United States: Left debates Green Party campaign, safe states and 2020 election strategy
An open letter to the Green Party about 2020 election strategy
By Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters, and Michael Albert
January 27, 2020 As the 2020 presidential election approaches the Green Party faces the challenge of settling on a platform, choosing a candidate for president, and deciding its campaign strategy. In that context, Howie Hawkins, a contender for Green Party presidential candidate, recently published a clear and cogent essay titled "The Green Party Is Not the Democrats' Problem." It represents a precedent Green Party stance which may guide Green campaign policy. We agree with much, but find some ideas very troubling.
The stance offered in Hawkins' article says "the assertion that the Green Party spoiled the 2000 and 2016 elections is a shallow explanation for the Democrats' losses;" that in 2000, "the Supreme Court...stopped the Florida recount;" that many factors "elected Trump in 2016...including black voter suppression, Comey publicly reopening the Clinton email case a week before the election, $6 billion of free publicity for Trump from the commercial media, and a Clinton campaign that failed to get enough of its Democratic base out;" that the Electoral College "gave the presidency to the loser of the popular vote;" that most Greens are "furious" at a Democratic party "that joins with Republicans to support domestic austerity and a bloated military budget and endless wars;" "that the Green Party's Green New Deal science-based timeline, would put the country on a World War II scale emergency footing to transform the economy to zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030;" and that "the Green Party want(s) to eliminate poverty and radically reduce inequality" including a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, improved Medicare for all, lifelong public education from pre-K through college, and a secure retirement;" and finally that the Green Party strategy "is to build the party from the bottom up by electing thousands to municipal and county offices, state legislatures, and soon the House as we go into the 2020s."
We agree that many factors led to Democratic Party losses and that the Supreme Court was a big one as was the Electoral College, and we too are furious at Democrats joining Republicans in so many violations of justice and peace. Likewise, we admire the Greens' Green New Deal and economic justice commitments, and also support a grassroots, local office approach to winning electoral gains.
So with all that agreement, why are we sending a critical open letter?
The stance the article presents, which may guide the Green campaign for president, says, "To hold all other factors (contributing to recent Presidential victories) constant and focus on the Green Party as the deciding factor is a hypothetical that is a logical fallacy because it assumes away a factual reality: the Green Party is here to stay." However, our finding Green policy a factor in Republican victories in no way suggests that the Green Party should disappear. And our focus on factors within our reach to easily correct (for example, the Green Party role in contested states) is in fact sensible.
The stance also says "the Green Party is not why the Democrats lost to Bush and Trump," but even if true, that wouldn't demonstrate it won't be why this time. In any case, let's take Trump and Clinton, and see how Green Party policy mattered.
If Clinton got Jill Stein's Green votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Clinton would have won the election. Thus, the Green Party's decision to run in those states, saying even that there was little or no difference between Trump and Clinton, seems to us to be a factor worthy of being removed from contested state dynamics, just like the Electoral College is a factor worthy of being removed across all states.
We realize many and perhaps most Greens will respond that if those who voted for Stein in contested states in 2016 hadn't done so, they would have abstained. We don't know how anyone could know that, but for the sake of argument we will suppose it is correct.
Still, if these voters who preferred Stein did indeed erroneously believe that there was no difference between Trump and Clinton, surely to some degree that was a result of Stein refusing to acknowledge the special danger of Trump, and insisting that while it would be bad if Trump won it would also be bad if Clinton won, and refusing to state any preference.
Similarly, if these Stein voters did indeed erroneously believe that no harm could come from casting a vote for Stein in a close state in a close election, that also to some degree was surely a result of Green campaigning insisting that Green voters bore no responsibility for the 2000 election result.
And finally, if these voters did indeed erroneously believe that it was immoral to contaminate themselves by voting for Clinton or for a Democrat, surely in part that too was encouraged by Green campaigning that treated voting as a feel-good activity ("vote your hopes, not your fears") as if fear of climate disaster, for example, shouldn't be a motivator for political action.
The stance says, "The Green Party is not going back to the 'safe states strategy' that a faction of it attempted in 2004." This means they will not forgo running in contested states where Green votes could swing the outcome as happened in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 2016, and they will not run in only 40 safe states where the outcome will be a foregone conclusion.
But why reject a safe states strategy?
Like Stein in 2016, some might claim doing so can't help Trump win again or, in any case, that Trump's re-election would not matter all that much. "He isn't that much worse."
We write in hopes that no one in 2020 will rationalize campaign actions by making such irresponsible and patently false claims.
