A report on the recent Green Party Plenary; The Good; The Bad & The Ugly
The low for this plenary was hit when Mike Feinstein, a past Green Party mayor of Santa Monica, took the floor calling for putting Democrats on the Green Party ballot line in
Below is a report on a critical problem developing in the California Green Party and steps
that are being taken to assure our party maintains its grassroots democracy and its
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
On May 21 and 22 delegates from counties throughout California gathered for a Green
Party plenary just outside of Los Angeles. There was tension in the air. Many delegates
knew that a new major problem was brewing within the party.
In spite of apprehension regarding some California-specific issues, many delegates came
to the plenum looking forward to voting on the proposals brought by a committee set up
by the Coordinating Committee of the state party for internal democracy and
independence from the Democrats. These proposals, three in all, are known as the GDI
proposals for the current in the Green Party backing them. GDI stands for Greens for
Democracy and Independence.
THE THREE GDI PROPOSALS
The three proposals can be summarized simply as proposing to the national party that we
end the present electoral college set-up and base our structure on one Green one vote,
meaning that delegates for national conventions must be representative of how the
membership voted in their state primary or convention. Lastly we proposed that the Green
Party as an institution is independent and does not endorse, offer its ballot line, or raise
funds for Democrats or Republicans. The details of these proposals are available at the
GDI web site: http://www.Greens4democracy.net.
After the GDI proposal presenters finished making their case before the gathered
delegates, those who had concerns were given the floor. A wave of opposition arose from
many of the delegates, some speaking in anger. Part of the reason for this problem is the
peculiar method used for handling proposals in the Green Party. Instead of having
presentations both for and against a proposal, and then having discussion making sure
both points of view are heard, and then allowing the presenters both for and against a
short summary, the Green Party allows only those who are in favor of a proposal to make
a presentation and then lines up those opposed to present their "concerns" with very
limited time. This leads to many feeling great frustration, and instead of clarity the
discussion often provokes confusion and anger.
(This is one of many problems that need to be worked onothers include limiting or ending
the veto power of a small minority over the majority. During the plenary Cat Woods of
Marin and Forrest Hill of Alameda opened a discussion on how some of these issues
could be improved.)
THE GOOD: GDI PROPOSALS SWEEP THE PLENARY
Some GDI supporters began to fear we were going to lose the vote as vocal opponents to
the GDI proposals repeatedly took the floor. But once the roll call vote started on Sunday
morning and each delegate rose to vote, the calls of "YES" poured across the floor
overwhelming the opponents of the GDI proposals. The three proposals received support
from 78%, 70% and 62% of the delegates present. In my opinion Greens will look back
with pride at this moment not just for what we endorsed, but also on how the GDI current
handled itself as an open current with genuine grassroots involvement throughout the
country. California was the fourth state to adopt these proposals. These four states, New
York with 44,000 registered Greens and California with about 160,000 registered Greens,
represent possibly more than a majority of Greens in the national party. Of course there is
support to some degree in every state. In some states like Vermont, Florida and Utah* an
overwhelming majority voted to support GDI proposals. Only Wisconsin has voted (sort of)
against the GDI proposals as of the writing of this article.
When the vote ended, it was clear that in California, opposition to the GDI current exists in
any strength only in four counties of the seventeen present at the plenary. The county
delivering the most votes against GDI was Los Angeles.
To me the high point of the plenary was the vote showing that the overwhelming sentiment
in California is for internal democracy and political independence.
That was the GOOD.
THE BAD: A CALL FOR FUSION WITH DEMOCRATS
The low for this plenary was hit when Mike Feinstein, a past Green Party mayor of Santa
Monica, took the floor calling for putting Democrats on the Green Party ballot line in
partisan races. Let me repeat that. Feinstein wants partisan candidates of a pro-war, pro-
corporate, corrupt party to be given an extra ballot line using the Green Party. That was
the bad. (How this is done is complicated. There is a loophole in the law where a person
not in the Green Party, by being a write-in candidate in the Green primary, can also
appear as the candidate of the Greens while being the candidate of the Democrats.)
