Dangerous Fantasies -- And Our Progressive Future.
By Tom Ness, Green House
It's hard to imagine darker days for achieving a progressive legislative agenda! We are lost, all of us -- Greens and Progressive Democrats -- who long for universal health care, a living wage and dignified employment, alternatives to a prison and war state, basic environmental standards, equitable economic policies, control over rampant corporations, on and on. No one has a clue anymore how any of it might be achieved. All that remains is a foreboding sense that we are failing even on the defensive, that tomorrow will be worse than today. Our essentially common progressive agenda withers on the vine, and snakes have run of the garden.
If we want to continue in this direction, we need not change a thing. But if we want a different future, we have to start looking at the world in entirely different ways. We need a new math -- because right now the numbers are crunching US!
Progressives have always wielded the best ideas and the best activists. We should be leading this country to a better future, as did our predecessors.
The progressive voice and vision shaped this country -- but only when we've been united.
Neither Greens nor Prog Dems can deliver the progressive agenda on our own. And we will certainly never do it so long as we are at each other's throats!
Greens are growing -- but nowhere near fast enough. Prog Dems are finally demanding a voice in your party -- but with little reason to believe it will turn an electoral tide.
Like the greedy monkey, with our fists desperately stuck through the bars, we thwart ourselves by insisting either of us alone can hold that magic 51 percent. Even together it will be very hard to hold!
Smart monkeys work together.Or we're finished.
It makes no sense for progressives to declare as enemies others who also like universal health care and hate war. Like it or not, Greens and Prog Dems are handcuffed together -- by our values and our vision.
Let us discard two dangerous fantasies.
* That the Green Party will seat 51 (or even 34) US senators within a useful time span.
* That the Green Party can be scolded into folding up our tent and joining/rejoining the Democrats, or by some other such miracle we will go away.
Neither will happen! We can no longer afford such reckless fantasies.
It is too much for my Green brothers and sisters to proclaim we are the party of the majority because "everyone wants clean air." Every election proves that Greens are yet held in great suspicion by 97%. There are a million sobering reasons why Greens will not be the majority party for decades to come. For one thing -- if we do succeed, the monied interests of this planet will go to the mat to flush us (ask Upton)!
Greens will continue to grow, to three percent, five, maybe a little more. But not much, not consistently, and not across enough of the country -- at least for a very long time.
Who cares -- ours is a party of dissent, not of majority. We should be proud of it! I am. Greens play a critically important role: we point out where the majority is wrong.
To be a majority party -- one must pander to it. Who among Greens would choose that path?!
Greens present an admirable list of legislative goals -- and not a clue how to achieve them. Forget the sloppy slogans about "building a mass movement," and such obvious and useless generalities. Tell us -- specifically -- where and such obvious and useless generalities. Tell us -- specifically -- where we will get the votes for our ideas, not just at the polls but in Congress.
The poor Democrats are reminded daily of a powerful lesson most Greens really have yet to learn (by experience): If you don't control the committees you are nothing. Greens now have a State Rep in Maine, Mr. Eder, who will cast many good votes. But none of his own legislation will make it out of committee -- unless he makes many friends.
Green brothers and sisters, tell us how we will get our bills passed without making friends?
When Democrats suggest that Greens abdicate our precious right of participation -- it is too much! It is an insult. We're not about to give up our right to form independent political alliances.
Who would ever discourage dissidents in other countries from forming independent parties?! Democrats look terrible when you criticize Greens merely for participating in the process.
We deeply resent those who bully or scold. So invitations to join Dems are met with retort; "If you're so progressive -- why don't YOU join the Greens!?"
In any case -- when the choice is between war with one party or war with the other, Greens are uniquely obligated by our global "pillar" value of non-violence to create an alternative. Our principles demand it.
After every cycle, a handful of Greens wander back to you -- and at least an equal number bolt and join us. There will always be a significant portion of the population ready to vote Green. Green roots embrace the entire Planet. Enough of us have made lifelong commitments. Greens are here -- get used to it.
