Founding Meeting of the Association of State Green Parties
November 16-17, 1996
ASGP - Middleburg, Virginia (Founding), Nov 16 and 17, 1996. The Green Party of the United States Contacts:
Nancy Allen, Media Coordinator 207-326-4576, [email protected]
Scott McLarty, Media Coordinator, 202-518-5624, [email protected]
Following in my report on the Middleburg meeting which will appear in the Portland (Ore.) Alliance and on the Cascadia Planet website (www.tnews.com). Please feel free to reprint, rebroadcast and submit to your local publications.
Reinvigorated by Nader campaign, U.S. Greens gather to plan next steps.
by Patrick Mazza
(Nov. 22, 1996)
A Green movement reinvigorated by the Ralph Nader campaign, its first ever for the presidency, gathered in a historic Virginia farmhouse a few days after the election to found a new American confederation.
In a room where John F. Kennedy used to meet with his advisors, on a farm which George Washington surveyed at age 16, Greens from the four corners of the United States and points between joined to give new shape to a national political party.
The meeting Nov 16-17 at Glen-Ora Farm in Middleburg 40 miles west of Washington, D.C. drew 62 people from 30 states. They had played key roles organizing the Nader campaign at state and national levels. Some were long-term veterans of Green politics. Others were newcomers drawn in by the Nader effort. They were united by the common desire to build on the momentum generated by the campaign.
Two major items formed the meeting's agenda. First was a proposal to create a new, national Green organization composed of state Green Parties. The organization would work to build strong state parties where there are none, and seek recognition as the national Green Party under federal election laws. Second was a meeting with Nader himself to flesh out Ralph's relationship with the Green Party in coming years. On both counts, the results were promising for the growth of Green politics.
NADER TO GORE: BEWARE 2000
Nader, who appeared the second day of the conference, was noncommittal about the presidential race in 2000. He was also keeping his cards close to his chest regarding a possible Green Party run against neoliberal Democrat U.S. Senator Chris Dodd is his home state of Connecticut in 1998. But he expressed unabashed enthusiasm for continuing to work with Green organizers. Nader visits supporting Green efforts in many states are in the works.
"It's really impressive to see the level of people going into the Green effort around the country," Nader said.
The 1996 campaign, with its focus on the broad issue of corporate domination over politics, broke the Greens through to a new level of respect, Nader said. No longer are they seen as a "single-gauge party" focused purely on the environment. "It moved Greens past the image of just being tree-huggers, though there are worse things to hug, like Republicans and Democrats."
Nader urged continued emphasis on reforms to restore American democracy. "We need to focus on structural democracy issues and hammer them. It takes enormous repetition." Without reform, "All the grand policies a party could advance, how could they be done?"
As far as the second Clinton administration is concerned, Nader said Clinton's appointment of a conservative chief of staff and announcement of support for the balanced budget amendment sends a message: "Anyone who thought he would become the real progressive liberal Clinton can forget it. If anything, the second term will be even more ingratiating to corporate power."
Nader is seeking a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, likely Democratic nominee in 2000, to issue a warning. This year, the Nader campaign likely cost Clinton-Gore Colorado. Nader drew 26,000 votes while Dole took the state by 20,000. That could be a preview for 2000, he said.
"Whoever's going to go for the Democratic nomination in 2000 has got to realize they are going to lose if they don't stop the drift into the corporate maul," Nader predicted.
The '96 candidate said Greens should set their sights high, beyond trying to gain a few percent vote that would provide a negotiating edge with the big parties.
"What the campaign taught us was the enormous vacuum the two major parties have left at the community level. When you're actually on the ground, you can see the Green Party has got to start driving for majority status."
13 START A NEW CONFEDERATION
Delegates spent much of the first day debating the new organization, but without much closure. After dinner, John Rensenbrink, of the Maine Green Party, which was one of the convenors of the gathering, took a gamble. He called for a roll of the states to determine who was interested in forming a new confederation of autonomous state Green parties.
The United States and its history can often seem a distant abstraction, its myths and imageries dry and dim compared with the fertile fields of locality and region in which much alternative politics now grows. But as the roll was called in this room covered wall to wall with people from Maine and California, Minnesota and Alabama, Oregon and Florida, Colorado and Ohio, history entered the present with a new, vital and living expression. The ideal that diverse places and people could find a unity built on diversity and democracy took on flesh-and-blood reality.
Evocatively, 13 states including Oregon expressed immediate interest in forming an Association of State Green Parties. Representatives of most of the remainder said they would go back to their states with favorable recommendations. In this house where John Kennedy had his weekend retreat in his administration's early days (rented to the president by the mother of meeting host and Nader supporter Elaine Broadhead), another piece of American history was being made. Arguably, the United States' first truly national Green political party was born here with that roll call.
GREEN GROWING PAINS
And there will be an argument. Because there has been a national Green organization called the Greens/Green Party U.S.A. since 1991. Primarily interested in non-electoral ñmovement building,î the group has been resistant to electoral politics at all but the local levels, and even there sometimes. In addition, it has not been an organization of state Green parties. It is constituted of individual members and local groups, many of which blocked the entry into 1996 presidential politics pressed by the state parties.