And, indeed, in his recent essay, Hawkins instead claimed a safe states strategy "couldn't even be carried out. It alienated Greens in swing states who were working so hard to overcome onerous petitioning requirements to get the party on the ballot. Keeping the party on the ballot for the next election cycle for their local candidates depended on the Green presidential vote in many states. It became clear that safe states was dispiriting and demoralizing because the party didn't take itself seriously enough to justify its existence independent of the Democrats. Few people, even in the safe states, wanted to waste their vote for a Green ticket that was more concerned with electing the Democratic ticket than advancing its own demands."
This claims there is a price the Green Party has to pay for a safe states strategy. Okay, let's take that as gospel. Where is an argument that this price is so great that avoiding it outweighs the price everyone, including Greens, will pay for re-electing Trump?
We have no way to assess the claim that Greens would find it dispiriting to remove themselves as a factor that might abet global catastrophe via a Trump re-election. But wouldn't Trump out of office much less Sanders or Warren in office not only benefit all humanity and a good part of the biosphere to boot, but also the Green Party? For that matter, weren't more potential Green Party members and voters driven off by the party's dismissal of the dangers of Trump than were inspired by it? Which grew more in the last four years, DSA or the Greens?
And weren't the Greens in the late '80s and early '90s winning elections to city councils and other local offices across the country, consistent with a grass roots strategy, though for much of the past 20 years, they've largely abandoned local and state contests, devoting nearly all their attention to increasingly harmful races for president? Hawkins' own exemplary races for Senate and Governor in New York state, and especially the Greens' successful mayoral races in politically important places like Richmond, CA, as well as less visible ones like New Paltz, NY, were exceptions, but how many Greens have used their hard-won ballot access to run for Congress or state legislature? Might the massive focus on presidential elections mark a decline in prospects for the localist strategy, not an advance for it?
We are told, "Greens want to get Trump out as much as anybody" but how can that be if Greens would vote for a Green candidate, and not for Sanders, Warren, or any Democrat in a contested state knowing that doing so could mean Trump's victory?
If during the 2020 election campaign, the Green candidate campaigns in contested states knowing that he or she might be winning votes that would otherwise have gone to Sanders or to Warren or whoever, causing Trump to win the state and win the electoral college, how could that possibly evidence wanting Trump to lose as much as anyone?
Indeed, if a Green candidate weren't telling everyone who was a potential Green voter to vote for Trump's opponent in contested states, how could that evidence that Greens want Trump to lose as much as anyone?
Let us put our question another way. It is election night 2020. The vote tallies are in. Which way would the 2020 Green candidate feel better? Trump wins and the Green candidate gets 250,000 votes across the contested states, more than enough for Sanders, Warren, or whoever to have won? Or, Trump loses and the Green candidate gets no votes in the contested states, but a bunch extra in other states as a result of having more time for campaigning there?
Greens tell Democrats "to stop worrying about the Green Party and focus on getting your own base out." We agree on the importance of Democrats getting their base out, starting with nominating Sanders, or, at worst, Warren. But how does that warrant the Green Party risking contributing to Trump winning?
The stance asks, "So why are we running a presidential ticket in 2020 if our strategy is to build the party from the bottom up?" The stance answers, "Because Greens need ballot lines to run local candidates. Securing ballot lines for the next election cycle is affected by the petition signatures and/or votes for our presidential ticket in 40 of the states."
Greens will pay a price for not running in contested states. Our advice to Greens would be to notice the infinitely bigger price that millions and even billions of people will pay for Trump winning.
The stance says "Greens don't spoil elections. We improve them. We advance solutions that otherwise won't get raised. We are running out of time on the climate crisis, inequality, and nuclear weapons. Greens will be damned if we wait for the Democrats. Real solutions can't wait."
But real solutions require Trump out of office. Real solutions will become far more probable with Sanders or Warren in office. Real solutions will become somewhat more probable even with the likes of Biden in office.
To conclude, is a Green candidate running for President after the summer really going to argue we shouldn't vote for Sanders in contested states not just to end Trumpism but also to enact all kinds of important changes including urging and facilitating grass roots activism and thereby advancing Green program?
We offer this open letter in hopes of prodding discussion of the issues raised.
Every state is a battleground: A response to 'An open letter to the Green party abot 2020 election strategy
By Howie Hawkins
January 27, 2020 — Howie Hawkins Green for President — I was just completing a response to the first version of Michael Albert’s “An Open Letter to the Green Party About 2020 Election Strategy” (Michael Albert, “Dear Howie Hawkins: Green Sense and Nonsense,” January 5, 2020) when “An Open Letter to the Green Party for 2020,” reached me. So I will respond to the group version.