You might be careful about inviting us into your Party, anyway -- Greens fight a lot, even among ourselves. You might find us disruptive, and not worth the trouble!
The Green Party is here to stay. But Washington and Lansing will not be ours to run for a very long time, if ever. Abandon these dangerous fantasies. There is too much to be lost (or won).
As our country grows not only in population but increasingly diverse in opinion and culture, it becomes impossible for any single party to speak for a simple majority. One will never get 51% to march in the same uniform, ever again. That era is over.
We've watched the Democrats' futile effort to imitate Republicans as they desperately try to capture the center -- only to lose at both ends. Meanwhile, Greens slip into a similar dilemma with our fundi/realo debate: "Must we water down our message to appeal to the mainstream?" Greens ask.
No! It is a losing proposition -- for Greens, Dems or anyone else -- to try to be the party of 51%. We appeal to no one by trying to appeal to everyone. We are all much better off with sincere dedication to our respective vision. There is no shame in authentically representing a significant minority -- and no pride in the opposite.
Can you imagine anything in common between radical Greens and centrist Democrats? How can you expect them both to wear the same uniform -- Daschle with a nose ring, perhaps! Even the most conservative Greens have little in common with centrist Dems. No single party can accommodate us all, ever again.
However, our competitors on the right are plagued by a very similar dilemma. The progressive hope is in beating them to a solution.
If we can no longer march under the same flag, the challenge -- for those who want to lead -- is to maneuver our separate armies into marching in the same direction.
In the political arena, there is no other possible alliance as natural and with the potential of a Green/Prog Dem bond. We already know each other, from the same meetings and picket lines -- sometimes we are even arrested together!
Between us, our collective reach extends across a broad spectrum of society and cultural identity.
There is an ocean dividing Greens and Democrats -- but hardly a puddle between Greens and Prog Dems. You have more in common with us than with most of your own Party! Many Prog Dems would be Green today if our party had been around earlier.
If, together, we usher in an era of coalition politics in which no one else can compete, the future just might belong to us.
Progressives don't reject the Green Party because of our positions -- merely because "third parties don't have a chance."
And the animosity between Prog Dems and Greens is almost exclusively about "spoiling." Dear friends -- must we remind you that Greens are not well-served by winner-take-all politics either? As a result of this hopeless electoral system, Green voters are NEVER represented in government at all! We quite intensely share your unhappiness with winner-take-all politics.
Greens and Prog Dems have stupidly gone to blows over the very thing which should unite us. It is nothing more than our lazy yielding to a flawed electoral system which makes enemies out of natural allies. We are fools when we allow a simple mechanism of human design to master us, distort our vision so friend appears as foe, and ultimately deny us our collective destiny.
Solutions? They merely await implementation! With proportional representation, IRV, fusion, etc., Greens and Prog Dems will find it much easer to recognize the closest friends in the political arena. Progressives everywhere must commit ourselves to implementing these fundamental electoral reforms.
The first step, however, is personal. Progressives of both parties must simply make a conscious decision -- at least in our own minds -- that we will no longer legitimize anything which artificially divides us. Progressives must clear up in our minds who is friend and foe.
Then we start talking.
"Junior members of a ruling coalition." Oh, how viciously I was denounced, as 2000 GPMI US Senate candidate, for suggesting this as a Green goal.
One suspects deep Freudian anxieties are at play when US Greens' react with such horror to terms like "junior member." You can relax -- no one is making personal references.
All throughout Europe one finds Greens as junior members of ruling coalitions, exactly that. There, they relish the role.
There -- Greens play a direct role in government. Here, we play almost no role whatsoever.
In Europe, Greens leverage their percentages -- and get quite a lot for it. Here, we flush our meager political capital down the drain.
Right now, Greens have very little credibility with the media, the established political players, or the public at large. However, as junior members of a ruling coalition, we gain all of those things.
Right now, Greens are hated by enviros, peace/justice orgs., gays, womens' groups, minorities, labor, etc. -- everyone who would naturally love us under a rational electoral system. As junior members of a ruling coalition, however, we will no longer be a hindrance to these orgs, but in fact the most useful tool they have. They will love Greens because no one will speak more loudly for their cause in Congress than ourselves!
