THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

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I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here.

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And what will it take for this to happen here? This photo from 2000 shows that German Greens have not lost their raw courage by participating in the government.

The German Green Party is the third-largest political party in the country, well-regarded even by those who don’t vote Green. It has been part of the ruling coalition at times, and numerous Greens hold office at every level of national, state, and local government.

The President of Austria is from the Green Party. In Portugal, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Greece, and Sweden, the Greens are currently part of the governing coalition (note to Mexican Greens: considering the conduct of the Mexican government and the overall shape your country’s in, that must be rough!).

Greens have elected state or provincial governors in Columbia and Mexico (Chiapas, natch!), and have elected representatives in the national or state/provincial legislatures of dozens of countries. So, why not here in America?

I believe the answers to that question involve the way our political system is structured and the relationship between that political system, the two political parties who largely inhabit it,  the mass media, and the corporations that fund, and shape, both the media and the political parties.

In the case of the media, they are happy to take outright ownership. Rupert Murdoch directs the notoriously reactionary Fox News–and entertainment. Defense contractor General Electric owns Fox’s supposedly liberal counterpart, NBC. Think about that the next time you cheer for Rachel Maddow. ABC is owned by the Disney Corporation. (Does that make it a Mickey Mouse operation?) CBS is owned by a multi-billionaire. The Washington Post has been purchased by the technologically advanced but politically reactionary Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame, who has a contract with the CIA that’s worth twice what he paid for The Post, which, despite the appreciation it justly deserves for fronting out Woodward and Bernstein, and toppling President Nixon, has long been happy to quietly carry water for the interests of the oligarchy. All our major media are owned by a few billionaires. Are they going to undermine themselves? Are they going to admit, or allow the media they control to admit, that they are a key part of the problem?

Let’s examine the structure of our political system. Most Americans seem to view our winner-take-all elections, and the simplistic political landscape that results, as some kind of commandment that Moses brought down from God On High.

Moses

Thou shalt have a two-party system, with winner-take-all elections!

 

Our two-party system  (our bipolar system?) is rarely questioned in this country, but it is not the way most democracies function. Most of the world’s democracies include some form of proportional representation, in which some of the members of a legislative body are elected “at large” according to the percentage of the vote that their party received, regardless of whether any of their candidates in geographically-based electoral divisions won their races.

Another option is “ranked-choice voting,” also known as “instant runoff voting,” in which voters choose a primary and secondary candidate. If, in a multi-candidate race, no candidate wins a majority of the votes, the secondary votes of the candidate with the least number of votes are added to the remaining candidates’ vote totals. This is repeated, if necessary, until a candidate wins a majority of the votes. But let’s get back to proportional representation.

For example, if there were 40 at-large seats in the U.S. House, and The Green Party received 2.5% of the vote nationwide, as we did when Ralph Nader was our candidate in 2000, we would have a representative in the U.S. House. Back in 2000, since he was the leader of the party, that probably would have been Ralph Nader. Wouldn’t that have made Congress a lot more interesting? Sure, one representative might not seem like much, but it’s called “getting your foot in the door.”

But, before you get your foot in the door, you have to get to the door, by putting your party on the ballot, not to mention winning an election. Let’s look at getting on the ballot first. That is mostly pretty difficult in this country, although it varies from state to state. Here in Tennessee, for example,it’s no big deal to be an “independent” candidate, with no stated political affiliation. All you need is 25 signatures, unless you want your name to be on the Presidential ballot, in which case you will need 250. But, if you want voters to know you are aligned with The Green Party, or any other party besides the D’s or R’s, you and your fledgling political party will need to gather the signatures of 2.5% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Since 2014, that number has been in the neighborhood of 33,000. (It used to be higher. For some reason, people aren’t participating in elections like they used to.) In order to stay on the ballot, a candidate from the new party needs to receive at least 5% of the vote in a statewide election. Five percent in any, or even all the other races you contest won’t do. Gotta be statewide, which in Tennessee means only two things: Governor or Senator. Other states have many more statewide offices–Attorney General, Secretary of State, hey, in Texas they elect the Agricultural Commissioner. But not Tennessee. In other states, Green Parties have often had their best results on those “down-ticket” statewide races. But we don’t have that here. What we do have is that, if The Green Party (or any other “minor” party) doesn’t get 5% of the vote, we’re back to square one, circulating a petition to get back on the ballot for the next election.

One of the political facts of life is that it takes professionals to gather large numbers of signatures, and professionals cost money–about two bucks a signature is the going rate, and you have to gather about twice as many signatures as the official number, because state officials are going to be pretty strict about what they will accept as a valid signature. So, in Tennessee, it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of  $130,000 for The Green Party to get on the ballot. It’s worse in some states, like Pennsylvania, where the Democrats and Republicans can challenge signatures, and there are fines for submitting a petition that fails to provide the required number of valid signatures. Excuse me, but does that sound like a trap?

