A Progressive Voice in 2000?
year 2000 Presidential sweepstakes has gotten underway. As the candidates for
president go about their work of raising the millions needed to be seen as
serious, there’s one presidential “horse” that is not even mounting up
to be in the race: good old progressive.
The Republicans have their
center-right to far-out-right stable of horses: Dan Quayle, John McCain,
Elizabeth Dole, Steve Forbes, Lamar Alexander, George Bush, John Kasich,
Patrick Buchanan, Gary Bauer, and Robert Smith. The Democrats have only two:
center-rightist Al Gore and centrist Bill Bradley.
left has none. Paul Wellstone and Jesse Jackson, the two most prominent
progressive Democrats, have both officially withdrawn from consideration.
On the face of it, you’d
think that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party had run up the white
flag and surrendered their party to the Clinton/Gore/Democratic Leadership
Council crowd. This is so despite the election of an additional 15 or so
self-described “progressives” to Congress in November 1998. According to
Karen Dolan, National Director of the Progressive Challenge, which works
closely with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, “the number of
progressives comes to 90 out of 216 House Democrats.”
What has happened to our
progressive leaders in the Democratic Party? There are certainly a number of
reasons to explain this abysmal state of affairs, but there is no escaping the
conclusion that the single most important reason is the mishandling of the
sex, lies, and videotape scandal we were subjected to from December 1997 to
February 1999. Clinton has done it again: in addition to the damage he
wrought, at least temporarily, on the Republican Party, now internally divided
and wounded as it has not been for a long time, Clinton also diverted and
deflected progressive Democrats to such an extent that they are now virtually
invisible and even less effective than usual when it comes to national
Keeping Hope Alive
sentiment in the U.S. in favor of alternatives to the two corporate-dominated
parties has grown and deepened as a result of the bi-partisan debacle in
Washington, DC. The percentage of registered independent and third party
voters in the United States has climbed from about 2 percent of eligible
adults in 1964 to about 15 percent in 1996. Earlier this year Curtis Gans,
director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, noted
that, “Party allegiance is getting weaker every year, and there are no signs
that will change. It had a major impact in these latest  elections, with
Jesse Ventura being the most obvious example. But it’s happening all around
There are three national
progressive parties that have been growing and developing over the course of
the 1990s. The oldest of these is the Green Party. Actually, there are two
national Green organizations, the Greens/Green Party, USA and the Association
of State Green Parties. The Greens movement began in the early 1980s, inspired
by the success of the German and other European Green parties.
The Greens were aided
significantly by Ralph Nader’s “campaign” for president on the Green
line in 1996. State Green organizations got Nader on the ballot in about half
of the states, and he received close to 750,000 votes despite spending less
than $5,000 on the campaign and fairly serious political and organizational
problems. However, despite these problems, the campaign brought new people,
new energy, and new organizations into the Green movement. It also exacerbated
internal tensions, leading to the emergence of the Association of State Green
Parties as an alternative, more electoral-oriented formation as compared to
the Greens/Green Party, USA.
State Green organizations
now exist in 28 states. They have ballot status in 12. Planning is underway
for the running of presidential/vice-presidential candidates in 2000.
The Labor Party recently
held a successful national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November
1998. This was their First Constitutional Convention following the founding
convention in 1996 in Cleveland. At this convention the Labor Party decided to
run candidates for office. A series of requirements were approved that
must be met before local chapters can run candidates, which will mean that the
number of candidacies that eventually emerge, probably beginning in 2000, will
be limited. The Labor Party’s primary focus at this point is on the
development of national campaigns in five areas: Just Health Care, Defend
Social Security, a Workplace Bill of Rights, a 28th Constitutional Amendment
Right to a Job, and a Working Class International Trade Policy.
Unions with memberships
approaching one and a half million members have affiliated with the Labor
Party, and there are about 40-45 chapters or local organizing committees.
The New Party is going
through some changes. Its two co-founders, Joel Rogers and Dan Cantor,
formerly board chair and executive director respectively, are no longer in
those positions, although they continue active involvement. Cantor has become
the interim state coordinator of the Working Families Party, created in 1998
when a coalition of community groups, some unions, and other progressives ran
Democratic Party machine boss Peter Vallone for governor.
Last fall the national New
Party adopted a permanent constitution and governance structure and held its
first election of officers. A permanent National Executive Council replaced
the previous Interim Executive Committee.
The New Party’s major
focus continues to be on the running of local candidates for office. Since
their founding in the early 1990s, approximately 250 candidates have
campaigned with New Party local chapter support. The vast majority has run
either in non-partisan races or as Democrats. A small percentage, about 5
percent, has run on an independent, third party line. The New Party claims a
membership of 20,000 and local chapters in about 10 states.
In addition to these three
main national groups, there are other important organizations: the
African-American led Unity Party and Campaign for a New Tomorrow, the
California Peace and Freedom Party, the Progressive Party in Vermont, the DC
Statehood Party, the Socialist Party, USA, and the Independent Progressive
Politics Network, which links a number of these efforts and is working toward
an eventual unified party or an alliance of parties.
Finally, it is important to
note the growing political strength and some concrete local victories for two
important electoral reform movements: the movement for voluntary (for now)
public financing of elections and the movement for proportional representation
in the way government officials are elected. In the opinion of many third
party activists, the building of a viable third party movement in this country
is directly connected to the growing success of these two fundamental
electoral reform movements. A big money-dominated, winner-take-all electoral
system is a virtual graveyard for third parties, as we have seen in the United
States for over 100 years.
