Leader says U.S. Greens are in a bind
"There's a huge split in the party...." Interview with Medea Benjamin.
Leader Says U.S. Greens Are in a Bind
Q&A, Rene P. Ciria-Cruz,
Pacific News Service, Apr 21, 2004
Editor's Note: A worsening U.S. entanglement in Iraq, a sluggish economy and the open rollback of civil rights and environmental safeguards have fuelled an all-out drive among liberals to defeat President Bush. The election has also created a "huge split" in the U.S. Green Party, says prominent party activist Medea Benjamin, who was interviewed by Rene P. Ciria-Cruz, a PNS editor.
Liberals are still blaming Ralph Nader for George Bush's election in 2000, and now the former U.S. Green Party bet is running again, as an independent. With the desire to defeat Bush at an all-time high among liberals, what's the Green Party to do? "It's a terrible dilemma," says prominent Green and antiwar activist Medea Benjamin, a founder of the peace group Global Exchange and former candidate for the Senate against Sen. Diane Feinstein.
Q: How strong is the "beat Bush" sentiment among the Greens?
Oh, it's very strong. But as Kerry becomes more defined by his soft positions, more Greens become disgusted -- especially on the war. He won't say he was wrong for having voted for it. He doesn't call for an end to the occupation and wants to send more troops. As Kerry gets more centrist, even Greens opposed to Nader's candidacy will be glad to hear Nader's voice.
Q: But isn't the "beat Bush" current versus the "there's no difference between Bush and Kerry" position pulling the party in two directions?
There's a huge split in the party, which will remain even if Kerry remains soft. Some say let's push Kerry -- work with Kucinich and Dean supporters to try to influence him. But others say, "No way you're going to influence him; he's already got the votes on the left so he's going to move to the center."
Q: Do you expect another backlash should the Greens end up backing Nader?
Not necessarily. If Nader helps move Kerry (to the left), that may be viewed by many as a benefit, especially if Kerry wins.
Q: Nader's last run helped Greens make gains in states like California, Maine and Rhode Island. Without a candidate like him, what happens?
A strong presidential candidate could boost our local bases and get Greens elected locally. In this election, however, it could have the opposite effect. It could make elected Greens a target of Democrats. It could jeopardize some local Greens.
Q: In all, it's a tight spot for the Greens.
It's a terrible dilemma. It's the worst situation I've ever been in since I've been an active Green. I understand all the sides. But I do feel this is a referendum on Bush's agenda, especially the war. Americans must let people know he doesn't represent our desires, values and interests.
Q: You're obviously not one who sees no difference between Democrats and Republicans.
No. There's quite a lot of difference between Republicans and Democrats. I'm under no illusion that it would be all that different with Kerry, around the war. But I do think Democrats tend to be more multilateral and respectful of international institutions like the United Nations, and certainly on domestic issues they're better on many levels.
The Democratic Party has more diversity than the Greens -- certainly through the union connections -- and we should be working with progressive Democrats. I work with (Democratic) Congressmen (Charles) Rangel, (John) Conyers, Barbara Lee, (Dennis) Kucinich and Sen. Barbara Mikulski -- people we have a lot of respect for.
Q: How will the Green Party not be seen as spoilers in this election?
There are many Greens like myself who want a "safe state" strategy. No matter who runs -- Nader or a lesser-known candidate -- we would campaign all-out only in safe states (where the Democrats are likely to win) to build up our local bases. In unsafe states (such as Florida) you wouldn't spend the same time and energy.
Q: It means endorsing Kerry?
You would leave the local Greens to decide their strategy.
Q: How is it being received in the party?
Others disagree. In fact, Nader wouldn't agree to that kind of strategy. But Nader himself has been hinting he wants to strategize with Kerry on how to defeat Bush. So, he could still end up doing a safe-state strategy.
Q: The Greens' dilemma brings up that old question -- is building a progressive third party unrealistic in this country, what with all the built-in obstacles for getting on the ballot, campaign financing and so on? Instead, shouldn't you work within the Democratic Party to build up its left wing, as the far right has done successfully in the GOP?
We can have more influence from the outside. Look at what we've accomplished in San Francisco, for example. Our mayoral campaign for Matt Gonzalez helped shape the Democrats' current direction. A strong challenge from the Greens did that.
We've also been telling the Democrats, support instant runoff voting (which asks voters to rank candidates in order of preference) and you won't have this "spoiler" problem. In San Francisco, with instant runoff voting, some interesting alliances between Greens and Democrats might emerge in the coming district elections.
Q: But wouldn't Democrats always be protective of their turf?
Right now they view any progressive third party or candidate as a threat. They want to be the only one on the ballot to represent liberal positions. But democracy is supposed to allow for multiple views and parties. So if they want to see us get our views heard in a way that doesn't hurt them, they should support instant runoff. But their leaders tend to be arrogant and to prefer the two-party duopoly.
Rene P. Ciria-Cruz is an editor at Pacific News Service.
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