GREEN LEAF #1
Seizing This Historical Moment
The events of history are finally catching up with the progressive vision of the Green Party. For three decades, the Green Party has advocated solutions to the very problems which now threaten society on multiple fronts; from the environment and the economy to issues of peace, democracy, and social justice. Moreover, the forms of resistance now emerging are markedly Green in nature, even though the Green Party itself has, lamentably, taken little to no leadership role in these movements. The Arab Spring uprisings and the Occupy Wall Street actions have independently opted for decentralization, consensus decisionmaking, and grassroots organizing to pursue their reform agendas.
Taken together, these two factors — that today’s multiple and intersecting crises directly validate, point by point, three decades of prescient Green advocacy, and that the spontaneous resistance movements rising up to confront these challenges are independently opting for Green methods of engagement — seem to confirm that the era of Green ascendancy is now upon us, if only we have eyes to see it, and the will to seize it.
Unfortunately, in the U.S., our local, state, and national Green parties are unprepared and ill equipped to meet this challenge. As Greens, we currently lack the membership, infrastructure, coordination, unity of purpose, and political resolve necessary to assume a leadership position in this movement. Without radical reform and an urgent course correction, our party will not only miss out on this historical opportunity, but we run the risk of actually shipwrecking the party on the hidden rocks of the new realpolitik.
There are several ways in which the Occupy or similar movements could evolve. In the best scenario, the Green Party would reform itself in time to assume a leadership role, stepping in to guide the movement toward a Green paradigm shift essential to restoring health, harmony, and humanity to the social order and to our relationship with Nature.
But other scenarios are also possible.
For instance, the Green Party could be usurped by other actors, sidelined by stronger forces within the movement, or co-opted by the Establishment parties. Already, we are seeing glimmers of this. Ralph Nader is already addressing the Occupy D.C. crowd, and the media is covering Nader as “the former Green Party presidential candidate.” This gives the misleading impression that Nader speaks for the Green Party, or that the Green Party either explicitly or tacitly endorses him as our spokesperson. Regardless of whether one was for or against Nader in 2000 or 2004, it should be clear to all Greens that at this late moment, Nader belongs to our party’s past, not to its future. It is shocking, and actually quite tragic, that in all the intervening years — let alone in a pivotal election year like 2012 — our party has not groomed a cadre of other capable leaders to speak to the national audience.
Another danger is that without leadership from a strong independent party, the Occupy movement could wither, or, if it does manage to sustain itself, that the existing power elites could make enough minor concessions to placate the reformists, greenwashing and moderating the existing institutions just enough to make the reformists believe that their pleas have been heard. More likely, however, is something between these two extremes: for as the presidential election draws nearer, many in the movement could begin moderating their message and lowering their demands out of fear of antagonizing moderate and undecided voters, losing them to the Republican messaging machine. Mitt Romney is seemingly the most viable Republican contender against Obama, and both parties will likely be on their best behavior trying to woo moderates and Decline-to-State voters. Even among radicals and revolutionaries, the “lesser of two evils” trope is a powerful tranquilizer, and when push comes to shove, many okupistas will still prefer a corrupt Democratic president over a corrupt Republican one.
But even worse than seeing the Green Party impotent, sidelined, or co-opted, is the frightful specter of it actually being overrun and destroyed. As already mentioned, the Occupy movement shares many compatibilities with Green philosophy and methodology, and the social, economic, political, and environmental issues that fuel the Occupy movement are longstanding areas of focus for our party. So even without any prompting from us, we could unwittingly see the okupistas come flooding into our party, like moths to a flame. If that happens, and if our party remains so internally undeveloped and fractious that we are unable to assimilate large numbers of eager activists, our party could be overrun and remade in the okupistas’ image, or, alternately, large numbers of Greens could flee the party, joining the okupistas in forming a different party altogether. After three decades trying to establish ourselves as a viable political party, it would be a tragic ending to stumble and falter at just the moment when society is finally catching up with us. We need to strengthen, fortify, and organize ourselves in order to carry this movement forward.
Clearly, the Green Party should be getting out ahead of events and taking leadership of this movement. But we cannot assume a leadership position until we first put our own house in order. We urgently need to put an end to the factionalism within our own ranks, and come together in solidarity and mutual support. We also need to put certain wistful notions on hold, for the good of the party and the good of the movement. One wistful notion that needs to be jettisoned is our fanatical obsession with decentralization. If anything, our party is decentralized to a fault.
To lead a movement, leaders are needed. And to accomplish lasting social change, large-scale coordination is essential. Where decentralization yields positive results for local action, we should preserve it. But where centralized coordination is needed, we should welcome that too. For too long, Greens have abused the Decentralization value, using it as a cop-out — as a convenient excuse for passivity and inaction. This needs to change, and swiftly. To lead the movement, we are going to need to centralize some level of authority and coordination at the state and national party levels. Indeed, the state Green parties should become the new fulcrum points for coordinated regional action. We cannot just keep crossing our fingers and hoping that if enough people get energized in their own local communities the whole nation and world will be transformed. Yes, change can and should come from the bottom up. But change can also be coordinated from the top down, and from side to side. As a party, we need to explore all options, in all directions.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, this blog will feature more articles about the kinds of internal development and reform that the Green Party urgently needs to accomplish in order to assume a leadership role for this movement. Discussion will also focus on the strategies for providing that leadership, and the goals to be pursued and the means to be used. It is hoped that these articles will spark some enlightened, respectful, and productive discussion among Greens. Discussion is important, but action is really what is most needed at this time. The Green Party cannot afford to lose any more time stalemating itself in divisive debates and fractious internal power struggles. We must set aside our petty differences and begin focusing on what is good for the party, and the movement. The time for idle talk and petty peeves is over. It is now time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Thank you for engaging these discussions.
Creative Commons Copyright 2011, Sean Michael Dodd. Permission is given by the author to freely reproduce and disseminate this article in whole or in part for educational and political purposes only, provided that full attribution to the author is made and also provided that no modifications are made to the original text. Commercial use is strictly prohibited, including any use of this article or any use of comments posted by the author in relation to it, in whole or in part, for purposes of financial gain or for any benefit that is reasonably similar to a financial gain.