That's really the heart of the matter. I've just never believed in the two-party system, or the two parties that make it up. It has always seemed to me that the Democrats and Republicans don't really disagree about much of anything--they just pretend to. Both sides yell and scream about their alleged "differences," and the corporate media plays along...and then Congress passes legislation that just happens to be great for big banks and defense contractors and other swine, and bad for everybody else. It doesn't seem to matter very much whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House, or which of the two major parties is in control of Congressional committees. The results are pretty much the same.
Bitter experience has taught me this. Watching the Democrats' shenanigans for thirty years has taught me this. As far back as my teens, I was always scratching my head trying to understand what made Jimmy Carter so much different from his Republican predecessors. After voting for Barry Commoner for president in 1980, I registered as a Democrat in my home state of Ohio in 1984 so I could vote for Jesse Jackson in the primary. I figured maybe therewas some room for people like me in the Democratic Party, and I voted for Jackson again in '88. But what good did it do? My fellow "Left" Democrats did not push Jackson to further rally and organize the progressive wing of the party or even try to build on what he had accomplished in the '80s. BillClinton came along with his pledge to "end welfare as we know it" and other such post-Reagan, "New Democrat" projects. He cozied up to the Republicans and shepherded NAFTA through Congress, then the effective repeal
of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, then the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and on and on. He utterly wrecked a large part of the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt must have been rolling in his grave. As I watched Clinton and the Democrats in Congress, and even Democrats at the local level, I couldn't help saying to myself: With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans!
To cut a long story short, I enrolled in the Independence Party in New Yorkin 1998--just to "get away" from being a Democrat--but then much more enthusiastically registered in the Green Party in the early summer of 2000. I immediately jumped in to volunteer for the Nader/LaDuke campaign. Now, during the '90s I had been very active in the Labor Party (which, unfortunately,was never able to get on the ballot and qualify its supporters to registeras Labor voters), so I had already been going in the direction of a progressive third party for quite some time. But in 2000, here was Ralph Nader, probably the greatest figure since LaFollette or Debs to take the fight for justice into the electoral arena. And the Greens seemed like they really wanted to build a truly independent party to compete with both the Republicans and the Democrats. I worked on two more Nader presidential campaigns after that, and also ran for local office as a Green. I stuck with the
Green Party until 2009.
Rob Kall asks (in his May 3 OpEdNews article) what his readers' experiencesmay have been as members of a third party. Of course, in my case that's the Greens. But a discussion of the Green Party during the last decade could fill a book. In fact, it already has. Howie Hawkins, the Greens' very effective candidate for governor of New York in 2010 and easily the best activist the party has, compiled and edited many articles, open letters, and speeches into a book in 2005 entitled "Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate." This is a history in documents, written by the participants themselves. Anybody thinking about joining the Green Party should read it.
But whether we're talking about working with the Greens or some other progressive party, or doing politics as a fully independent ("unaffiliated") voter, the first order of business is to admit that the Democratic Party is a big waste of time. Progressives need to face up to that and then, well...move on. They need to follow their own enthusiasm, and leave the scheming and calculating and posturing to the hustlers who run the two major parties. They need to take action on their own, without the interference of the corporate fascists who bankroll both the Republicans and the Democrats. I was enthusiastic about joining the Greens in 2000 not only because Nader was articulating things about American politics that I believed in. More fundamentally, it was because Nader and the Greens were doing something about it. They weren't just yammering about it at academic conferences. They were taking action. And I wanted to be part of it.
It was tremendously exciting. I put in a lot of volunteer hours during the 2000 campaign, then followed that up by trying to help organize the Green Party at the local level in New York in 2001, 2002, and 2003. During those years the Greens really were trying to compete for power, and we were havingsome success. Matt Gonzalez, for instance, came very close to winning election as the first Green mayor of a major American city (San Francisco) in 2003. Certainly one of the strongest Green candidates ever, Gonzalez forced a run-off election in which he almost beat Democrat Gavin Newsom. His near-loss was heartbreaking for Greens, of course, but it was also very encouraging that he had come so close. But in the years since, no Green has come anywhere near to winning election to a major office. Looking back, it's pretty obvious that what made the Green Party credible and real in those days was primarily that we had run a strong, dynamic national campaign in
2000 and had followed up with strong, independent campaigns in 2001-03. And I, along with many other Greens, wanted to keep going in that direction.
