It's not easy being Green, continued
by Seth Gitell
The protest plans are drawing criticism from more-moderate voices within the
Green Party, the most prominent of which is Bowdoin College political scientist
John Rensenbrink, one of the founders of the ASGP. "It's a kind of combative
politics that doesn't help anybody," Rensenbrink says of the direct-action
protests that Green-allied activists plan for the debates and the upcoming
major-party conventions. "It's protest politics. It's shaking your fist at Big
Daddy and thinking you're wonderful for doing it. To deliberately provoke is
something that I feel at this point is somewhat counterproductive."
"I can't stand squishy politics. I can't stand people only willing to go
halfway. That's why liberals fail."
The Green effort in general is also drawing the ire of Paul Berman, a former
'60s activist and the author of A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey
of the Generation of 1968 (W.W. Norton). Berman, who believes that the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank cannot be likened to the
villains of the '60s, warns that Seattle-style activism will only work to the
advantage of George W. Bush and the Republicans. Berman is sensitive to charges
that the '60s radicals hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey
and helped elect Richard Nixon. "In 1968, I was violently opposed to Hubert
Humphrey and so were most of my friends in the student movement," he says. "And
one of the results of our opposition was that the Vietnam War lasted longer
than it would have otherwise lasted."
"It's easy to look at the two main candidates and think you're not
represented," he adds, "and then it's easy to delude yourself that your view
has been suppressed or ground up under the heel of a police state. But these
THEY MAY be delusions to Berman, but they're powerful visions to the Lawrence
activists, who are likely to make the bigger splash locally in October. The
mind behind that Lawrence faction is Jonathan Leavitt, a GPUSA official who
co-chairs the Massachusetts Green Party with Stacey Cordeiro, founder of the
Jamaica Plain Greens. On a sweltering July day, Leavitt has generously offered
to give me a tour of the Bernstein Bookstore. Decidedly informal given his rank
within a national political organization, Leavitt sports a shaved head,
sandals, cutoff shorts, and a T-shirt that reads HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE FOOTBALL.
The last item reflects Leavitt's sense of humor: the Amherst-based liberal-arts
college doesn't have a football team. It's a sense of humor that he's employed
to achieve his political goals -- such as when he planted a juicy kiss on the
(male) leader of a "straight pride" protest rally on the UMass Amherst campus
while he was a student.
As we walk around the store, Leavitt rattles off a list of left-wing
organizations and causes that operate out of the Essex Street location,
including the Merrimack Valley Progressive, the Downtown Farmers Market,
the Merrimack Valley Greens, and the Lawrence Grassroots Initiative, the
not-for-profit group that Leavitt founded in 1992. African pop music comes out
of speakers hooked up to a cassette player and turntable. Leavitt explains that
the name of the store comes from one of the favorite sons of the Immigrant City
-- composer Leonard Bernstein, who backed the Black Panthers, as famously
immortalized in Tom Wolfe's essay "Radical Chic."
That said, this pocket of Lawrence is no bastion of leftist elitism. When two
young Latina customers step in from the street, Leavitt is happy to explain the
'80s-era poster headed THE WORLD ACCORDING TO RONALD REAGAN. "This guy Qaddafi
was allegedly a terrorist. Daniel Ortega was a guy who overthrew a dictatorship
and Reagan turned him into a monster," Leavitt says, pointing to the cartoon
depictions of world leaders in the poster.
When the women leave, Leavitt walks up a flight of stairs to the one room that
serves as the headquarters for the GPUSA. The small office is managed by the
secretary of the GPUSA, Starlene Rankin, a Massachusetts resident who recently
relocated from Iowa. The room, which the Green Party actually rents from
Leavitt's Grassroots Initiative, houses a few desks and computers. In March,
the office was broken into and all the computers were stolen (see "The Green
Party Gets Burglarized," This Just In, News and Features, March 10). GPUSA
officials believe the robbery was political -- like the 1980s break-ins at the
offices of opponents of Reagan's Nicaragua policy. In other offices in the same
building, no computers were touched.
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.
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