Successful state referenda
in Maine, Massachusetts, and Arizona over the last year and a half have led to
the creation of statewide, voluntary public financing systems. There are
thousands of activists in every part of the country working to replicate this
accomplishment in their state or locality via legislation or referendum.
Although the movement for
proportional representation (PR) is newer and younger, two important recent
developments portend what could come to pass in the relatively near future. In
February the New Mexico Senate passed a bill which would provide for
“preference voting,” a form of PR, for all federal and state offices. Also
in February, Progressive Party legislator Terry Bouricius, with the
co-sponsorship of four Democrats and four Republicans, introduced a bill to
use “instant runoff voting” for all state elections. The bill has a
realistic chance of being adopted into law.
Prospects for Unity in
together, all of these groups probably have a combined active membership of
20,000-30,000 people or more, many of them activists with years of experience.
If all of this organizing, energy, and resources came together into some kind
of a mutually respectful alliance, one in which each group continued working
and developing on its own but also found ways to communicate and coordinate
with the others, there’s tremendous potential. Is anything like this on the
Unfortunately, no. Some of
these groups are interacting with each other to some extent. The Independent
Progressive Politics Network’s (IPPN) primary mission is to help bring all
of these, and other, groups together into one unified party, or an alliance of
parties, and it is having some success. However, the fact is that no
breakthrough has yet taken place in which the leaders of all these important
efforts have even sat down together in the same room just to dialogue, much
less set up an alliance or engage in concerted action.
What about a viable
independent presidential candidacy in 2000? Because of activity taking place
within the Greens, the answer to this one is, yes. An ad hoc grouping of
Greens from around the country has approached Angela Davis to see if she is
interested in running.
The Association of State
Green Parties, which links 28 state organizations of varying strength and
experience, has established an organized process to reach out to possible
candidates. Ralph Nader is a definite possibility, although if he became the
candidate it would be because he agreed to run a serious campaign, spending
hundreds of thousands of dollars, and speak to the wide range of Green
platform issues that, by and large, are not substantially different than the
platforms of all of the other progressive third parties. Other individuals who
have been approached include Jerry Brown, Lester Brown, Noam Chomsky, Ron
Daniels, Ron Dellums, Lani Guinier, Dan Hamburg, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins,
Winona LaDuke, and Toni Morrison.
The Greens/Green Party,
U.S.A, the oldest and more direct action-oriented wing of the Greens (although
not exclusively), recently called for a unified national convention bringing
together the ASGP, the G/GPUSA, state Green parties, and non-Green groups like
the IPPN, Socialist Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Campaign for a New
Tomorrow, and others. Out of the convention and the work leading up to it, a
presidential/ vice-presidential slate would emerge, one that would hopefully
have a broad base of active support from both Greens and non-Greens.
There are a number of
questions posed by these developments. The immediate one, of course, is
whether or not the Greens will be able to unite their efforts behind one
candidate. My guess is that, yes, although somewhat messily, this will take
place. Even with the internal differences and the two national Greens groups,
there is enough overlap and enough maturity within the Greens generally that
there is virtually no possibility of anything other than one president/vice-
A bigger question is
whether the Greens candidate would be able to garner significant active
support from the other third party efforts, from non-Greens. The answer to
this one will depend to a great extent upon who the candidate is. A Ralph
Nader, Ron Dellums or Jim Hightower, for example, would present the Labor
Party and New Party with a difficult problem. Do they stand aside; stay
silent, as a “name-recognition,” widely respected progressive faces off
against Al Gore (or Bradley) and Bush/Dole/whomever? Would the New Party again
implicitly support the Democratic candidate, as they did in 1996? Would the
Labor Party, which invited Ralph Nader to speak at their November 1998
national convention, sit on their hands and do nothing to help him mount a
There is also the question
of political breadth to the campaign. The social base of the Greens tends to
be white middle class. There are people of color and working class people
involved and in leadership of the Greens, but, particularly for people of
color, they are very distinctly in the minority. One way the Greens could deal
with this problem (on a short-term basis; longer-term more is necessary) would
be to run a person of color/white person for president/vice-president (or
vice- versa) as well as a slate of “cabinet officials” that would
demonstrate breadth and inclusiveness.
This article is written at
the end of a period of massive civil disobedience led by progressives in the
African-American community against Rudolph Giuliani and the NYPD following the
Amadou Diallo murder. Over 1,000 people have been arrested so far. Anyone
forecasting such a development from the dispirited and fractured New York City
progressive movement would have been seen as delusional. Today, it’s a whole
new political world in New York City.
Giuliani is on the
defensive and is plummeting in the polls. African Americans, Latinos, Asians,
and whites are marching together and getting arrested together, going to the
7th police precinct station in paddy wagons together. Something important is
happening in this city. And it shows no sign of going away anytime soon.
So let’s keep plugging
away, doing the best we can, looking for that spark that can light a prairie
fire. It’s happened before and, sooner or later, it will happen again.
Let’s do our best to make it sooner, make the year 2000 the year that we
begin to emerge onto the national scene with a loud, unified, independent
voice. History is calling.
Ted Glick, National Coordinator Independent Progressive Politics Network 7003,