Greens might even find it possible to step UP from "junior" member status at some distant point. It will certainly be easier to traverse THAT slope than to go from gutter to king in a single incredible leap!
And I do mean incredible -- because so long as Greens put forth impossible dreams of taking over Washington in a fortnight, no one will ever take us seriously. We will continue to be laughed at by all corners -- put that in your Freudian pipe to smoke.
Only Greens cannot see the astounding accomplishment it will be to achieve in our lifetimes the status of junior members of a ruling coalition! Few who understand politics would believe it possible in the US.
Yet, still it is not enough for Greens who insist we will have, MUST have, everything. Greedy monkey -- hungry monkey.
Our Democratic Party competitors certainly do not relish the thought of Greens moving beyond two-percent cub-scout politics and becoming viable players. (Prog Dems might see it differently, however.)
If one cannot be king, it is still VERY good to be king-maker. Right now, we are nothing.
Three percent is nothing -- or it can be gold, if one is smart enough to leverage it.
Greens may be hopelessly naive -- but at least we are seized with hope! What can be said for our forlorn Prog Dem brothers and sisters? Since the heady days of Bobby Kennedy, everything has gone wrong.
Back then, even Nixon supported universal health care. Now, not only is their progressive agenda in shreds, they have been reduced to waterboys in their own party.
The best hope for Prog Dems -- is war! They are cheered today, but only because their party is divided over it! Astounding.
At last, Prog Dems might be heard. But what do they have to say -- that Dems can win if their party moves back to the left?! They don't believe it themselves. Greedy monkeys remain stymied by the impossible task of getting 51 percent through the bars.
Smart Prog Dems monkeys will figure it out. Court the Greens -- your progressive friends. Then, when elections come around, you might enjoy hearing Greens say, "We love our good Prog Dem friend Marianne. Maybe we should run against that other guy instead, that centrist bum who is practically a Republican anyway."
It is rather far off -- but if you encourage a cooperative spirit, progressives might actually work together to help Prog Dems win primaries, etc., weed out the centrist bums along the way, and gradually help you regain authority in your party.
Smart Greens will see this is also in our interest because we need Prog Dems controlling those committees (for now, anyway).
Only the Prog Dems can play this Green angle -- it's not like centrist Dems can court us!
Right now, Prog Dems have it backwards. Wake up -- it is the centrists who benefit from a nasty Prog Dem/Green relationship, not you. Throw out the old math, my dear Prog Dem friends -- where has it gotten you?You, perhaps, have more than anyone else to gain by courting Greens.
What about the rest of the progressive movement: the enviros, peace & justice orgs, labor, gays, women, minorities, etc.? Sierra, AFL, Peace Action, NOW, NAACP -- how is your future affected by a continued frosty relationship between Prog Dems and Greens? (
With hopes that sloppy generalizations may be forgiven,) You got where you are today with the Democrats -- and against the Republicans. "Who are these Greens, who stumble recklessly into the political arena, with such devastating results?!"
Please forgive us. And please understand that our right to participate is as important to us as global warming is to you! Elevating the duopoly into something truly democratic is OUR cause. We would certainly never ask you to give up yours.
That our political duopoly offers just one more party than a dictatorship (and often as much as a choice) is of profound concern to us!
Greens exist to further your agenda -- our common agenda. Your cause IS our cause. We believe that it can no longer be achieved in this existing two-party state.
At worst, Greens are your misguided friend -- but friend nonetheless. In fact, we are your best friend, in terms of commitment to the same values.
n any case, it is time to accept the Green presence. We're not going back in the closet, so to speak. So why not turn the problem into your advantage? We offer many potent opportunities. Use us to compel stronger progressive positions from your Democratic friends, convince them to run more progressive candidates, etc.
Here we are together -- in the dark ages -- with progressive dreams little more than painful memories of what might have been.
