'Radical to the Root'
Q: A lot of the Green Party platform reads to me like it was a minority plank in the Democratic platform of, say, 1948 or 1952.
You know why it feels like that? Because it is. I mean, seriously! Henry Wallace is infused throughout that document. Fannie Lou Hamer--her fingerprints are all over it, even though she never touched it. It's because every one of those movements, though I don't know if they did so consciously, were also attempts and gestation moments for the kind of movement building that Larry Goodwyn describes in his book.
What I think makes the Green Party stunning in its potential is there are those of us in the leadership of the Green Party who understand Goodwyn's message and are working our asses off trying to make sure we do all four of those things. And, as Larry Goodwyn said, nothing is more difficult--nothing--and yet nothing is more important to success if we're actually going to create a real democracy.
Q: Compared with the 1880s, one of the big differences is obviously the media and communications; that is much more fluid and easy, compared what those folks were up against. How do you think through that? You don't have the big megaphones, and the big megaphones are not going to be offered to you.
No, they're not and, in fact, they're going to be turned against us as soon as folks realize what's going on. Gandhi said systemic social change is a four-step thought process. First, they ignore you. Second, they laugh at you and ridicule you. Third, they fight you. Fourth, you win. There was a fifth step actually which is everybody else looks back and says, oh, that was inevitable. Of course, slavery had to end. Of course, child labor had to end. Of course, women had to get the right to vote and be able to enter into contracts in their own name.
Now media. I'm saying not only that they have bigger megaphones than I do but they're going to be turned against us, and I understand that. On the one hand, I am depressed when I think back to the agrarian revolt and the vibrant, rich number of newspapers and editors that were out there muckraking in the same spirit and tradition. But I'm heartened when I realize the same basic phenomenon is going on in the digital age around independent media. The most exciting thing I'm seeing is the media democratization movement that's being led by folks like Bob McChesney and John Stauber and John Nichols and others. Think of the growth--really the explosion--of ordinary people involved now. I think it was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Thank you, Bill Clinton!
I just want to say that there's no doubt in mind that Bill Clinton created the conditions for the growth of the Green Party. It really is true that Clinton and his capitulations to the neoliberals and the elites--really selling out organized labor and the environmental movement--did create conditions where more of us than ever before said: "Stop it. We've had enough. It's over, we're done."
I think it's important to comprehend that the real firebrands of political organizers are not in the Democratic Party any more. Now some of them are in the Green Party. Others of them have turned their backs on electoral politics completely and, frankly, that's OK with me because they're doing movement work as well--ecological stuff and antiglobalization. If we do our job right, then we will coalesce.
Q: What about labor?
The Green Party has already formed a true labor caucus, open only to those rank-and-file members who are trade unionists and being led by folks who are shop stewards and actually presidents of locals. The break is already happening at the rank-and-file level, because the president of a local is a whale of a lot more important.
What does that tell us? It tells us that the psychic break is happening among rank-and-file leadership. The shop steward or the president of a local is so much more influential in organized labor than John Sweeney is. There are these seizures within organized labor, and they aren't done yet.
Also, let's look at the big environmental groups, Sierra Club or any of these other groups. They have been mainstreamed and therefore have basically already accepted co-optation and are working at the margins. Look at the number of people who consider themselves environmentalists or ecologists and are not participating in those big mainstream groups, but instead are trying to find ways to do local issue work on the ground. Unleashing that potential is what's critical....
Q: Is Ralph Nader overshadowing you guys this year?
Well, let's put it this way. He's a celebrity, isn't he? And I don't mean that like being a basketball player or performer. He's spent a lifetime doing good and noble work. So he's getting a lot more attention, as you can tell if you flip into the corporate media. They're paying attention to Ralph. But I don't understand what Ralph's goal is in this campaign. I really don't. In 2000 his stated goal was building the Green Party as a challenge to the two-party system. What is he doing now? I don't know.