It's not easy being Green
As the national Greens draw more attention than ever, a radical wing
threatens to split the movement.
by Seth Gitell
Drive into Downtown Lawrence, and the first things you see are
the massive old mills once powered by the Merrimack River -- remnants of the
Industrial Revolution. But there's more to Lawrence than its past. Head along
Essex Street in the heart of downtown and you'll see Dominican bakeries and
women's clothing shops, signs of an immigrant-fueled urban renaissance. You'll
also see, somewhat incongruously, the Bernstein Bookstore, where leftist
posters and placards adorn the plate-glass windows. Here, a new revolution is
struggling to emerge amid the remains of the old. The Bernstein doesn't just
sell books: it also doubles as the unlikely national headquarters of the Green
America's Greens are getting more attention this year than ever before in their
10-year history: when the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP)
nominated Ralph Nader at its convention in Denver last month, the event was
covered by every major national newspaper and by broadcast news outlets
including CNN and MSNBC (see "Green Party Gets Serious," News and Features,
June 30). Yet when the Lawrence-based Green Party USA (GPUSA) did the same the
previous month in Chicago, it attracted less fanfare. That may be ironic.
Although Nader is running on the platform of the ASGP, it is the more
grassroots-oriented GPUSA that threatens to steal the thunder from its more
electorally focused rivals -- and, potentially, affect how many votes Nader
wins in November.
The ASGP and the GPUSA have vastly different personalities, agendas, and
platforms -- a fact that seems lost on many in the mainstream press. Writing in
the July 10 issue of the New Republic, for example, Jonathan Chait
linked Nader to the "tofu-chomping, guitar-strumming naïveté" of
the Green Party without distinguishing the two groups or their platforms.
Syndicated columnist James Lileks did something similar last Saturday in
the Boston Herald and other newspapers. (The Lawrence faction sent a
letter to the New Republic making this distinction, but so far it hasn't
Such confusion does not please ASGP stalwarts, who are far more moderate than
their GPUSA counterparts. Chait was correct, for example, to write that the
GPUSA platform calls for the abolition of the US Senate, the nationalization of
the largest 500 corporations, "clemency for Leonard Peltier," a "new trial for
Mumia Abu-Jamal," and "freedom for Lori Berenson," an American jailed in Peru
for aiding the Tupac Amaru, a terrorist revolutionary group. But Nader is not
running on the GPUSA platform. He is running on the ASGP platform -- a document
crafted by Democratic activist Steve Schmidt, who worked on presidential
campaigns for Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Jerry Brown in 1992 -- and it says
nothing of the sort. The ASGP platform favors "proportional representation"
(the type used in Cambridge city elections), employee stock-ownership plans,
and a "fair minimum wage." The platform also voices opposition to the death
penalty and support for gay marriage and the formation of a Civilian
Conservation Corps. And the document says that "it is time to look at statutes
and precedents to hold corporations accountable" for their actions -- which
goes further than what the pro-business Democrats and Republicans have to say,
to be sure, but not nearly as far as the GPUSA's pronouncements.
These divergent strategies and politics may play out locally during the October
3 presidential debate, which will be held under the auspices of the John F.
Kennedy Library. The ASGP-backed Nader campaign has sued the debate commission
to get Nader included in the debate with Vice-President Al Gore and Texas
governor George W. Bush (see "Editorial," News and Features, July 7). The
Lawrence-based GPUSA activists, meanwhile, are threatening to incite bedlam
with Seattle-style protests outside the library if Nader is not allowed onto
the stage, and maybe even if he is -- just to get their message out on the
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.
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