The California Green Party’s Perfect Storm: A Million Votes for Peace in 2006
[THIS ESSAY IS INTENDED AS A DISCUSSION PIECE FOR MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA GREEN PARTY AND ANTI-WAR ALLIES. PLEASE FORWARD IT TO ANYONE YOU THINK MIGHT LIKE TO READ IT AND FEEL FREE TO SEND ANY INPUT TO:
A perfect storm is converging for the Green Party in the 2006 Senate race against Dianne Feinstein. Her unyielding support for Bush’s war in Iraq has deeply alienated her from millions of Californians who want peace. Her vote in favor of the Patriot Act has angered the Arab and Muslim communities and frightened everyone who cherishes civil liberties. Now is the time for the Green Party to strike. We need to show that we are capable of challenging one of America’s most important pro-war politicians and demonstrate why the Green Party should be the electoral expression of the peace movement. We need to win A Million Votes for Peace in California in 2006.
Is it possible?
We know for a fact that millions of Californians agree with the Green Party’s demand to end the occupation of Iraq. The question is: can we get a substantial number of the people who agree with us to vote for us? I believe we can. We have a chance to get the biggest Green Party vote ever in California by mobilizing anti-war sentiment. Here’s how we can do this.
Make the Green Party Known as the Anti-War Party
The Green Party of California has achieved a lot in the past fifteen years and is the most successful progressive party in the US today. Now we need to put that political clout to work by making a dramatic turn by taking a leading role in the anti-war movement. The Green Party is the sleeping giant of the anti-war movement. It is time we wake the people of California up to the fact that they can vote against the war. We have 160,000 registered members in California, but we are not nearly visible enough within the anti-war movement. We must begin mobilizing now for the spring protests that will mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. We should join all counter recruitment activities in high schools, campuses and communities as visible Green Party activists. We must publicize and support military resisters like Pablo Paredes, Kevin Benderman, Camilo Mejia, and others, including the first woman soldier to resist Katherine Jashinski. We should proclaim that the Green Party was a principle sponsor of Proposition I, the College Not Combat initiative in San Francisco that passed with 60% of the vote. We should participate in anti-war forums and debates wherever we can, either organizing them ourselves, or joining with other peace groups. This is the right thing for a progressive party to do AND it is the only way to show the hundreds of thousands of Californians who march against the war that they can vote against the war too, by voting for the Green Party.
While getting more members of the Green Party into the streets, we must also articulate our political analysis and goals. For instance, as a party with twin commitments to social justice and protecting the environment, we must show how the war is simultaneously preying on the poor and oppressed and speeding the destruction of the earth’s ecosystem. We need to show people that the Green Party stands for the people and the planet, while the Democrats and Republicans stand for the corporations. Many people already agree with us in their guts, but they haven’t yet thought it through in terms of elections, while many other people need to be convinced.
Achievable Goals Are Important
There are hundreds of thousands of people who will vote for the Green Party on principle or as a protest vote in California. This is our core base. It hovers around 300,000 or 400,000 in statewide elections, or between 2.5% and 5%. As anger against the war, poverty, racism and the destruction of the environment grow, so will our base. However, to reach beyond this hard core it is very valuable if we can articulate why voting for the Green Party candidate in a particular election represents an achievable goal. The energy around campaigns is often transformed when volunteers and voters can see a tangible end.
Sometimes this will mean winning the race. No doubt, Matt Gonzalez earned enormous respect as a supervisor, but what really transformed his mayoral campaign was getting into the run-off and the very plausible idea that he could win. On smaller scales, the same thing happened in Richmond with Gayle McGlauglin’s campaign, in New Paltz with Jason West, and in San Francisco with Ross Mirkarimi.
However, it is not always necessary to win in order to achieve immediate goals. For example, in 2000, Ralph Nader’s campaign galvanized anger at neo-liberalism and the two-party system, but it also aimed to win 5% of the vote in order to get federal matching funds. This would have greatly increased the financial resources of the movement for progressive electoral politics. While he fell short, the 5% goal did provide a bridge for many people to join the campaign who couldn’t quite yet see Nader’s full long-term project. In 2003, Peter Camejo’s entrance into the recall race broke new grounds by getting into the televised debates. Again, many people supported Peter for his demand to make the wealthy pay their fare share of taxes, stand up for drivers licenses for the undocumented and opposing Three Strikes. But what added extra energy to the campaign was the short term goal of breaking the corporate media ban on all third party candidates appearing in debates.
