The Green Party is the imperative for 2016 and beyond

This response to the Green Mass Group writing challenge originally appeared on Green Mass Group.

“Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.” — Arundhati Roy

In 2008, Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente said the Green Party is no longer the alternative, the Green Party is the imperative. Just under 162,000 Americans voted for her and the party’s Presidential candidate, former U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney that November. While diehard Greens were moved by the slogan, it is safe to say that neither the campaign nor the party convinced the American voter that this was the case.

Eight years earlier, the Green Party had been reborn, of sorts, when its Presidential ticket of Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke received 2.8 million votes or 2.7% after polling as high as 7% nationally. Indeed, much like Bernie Sanders did in 2016, he filled arenas — even New York’s Madison Square Garden — with enthusiastic supporters willing to pay for seats at a political rally. But Nader’s politics — both his critique and his agenda — were more progressive than they were Green. And the volunteers and supporters flooding the Green grassroots base were largely ignorant of the party’s history, philosophy, and even relevance. I can say this endearingly because I was in this camp.

While I voted for the 1996 Nader/LaDuke Green Party ticket, I saw it as a progressive challenge to Bill Clinton’s pro-corporate DLC agenda. In 2000, when Nader ran a full-fledged campaign to challenge the entrenched neoliberal agenda and grow a grassroots alternative to the corporate friendly Democratic and Republican duopoly, I became engrossed in the narrative of a third party upstart who would smash open the political system so that it could truly be responsive to, and representative of, we the people. And of course, the more that I learned about the Green Party, the more I was sold on the concept. But it wasn’t through Nader’s campaign that I learned about the Green Party in depth. It was through the party’s local chapters that I got my orientation, and it was through two books from 1984 written about the Green Party that I really started to understand its place in U.S. and global politics.

Fritjof Capra and Charlene Spretnak’s “Green Politics” was written at the very start of the Green Party’s entry into the U.S., after its successful leap into the German parliament. “Seeing Green: The Politics of Ecology Explained” was written at the same time, by British Green Party leader Jonathon Porritt. Both made it clear that the Green Party represented a new kind of politics — an ecological politics that was simultaneously local and global in its focus. And while some countries’ political systems were more predisposed to a brand new political party, the Green Party’s hopes in the United States were always constrained by an unofficial two-party system. A key part of the Green Party’s agenda, then, has always been electoral reforms like ranked choice voting, proportional representation, and other democracy reforms. If the party is to have any staying power it would have to evolve from being a perennial third party bit player to either becoming one of the two major parties or forcing a restructuring of the political system.

Without this clarity of purpose, it is possible that the Green Party lost a critical opportunity to inject permanent political change into the process through its relatively successful showing in 2000. While Nader gave a spirited defense against the spoiler charge relentlessly hurled at him, neither he nor the Greens ever claimed or fully leveraged the power they had attained by becoming the difference in the duopoly’s longstanding and celebrated horse race. The chance to have the whole nation talking about electoral reform was there. There was an opening to have a national megaphone to make the case for a fundamentally new politics. But Nader’s politics were not so fundamentally different. They were rooted in Democratic Party values of years past. They were progressive and populist. They were environmentally conscious, even. But were they “ecological”? And what does that even mean?

Unfortunately, the Greens’ most popular champion was never truly committed to building the Green Party as a permanent political force in the U.S. or beyond. He pointed to promises he made to his father as the rationale for maintaining his political independence. With the 2000 elections in the rear view mirror, Nader and the Greens parted ways, and the tens of thousands of new activists who came on board through his campaign were left to carry on the fight alongside stalwart Greens who had a deeper sense of what it was all about.

For the past 15 years, that was enough to establish the Green Party as a determined political alternative to the two-party duopoly. US Greens have developed a clear-headed resolve to challenge power at every level — from volunteer municipal appointments to federal elections. At this point in time, only the Green Party and Libertarian Party exist as dependable ballot options for Presidential elections. There are over 100 Greens and over 100 Libertarians in office across the country, and the Libertarians have over 400,000 registered voters while the Greens have about 250,000. In Presidential elections, the high-water mark for the Greens was Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign, which won 2.8 million votes. For the Libertarians, Gary Johnson’s 2012 campaign won 1.3 million votes, or 1% of the vote.