I doubt that we are going to persuade each other at this point. After all, I have been back and forth with many of the people expressing these opinions in previous elections on the “safe states” proposal. The signers want the Green Party presidential ticket to campaign only in safe states where the outcome is a forgone conclusion and support the Democratic presidential ticket in battleground states where the race will be close between the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Instead of depending on the soft-right Democrats to fight the hard-right Republicans, the most effective way to fight the right is to build an independent left movement and party with its own program, actions. and candidates. That is the priority of my presidential campaign.
Michael Albert was one of the early proponents of that approach in the 2004 election cycle (“Election Plan?,” August 2003). I wrote several responses at the time to the safe states strategy advocated by Michael and others, including signers of this Open Letter. After the election, I compiled many of the statements in that controversy in Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate (Haymarket Books, 2006).
Some of us had another exchange in June 2016 on this question (Michael Albert, “We Need a United Left;” Bill Fletcher, “Fletcher Replies on Left Unity,” Howie Hawkins, “Hawkins Replies on Left Unity“).
Their open letter response to my article (“The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem,” December 25, 2019) conflates what I said in my article with what they claim Jill Stein and the Green Party said in 2016. Jill and other Greens may want to respond for themselves. I will respond here with my views speaking for myself.
So what is different this time around?
The two-capitalist-party system’s stranglehold on US politics has not changed. The safe-states strategy the open letter writers advocate does not challenge that stranglehold but accepts it as a given.
They argue that Trump is what is different this time around. He is a “special danger.” We have heard that many times before with Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes.
The left can't outsource fighting the right to the Democrats
They say Greens “refuse to recognize the special danger of Trump” and that Greens say there is “no difference between Democrats and Republicans.”
I did not say any of that in my article, or in 2016, or ever. In my view, Trump’s racism, corruption, and narcissistic sociopathy make him not just a man with bad policies, but a bad man as well. He was the greater evil compared to Clinton. He’s a greater evil than previous Republican presidents. He is an ever-present danger right now in office.
What is different about Trump from previous Republicans is his vicious public scapegoating, which has given permission for increased covert discrimination by institutional gatekeepers and has triggered open slurs, vandalism, and violence by white nationalists against immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color, LGBTQ people, and women.
Recognizing the danger of Trump does not mean that electing any damned Democrat should trump all other considerations. The Democrats might beat Trump, but they won’t beat Trumpism. The Democrats should have crushed Trump in a landslide in 2016 because the hard right Republicans he reflects are a shrinking political minority in the US. But the Democrats have lost many state governments and federal offices to the Republicans.
In office, the Democrats join the Republicans to support the basic policies that the capitalist class cares about: neoliberal economic austerity at home and neoconservative imperialism abroad. Most working people don’t vote because neither capitalist party is credible to them on issues of peace and prosperity.
Instead of depending on the soft-right Democrats to fight the hard-right Republicans, the most effective way to fight the right is to build an independent left movement and party with its own program, actions. and candidates. That is the priority of my presidential campaign.
As I campaign, I discuss the differences between Democrats and Republicans and the extreme danger of Trump. I also draw distinctions among the Democrats. I point out that Sanders is far closer to the Greens on many issues than all the rest of the Democrats. See, for example, my article “Which Green New Deal?”
Recognizing those distinctions does not lead me to support one capitalist party over the other — or to support Sanders, who is recruiting independent socialists and progressives into a capitalist political party. He is misrepresenting socialism as New Deal liberalism. He is again committed to supporting whoever the Democratic nominee is.
One difference among the Democrats is that the corporate wing will not commit to returning the favor of support to Sanders. Barack Obama has made it known that he is opposed to a Sanders nomination. Hillary Clinton recently and very publicly refused to say whether she would support Sanders if he is the nominee. The signers of this letter have bigger problems inside the Democratic Party than they do with the Greens.
Their safe-states strategy wants the Green Party to accept the same powerless relationship of one-way collaboration with the Democratic Party that the corporate Democrats want from the Sanders progressives: “You have to support us, but we’re not going to support you.” Indeed, the Democrats do all they can to keep Greens off the ballot and out of candidate forums and debates. They baselessly smear Greens as candidates groomed by Russians and Republicans, as Clinton recently did to Jill Stein on former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast.
Trump’s racism is nothing new. The Republicans have been mobilizing around the white backlash to black civil rights since Goldwater. They mobilize resentment against many targets: all people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, and peace and environmental advocates.