Political Impact of A Million Votes for Peace Mean
In the 2006 Senate race, it will be very difficult to overcome Dianne Feinstein’s huge campaign treasury, her massive patronage machine and her corporate media support. However, if I am right, we can articulate an achievable goal; namely, A Million Votes for Peace. This would be around 10% of the vote. This is ambitious to be sure. It would mean doubling the best statewide Green Party result ever. I have outlined the political factors that go into this analysis above (Iraq, Patriot Act, etc). But we must also explain to people why their protest vote can make a real short-term difference in this election.
Winning a million votes for peace would cement the Green Party as the major electoral expression of anti-war sentiment in California. It would be a shot across the bow of the pro-war Democratic Party, which seems intent on choosing another pro-war candidate for 2008 (perhaps Hilary Clinton). It would rattle the powers-that-be in the state and national Democratic Party. It would force the corporate media to cover the campaign seriously. It would strengthen every other Green Party campaign in 2006. And it would inspire a big chunk of a new generation of young, potential Green Party voters, registrants and activists. In short, it would announce the arrival of the peace movement to the polls, and millions of people would take interest in us. A Million Votes for Peace would mean that we mean business.
Advantages to Highlighting the Senate Race
Obviously, one of the major obstacles to the Green Party breaking through is the fear of spoilership. The two-party system is rigged against us. Millions of people feel trapped into voting for the lesser-evil Democrats, instead of voting for progressive parties because they fear the Republicans will do more damage. If we had proportional representation in California, the Green Party would easily elect members to Congress and the Legislature. But we don’t, and the corporate duopoly is unlikely to give up their system without a sustained struggle. They are against democracy. They don’t want the people to decide. We do. But it is not enough to make general statements of principles. We must also look for ways to take advantage of weaknesses in their defenses.
I believe a strategic weakness exists in the two-party system in California we can exploit by going after Feinstein in an energetic way. We can honestly state that her Republican challenger will likely win no more than 35% to 40% of the vote. Thus, the fear of spoilership will be greatly diminished in this race. Even many liberal and progressive people, who will feel compelled to vote against Arnold for governor, will be open to casting a protest vote against Feinstein. The Senate race, with its diminished spoiler issue because of the huge lead pro-war Dianne Feinstein will have over her pro-war Republican opponent (likely to be more than 20%), opens the door for a far larger vote for a pro-peace candidate than ever before. The opening is there. For instance, we should welcome the announcement of The Nation magazine that it will not endorse any Democrats in 2006 who fail to demand the US troops withdraw from Iraq and we should ask for their endorsement for the Green Party Senate candidate.
We should use this opening for two purposes.
First, we should highlight the Senate campaign for the Green Party AND the anti-war movement in general. We should explain that Feinstein is the centrist Democratic pillar in Congress that makes Bush’s ultra-right-wing agenda possible. Without Feinstein, Bush could not fight his war, pass his bloated military budgets or implement the Patriot Act. Dianne Feinstein is the most powerful pro-war politician in California and we need a massive peace vote to challenge her. She doesn’t represent California, and we should let her know that.
Second, we should use the strength of the Senate campaign to strengthen all other Green Party campaigns, local or statewide. Some people will say, “now is not the time.” We should focus on fighting Bush, Arnold and the Republicans. No doubt, now that Arnold has gotten his own butt kicked by the special election, the Democrats will flex their ABBS (Any Body But Schwarzenegger, as Jessie Muldoon calls it) and seek to vilify the Green Party candidate for governor. Many good progressive activists will argue, “The Green Party should join an alliance to get rid of Arnold.” The pressure to do this will be especially strong if Warren Beatty decides to run. So how do we handle this?
We should explain to people that the Green Party intends to run a full slate of candidates against the two-parties in November of 2006. We should remind them that the reason Arnold got elected in the first place was because Gray Davis gave $30 billion to his pals at Enron and PG&E. We should remind them that Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockeyer pushed to execute Kevin Cooper, an innocent African American man during Black History month in 2004, and is now trying to fast track the execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams. We should remind them that, although there are some elected Democrats who want to do the right thing, they belong to a party that consistently puts corporate wealth ahead of people and the planet, a party that makes the war in Iraq possible and remains pledged to continuing it. We believe that we have a right to build a real opposition party in the country and we welcome their support for all our candidates. We will not quit any race, even the governor’s race, if it is close and we will fight for every vote right up until the polls close.