It is difficult to quantify the Greens’ base of support in the U.S. Post-Nader, the Greens received around 120,000 votes in 2004 and 162,000 votes in 2008, while Nader ran as an independent and garnered about four times as many votes. In 2012, Jill Stein received about 470,000 votes, or about 0.36% of the total. Notably, Stein was the first Green Presidential candidate to qualify for federal matching funds since Nader did in 2000. She qualified again in 2016, only four months earlier than she did in 2012 and earlier than any Green campaign in history.

To what end?

The Greens have adopted, on the whole, the standard tactics of political parties. Run for office in every election where you can find a decent candidate (or anyone willing to run). But with far fewer supporters and resources and with a deep systemic disadvantage, those tactics have severe limits. It is critically important, then, that the Greens develop innovative strategies to shake up the status quo and become the true political disruptors that this time is calling for. Before going down the road of disruption, however, the Green Party needs to get far clearer about its higher level purpose and its vision for 21st century US politics and perhaps, beyond. 30 years into this new American experiment, the party’s philosophy and platform are fairly well-established. The distinctions between the Green Party and the Democratic and Republican Parties are fairly clear. But the question remains — what makes the Green Party the imperative in this new era? Why can’t the Democrats, for example, simply co-opt the more popular planks from the Green platform and carry on with duopoly business as usual?

The reason is that the Green Party represents a paradigm shift — a fundamentally different way of looking at the myriad problems that face us, and thus a fundamentally different way of going about solving them. Where countless government attempts at problem-solving have been counter-productive and even more destructive than the initial challenge, a more ecological, holistic, systemic approach would be cheaper, smarter, and vastly more effective.

The 10 key values of the Green Party are all important philosophies that warrant consideration, but can best be summed up by one of them as ecological wisdom. The paradigmatic shift of a government driven by ecological wisdom would shatter the greed-driven recklessness of capitalism and take on directly the very dangerous conditions that our species and our planet now face. The Democrats and Republicans have both contributed to this existential crisis, and are both indisputably committed to continuing it if not exacerbating it. Without a viable third option, and without THIS viable third option, we are handing ourselves, and countless species across the planet, a death sentence. The costs of destructive policies are most often paid by the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It is time that we put our dollars, our voices, and our votes behind a new political enterprise that is inherently focused on our collective future as opposed to the narrowly defined interests that have dominated our political system.

The clearest example of how the new Green paradigm is fundamentally distinct from Democratic and Republican ideology is the concept of economic growth. Our entire economic system — and the policies and parties that support it — is structured around a perpetually growing economy. But there are fundamental ecological constraints to perpetual growth, and the 21st century will increasingly bear witness to the practical limitations. Without a dramatic restructuring of our economy and the manmade systems that drive it, we will fly past climate tipping points and disrupt the earth systems that we ultimately depend upon for survival.

As we enter more deeply into the Anthropocene — the geological epoch defined by the devastating human footprint on the planet — the increasingly global struggle to preserve and restore the living systems that we co-evolved with calls for a global political movement that is up to the task. That movement is represented most convincingly by the global green movement and Green Parties throughout the world. This international coalition for a unified people’s globalization is the single best hope there is for democratically taking the reins of power away from the politically corrupt and morally bankrupt ruling class dominating our shared planet.

As Jill Stein says, “we’re not just deciding what kind of world we’ll have, but whether we’ll have a world or not, going forward.” It is increasingly vital that some critical mass of the 7 billion people that inhabit the Earth finds a way to work together to save the planet from the systematic destruction and exploitation that has driven us to the brink. It is essential that we honor and learn from the millennia of knowledge and wisdom shared by indigenous populations across the world. It is obligatory that we urgently and aggressively seek to foment the paradigm shifts that we need to stave off the worst impacts of planetary destruction and build new systems that are just and sustainable. That imperative IS the Green Party, in the United States and beyond. Worrying about — and voting for — anything else is delaying the inevitable and exacerbating the damage. Voting, volunteering, donating, and advocating FOR the livable future we all deserve are the small but important steps we need to take together to reverse course and bring about Arundhati Roy’s “another world” that we know, deep down, to be not only possible, but necessary. That is pragmatism in its highest form.