, I want to mention something I read in the book, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, by Stauber and Rampton. They said that the big PR firms, when looking to subvert a citizens group in opposition to something they were doing, would investigate the members of the group and divide them into four general groups, the opportunists, the pragmatists, the idealists and the radicals. (One might also feel that each of these four elements is at work, to one degree or another, within each of us as well at times.) The corporate pros said that by working with the opportunists and the pragmatists, offering them various jobs or deals, while ignoring the idealists and radicals, they could destroy an organization from without. Presumably leaving the organization in the hands of the radicals and idealists would make the group heady, ineffective and being ungrounded, so to speak, looping out over philosophical differences. It seems to me the split in the Green Party, rather than that of the corporate tactic, is between the opportunists and radicals, on the one side, and the pragmatists and idealists on the other.

The Avocado Greens are the opportunists and radicals. The Leafy Greens are the pragmatists and the idealists. I allow the Avocados the name only because Peter coined the term not because I feel they are particularly green. I think the behavior of the Avocado Greens has not been in line with the values of most greens concerning mutual respect and honesty as well, perhaps, that one about feminism.

The Leafy Greens are the primary element for recognition of a tree, i.e. the party, are the life giving photosynthesizers, the nameless many who do the work with little recognition, the pragmatists, while the idealists maintain that recognizable vision. The idealists keep the highest standard for what should be and the pragmatists ground them to doing what it takes to survive. The Avocado Greens are the fruit, radicals ready to move forward whatever the risk grounded by the opportunists making sure they find fertile ground in which to grow.

As with any analogy, there are limitations. Will the Avocados grow a new tree or just rot on the ground? Since we all seem to agree in a multi-party democracy that should be a no-brainer. Peter should have no problem leading the new Avocado Party. A tough skinned party with oily flesh and a big nut inside? I doubt they’ll hire me as their publicist. As for Ralph, he should start the Independent Party, as anything headed by Ralph would be well…independent. Of course I may have this all wrong and this is all a stroke of genius, Ralph has yet to fully revealed to us, that will bring the people together in some unprecedented way….? See how easily prognostications can get out of hand? Does Peter think he and Ralph could win if only those damn leafy greens had gone along with the cult of personality? Were the leafy greens just too slow to follow the quick dance steps of the celebrity personalities? Personalities who don’t talk with you but down to you? Will the tree shed all its leafy greens then for a new season? Or does it turn out to be an evergreen with a very long life ahead of it? Is the Avocado vitriol indicative of that pain of separation? Or the stage where the Avocado begins to rot and compost into fresh hubris…er.. humus? Or will the leaves and fruit all compost together?

Perhaps it is that no analogy is adequate, and what will happen certainly is as big a mystery. Is it a schism? Or is it just another ism? Perhaps I should not be writing this as it may encourage further division. Perhaps I should not attempt to make any sense of this and just hope the progressives of this country can mature and come together to pursue systemic change. It will take a movement, as it always has, to foster any change. But this movement will need a relatively permanent political arm to make the kind of sustained effort that would be required to make the many critical reforms needed to address the systemic malfunctions of this establishment. The Green Party could be that arm.

Howard Switzer is a, architect/writer/performance artist and member of the Green Party of Tennessee.

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