So, in “the land of the free,” it costs a new political party $130,000 just to get on the ballot in one state. Sometimes people wonder why I, and many others, scoff about “American democracy”” being government by and for the wealthiest people. Does $130,000 just to get your party name on the ballot in one state make it clear? It’s also worth noting that, except for George Wallace in 1968, no political party has succeeded in fulfilling Tennessee’s requirements for getting on the ballot and staying there.

We Greens here in Tennessee challenged the unfairness of “25 for an independent, 33,000 for a party” in court, and won for a while, but the state refused to acknowledge this by changing the law, the judge who had supported us retired, and the case went to another judge who didn’t think it was at all unfair to have such disparities.

music break: Peter Tosh, “Equal Rights”

There’s an issue behind all this, the partisanship involved, that I want to raise, but first let’s note that in Germany, for example, all you have to do to be a political party is get at least three people together, call it an organizing meeting, notify the proper authorities, provide a small, very reasonable amount of documentation, and you are a political party. Your candidates, and your party name, will be on the ballot, no problem. That’s how it is in most of the world’s democracies. Nobody gives it a second thought.

What we are up against in America is a partisan electoral system that has been structured by, and is run by the two major parties, with the express intent of excluding any potential competition. If they were businesses, it would be called a monopoly, or maybe a “duopoly.”

Parties are composed of partisans. At their best, partisans are an inspired network of individuals working to make the world a better place.  More commonly a political party is like a professional soccer team kicking a ball around among themselves, confident that they are good enough to keep their ball away from anybody, especially some bumbling amateur like you, Jill Stein, or Bernie Sanders, for that matter, who might try to take it from them. At their worst, political parties are feral dog packs that will tear you limb from limb if you get too close.

wilddogs

Republican caucus. Note intense rightward focus.

FOT1247395

Democratic caucus. Note greater diversity and urban environment.

 

So anyway, in America the whole process of registering political parties, registering voters, and holding elections is in the hands of these feral dog packs, I mean political parties. They are extremely territorial. They figured out how to write the rules and rig the system so that it is extremely difficult for anyone to compete with them–especially since they are the ones deciding who gets to be a political party, how candidates get on the ballot, how voters register, and who  count the votes.  For many of us, the disclosures, through the leaked DNC emails, that the whole “primary election” process was gamed by the DNC on Ms. Clinton’s behalf, and that she urged her multibillionaire media mogul supporters to do all they could to help Trump be the nominee because she thought he would be easy to beat,  wasn’t so much a new disclosure as It was a confirmation of what certainly seemed to be the case.

What has helped condition these two dog packs, I mean political parties, into this behavior, besides tribal thinking and an addiction to power, is that they are money junkies as well as power junkies. They just can’t get enough money, or power, for that matter, either for their own immediate comfort or to make sure they stay comfortable. Apparently, they haven’t yet learned that you can’t find security by amassing wealth and poer. I think one source of the extreme anger that has come out of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party since the election is that they spent a billion dollars, thinking they were installing Ms. Clinton as our next puppet-President, and they got nothing for their money, which they were hoping to multiply. A billion dollars down the dang toilet. “It must be somebody else’s fault, ’cause it better not be mine!” they howl. Right, blame the Russians. Such convenient bogey-men.

And what is the source all this money they crave? Corporate America. Corporate America isn’t about products, it’s about profits. It’s about siphoning money from the many, and concentrating it into the bank accounts of the few. Corporate America hires the best minds their money can buy to, as Noam Chomsky puts it, “manufacture consent” to “the American way of life,” the path of endless acquisition, the commercialization of everything, the morphing of citizens into consumers. To the decision-makers of our country, financial wealth is the most essential measure of a person’s worth, and, indeed, the most essential measure of what is appropriate and good in all things. God must love Exxon, because He’s allowed them to make so much money.

As I pointed out, the corporate strategy includes owning the news media that dominate the national perception, and discussion of, the news. It determines what is, and what is not, “newsworthy.” Young superstar model X. X. Chromosome’s cleavage is newsworthy. “The President’s” twits, or toots, whatever they’re called, are newsworthy. The anger of African-Americans, when expressed on the streets, is newsworthy. The injustices done to them, and their very coherent and reasonable demands for justice, as codified by “The Movement for Black Lives” are not news, except as “terrorism.”

Here’s a very specific example. In recent years, Tennessee elections for Senator and Governor have featured a Democrat who appeared to have won the primary almost at random, because his was the first name on an alphabetically listed ballot. One  was a right-wing infiltrator whose last name starts with C. In spite of the fact that the Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed him as soon as they figured out what had happened, and in spite of not actually campaigning, this anti-Democrat received 700,000 votes. The genuinely Democratic, party-supported candidate who ran in the next US Senate race only got 430,000 votes. Go figure.

