'Radical to the Root'
Q: What you've been saying puts me in mind of the Populist party, the Farmers' Alliance. It's an interesting turn of American life that you are essentially back at the same task--a self-educating movement with almost no help from the larger institutions of society.
In fact, let's be candid. It's not just with no help, it's with active opposition. As Lawrence Goodwyn describes in The Populist Moment, it's because we really are challenging cultural assumptions and we're going through that process. I photocopied the introduction to The Populist Moment--it's only about ten pages--and I make it a point every couple of weeks to read that. It's to remind myself of why I do what I do. Goodwyn describes a chronological, four-step process in forming an autonomous movement, educating, et cetera, and I think we're in the early stages of doing that in the Green Party.
Frankly, it is not the Green Party name that is profound to me. It is the fact that there is a growing awareness in a segment of the American population that says, not just that the policies my government is pursuing I don't agree with but that we do not have a democracy in this country. Democracy means the people rule. Today unelected, unaccountable CEOs are not just exercising power over us; they are literally ruling us. They are making the public policy decisions for us.
Genetically modified foods were introduced into our food supply not because of our elected representatives but because the CEO of Monsanto corporation and Archer Daniels Midland corporation decided to put it there. That decision was made behind closed doors in so-called private boardrooms. And they said, because it's a private decision, the public is not even allowed to know about it, much less provide input. When you put genetically mutated organisms into our food supply and don't even label it, damn it all, that is a public decision. We could go right on down the list of the public decisions made in private day in and day out.
Q: Go back to Goodwyn's book. Where do you think you are in that process?
Remember that Goodwyn makes very clear his belief that it really is necessary to be absolutely chronological, and I want to say I actually disagree with that, given the new age in which we live. Information moves in different ways than it did during the agrarian revolt. So although I don't believe the sequential process must take place, I do believe he has accurately described the factors, the four stages for movement building. We are actually sort of in steps one and two simultaneously. Step one is when you actually create autonomous institutions that run counter to what he calls the prevailing authority, what he calls movement forming. The second step he calls movement recruiting--the creation of some sort of tactical means to attract large numbers of people.
That's why I say we're in two different stages. Because the Green Party, for better or for worse, does seem to be the place where people are coming together. The third step is what he calls movement educating--taking some sort of analysis that had previously been unsanctioned by what the elites and the dominant power structure allow. Step four is what he calls the movement politicized, as the creation of some sort of institutional structure, where these new ideas have now been completely infused--folks in the movement are steeped in it--and can be expressed in some sort of autonomous political way. That's the movement politicized.
At one level, the Green Party is trying to do all four at once. At another level, I really want to grapple with your question. Where are we really? We're trying to do all four at once, but we are probably still doing step one, but also doing step two--heavy-duty movement recruiting.
What I think is the untold story is the Green Party itself. Frankly, this story is not David Cobb. I'm humbled and proud to be the party's presidential nominee, but really the story is the growth of the Green Party. In 1996, when I first got involved, there were only ten organized state Green parties in the entire country, and only five of those states actually had a ballot line where people could run for public office as Greens. At that time, there were forty elected officeholders.
By 2000, we had slowly, methodically built and grown to the point where we started the 2000 election with twenty-one organized state parties, ten of those states had a guaranteed ballot line and there were eighty-one elected Green officeholders. And of course in 2000 George Bush steals the election. The Democratic Party leadership, rather than fighting to secure the election they won, instead immediately goes on an attack of both Ralph Nader and the Green Party, blaming us and calling us spoilers. And yet in that hostile environment between 2000 and 2004, the Green Party grew from twenty-one to forty-four organized state Green parties. We started this campaign with twenty-eight state ballot lines and right now have 207 elected Green officeholders. We have 500,000 self-identified members through registration or petitions. We're getting larger.
Q: Professor Goodwyn also taught us that autonomous movements are extremely difficult to start.
Right.... But what does keep me going is the realization that, as difficult as this is, what Larry outlined is really the work. Real movement-building is the work. And I honestly believe that's what the Green Party is engaged in.
It's not that I'm trying to quibble, but you know what? The Democratic Party leadership can't learn anything from the Green Party because they are actively opposed to what we're trying to do. Now, rank-and-file Democrats are not. Members of the Democratic Party desperately wish their party could provide the space for really a democratic following and could unleash a little-d democratic spirit. But it just can't because that's not what they do.