Feinstein's call for fusion with Democrats is the same strategy that has destroyed many
third parties, such as the Free Soil Party, the Greenback Labor Party, the Populist Party,
and more recently the fusion-focused New Party. The Democratic Party opposes all ten
key values of the Green Party. It is pro-war, helping to destroy our planet, pro-corporate,
corrupt and anti-labor. If Feinstein's views prevail the Greens will place under the Green
Party ballot line the names of registered Democrats. Greens, independents and even
Democrats fed up with their party who would seek to vote for a Green would instead be
voting for a Democrat.
As some Los Angeles delegates voted NO on the GDI proposals they yelled out "give
cross-voting a chance". The term "cross-voting" is a new term being used by the
supporters of fusion. To make it easy for the Democrats to use the Green ballot line,
Feinstein is proposing changing our rules. He announced that at least two Democrats are
waiting to use the Green ballot line.
This was the BAD.
THE UGLY: PLENUM PARALYZED, LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Before the plenary had the opportunity to even hear or discuss the GDI proposals, it was
paralyzed for the first four hours because no agenda could be passed. The reason was
that the leadership of the Party has been trying for some time to get Mike Feinstein (yes,
the same person who favors fusion) to tell the party how he has spent party money that
he had deposited in a private account controlled by him and has refused to let the party
see what has happened to the funds donated to the Green Party but taken by Feinstein.
WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?
The amount is unknown, although it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
For instance, when Ralph Nader came to Los Angeles in 2001 and held a fundraiser for
the Green Party of California, none of the checks ever reached the state party. It appears
Feinstein took the money and deposited the money in his private account. The Green
Party has the obligation to file with the State how it spends its contributions. Feinstein has
refused to provide the information to the Party so it can make its filings.
Similarly, a ten thousand dollar donation to the Los Angeles County Green Party from an
individual was deposited by Feinstein and spent without any official body of the party
making any decisions as to how it would be spent. The donor has since left the Green
Party in disgust. And more recently after the failure of the plenary to agree to insist that all
funds must be reported, highly respected Green Party member Kevin McKeown, a city
council member in Santa Monica, resigned in disgust from the Green Party and registered
decline to state until the Green Party takes action and reports its funding as required by
The leadership of the Green Party tried to bring to the plenary a request for support in its
effort to report those funds and to find out how they were spent. Feinstein has refused to
make that information available. In the Green Party a minority, sometimes as small as
20%, is allowed to block the decisions of the majority such as the plenary agenda.
The plenary was never allowed to hear a debate on this issue or indicate how it
collectively felt the leadership should handle the matter. To this day the Green Party does
not know what Feinstein did with the Green Party funds.
LOS ANGELES DISENFRANCHISEMENT
The plenary resumed some four hours later when the majority acceded to the minority
demand so the rest of the agenda could proceed. However, there was another very
factional point of contention. A large number of Greens from Los Angeles were claiming
that they in effect had been disenfranchised by maneuvers of a minority in Los Angeles
led by, you guessed it, Mike Feinstein. They demanded the plenary discuss this point and
not seat the Los Angeles delegation.
The majority of the state leadership had placed the issue of the Los Angeles delegation
on the agenda because a rather strange development is under way in Los Angeles. Each
of the Green Party counties has a county council elected during primary elections. If a
candidate has no opposition they are automatically elected. It is often the case that
elections are not contested. In some cases, no one runs at all for the seat and it is left
vacant. This is common throughout the State. But there is something ominous in Los
Angeles: there are supposed to be 17 County Council members but some seats remain
unfilled. Many Greens believe, and the evidence now seems overwhelming, that an effort
by a small group to get control of Los Angeles County has been at work. With only 10 of
the 17 seats filled, a clique of 7 members, led by, well you know who, has taken control.