The Democrats have taken for granted the support of these targets of scapegoating while delivering very little for them. Between elections, the Democrats don’t fight the Republicans, they collaborate with them on economic and foreign policies.
Independent left politics is more powerful
The signers note that I say in my article that “Greens want to get Trump out as much as anybody.” Then they ask “how can that be if Greens would vote for a Green candidate, and not for Sanders, Warren, or any Democrat in a contested state knowing that doing so could mean Trump’s victory?”
That can be because there are stronger ways to fight Trump than waiting for the Democrats to beat Trump in the 2020 election. Trump is dangerous now. The Democrats should have impeached him long ago. They had their chance at the end of his first year in office, when Rep. Al Green (D-TX) introduced articles of impeachment for Trump’s racist statements, actions, and policies. Only 58 Democrats supported him. It is no accident that the majority of Representatives who called for Trump’s impeachment were Asian, Black, and Latino until the summer of 2019. The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, kept saying impeachment would be divisive while Trump was deliberately dividing the nation every day with his racist policies and provocations.
Trump was committing crimes in plain sight from the moment he took office. He also should have been impeached for corrupt self-enriching emoluments, nepotism, campaign finance felonies, inciting violence by white nationalists, atrocities against migrants at the borders, war crimes, gutting federal regulations and agencies, and constant obstructions of justice. Instead, the Democrats have belatedly chosen to go small instead of big by impeaching him just on the Ukraine extortion scheme and cover-up, as if all his other crimes are acceptable. Instead of beating Trump up politically on multiple grounds for a protracted period of time, the Democrats have given Trump a short Senate trial peppered with militaristic messaging in support of the US proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. The Democrats’ short, narrow, and often jingoistic impeachment fails to show the people how Trump’s crimes hurt them as workers, consumers, minorities, and women, undermined peace, and harmed the environment.
That is typical for how the Democrats enable Trumpism itself. Democratic support for bipartisan militarism abroad enabled Trump to successfully appeal to voters who want to end the endless wars, although that was a big lie by Trump. Decades-long Democratic support for pro-corporate economic policies has created the growing economic inequality and insecurity that has provided the backdrop for Trump and the Republicans to expand their base among downwardly-mobile whites with racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic scapegoating. The previous Democratic administration refused to prosecute the corporate criminals who stole 14 million homes or the war criminals who tortured people. The Democrats left them walking free and they walked right into the Trump administration. For some details on that, see my article, “The Rich White Man’s Justice System Protects Trump and His Cronies.”
The Democrats have helped to normalize Trump by joining with him to overwhelmingly vote for three consecutive increases in the Pentagon budget, including more than he even asked for in his first budget. They joined with him to enact the US Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (the new NAFTA). They joined with Trump in their silence or cheerleading for the prosecution of Julian Assange and the persecution of Chelsea Manning in another Espionage Act case that threatens the press freedom every news organization because they all depend on leaks to get the news to us about what the government is doing.
The left will be more powerful if it makes its demands independently of either pro-corporate, pro-war party. That is what we did in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We demanded Out Now! to every politician. We didn’t shut down our demonstrations and dilute our slogans to support Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy who were calling for negotiations rather than immediate withdrawal. Some did go “Clean for Gene” or for RFK, but the antiwar movement in the streets said there is nothing to negotiate. We kept demanding Out Now! That set the agenda, not the Negotiations Now position of Johnson and Humphrey as well as McCarthy and Kennedy. We did not say, “wait until November to vote for the lesser evil.” By making its demands independently, the anti-Vietnam War movement remained strong and clear in its demand. We now know that we stopped Nixon’s “secret plan to end the war” using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam. The Vietnam Moratorium and Mobilization demonstrations of millions in October and November 1969 convinced Nixon to back off or face a popular backlash that would destroy his presidency politically.
Perhaps in 1968 we drew the lesson of 1964 when SDS’s slogan of “Part of the way with LBJ” captured the sentiment of most the left. They got what they wanted. LBJ won. He immediately and massively escalated the war in Vietnam, and we lost the war on poverty in the jungles of Vietnam.