In states such as Ohio and Texas, G/GPUSA activists blocked efforts to put Nader on the ballot. Only at the last minute at the spring Greens gathering in Los Angeles where Nader was nominated did a G/GPUSA caucus attended by 13 people endorse Nader. The sense among many Green activists interested in moving toward a full-scale national party running candidates at all levels is that G/GPUSA is a declining alignment standing in the way of Green political growth.
"When the time came for us to grow, I didn't feel there was a place there," said Annie Goeke, who is the Women's Caucus representative on the G/GPUSA council. Goeke, a Pennsylvania representative at Middleburg, added, "We have been leaping forward in the last nine months, and it has not been through this national organization."
The impending split between new and old Green organizations was a presence throughout the weekend at Middleburg. On Saturday, a G/GPUSA activist believed intent on disrupting the meeting was excluded. Days before, a letter signed by leading G/GPUSA activists was circulated in opposition to formation of the new organization.
Though many G/GPUSA activists were dragged kicking and screaming into the campaign -- One signatory to the letter, Brian Tokar, even described it as a "fiasco" in the November Z Magazine -- the letter read, "We believe it would be a tragic mistake if we allow the momentum we have coming out of Ralph's campaign to be dissipated in a debilitating split in the Green Party movement...The call for the Nov. 16-17 meeting is divisive..."
The letter asked state Green parties not to form a new organization, but to attend a December G/GPUSA meeting and negotiate a unified structure including the state parties.
Howie Hawkins, who initiated the letter, appeared on Sunday and was admitted after the formal meeting had ended. Hawkins reiterated concerns about a split, but admitted, "Today's meeting is not the split opening up. ItÍs been there."
NO GOING BACK
Hawkins was told in no uncertain terms the new organization is a fait accompli.
"People (in G/GPUSA) were not willing to accept where the Greens are going," he was told by Nancy Harvey of the Boulder, Colorado Greens, a G/GPUSA local that readily participated in the campaign.
"The GPUSA set up the conditions for this meeting to take place," David Ellison of the Ohio Greens said.
"It's a new day. This is where it's going," said Mike Feinstein, a major activist in the California Greens and newly elected member of the Santa Monica, Calif. City Council.
Rubbing salt in the wounds was G/GPUSA's filing with the Federal Elections Commission during the campaign to become the officially recognized national Green Party. That would have made the organization the conduit for federal election funds if Nader had cracked five percent in the vote. The petition was denied two days before the Middleburg meeting, but continued to rankle.
"This is a handful of people wholly unrepresentative of anything. For them to do this in 1996 when there are real Green parties in the states was an action they had no authority to take," Feinstein said.
"There's going to be competition for awhile," he added. "We'll see where the chips fall in the next few months."
ELECTIONS VS. GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING?
For a movement that has decentralization and respect for diversity as key values, it remains uncertain whether any monolithic national organization is necessary. People with profoundly different views might better to pursue their priorities in different organizational formats.
Tensions among U.S. Greens over strategy are longstanding and parallel debates in Europe. Some Greens believe that building local, grassroots movements and running electoral campaigns for national office are contradictory. Others see the two approaches complimentary. The results of the Nader campaign appear to bear out the latter.
In state after state represented at Middleburg, delegates reported a burst of new energy at all levels coming out of the presidential effort. In Pennsylvania, for example, Green locals went from five to 15, and they are working on both electoral politics and grassroots issues such as toxics. "Nader brought respect to us at the public level," Goeke said.
In Oregon, where Nader's four percent represented the best performance in the U.S., Pacific (Green) Party 3rd Congressional District candidate Joe Keating also took four percent. That quadrupled his previous performance. Andy Davis, the Pacific candidate in State House District 14, drew 9 percent, only 5 percent less than the Republican in the race.
Putting the lie to the false dichotomy between electoral and non-electoral organizing, the Oregon Nader campaign pumped energy into protests against Nike's third world labor practices and the "salvage logging rider," and in support of the people of Chiapas. The Pacific Party came out of the campaign with a vastly strengthened volunteer base capable of acting locally, nationally, electorally and non-electorally.
AN EYE TO THE REAL ISSUES
Nader had little time for internal Green disputes.
"I've never been able to understand control freaks or implosions of increasing disagreement over less and less important things," he told the gathering. "If you keep an eye on what is arrayed against us, globalization, increasing corporate power, then you don't have time for these things."
Nader saw no contradiction in meshing all kinds of strategies.
"Everything that gives visibility and energy and is on the same policy track is for the good," he said.
Most people at the Middleburg meeting agreed and found validation in the experience of the campaign. From that standpoint they will be carrying Green organizing in this country to a new level.
As Draft Nader Clearinghouse Coordinator Linda Martin told the gathering, "The second revolution has been born right here at Glen-Ora Farm. It is the next chapter in the American political history book."
Patrick Mazza represented the Pacific Party at the Middleburg meeting.
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