Unlike other counties, when Green members come to their county wide meeting in LA they
are told they have no right to voteonly the ten County Council members have a vote on
electing delegates and CC reps, leaving the inner clique in total control.
Seven people are now controlling a County of 28,000 Greens. These seven can send 3
representatives to our 19 member State Coordinating committee and they were able to
have a delegation sent to the plenum heavily weighted behind the views of a small
anti-GDI, pro-fusion minority as though they were the majority in Los Angeles. Los
Angeles receives 21% of our General State Assembly delegation.
It is felt by most Greens that this violates our bylaws calling for grassroots democracy. In
my opinion, this is a willful act by a minority seeking control against the majority. There is
an obvious fix to this situation. The majority of Greens who favor democracy and equal
rights for all members need to organize a slate for the next county election and remove
the control of this minority from Los Angeles County so that delegates to our state
Coordinating Committee and to our plenary can accurately reflect the Green Party
membership. I offer the Los Angeles Greens my support and I believe so will the
overwhelming majority of Greens in this effort.
Among the Greens present protesting the disenfranchisement of Greens and who was
unable to be a delegate under the Feinstein controlled County Council was Donna Jo
Warren, who ran in 2002 for Lieutenant Governor and has been the leading
African-American spokesperson for the Green Party.
Often when Greens would try to speak at the plenary on this issue regarding Los Angeles
or the funding problem they would be interrupted with shouts coming from the Los
Angeles delegates supporting Feinstein. This kind of behavior is unusual in the Green
Mike Feinstein has been working with a tight group of supporters to try to replace the
state-wide leadership with people who are in agreement with him. They have been
working on this for what appears to be well over two years with some success. One factor
that makes this possible is the openness and innocence in the way the Green Party
functions tending to elect anyone willing to volunteer to take on responsibility.
Those backing Feinstein have never revealed what they stand for. That is, they have no
declared platform. They have worked hard badmouthing leaders they want removed, but
they do not do it openly. There never is an open statement for all Greens to read. If the
attacks were open, then those who disagreed could respond. Their approach is what is
traditionally called an anti-leadership, unprincipled grouping. Unprincipled because it has
no stated platform of what it is trying to achieve except to take over the party for their
As the Feinstein clique's efforts increased, many Greens began to take notice this was
happening. No one could be sure exactly who was in their group. They had or have secret
lists where if they felt they could trust you to work with them for their objectives they would
allow you in. One of these was called "BUZZ 05". Rather than refer to this grouping as
Feinsteinites I prefer the name BUZZ because there is more than one person responsible
for this undemocratic methodology that is quite destructive for the Party. In fact they
themselves refer to one another as "Buzzers". In there secret communications they openly
talk of trying to get "their" people on to certain committees, etc. All this is done completely
behind the back of the Party. In fact some of the Buzzers have spoken to me privately
over the last year attacking other leaders in the party but never telling me how they were
organizing to try to take over the party.
The BUZZ clique, as usually happens in this kind of situation, accused those who
disagreed with them of doing exactly what they were doing. They kept referring to the
leadership of people like Peggy Lewis, Sharon Peterson, Jo Chamberlain, Mike Wyman,
Michael Borenstein, all elected, long-time, hard-working Coordinating Committee
members, of being a clique. All of the Greens under attack are strong supporters of
internal democracy and have worked for years thanklessly, trying to build our party.
It is true that many of the Buzzers are also Greens who have made many valuable
contributions having worked hard to build the party for years. That is part of the tragedy
of these events.
Our goal should not be to imitate them and exclude them from participation at all levels.
They should be welcomed. But they must make their views known openly and Greens
should vote for or against their policies and leadership candidates in an open democratic
manner. It is my belief they will have very little support in the ranks of our Party for their
methods and policies.
The BUZZ current has always had members on the State Coordinating Committee (CC)
and has been free to offer any suggestions, campaigns, platform ideas or their views on
any matter to be placed before the Party. What is their platform? On occasion we have
had a glimpse of what Mike Feinstein, for instance, stands for. I can relate one experience
because it involves me directly.