Compare 1968 to 2004 when Anybody But Bush took hold in the anti-Iraq War movement. United for Peace and Justice adopted the slogan “Against the Bush Agenda,” which meant vote for pro-war Kerry, the “lesser evil” who said he could fight the war better than Bush. After Kerry’s loss, the antiwar movement was disoriented. It could mount little protest as the Democratic Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, working with her Republican counterpart, made sure that the supplemental war budgets were voted through in the spring so that Iraq war funding would not become a campaign issue in the fall elections. After Obama was elected in 2008, most of the antiwar movement went home even though Obama continued the old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and got into new ones in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. What changed was Obama’s wars were less visible. He replaced many US ground troops in direct combat roles with local proxies, contracted mercenaries, drone assassinations, jet fighter strikes, and special operations. The progressive left contributed to that demobilization of the antiwar movement by saying the most important thing was to elect a Democratic president instead of independently advancing its anti war demands on both parties.
Safe states is not practical
The signers say that after the summer the Green Party presidential ticket can “easily” abandon its campaign in the battleground states. It is not easy. It is not even possible. By that time, the Green ticket will already be on the ballot. It is too late by then to get off the ballot.
Which states will be the contested states? The open letter says 10. Many analysts are saying closer to 15. Some states will go in and out of contested status with the ups and downs of the polls during the campaign. How do the safe-states strategists determine now which of the states the Greens are supposed to stay off the ballot? Any candidate seeking the Green presidential nomination who refused to petition and campaign in the 20% to 30% states that might be contested would not get the Green nomination at the convention.
The signature and other requirements to get third-party candidates on the ballot are off-the-charts more difficult in the US than almost every other electoral democracy in the world. The Green Party is qualified for the ballot in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Greens are now petitioning to get over a million signatures needed to get safely on to the other 30 states as well. Greens who knock themselves out petitioning to qualify the Green Party for their state ballot are not going to abandon their campaign in the fall, especially when ballot access for the next election cycle depends on the Green presidential vote in that state.
Georgia is now considered a swing state based on the 2018 Abrams/Kemp gubernatorial contest and 2020 presidential polling. Georgia has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. While Democrats and Republicans do not have to petition on to the ballot, Green candidates must submit tens of thousands of signatures — 1% of voters for statewide offices and 5% of voters for district offices. So Jimmy Cooper, the Green candidate in Georgia’s 8th congressional district, must pay a filing fee of $5,220 and collect 21,000 valid signatures, which in practice means 42,000 signatures to survive the certain signature challenges by county election offices charged by law with validating each signature. Jimmy’s Democratic and Republican opponents will simply pay the filing fee. For 77 years Georgia has had no third-party congressional candidates who petitioned on to the ballot by meeting met the 5% threshold. That ballot-access laws was enacted in 1943 expressly to keep a third party, the Communist Party, off the ballot, which was really about keeping African Americans from voting at that time of all-white Democratic primaries and the Republican lily-white factions being challenged by the African American Double-V for Victory Campaign against fascism abroad and segregation at home. If the 2020 Green presidential ticket gets a vote of 1% of the registered voters, the Georgia Green Party will get a minor party status that enables them to put their statewide candidates on the ballot without petitioning in 2022, just like the major parties do. But that won’t help Green congressional candidates like Jimmy Cooper. The exclusionary 5% petition requirement will remain for Greens in district races until the Greens reach the 20% vote threshold for president or governor that is required for major party status in Georgia. With 1% for president in 2020, Greens will be able to run statewide candidates in 2022 to campaign for fair ballot access in district races. Georgia Greens are not going to sacrifice that opportunity in deference to a Democratic Party that doesn’t want Greens on the ballot.
Pennsylvania is a battleground state by all accounts. The Green ticket will need 2% of the vote to secure a ballot line for the next election cycle. For Greens in Pennsylvania, the state is indeed a battleground. It’s a constant battle with Democrats as well as Republicans. Greens are fighting the Democrats over fracking and the hundreds of miles of new gas pipelines to supply the proposed Appalachia Storage and Trading Hub, a massive petrochemical infrastructure complex that will lock us into decades of fracked gas and oil as feedstocks for the production of synthetic plastics that are not biodegradable. They have long battled with Democrats in Philadelphia who partnered with state Republicans to close dozens of public schools and replace them with charter schools. Pennsylvania Greens don’t want to sacrifice their ability to run candidates against pro-fracking, pro-charter Democrats for another election cycle.
If we went through every state, safe or battleground in the 2020 presidential election, we would find every one of them is a battleground for the Green Party.
For Greens, all states are battleground states
The “safe states” are not safe for Greens. Take Michael Albert’s “safe state” of Massachusetts. In 1998, citizens petitioned to put an initiative referendum on the ballot for public campaign financing that won in a landslide, 58.4%-29.6%. The overwhelmingly Democratic legislature refused to fund it. That was the last straw for a former reform Democrat who became a Green named Jill Stein.
