Buoyed by Close Race in San Francisco, Green Party Grows On
Suggestions from San Francisco
Norm Solomon is a top journalist who is willing to talk about the Green Party. And he has interesting opinions. The only thing he still doesn't have is the realization that the Green Party is something more, far more, than a noisy temporary leakage from the mainstream Democratic Party.
Breakthrough and Peril for the Green Party
by Norman SolomonSAN FRANCISCO -- Up against the campaign of a wealthy businessman who outspent him nearly 10-to-1, a strong progressive candidate nearly won the runoff election last Tuesday to become this city's mayor. Some national news stories depicted the strong showing for Matt Gonzalez as a big surprise. But it shouldn't perplex anyone when vigorous grassroots organizing combines with a sound strategy to get breakthrough results.
Local elections in San Francisco are officially nonpartisan, and ballots don't indicate party affiliations. But the contenders spoke openly of their party labels. The Democrat in the race, Gavin Newsom, became so worried that Bill Clinton and Al Gore flew in to campaign for him. In contrast, Green Party member Gonzalez relied on several thousand active volunteers.
Contrary to all the conventional media wisdom, the Gonzalez campaign surged to receive 47.4 percent of the votes.
Routinely discounted by pundits in the mainstream media, the Green Party has been making some inroads. The party now claims 205 elected officials in 26 states. This year, Greens won posts ranging from auditor of York, Pa., to alderman in New Haven, Conn., to city commissioner in Kalamazoo, Mich., to water district official in Maine.
These are low-ranking positions, but big political trees can grow from little acorns. That's exactly what happened with Gonzalez in San Francisco. His step-by-step approach, building coalitions along the way, brought him to the point where he is now president of the city's powerful Board of Supervisors.
Gonzalez represents the kind of pragmatic idealism that the Green Party needs. His recent achievements include spearheading a victorious ballot initiative raising the city's minimum wage to $8.50. A strategic thinker, he recognizes the need to build the Green Party from the ground up while striving to prevent Republican consolidation of power.
Next year, in California, the right wing will seek to gain a seat in the U.S. Senate by defeating the liberal Democratic incumbent. Gonzalez, determined to help prevent that, says he intends to back Sen. Barbara Boxer's re-election bid.
Likewise, as the San Jose Mercury News reported on Dec. 7, Gonzalez has a savvy view of next year's race for the White House. In the newspaper's words, Gonzalez spokesperson Ross Mirkarimi said that "if Nader runs again for president in 2004, Gonzalez won't support him."
The Progress Report says -- Gonzalez is free to support whatever candidates he chooses. Many Green Party members have supported Democrats in certain campaigns, although I don't see many Democrats returning the favor. But that should be a matter of individual choice. And there are lots of Green Party presidential candidates to choose from. Incidentally, Ralph Nader is not currently a Green Party member, and his selection as that party's nominee for president is not at all certain.But many Green Party leaders are insisting on a presidential race next year. At an annual fall meeting, says a Green Party news release, "members of the Wisconsin Green Party unanimously endorsed a statement calling on the Green Party of the United States to run a strong presidential campaign in 2004, while also maintaining focus on races at the local, state, and federal levels." The release noted that similar resolutions had been approved at Green Party gatherings in Michigan, Iowa and New England.
The Progress Report -- Well, it is a political party, after all, so of course it considers running its own candidates. Norm Solomon, please repeat after me -- the Green Party is not a colony of the Democratic Party, it is not owned by the Democratic Party, and it owes nothing to the Democratic Party.
Some Green activists have argued that the party's local campaigns need the sort of media attention and excitement that was generated by Ralph Nader's presidential run under the Green Party banner in 2000. But try telling that to the thousands of Matt Gonzalez supporters who just achieved the most impressive showing for a Green Party candidate in history.
The Progress Report -- Actually, some would say that Gonzalez' success is precisely due to the upsurge in Green Party membership that Ralph Nader's campaign contributed to. Green Party membership has continued to grow in the years after the 2000 election, and it is likely that Nader's campaign is still influencing people today. Nothing wrong with that.
Matt Gonzalez ran a great race against terrible odds and we congratulate him on building new coalitions and frightening the corrupt status quo. But Norm Solomon has yet to tie his two themes together -- "Gonzalez did well" and "Nader shouldn't run" are two separate points and Solomon is not showing us why the first supports the second.
If Nader runs for president again in 2004, his campaign seems doomed to be virtually opposite of the Gonzalez effort. Nader would be lucky to get half as many votes as his previous total of 2.7 percent nationwide. A Nader campaign would not offer voters a chance to wrest the White House away from the right wing. At a time when preventing a second presidential term for George W. Bush is a historic imperative, a Nader campaign would be -- at best -- beside the point. At worst, a gift to Karl Rove.
The Progress Report -- The above paragraph makes some very controversial claims, but Norm Solomon does not go on to give any support or arguments in favor of those. Instead he zooms on to other points. Many Green Party members are supporting candidates other than Ralph Nader, by the way. Perhaps one of them -- David Cobb, for instance, has busily logged more campaign miles than all the rest combined -- will become the Green Party nominee. In any case, the Green Party is not waiting for Norm Solomon's or anyone else's permission about who is allowed to run for president.
There has been a lot of talk among some Green Party leaders about a "safe states" strategy, with the party's presidential campaign efforts being mostly concentrated in states where either Bush or the Democrat has a lock. But that scenario seems to be a fallback illusion for Greens who don't want to fully re-examine the purported wisdom of a Green Party presidential campaign next year.
In the Nov. 24 edition of The Nation magazine, longtime Green Party analyst Micah Sifry quotes Nader as pooh-poohing a safe-states approach: "You either run or you don't. You don't say to people in some states that we're going to ignore you." And Nader added that "no candidate will want to be bound by" that kind of restriction.
The Progress Report -- Nader might be a bit misinformed on what a "safe states" strategy is all about. Candidates don't "ignore" states, they go where they can do the most good. If doing the most good means "helping to improve Green Party long-term organization and aiding local candidates," then the itinerary for a candidate will be different from the itinerary for a candidate whose priority is "cause short-term trouble for the corrupt mainstream parties." No one knows for sure what strategy is best for the Green Party or any other party. The subject is being discussed quite a lot, and it is interesting. That's good!
For Green Party activists and their candidate, the apparent benefits of a presidential run may include the media coverage, which -- however inadequate and slanted -- still beats being ignored. But what's at stake far transcends such concerns.The Progress Report -- Sorry to have to say it, but Norm Solomon is still trapped in a false myth, the idea that Green Party members are actually just principled, anti-corruption Democrats on a temporary vacation from the decaying Democratic Party. But that is utterly wrong. The Green Party is a new type of enterprise, a new approach to politics that is "neither left nor right, but out in front." The Greens are not something that Norm Solomon, or anyone else, can just drop into a pre-conceived category. The Greens are carving out their own category, their own niche in the world of politics, and our planet will never be the same. Norm Solomon will "get it" soon, but he's not there yet, and as a result he can't appreciate the Green Party's uniqueness, nor why it would run a candidate for President other than some Democrat.
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a policy research organization based in San Francisco, and is co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You."
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
Tell your views to the Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?