So naturally I was crushed when the Greens lurched back toward the Democrats in 2004. I was a Nader delegate at the Milwaukee convention, but a majority of the delegates chose to nominate a candidate who had pledged, more or less, to run a campaign that wouldn't "get in the way" of the Democrats' campaign. In effect, he proposed putting the interests of the Democratic Party ahead of the interests of the Green Party, and for some bizarre reason most of the delegates concurred. Some of us continued, under the leadership of Peter Camejo of California, to fight for an independent Green Party. But ultimately we lost, and in any case the moment of truth had already come and gone in June of 2004.
A strong Green Party in 2004, united behind Ralph Nader and unapologetic about having run a competitive campaign in 2000, could have revolutionized American politics. In fact, I think that kind of revolution--what we might call an "electoral" revolution--is still possible. Why shouldn't it be? Just think of what we could accomplish by electing people who are truly committed to the reforms and policies we really want, instead of just settling for what a bunch of comfortable, complacent, well-paid white liberals want. Single-payer healthcare, repeal of Taft-Hartley, massive support for renewableenergy, prosecuting big-time corporate criminals, bringing all the troops (and mercenaries) home--there's a majority for that program out there, if only somebody would stand up for it.
Yet many people are reluctant to be that proactive. They know that if they do strike out on their own, they're asking for trouble from the people in power. Independent political action of any kind is bound to annoy one or both major parties. They can't stand anyone challenging their political monopoly, and they get especially irritable when the challengers embarrass them and expose the stupidity of the two-party system. Democrats and Republicans don't want independents making the voters wonder: "Hey...why are we so attached to these corrupt, dishonest, not-very-bright hacks and their two big political parties?" It's a short jump from asking that question to drawing the conclusion that we don't, in fact, need the two major parties and we should finally just give up on them.
The Democrats especially want to thwart independent political action. In 2000, all it took was an honest man running a populist campaign on issues thevoters were hungry to hear about, and it just drove the Democrats crazy. They have this feeling of entitlement--the nutty idea that they own roughly half of the electorate. In other words, they think that my vote somehow belongs to them. (The Republican leadership probably has a similar attitude toward its own flock, but they don't have quite as much trouble with the insurgents. Note that the Tea "Party" isn't a party at all--that is, it's not the least bit independent of the Republican Party. They really ought to callthemselves the Tea Caucus.)
Democrats rant at us ex-Democrats as if we owed them something. And they blame us for their own crimes. The Democrats who blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore's loss in 2000 are really the ones who gave us George W. Bush. They did it by spending the '80s and '90s caving in to the Republicans on issue afterissue, and giving them practically everything they wanted. (Or, to be moreprecise, by giving the Big Business lobbyists everything they wanted.) So is it any wonder that many people who once loyally voted Democrat don't bother to vote at all anymore?
Many registered Democrats blame their party's leadership for all the cowardly retreats and concessions to the right-wingers, implying that they have no power of their own. I don't buy that excuse. Even after that awful experience in 2004, I still don't think that the "leaders" of any given party have some crushing, overpowering influence with the rank-and-file. If a solid majority of the active Greens across the country (just a few thousand people at most) had really wanted to challenge the Democrats and Republicans in 2004, they could have done it. That is, no cabal of de facto Democrats up at the top could have stopped us. But plainly there was not the will, among the active members, to really stand up and fight. (Among the full rank-and-file--that is, the entire list of registered Green Party voters, the vast majority of whom were not active in the day-to-day business of the Greens--it's a different story. As late as February 2008, Nader won the Green
Party primary in California with 62 percent of the vote.)
Not just among Greens, but in all political parties, most members don't have to be puppets dancing on the strings held by the leadership. Sure, sneaky, manipulative party leaders have often called all the shots in the past, but it's not some law of nature that it has to be that way. Most people in this country are as free as they want to be. At least that's true in the political arena, where they are indeed much freer than they are (for example) in the workplace, where most people have to kowtow to some supervisor. Politics is one of those realms, like religion, where Americans have plenty of freedom.
And in the privacy of the voting booth we are freest of all. No one else has any right to demand to know who you voted for. And while friends, relatives, and co-workers may pester you about it and expect you to divulge your choice, as a free agent you don't owe them an answer to that question. In fact, if they do keep bothering you about it, you'd do well to tell 'em whereto get off. In short, in the voting booth--there's no peer pressure.
This doesn't mean that politics--that is, a dynamic, participatory democracy--doesn't take considerable time and effort. It does. And independent politics requires substantially more than the standard, two-party variety, if only because powerful people will always be trying to strangle independent formations in the cradle. New political movements are always going to be mobbed up with rats and saboteurs. But that doesn't mean that some well-funded, well-organized gang of wreckers will always be able to march a new political party off a cliff. They may find it impossible, particularly if most ofthe active members of that new party truly want to be independent. That's the key.