Or take my “safe state” of New York. The Democrats just enacted a law designed to kill third parties in New York by increasing the vote needed to maintain ballot status by two and a half times and tripling the petition signatures needed to get back on the ballot. It makes New York now one of the hardest states for third-party candidates to get on the ballot.
On affordable housing issues, Greens are fighting Democrats in every state and city they control. The Democrats are thick as thieves with their banker and real estate developer campaign donors in escalating rents, gentrification, displacement, and homelessness, as Trump himself was with the Democratic machine in New York City before he ran for president.
Greens in every state are fighting Democrats every day on fracking, oil and gas pipelines, single-payer, gentrification and displacement, public school privatization, living wages, police brutality, bloated military budgets and forever wars, and more. Greens want a presidential candidate who campaigns in their states in support of their local candidates and causes. They want to vote for a Green presidential alternative to the two-party system of corporate rule.
For the Greens, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are battlegrounds. The signers’ safe states proposal asks Greens in 20% to 30% of these states to campaign for the same Democratic Party we are battling every day. They want us to tell voters with a straight face to vote Green down ticket, but Democratic at the top of the ticket. Of course, in every one of those down ticket races, the Green candidate is being attacked by Democrats as a spoiler who is splitting “their” vote.
Greens splitting the Democratic vote is what the signers claim the Greens did in 2016 when they say that if Stein had not run in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Clinton would have won.
That is not really true. A CBS News poll asked Stein voters who they would have voted for if the ballot only had the options of Clinton and Trump. 61% would have stayed home. 25% would have voted for Clinton and 14% for Trump. Run those numbers for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and you find that Trump still would have won in all three states.
Of course, there are unlikely scenarios where the Green vote could be the margin of difference in the presidential race. The signers are asking the Green Party to campaign for the Democrats when they haven’t even tried to defend their own vote or correct rampant election irregularities when they lost to Republicans in dubious circumstances.
In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore called off demonstrations to continue the recount in Florida. After the US Supreme Court stopped the recount and anointed Bush, a consortium of news organizations did a thorough statewide recount and found that Gore won Florida.
In 2004, after Kerry refused to contest voter suppression, voting machine problems, and other irregularities in Ohio, it was the Green presidential candidate David Cobb who spearheaded a recount in Ohio that led to a US House Judiciary Committee report exposing widespread disenfranchisement of Black and Latino voters and to reforms in a few states.
The same thing happened in 2016, when the Stein campaign sought recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to expose voting irregularities, which has also led to some reforms.
It is a lot to ask the Green Party to campaign for Democrats who try to exclude the Greens from elections.
The signers claim “Voting Green in the swing states is a feel-good activity (‘vote your hopes, not your fears’) as if fear of climate disaster, for example, shouldn’t be a motivator for political action.”
It is condescending and disrespectful to say that Greens are political dilettantes who cast votes just to feel good. We vote to advance a program of system change. We don’t waste our votes affirming Democrats like Clinton who personified the elite consensus for the neoliberal economics and neoconservative imperialism that has given us unabated global warming, growing economic insecurity, and endless wars. We used our vote for Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka to demand a Green New Deal, improved Medicare for All, a job guarantee, student debt relief, ending US military aggression, and fair elections.
The climate crisis is a prime reason why Greens don’t support Democrats. The last Democratic administration’s “all of the above” energy policy was a euphemism for fracking the hell out of the country. Obama still brags about how the US became the world’s largest oil and gas producer under his administration. Clinton as Secretary of State promoted fracking globally. She had her delegates to the Democratic Platform Committee vote against all the climate policies proposed by Bill McKibben on behalf of the Sanders campaign. The one Sanders plank that was adopted was later reversed by the Democratic National Committee in August 2018 when it re-committed the party to taking fossil fuel industry money and went back on the record for the “all of the above” energy policy, the language that Sanders and McKibben got removed from the 2016 Democratic platform. Trump calls climate change a hoax, but the Democrats act as if it is a hoax.
The signers continue, saying “Real solutions require Trump out of office. Real solutions will become far more probable with Sanders or Warren in office. And real solutions will become somewhat more probable even with the likes of Biden in office.”
Yes, let’s be realistic. The Democrats are not going to bring us Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, deep cuts in the war budget, nuclear disarmament initiatives, or a national popular vote for president with ranked-choice voting.
