Invited Talk at Green Party of Orange County event, GEM Theater in Garden Grove – September 2002
I’d like to start with a subversive thought – a quote from a Jello Biafra poem entitled, “I Blow Minds for a Living”. He said:
How many out there think this country is a Democracy? Or is it more of a one party state masquerading as a two party state? The Democrats are on the inside what the Republicans are on the outside. Each having almost identical financial backers. . . Did you vote for the Pentagon? (NO!) Did you vote for Wall Street? (NO!) Did you vote for a nuclear arms race? (NO!) Did you vote for the CIA? (NO!) Ever try reading the Bill of rights to a cop? (No, LOL.) People didn’t vote for star wars, people didn’t vote for drug wars, no one voted for acid rain, no one voted for being homeless.
I think Jello hit it on the head. We didn’t vote into place so many of the ills in today’s America.
There are two major parties, and, on the national level at least, these two parties work very well in preserving the status quo. In other countries where the Green party has a lot of power on the national level, such as in the case of Germany, they do so because of the coalition style government allowed by the state. In effect, the party, Republican or Democratic, is a coalition for the purpose of campaigning for office. With two major parties of similar views and of approximately equal strength competing for control of a government, it is possible for governmental control to alternate between the parties without shifts in policy so radical as to incite minorities to resistance. And we see that to be true in the US.
Well, so much of that is mirrored on the state level with the Republicans and Democrats duopolizing almost all the power in the form of state senate and assembly seats and of course, the governor’s seat. But, there is a little more promise on the state level for positive change. And so we are here today. I think it is crucial that in today’s world where in the state of California we are seeing a housing crisis, an education crisis, a state where the prison system is better funded than the school system, and where in Los Angeles, a 2 year old baby has breathed more carcinogens than the threshold for an entire lifetime because of a smog filled atmosphere resulting from a car-centric corporatized society, it is crucial that we provide some good alternatives than what those in power provide.
That is why the Green Party is so crucial today. A real viable alternative, on a practical level alone, makes enormous amounts of good sense and provides the institutional basis for a progressive agenda. The huge apathy on a local and national level when it comes to voting is based necessarily on the belief that we have no power to change anything. I think one of the greatest challenges to the Green Party and any other third party, is how to reach out to those most affected by the abuses of power by the two major parties. That includes youth, people of color, low-income folks, etc. How will they be engaged in a process to build the Green Party and represent their communities, while balancing their lives, working from day to day. So many people who are marginalized today work two jobs, and have little or no time to spend on building a movement based party. How will those people be engaged in this process? In other words, how do you convince enough people to put faith in a process that will truly work only when enough people put faith in that process?
But of course, the true power of a third party can be manifested well before winning elections. The Green Party must be a tool for movement building, rather than simply building power.
What do I mean by movement building? I mean that foundation of ideology that is perpetuated, that multiples and diversifies and upholds values common to us. A movement based on progressive values that continually builds between elections, and not just before elections. There has to be a serious movement upholding the ideology behind the Green Party or else it will simply mimic the major parties.
What does it take for a gubernatorial candidate in California to actually win a seat? Some would argue the same as it does for a presidential candidate to become president – money, money and more money. The more money the more power. According to state records, since 1998, Gray Davis has taken in $550,000 from Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric — that’s his share of the $7 million the state’s top utility companies have doled out to politicians from both parties during that time. Of course, Davis’ spokesman said “There is no connection between contributions and policy.” Right.
Ariana Huffington in an article about the power of influence of big money over Davis’s campaign said, “.. the governor’s office proudly announced that Davis had turned down an offer by a group of independent energy producers to hold a fund-raiser for him last month. Putting aside the ludicrousness of painting the rejection of a fund-raising opportunity as an act of great strength and moral leadership, why would Davis stop accepting utility contributions if, as he claims, there’s “no connection between contributions and policy”? And if he wants credit for turning the money down when the lights — at least the media ones — are on, why won’t he accept the implications of taking the money when they were off?” Good question. In fact as of mid-February Davis had already raised $29 million. Raising money is obviously his strength. So, should third parties such as the Greens simply join in the game, or work to change the rules? If Gray Davis’s track record is any indication, I think the answer is obvious.
When we critique our own institutions, marginalized as they may be at the moment, we emerge all the stronger. Hence, I ask those of you gathered here to reflect upon the question, what should the green party be doing to ensure it doesn’t reproduce the same power structures that the democrats and republicans have now, once it gets into power? This is a legitimate question to ask. Just look at the country where the Greens do have some power. Germany, where the Green party supported the bombing of Afghanistan, supported the transportation of radioactive nuclear waste through residential communities, supported the latest bombing of Afghanistan in the US’s so-called war on terrorism! Enough to make a Green blush pink.
So if Peter Camejo wins this gubernatorial election, and I do hope he does, as unlikely as it may be, we need to be asking the question about what Peter and other Green candidates will do once elected. Because winning an election is just the beginning of the battle. Take this example. So California supports one of the largest defense, aerospace and technology industries in the country. The economy of California is based on an industry which fuels war and the push for war. How would the Green Party handle this aspect of running the state, if they were in power? It would mean reconciling the machine that drives this economy with the ideology of the Green Party. I don’t know the answer to this, but I think we really need to ask the question and other difficult ones like it. California has one of the largest economies in the world! And yet we have so many disempowered people. We need to contemplate these issues now, before the Green Party gets into power.
You know, I’m new at this, I don’t have the right to vote, I’m an immigrant – what they call a resident alien. So I have not paid as much attention in the past to state laws, except of course when they become very politically charged and are so egregious like some of the propositions that people get to vote on (187, 21, etc). Now that I find myself a journalist of sorts, I spend my time researching ways in which people can make a difference in a variety of ways from organizing demonstrations, to using the power of their vote. So you know I recently did a show on the large number of state bills that were on Gray Davis’s table for him to sign into law. It seemed to me to be the educational and important thing to do – educate his constituency on the bills that had passed the California Senate and Assembly and were all but law except for this one little signature. Wow – that’s a lot of power for one individual. Way too much power. And that is just one example of his power. I think that when we talk about introducing alternatives to the two parties, we need to also think about introducing alternatives to the structure of political power in order to ensure that there is no reproducing of the same corruption of power that currently exists.
To close, I want to talk a bout this play that I recently watched which is based on one of my favorite books: Animal Farm by George Orwell. You may know the story. The animals on the farm who were oppressed initiated a revolution to change their lives and professed, “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad”. Before long however, since there wasn’t any attempt to distribute the power, after the revolution, the exact same power structure was rebuilt and the animals in power began saying, “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better”. I think there is a lesson in there for all of us, no matter what struggle we are talking about. Whether it is about how to break into the two party system, whether it is about the serious labor struggles in KPFK where I work and the attempts to rebuild Pacifica, or whether we are talking about how to counter the world’s greatest superpower. Thank you very much.