As the 2012 presidential horse-race displays its usual circus of shallow political gamesmanship, why would anyone serious about really changing the world want to join a political party? The Republicans are beneath consideration for me, despite the many family members I love who embrace that party. Why don’t I vote for Barack Obama? After all, he’s significantly better than Romney or Gingrich, right?
I quit voting for Democrats in 1992, when Clinton ran his first national campaign. I was beginning to believe there was no hope for a true confrontation with capitalism, militarism, or any of the systemic problems we face through the existing political parties. In 1996, Ralph Nader was drafted by the Green Party and suddenly I began to see some glimmer of a mass mobilization.
In 2000, Nader made an even more impressive run, resulting in 2.8 million votes. The reaction from the Democratic Party ended up forcing the Greens into a largely defensive posture from which they have never recovered. I did vote for the Greens again in 2008, but I am not sure I can bring myself to do that in 2012. Truthfully, the Socialist Party more closely reflects my political philosophy, though I am not convinced that they are going to muster any sort of real political energy.
In a fit of resignation, I might just vote for Barack Obama. There, I said it. When it comes right down to it, I don’t want the Republicans to win. By default that means I will be happier on election day if Obama pulls a majority. However, his tendency to tack sharply to the center-right has been profoundly discouraging.
My justification for voting Green for all those years was that we were building a mass organization to the left of Democrats that would over time present a real challenge to them. At the very least, I hoped that the Greens might make it easier for third party politics in this country. In most industrialized nations that have universal healthcare or other social benefits, a more robust proportional representation system of elections exists.
The Green Party has its origins in the 60s New Left and still bears many of the marks of the generation. Their “Ten Key Values” still have a lot of substance and are significantly distinct from the Democrats. More than the Democrats, the Greens make possible direct participation in the political process. I am a believer in not just formal representative democracy, but in direct, radical democracy, and only the Greens come close to practicing this in our nation. Of course, they’ve only won a few political offices around the country, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
I’ve often had the thought that what the Greens need is an organized left-wing tendency. In fact, there have been several attempts at such a formation. Probably the earliest was the “Left Green Network” created by Murray Bookchin. I don’t know everything about how the LGN came to an end, but I gather it had something to do with the turn to outright electoralism by the Green Party US – the organization which eventually created the Ralph Nader campaigns – which is viewed by some on the left as an opportunistic takeover of the Green Movement. Bookchin was a principled municipalist, who regarded the federal government as wholly irredeemable.
A later attempt was the Green Alliance, that adopted an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda. The GA lost its founder and guiding light Walt Sheasby, and never really took hold.
Joel Kovel, author of “The Enemy of Nature” has been organizing an EcoSocialist International Network for several years. Kovel tried to run for President in 2000 against Ralph Nader. However, I’ve seen little evidence that EIN is trying to organize within the Green Party or trying to build any sort of mass movement in the US.
2012 is an interesting year politically for another reason, Occupy Wall Street. Social movements have come and gone like the Greens, feminism, gay rights, anti-racism, etc. However, in my lifetime there has been no other social movement that has directly targeted capitalism itself. While I am convinced that we can’t fight capitalism to the exclusion of fighting racism, sexism, and for ecological change, there is something quite visceral about the economic focus of OWS. It remains to be seen if the movement can regroup itself after the slower pace that set in during the winter months.