The Green Party candidate was Martin Pleasant, a guy with a Master’s Degree in Engineering. His professional specialty is stream restoration. He’s had legislative experience of a sort: he has helped his local government draft laws to protect waterways. In every way imaginable, he was a far more qualified candidate than the faux-Democrat whose last name started with C. Were the media interested in offering a fresh choice to the public? No. We could barely get the media to return our calls, let alone do stories on our candidate. With little publicity beyond word-of-mouth, Martin Pleasant got about 38,000 votes. That’s 1.6% of the votes, not enough to keep us on the ballot under Tennessee law.

The same thing happened in 2014, when a Bible-thumping retired construction worker put his name on the  Democratic primary ballot just for fun, it seems, and won the gubernatorial nomination because his last name starts with B. Again, the first name on the ballot got the most votes.

Our candidate was UT Professor Isa Infante, who

has taught political science at the university level, held an academic deanship and worked for the U.S. Department of Education and at the White House. In addition, she has been a consultant to a wide range of legal, political, community and international development organizations and owned her own small businesses.

In this election, the media blackout was virtually complete. The state’s newspapers, largely owned by the multi-billion dollar, nationwide Gannett Corporation, acted as if we didn’t exist. Radio and TV stations did the same. Our candidate received the votes of 18,000 Tennesseans, while the Democrat whose last name starts with B got over 300,000.

And then there’s the possibility that these vote totals are meaningless. Our highly computerized, but primitively computerized, voting system is eminently hackable, not so much by Russians, since most of it isn’t on-line, but by election officials and by the companies themselves, which tend to be owned by big Republican donors. One company was started by Christian Reconstructionists, the kind of “Christians” Margaret Atwood used as the basis for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The CEO of Diebold, another manufacturer, speaking at a GOP fundraiser in Ohio during the 2004 election, pledged to “do all he could” to ensure a Cheney victory in the state, which John Kerry was expected to win. Early in the evening of the election, as Kerry’s numbers were looking good, there was a computer problem, and when the computers came back on line, guess who had taken the lead?

What will it take to end this blackout? I mean, there’s “the revolution,” but are there ways to reform the media component of this system to make the news somehow more inclusive of alternatives? Can we solve, or at least ameliorate, the media situation so that it works better for us and other dissidents from the mainstream narrative? Denying anyone, including corporate executives, their First Amendment right to express their opinion is a tricky business, no matter what you think of the Citizens’ United decision. For now, all we can do is make the best use we can of the communication modes that are available to us. Bernie Sanders’ remarkable grass roots effort and The Green Party’s own recent organizing drives should be an inspiration and a foundation, not a high water mark.

I’ve already talked about instituting proportional representation and instant runoff voting. Another step, possibly the best place to start, would be to take the entire voting process out of partisan hands and turn it over to a civil service agency, where new parties register, electoral districts are apportioned, elections are organized, and votes are counted by people we can reasonably, and legally, if necessary, expect to be non-partisan. It should be no more difficult to register a political party than it is to incorporate a business. Less difficult, really.

diebold_16a-7659441

As far as I can tell, this is a genuine, un-ironic advertisement, but I could be wrong.

 

 

The best way to avoid our elections being “hacked” is to do our voting on paper ballots. Just because something can be done with a computer, doesn’t mean it should be done with a computer!

To trim the cost of mounting a campaign, we could follow the example of many European countries, which have a much shorter campaign season, and certainly the laws on campaign financing, which have been blown wide open in recent years, should be seriously tightened. Allowing only public financing and mandating a certain amount of free air time to all candidates would also help.

How could this possibly be accomplished? It would take a well-organized, but rowdy mass movement. It will have to come from the people in much the same way as The Civil Rights Movement did, since the legislators  and executives who could make the changes are exactly the legislators and executives who are the beneficiaries of the current system. Nevertheless, if you don’t ask for what you want, you can be pretty sure you won’t get it, especially in politics. Might as well ask.

The civil rights struggle in the South barely existed until Rosa Parks declined to give up

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Ready to take this step?

her bus seat and was arrested, and that was only the beginning. We Greens need to agree that changing the way the American electoral system works is every bit as serious a civil rights issue as the system of segregation that oppressed African-Americans then, and continues to assert itself even now. We have to communicate our outrage at a political system that carefully excludes any real answers to the problems it creates, and persuade the American Civil Liberties Union, the African-American civil rights movement, the Berniecrats, and everybody else in this country who suffers from the wealth concentration machine our society has become, to join us in understanding that, if we are going to vote our way out of this, it’s not enough just to vote for somebody different. The way we vote needs to change.

 

If we can’t do that, then economic forces and climate chaos will alter the American political landscape in far more drastic, and much less constructive, ways, and, rather than reshaping the nation as a whole, we will find ourselves building local economies out of the ruins of what was once a nation. For now,we still have a choice.

Music: Brother Martin and the Intangibles, “For Now”

Jackson Browne: “Lives in the Balance”

Talking Heads, Crosseyed and Painless” (first link is to official video, second is to a video with the lyrics, including that half-buried rap at the end)

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