In 2002 when I announced my candidacy for governor, Mike Feinstein urged the
Coordinating Committee to do what it could to stop me from running. He emailed the state
leadership warning of the imminent danger if I was allowed to run for governor.
Fortunately the co-chairs, Peggy Lewis and Michael Borenstein, did not follow Feinstein's
advice. If the BUZZ had been in control of the CC I probably would not have been able to
run for governor. Our Green Party vote would not have risen from 1 to 8% in the Latino
community, our relations with Centro Azteca, the mass march of Latinos with signs "Vote
Green" would never have happened and prominent sympathetic articles would never have
Worst yet if the 2002 campaign had not happened as Feinstein advocated, the 2003
recall opportunity and my being in six televised debatesincluding the most watched ever
internationally televised debate that won mass sympathy from millions for the Green
Partywould never have occurred.
During the campaign of 2002, I suffered from the kind of rumor mongering that is now so
prevalent. Rumors began to appear that I was discriminating against Donna Jo Warren in
how we used our campaign funds. At a conference call of the 2002 campaign committee,
two individual Greens, one from LA and one from San Francisco began repeating this
rumor by asking for assurance that Donna Jo Warren was being treated fairly. I feel both
of these Greens were victims of the rumor. When Jack Uhrich, the national fund raising
coordinator, came to a campaign and national fund raiser with Ralph Nader in Los
Angeles he was also under the influence of this rumor and began insisting on a say in
how the funds allocated to the California 2002 campaign would be dispersed.
These charges were utterly untrue across the board. There probably have never been
two candidates that worked better together and which have more mutual respect for each
other than Donna and I. It was a great pleasure to campaign throughout California as a
Latino and African American, man and woman, together advocating building the Green
Party. I know it was effective and it was one of the best elements of our campaign. That
some one would try to create a rift or promote disparaging remarks of this kind is really a
MEANING OF CLIQUES
The word clique sounds negative, but it is the appropriate term for this kind of grouping.
An anti-leadership grouping without a platform that works through gossip with secret
meetings is a clique. A political current is something else entirely. When Greens come
together to promote a platform, like the GDI grouping that, it is a political current or
tendency. Greens all know exactly the GDI current's platform, what they are promoting,
who they are, and they can vote for or against. The GDI current had a written platform. Its
ideas are available on a web site at http://www.greens4democracy.net. Many Greens have
written commentary and proposals. The whole promotion of the current is open and
available to every member of the Party that wishes to learn what it stands for. This is how
Greens that wish to improve the Green Party should act.
But a grouping that moves in the shadows, promotes their views through gossip, refuses
to write down where it stands and what it is trying to achieve, also obscures its political
views in order to gain support even from people who do not agree with it on critical issues
like fusion, is an unprincipled clique.
When cliques appear, and they do in all major political formations at one time or other to
one degree or other, it is generally a negative development and weakens the
organization. Cliques almost always end up creating deep personal conflicts and
inevitably provoke the formation of a counter grouping. That is often inevitable and, in
fact, sometimes necessary. But Greens who oppose the BUZZ's takeover campaign have
not organized to oppose what is happening in the California Green Party. It is becoming
clear that Greens who want respect for all members, internal democracy, accountability in
matters of money and who wish to protect our independence from the Democrats, need to
get organized. But a response to the BUZZ must be organized openly, with its platform
and objectives in writing and available for all to see.
Many Greens react negatively to any conflict with in the party. Many walk away and stop
going to meetings. In some ways they are right. In-fighting always is misplaced energy that
could be used to fight the real problems of our society. But in-fighting is inevitable for
many reasons. The question is HOW to handle internal differences and the appearance
of cliques. The KEY is openness. Say it openly so anyone can hear, see it, and others
can respond. Try to move away from the organizational and personal issues and to the
underlying political differences. Cliques that start out as just an anti-leadership grouping
more often than not over time turn out to have a political agenda. We are seeing this now
as the BUZZ begins to talk about fusion with the Democrats.