Greens nibble at the edges of the polls -- but never win. Prog Dems further slip in a party which is itself further slipping. The Party which got you where you are is increasingly unable to defend the status quo, much less help you forward.
Say hello to the bad old days, coming around again.
Well -- you might change it! Progressive leaders and organizations are the force which might convince Greens and Prog Dems to end this stupid animosity, and get our guns pointed in the right direction again.
You must shame us! Point relentlessly to the havoc being done on the planet because we are BOTH too proud and pure to compromise.
You must DEMAND we each discard our dangerous fantasies. We can't resist you -- and we are far too bull-headed to get there on our own.
Greens and Prog Dems must build mutually beneficial working relationships.
First, we talk. Then, we put our names conspicuously on the same lists, purely symbolic demonstrations of unity and shared agendas; Make sure we are seen together as much as possible; Work together on issues; Develop personal relationships, along with public ties.
Out of these beginnings, much more meaningful and specific cooperation might emerge. We can move together on IRV, fusion and proportional representation.
And together we can try to ensure that if electoral toes are stepped on, they belong to Republicans or at least centrist Dems. The following analysis is highly simplistic, and could almost never happen so quickly. It is offered merely as an example of how we might achieve a progressive agenda in Michigan:
Democrats continue to lose ground in Lansing, but they are still within fighting distance with the State House and Senate. Last week, Republicans won 18 of some 25 competitive House races and eight of 12 competitive Senate races. Enough of those are in areas where Greens might make a difference.
Minus the threat of spoiling and with an outrageously cooperative atmosphere -- with Green help, Prog Dems could conceivably win enough to tip the scales: eight of those House races in 2004, and four in the Senate in 2006.
Greens might do much more than just sit out of tight races -- if it is worth it to us.
Democrats have the greatest desire to control those committees again. Which is good, because Greens will never consider such a level of cooperation without some very juicy plums. There must be lots for us to appreciate: certain legislation advanced and guarantees that other bills do not, appointments, and any number of other things. And, should Greens generously sit out of certain races, we will certainly expect good friends to sit out of others.
We help a Prog Dem become State Rep -- you help a Green win a city council seat. We help you with the Senate, you help us somewhere else -- that's the formula for mutual success.
Of course, Green expectations will grow. We might be happy with appointments this year, but sooner or later we will want seats in the House. This must ultimately lead to Greens becoming a viable, competitive party in this ultimately lead to Greens becoming a viable, competitive party in this state -- or at least having a fair shot at it.
Every ounce of help must be returned. And in fact, more -- because with coalitions it is the traditional right of the junior member to demand a ten-percent return on a three-percent investment (and maybe settle for eight...)
Prog Dems and Greens, let me state it plainly:
You help Greens move from the audience to the stage. We help you control your party, Lansing, and then Washington.
You bring your 48 percent. We bring our three.
Together, we bring health care, clean air and water, decent jobs, affordable housing, so much more -- including peace! -- to millions.
What else matters?
That's the bargain. It is well worth it -- for both of us.
And need I say it? We are remarkably shy of other options...
The Green Party is the party of the future. Our role is to express what the world SHOULD be.
The Democratic Party is the party of today. Your role is to express what the world CAN be now. The price for our foolish vanity and greed is paid by tens of millions lacking basic sustenance. It is paid by the natural world, and may indeed be paid by millions of innocent Iraqis soon. Who and what else suffers because American progressives accept mutual suicide as our fate?
In a world where the range of global debate is increasingly limited to either building the wall higher or digging the moat deeper, Greens and Prog Dems might provide a better example, of fruitful cooperation instead of mindless fear and go-it-alone aggression. Greens and Prog Dems might run this country if we are smart enough to put our progressive values ahead of our partisan pride. The biggest thing which separates us is our lapel pin.
Greedy monkeys get nothing. Neither of us alone will pull 51 percent through the bars.
Why choke and sputter over it: Either we accept that progressives make much better friends than enemies...or we take a seat on the sidelines, not only to watch history pass us by -- but to pray it does not run us over!