Of course, if a close race develops for governor, many progressives may choose to split their ballot by voting against Arnold and for the Democrat, but voting for the Green Party against Feinstein. We should argue for every possible person to vote for the whole Green Party slate, but we should also point out that the higher vote for Senate really represents what people believe in, if only they were not trapped by fear of spoilership and the two-party system.
Raising Money: A Million Dollars for Peace
In order to run a successful statewide campaign, we need to get serious about fundraising. While focusing on the Senate race, the Million Votes for Peace slogan should unite all Green Party campaigns in California committed to standing up against the two-party system. We should have joint fund-raisers and share resources as much as legally possible between campaigns. This will mean devoting serious time and people hours to phone banking, house parties, and major fund-raising events. But, if we are successful, it will give the Green Party more resources to run an all out campaign than we’ve ever had.
Who Do We Want in this Campaign?
We should take this campaign to 100 campuses in California. Student protests are growing against the war. A loud, anti-war Green Party campaign can organize meetings and parties on campuses up and down the state. We can get 10 or 20 or 30 student governments, political science departments and even some campus administrations to invite the Republican challenger, Dianne Feinstein and the Green Party candidate to debate on campus. Feinstein will no doubt run away, but we can develop a real popular and press campaign to demand a debate. Every Green Party local chapter could go to a local campus and organize a meeting asking anti-war students to join the Green Party by registering and supporting the 2006 campaign.
We should not only attend the major anti-war mobilizations in March and October, but we should take a leading role in organizing them. Especially in March, we will find lots of potential volunteers and new Green Party registrants, IF we are ready to welcome them into the campaign with a well-financed and organized operation by then. If things go well, then the October 2006 protests will mobilize a significant percentage of people at those protests to cast one of a million votes for peace against Feinstein and to tell all their family and friends to do the same.
Arab and Muslim organizations have had it with Feinstein. They are some of the most organized groups within the anti-war movement and we should reach out to them and offer our support in defending their civil rights.
The progressive legal community is sick and tired of the Patriot Act’s Constitution shredding provisions. They are becoming increasingly active in defending victims of Homeland Security as well as student protesters trying to keep military recruiters off their campuses.
The Latino immigrant community is facing a new round of bigotry at the hands of the Minute Men. Activists up and down the state are mobilizing to confront these dangerous racists. Meanwhile, the Democrats in Sacramento have betrayed immigrants by uniting with Arnold to overturn the decision to grant them drivers licenses.
Women, especially young women, are facing an assault their right to have an abortion. The l/g/b/t community is being told to stop asking for marriage rights and they are to blame for Republican electoral success. Our prisons are stuffed full with non-violent drug offenders put away for life on Three Strikes frame-ups. The racist death penalty machine is starting to roll. Global warming is ramping up the hurricanes lashing our shores and melting our polar icecaps. Our labor unions are being hammered and our schools and health care systems are under assault.
We want everyone who cares about these issues to join the campaign, and it is our job to make it easy for them to do it. We have a chance to make history in 2006. Let’s get to work.
Todd Chretien worked in 2000 as a paid organizer for the Nader/LaDuke campaign as well as Medea Benjamin’s campaign for Senate as a Nader Super Rally coordinator and state-wide student organizer. Since 2000, he has worked with local Green Party activists and campaigns, including organizing large student meetings for Peter Camejo’s governor’s race in 2003 and volunteering for Matt Gonzalez’s 2003 mayoral campaign. In July of 2004 he changed his registration from Decline to State to Green and helped gather signatures to put Renee Saucedo on the ballot in San Francisco. He then served as the statewide field coordinator for the Nader/Camejo 2004 presidential campaign. In the spring of 2005, he volunteered for Aimee Allison’s insurgent city council campaign in his hometown of Oakland. During that same time, he wrote Proposition I/College Not Combat and directed the campaign to collect 15,500 signatures in just six weeks with an all-volunteer force to put it on the ballot. Prop I passed with 60% of the vote on November 8. He recently organized a national tour for anti-war British MP, George Galloway. He has lived in the Oakland for over ten years. During that time he has helped organize dozens of activist coalitions in the Bay Area and written extensively on topics from American labor to Latin America to electoral politics for the International Socialist Review, Counterpunch and other publications. He is a member of the National Writers Union, is married to an Oakland public school teacher, Jessie Muldoon, and has a three-year-old daughter named Isabela.