Working to develop a culture in the Green Party against cliques and how to be open
about differences is an important part of building the organization. People who are open
about their views and argue based on politics can still have good personal relations with
those who disagree with them. The method being used by the BUZZ leads to irreparable
breaks between people that can last a lifetime.
A MESSAGE TO PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS
There are many Democrats who are opposed to the invasion of Iraq and its occupation.
Probably the majority of Democrats are anti-war. Many Democrats oppose the USA
PATRIOT Act and defend the Bill of Rights, favor choice for women, oppose corruption,
are pro-labor and defend our planet from corporate destruction. We Greens respect such
people and want to work with them. We want to work with them because we have many
points of agreement and on those specific points there is the basis for joint activity.
But we Greens differ with progressive Democrats' decision to join a pro-war, corrupt,
pro-PATRIOT Act, pro-corporate party that is helping to destroy our planet. That is their
contradiction. We ask progressive Democrats to focus on opposing their own party
leadership and party platform and the Republicans, and not to attack the Greens. We ask
them to respect the Green Party as we respect you as people with many similar views.
The one area we cannot work with you on is helping to build a party that opposes
everything we are for.
If you attempt to use the Green Party to promote your election as a partisan Democrat,
what you will find is massive opposition from the Green Party membership. The pro-fusion
current is a very small minority in the Green Party. But you will not only alienate the
Greens, you will alienate progressive Democrats and independents for attempting to
abuse the fledgling Green Party that functions as a grassroots, purely volunteer
organization that will not accept funds from corporations. Progressives registered as
Greens, Democrats or Decline to State (independents) will turn against you if you try to
use our ballot line.
If you have been approached by Michael Feinstein or any other pro-fusion Green who
suggests that you run on our ballot line, you should be aware that at our recent plenary
the overwhelming majority voted against his views on this issue. Showing mutual respect
and working together on specific issues is how a positive political relationship can exist
between us, not trying to work with a minority in the Green Party to use our ballot line.
SAVING THE GREEN PARTY
The increased strength in the Coordinating Committee by the BUZZ Greens is now a fact.
They are working hard, attacking one member at a time of those representatives that are
not with them.
It is becoming obvious to many Greens that those of us who oppose this kind of attempted
takeover must organize and do so openly. Our goal should not be to drive those
associated with this campaign out of the Green Party, but to pressure them to state what
their platform is, to state what they believe and let the membership decide who and what
they support. The answer is the June of 2006 primary elections. At that time all Green
Party County Councils will be re-elected throughout California.
In counties like Los Angeles, where the majority of Greens have been disenfranchised,
they must organize, present a slate, campaign and win back control of their county. This
must be done openly and on a clear platform of Accountability, Democracy, Empowerment
of the membership and Political Independencethese issues appear to me to be the
dividing points with the BUZZ clique. We need to get to work now to make sure that the will
of the Green Party membership is respected and that no small group can manipulate its
way into control of the Party.
These difficulties in the California Green Party have no connection with the events around
the 2004 elections. Many of the supporters of David Cobb have made it clear they oppose
fusion, and some have voted for the GDI proposals while others have voted against, but
most if not all are opposed to this manipulative attempt to take over the Green Party.
THE COMING RADICALIZATION
It is my opinion that the massive radicalization we see in Latin America may be the
beginning of one of those waves that seem to come about every thirty years attempting to
increase democracy and freedom in the world. The Green Party is well positioned to play
a critical and positive role, along with many allies. if it can develop team leadership that
works well together, respects democracy and is committed to our platform by maintaining
the complete independence of our party from the two parties of money. The Green Party
of California is the pearl of the Green Party in the United States. Let us work together to save our party, to assure its internal democracy and to keep it independent.
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