Bernie and the Green Party

A few weeks after Bernie Sanders announced for President, I was pleased to see an email from someone who has been a leader in the US Green Party for about as long as it has existed, going back to the 80’s. In that email he referred positively to the development of the Bernie for President campaign. What he wrote was that by Sanders speaking out strongly on the issues and stirring things up, that would open people up to Green Party candidates and organizers saying similar things.

Since then, however, I’ve seen statements from a few other Greens critical of Bernie for his decision to run within the Democratic primaries, or for positions he has taken on some issues.

What should the Green Party be saying about the very hopeful and amazingly fast-rising Sanders for President campaign?

One option, the one I hope it doesn’t take, is to stand on the sidelines of the campaign, being either silent or critical, saying, in effect, that Bernie shouldn’t be supported because, for the first time in his life, he is running for office as a Democrat, or because on a relative handful of issues, he doesn’t have a strong enough progressive position.

There are definitely Green Party members who believe that it is a contradiction to be a serious progressive and run for office as a Democrat, or to support someone doing so. In my view, they make the mistake of making the question of what party line you run on into a principle, which it is not—it is a tactical decision. This may not be true elsewhere in the world but it sure is in the United States where we have one of the most undemocratic and hostile-to-third-parties electoral systems in the world. An approach that narrows down who is progressive and trustworthy to whether or not they run as a Green or an independent is going to lead to a very narrowly-based party or movement. Maybe that will change somewhere down the road, years into the future, but it sure isn’t the case now.

The option on the other side of the possible options is for the national Green Party to decide to come out in support of Bernie. That would be a big deal.

If the Green Party did this, would it mean that it wouldn’t run its own Presidential candidate? Not necessarily. It could decide to give critical support to the Sanders campaign for as long as he is in the race while proceeding ahead with its internal processes to decide on a GP Presidential candidate and to petition to get ballot lines in states where it doesn’t have one. If Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, it can then move forward with its Presidential campaign.

What if Sanders does win the nomination, however? It’s a long shot for sure but not so long as things were looking just one month ago. If this happens, it would be an incredibly historic development. A proud “democratic socialist” capturing the nomination of the Democratic Party? It seems as impossible to believe as it was in 2007/2008 that a black man whose name was Barack Hussein Obama could win the Presidency.

In such a case, I would say, the Green Party and everyone else on the Left should throw themselves into trying to elect Bernie Sanders President, no doubt about it.

I have been a member of organizations working to build a political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans since 1975, 40 years ago. For just about all of that time I have believed that one key aspect of a strategy for a truly mass third party, a mass political alternative, a mass people’s alliance, is the necessity of a significant chunk of the left wing of the Democratic Party breaking from the corporatist/ corporate-influenced wing. My 40 years of experience has taught me how essential that is. And now the Sanders campaign is playing that role, sharpening the differences within the DP and functioning as a pole of attraction to bring together the mass popular alliance that is, indeed, a key aspect of a winning strategy for taking power away from the corporate rulers and building a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Some in the Green Party don’t agree with that approach. Their approach, their strategy, seems to be to “build the Green Party.” I don’t see it happening, and I know it’s not going to happen in the next year or so if it sets itself apart from or in opposition to the Sanders for President mass movement. Indeed, as someone who has been an active member of the Green Party since 2000, who ran as the Green Party of NJ’s candidate for US Senate in 2002, who has been the co-chair of a local branch of the Green Party in northern NJ for over five years, and who has been supportive of a number of Green Party candidates, from local office up to the President, for all of that time, I think what the national party decides about the Sanders campaign is a very big deal.

Let the debate be joined.