The two long-haired, bearded men must have seemed a strange site in the Georgia State Capitol.
But we were engaged in important work, tracking a massive stack of bills each morning and alerting Atlanta’s progressive organizations to pernicious legislation they may have missed. My mentor started a newsletter summarizing these bills, and we were trying to organize a coalition of progressive groups under the aegis of the Green Party. It was the early nineties, and we never spoke about presidential candidates.
Voting third party in a two-party system may be impractical and often counter-productive, but it helps people identify and define their political ideals. And the Green Party can serve a vital role of uniting progressives in coalition. But the Green Party today is the worst of both worlds, neither bringing together progressives nor defining ideals. They have failed to put in the grassroots legwork needed to build a serious third party and Jill Stein’s ideals are all-too-often inverted in the very policies through which they are supposed to be expressed.
She wants to make the world more peaceful by bringing all of America’s troops stateside. But this would open up dangerous power vacuums, leading to innumerable wars, which would likely be won by the most aggressive and least democratic powers, like Russia and China. She wants to initiate a wartime mobilization to fight climate change through building a clean-energy economy of cooperatives, but while the cooperative business model is powerful and inclusive, it is extremely slow to grow and averse to innovation.
She wants to stop the fighting in Syria by joining with Assad and Putin, the very forces doing the vast bulk of the killing, who seem set on not only defeating but utterly annihilating their rebel opponents. And perhaps most poignantly, she wants to open up and restore American democracy and get fair coverage of her campaign, while all the while allying herself with a dictator who assassinated many of his countries’ best journalists, shut down its most prominent papers, virtually outlawed protesting, and utterly destroyed the remainder of its democratic institutions. The contradictions are simply astounding.
A third party wrong does not make a right. As a former Green Party and cooperative organizer, who is concerned with crafting real world solutions to halt global warming and stop genocide, these kind of ideals-divorced-from-reality strike me as dangerous hackwork, which is all the worse for the freedom from constraints with which they are crafted.
The problem is not simply that Trump is an actual fascist, and probably the most dangerous thing confronting the American political system in over a century, and that voting your ideals in an election like this may result in horrific consequences for Mexican-Americans and Muslims the world over, thereby making your third-party vote less an expression of idealism and more that of privileged unconcern. Jill Stein is also incoherent and much of what she advocates should be morally repugnant to real progressives.
Much of her platform is a sort of inverted Orwellianism, where efforts at peace would achieve war and wartime mobilization amounts to cooperative stagnation. Even if you are willing to suffer the consequences of a Trump presidency in order to express your political ideals, you would nevertheless do well to keep searching for a more coherent set of ideals.
Bernie Sanders set forth a tried-and-true vision, tested in the real world of multiple states, and he demonstrated over decades the stamina needed to achieve those ideals as a legislator and mayor of a mid-sized city. The Green Party would do well to stop running candidates who cannot even conceptualize running a country and get back to their early nineties-strategy of running viable local candidates. Especially when the alternative could be Trump, who whatever the pundits may say, continues to win in the less reliable IBD/TIPP and LA Times polls, but also the more reliable Rasmussen polls.”
The Green Party can accomplish nothing by running a presidential candidate who has no conceivable hope of winning in 2016. Even if they reach the magical five percent needed to free up matching funds, they will throw the election to Trump and be hated for a generation. And they cannot influence the Democratic Party in the way Sanders did, because Democratic centrists seem more interested in controlling their party than winning elections, as demonstrated by their preference for Clinton, in spite of her poor polling among the general electorate. Voting for Stein just demonstrates to the party that left-leaning progressives have no stamina and give up easily.
The idea that the Green Party needs to run a presidential candidate to establish itself is as strategically impoverished as it is unimaginative. If the Green Party is serious about someday winning national seats, and about making space in the American political system for third parties, they should stop focusing on presidential candidates with absolutely no hope of winning and consider joining with Libertarians and other excluded parties to campaign for a series of state-level ballot initiatives calling for some form of proportional representation. A coalition of excluded parties, spanning the political spectrum, would send a powerful message to lawmakers and voters alike. And with hard work, many of the initiatives would likely pass.
As Green candidates began to win elections at the local and state level in a fairer electoral system, they would have more leverage over the Democrats. They would have more experience, more campaigners, more money, and more exposure. And all of this would likely lead to a more serious platform and candidates better fit to lead.
With that leverage they could run Green-Democrats against corporate-Democrats in national primaries. And there is little reason their candidates could not change party affiliations after winning. They could oust the most corrupt Democrats in much the same way the Tea Party removed the most moderate Republicans. Or else the Green Party could simply press for registering marginalized voters and develop its platform through a shadow parliament, elected by registered Greens. The possibilities are endless.
The problem with the Green Party today is not that it is thinking too big in running a presidential candidate; rather, running a presidential candidate with utterly no hope of winning announces to the world that they are not really serious about winning and simply don’t know what to do other than use a presidential election to advertise their positions—at the possible expense of throwing the election to a fascist.
At the very least they could field a candidate willing to take the time to write a book about their platform, as most mainstream candidates do. And if the point is the platform, Green candidates would do well to push their supporters to actually talk about it instead of focusing on the faults of Democratic Party contenders. Those faults may be real enough, but pointing them out should not be the job of a visionary third party campaign.
The Green Party needs to take itself seriously before others do. And few people will take it seriously if the best strategic thinking it can muster involves periodically running a presidential candidate they know will lose. The stakes are too high, the risks too poorly distributed. If you are serious about developing a viable progressive party, put in the hard work at the grassroots and work your way up.
Author: Theo Horesh
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Travis May