Grass roots fire fight

By SARA DONNELLY  |  June 7, 2006

“There’s those at the party leadership level that would rather be the due processors and not get out and be in the streets, and those people are more heavily into running elections,” she explained earlier this spring in a phone interview. “And there’s always going to be those of us that are activists and don’t really care for the politics of it.”

Deveneau believes, most of the time, activist Greens support the electoral Greens, if from a safe, cynical distance. She hopes the new board, free of what she calls “baggage” from the previous leadership, can bring the party together.

Since its inception, the Green Party has worried about how to navigate the world of politics without forfeiting its progressive ideals. Nationally, this means Green candidates occasionally encourage voters to abandon the party and vote for the Democratic candidate in close races. During their 2004 campaign, Green candidate for president David Cobb and his running mate Pat LaMarche focused most of their efforts on so-called “safe states,” where Democrat John Kerry was sure to win. John Rensenbrink, a former government and environmental studies professor at Bowdoin College who founded the Maine Green Party in 1984, wrote in his 1999 book Against All Odds: The Green Transformation of American Politics, that the Green Party was created to create “profound change” in the way government and society run by promoting a platform that includes protecting the environment, forming a decentralized economy, and coveting local control of government. Rensenbrink describes rocky early days of the US Green party and its Maine branch, when members debated everything from the party’s structure and purpose to how it could remain ideologically true and still convince a majority of voters to elect (and then re-elect) its progressive candidates. The party eventually settled on its 10 Key Values platform — which includes promoting the environment, a decentralized economy, and local control — and two awkwardly mutually-exclusive goals — launch bold protests against corrupt government and get Green candidates elected to change the government from within.

From the beginning, the movement-oriented activists and what Rensenbrink refers to as the political “party types” regarded each other suspiciously from opposite ends of the same dream. The activists worried that politics, which by necessity focuses on winning first and on ideology second, could taint the Greens and twist them into exactly the kind of power-hungry force they were trying to replace.

“If the Green parties are successful in winning elections, will this bring in its train a slew of problems of the sort that electoral success usually brings?” writes Rensenbrink of the debate within the national party during the early 1990s. “Opportunists, who have hitherto hung back, now join in droves. ... The risk is great that the Greens will be co-opted and corrupted by the system.”

Broken branches
In his book, Rensenbrink suggests that the Greens can salvage their integrity by always encouraging both the direct action and the electoral branches of the party, something which, judging by the anger at last month’s Green convention, the most recent leadership has failed to do.

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Green machine: LaMarche's likeability. By Sara Donnelly

What Republicans can teach the Greens. By Sara Donnelly

Party people

Do third parties make a difference? Depends how you look at it. Here are the number of votes America’s five most prominent third parties earned in the 2004 presidential election, compared with showings from the two major parties:

Republican (George W Bush)      62,040,610 (50.73%)

Democrat (John F Kerry)  59,028,444 (48.27%)

Reform/Populist/Independent (Ralph Nader)      465,650 (0.38%)

Libertarian (Michael Badnarik)     397,265 (0.32%)

Constitution (Michael Anthony Peroutka)            143,630 (0.12%)

Green (David Cobb)          119,859 (0.10%)

Socialist Workers (James Harris or Roger Calero)       10,791 (0.01%)

Source: Federal Election Commission

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