Medicare for All? In four states now — Hawaii, California, Vermont, and last year New York — after Democratic state legislators passed single-payer legislation when they did not control both houses and the governorship. When they did have complete control and single-payer could be enacted, they stopped supporting it. When Obama convened a very public summit to discuss healthcare options in March 2009, the lead sponsor of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), made a personal request to Obama to attend. Obama said no until relenting at the last minute after much protest. The bill that became the Affordable Care Act was drafted by insurance industry hacks in a Democratic-controlled Senate committee.
Green New Deal? The Democrats have already killed this signature issue of the Green Party over the last decade. They took the brand and diluted the content. The non-binding resolution for a Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) eliminated the crucial ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure. It deleted the phase-out of nuclear power and the deep cuts in military spending to help fund the Green New Deal. It extended the deadline for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 20 years, from 2030 to 2050. Even that non-binding, watered-down Green New Deal went nowhere in the House, where the Democratic leadership won’t bring it up for a vote. Senate Leader McConnell (R-KY) did bring it up for a vote to get all the Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate on the record. Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called that a “trick” and told the Democrats to vote “present,” which they all obediently did except for the four Democrats who voted “no” with the Republicans.
Military spending cuts? Some of the Democratic candidates call for cuts without being specific. None of them are making cuts a major campaign issue. The vast majority of Congressional Democrats never make it an issue. Big majorities of them vote for the bloated Pentagon budget year after year. Meanwhile, my campaign is calling for a massive 75% cut to military spending, to reinvest that money into our real, ecosocialist Green New Deal
Nuclear disarmament initiatives? The day the Open Letter was released, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest to midnight they have every set it. In summarizing my article, the signers did not mention my nuclear disarmament program: pledge No First Use, unilaterally disarm to a Minimum Credible Deterrent, and, on the basis of those tension-reducing measures, initiate negotiations among the nuclear power for mutual disarmament to meet the terms of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The text of the treaty was agreed to by 122 non-nuclear nations two years ago completing negotiations that the US and all nuclear powers boycotted. Trump is now continuing the new nuclear arms race with the multi-trillion dollar nuclear modernization program that was initiated by the Obama administration with no major dissent from congressional Democrats. The life-or-death issue of nuclear disarmament should be a top 2020 campaign issue, but none of the Democrats are doing so. While Sanders, Warren, and Gabbard have signed on to No First Use legislation, none of them have made it a campaign issue. Only Gabbard mentions it on her campaign website.
Fair elections? One would think that after the last two Republicans assumed the presidency after losing the popular vote that the Democrats would move to abolish the Electoral College.
Tipping the election to the greater of two evils will always be a possibility as long as we elect presidents through the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a racial quota system for conservative white people. It was set up that way by the founders to magnify the power of the southern slaveowners, which was fine with the northern capitalists who did business with them. It continues to favor conservative white people by diluting the voting power of black people and other ethnic and political minorities because it gives all of a state’s electoral votes to the plurality winner, which is fine with today’s capitalist class because they don’t want a government that represents the vast majority of people.
It is only the Green Party that is demanding majority rule through a national popular vote for president using ranked-choice voting. Greens also call for proportional representation in Congress so all of the people, not just the capitalists through their representatives in the two major parties, are represented in Congress.
The Democrats have had 20 years since Bush took the presidency after losing the popular vote to make these rigged elections an issue. After Trump was the loser who again took the presidency for the Republicans, all the Democrats could do was blame Russians and Greens. We are not waiting for the Democrats.
If we are realistic, there are no real solutions coming from the Democratic Party. For real solutions, we need to build an independent left movement and party.
The real Green Party
The open letter makes a couple of other assertions about the Green Party that are simply wrong or certainly debatable.
It asks rhetorically, “Weren’t more potential Green Party members and voters driven off by the party’s dismissal of the dangers of Trump than were inspired by it?”
The votes suggest otherwise. Stein’s vote tripled from 469,627 votes (0.36%) in 2012 to 1,457,218 (1.07%) in 2016. Only 81% of 2012 Obama voters voted for Clinton. 9% voted for Trump, 7% stayed home, and 3% voted for a third party candidate. Far from driving voters away, Stein and the Green Party grew. It was Clinton who drove voters away from her party. As I titled my article “The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem.”
The open letter also asks rhetorically, “Weren’t the Greens in the late ’80s and early ’90s winning elections to city councils and other local offices across the country, consistent with a grassroots strategy, though for much of the past 20 years, they’ve largely abandoned local and state contests, devoting nearly all their attention to increasingly harmful races for president?”
Not true again. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the number of Green candidates each year grew from handfuls in the late ‘80s to around 100 in even years in the ’90s. After Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2000, the Greens have run hundreds of candidates every year, with a rate of winning office in local races of 30%-40%. 130 Greens currently hold elected office.
