The Boston Phoenix
July 20 - 27, 2000


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 Party USA.

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 run.)

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 streets.

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Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

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