The Greens have never put most of their resources into presidential campaigns. The presidential campaigns have been useful to state and local parties to secure ballot lines and recruit people to the party for local and state politics. By far the most Green time and money goes into local politics.
Building the Green Party from below has always been the party’s approach. At our first national organizing meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota in August 1984, we concluded from the experiences of the 1968 Peace and Freedom campaign, the People’s Party campaigns of 1972 and 1976, and the Citizens Party campaign of 1980, that a viable third party could not be built out of a presidential campaign. We spent the next dozen years building local parties before putting Nader on the presidential ballot in 1996.
If the Greens are going to become a major party in American politics, we should be electing thousands of local candidates going into the 2020s to build our political strength from the bottom up. It doesn’t help that cause to have luminaries of the left reinforcing the conventional wisdom of mainstream liberalism that says the Democrats are the only vehicle for progressive reform and that the Greens are just spoilers, objectively Republican, and, lately, Russian assets.
The historical experiences and power structure analyses that yielded the traditional socialist principle of working-class political independence in 1848 are not even discussed by most progressives and self-styled socialists today. They continue to get nowhere inside the Democratic Party on an endless treadmill of lobbying, and sometimes primarying, the corporate Democrats, and then lining up behind the corporate Democrats in the general elections. They put more effort into punching down to their left at the Greens instead of up against the corporate Democrats to their right because the corporate Democrats are, after all, the “lesser evil”.
There's always a lesser evil
Johnson or Goldwater? Carter or Reagan? Clinton or Bush 1? Gore or Bush 2? Obama or McCain? Clinton or Trump? Sometimes the lesser evil won and sometimes it didn’t.
The existing power structure remained in power under both lesser and greater evils. The power elite continued to rotate in and out of the higher echelons of the big banks and corporations and the federal intelligence, military, and economic departments and agencies. These elites continued to hold business and bureaucratic vetoes against any departure from globalized neoliberal capitalism enforced by U.S. military power. These economic and foreign policies have moved steadily to the right as the old New Deal Democrats morphed into the corporate New Democrats because they paid no political price on their left.
The result of voting for the lesser evils is that it leads to greater evils. The classic case is the 1932 German presidential election. The Social Democrats decided not to run their own candidate. They supported the conservative Paul von Hindenburg as the lesser evil to the Nazi Adolph Hitler. The Social Democrats got what they wanted. Von Hindenburg won the presidency with 53%. Hitler got 37%. The Communist got 10%. Von Hindenburg then appointed Hitler to Chancellor. The lesser evil won and the greater evil came to power.
The alternative would have been to run a joint left candidate supported by both the Social Democrats and the Communists. The Social Democrats had the support of about a third of the electorate and the Communists 10%. Instead, while the socialists supported the lesser evil, the Communists ran a sectarian campaign that vilified the Social Democrats as “social fascists.” One of their stupid slogans was “After Hitler, our turn.”
The analogy to our situation is that it is divisive of the left for the signers of this open letter to tell the Green Party to abandon its left campaign in order to support their lesser evil. I don’t vilify progressive Democrats for running their own candidates inside the Democratic Party. I don’t call them spoilers for splitting the center-left vote and hurting Green candidates.
Progressive Democrats should recognize that Greens are their allies on many policy demands. Greens give them political leverage inside the Democratic Party because Green competition means the corporate Democrats cannot take the progressive vote completely for granted. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was right when she recently said that in any other country, she and Joe Biden would be in different parties. We agree on many reforms. We disagree on electoral approaches. She thinks the left can take over the Democratic Party. I don’t. If the left did, I would join her. In the meantime, I welcome into the Green Party any progressive Democrat who concludes that taking over the Democrats is futile.
My purpose in seeking the Green Party nomination for president is to urge and assist the Green Party to qualify for more state ballots and to use those ballot lines to elect thousands of local candidates as we move into the 2020s to municipal and county and soon state and congressional offices. The strategy is to build an independent movement and party for ecosocialism from the bottom up into a major party in American politics.
We are running out of time to address the life-or-death issues of the climate crisis, the nuclear arms race, and the growing economic inequality that has become a survival issue for working people whose life expectancies are now declining in this country. We don’t have time to march in place with a safe-states strategy to elect a lesser evil Democrat. If the Democrats again give us a dismal choice between a corporate Democrat and Trump, and lose again because they cannot get their natural base out to vote for them, it will be their fault, not the fault of the Greens.