The Green Party of the United States took a huge step forward on Saturday, June 26th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And it wasn’t because the assembled delegates nominated someone, David Cobb, for President.
It was because of HOW it was done.
Going into the convention there was deep concern on the part of many Greens around the country about what was going to happen. For a year or longer there has been a sometimes-bitter internal debate about what should be done as far as “the presidential question.” The perceived threat of an emboldened, second Bush administration has led some to work for Dennis Kucinich. A small group is now working for Kerry, although it is a very small group. Some have said that they will be voting for Kerry and are urging others to do the same.
The three main positions going into Milwaukee were to neither nominate nor endorse anyone, to nominate former GPUS general counsel David Cobb, or to nominate no one and then endorse Ralph Nader. A variant of the pro-Nader position, one pushed by California GP leader Peter Camejo, called for no nomination and then an endorsement of both Cobb and Nader.
A nominated candidate would get the Green Party ballot line in 22 states and Washington, D.C. An endorsed candidate would get some measure of political support but not necessarily a state Green ballot line; it would be up to each individual state party to determine what it wanted to do. In some states a lack of a nomination would probably mean no candidate would be on the ballot because of state election law.
The political struggle over these positions was intense, and it went down to the wire.
Convention week was begun on Monday with a huge announcement by Nader that he was choosing Camejo to be his Vice Presidential candidate. Score one for the pro-Nader forces.
Two days later Medea Benjamin, like Camejo a California Green Party leader, issued a statement headlined, “Want to Get Rid of Bush and Grow the Greens? Support David Cobb.”
As people gathered in Milwaukee for the official first day of the convention on Wednesday, the battle was joined. A primary “stage” for the on-going debate was the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel, a union hotel where many delegates were staying and where many meetings and caucuses were held. Proponents of Nader/Camejo and Cobb, as well as those supporting other positions, set up their leafleting and lobbying teams and for three days mingled with each other and with other delegates trying to gather the necessary 50% plus one needed to win.
Significantly, there were no physical altercations or, as far as I am aware, even any nasty emotional outbursts between those on the respective sides, while there was a great deal of reasoned discussion, as well as robust, vigorous and competitive debate.
This same process of debate and discussion went on at state caucuses, in the room full of literature tables, in the hallways and throughout the convention.
A Close Race
Everyone knew that it was close. David Cobb went into the convention with about 33% of the delegates pledged to him.
Those supporting Nader, as well as candidates Camejo, Lorna Salzman, Carol Miller and Paul Glover, all of whom personally supported Nader, had about 28% of the delegates.
23% of the delegates were officially uncommitted, 12% were for no nominee, and the remainder were for Kent Mesplay and other candidates.
Thursday evening was set up by the Green Party convention planners as the one time prior to Saturday’s decision-making when all the candidates would meet in an open forum. For close to two hours Camejo, Cobb, Mesplay and Salzman (Miller and Glover were not there) answered a series of questions put to them by the moderator in front of a room completely jammed with many hundreds of delegates, observers and press.
Camejo and Cobb, as the two main protagonists, were both “on their game.” Both came across as articulate and passionate in support of their positions. Toward the end of the forum/debate, things got heated as Camejo accused Cobb of being a supporter of John Kerry and Cobb countered by articulating what he has been calling a “smart growth” strategy which prioritizes building the Green Party while also running a campaign which helps to get Bush out of office.
One piece of hard news emerged at the debate when Cobb announced that his campaign had chosen Pat LaMarche, a 43 year old single mother of two and radio personality from Maine, to be his Vice Presidential running mate. In 1998, running as the Maine Green Party’s candidate for Governor, she received 7% of the statewide vote, winning ballot status for the party.
Friday morning began with the Cobb campaign distributing a statement they called, “The True Position of the Cobb/LaMarche Campaign on the Iraq War: End the Occupation, Bring the U.S. Troops Home Now.” The statement quoted from press releases issued in April and May and posted on the votecobb.org website, while also criticizing Camejo for “misrepresent(ing) the position of the Cobb/LaMarche Campaign on the Iraq war” at the Thursday evening debate.
Throughout the day the pro-Nader people distributed a leaflet urging those who supported Nader/Camejo to vote a certain way on Saturday. In the first round, they said, vote as mandated by your state. In the second round, when almost all states released delegates to vote their conscience, vote for no nominee, the Nader forces urged. If a majority on the second round voted no nominee, this would then allow for a vote to endorse Nader/Camejo, or endorse both Cobb/LaMarche and Nader/Camejo, on the third round.
In late afternoon both campaigns put out another piece of literature. The Nader campaign distributed a letter from Ralph Nader in which he explained that he would not be coming to the convention but articulated the rationale for why the convention should endorse him. Nader spoke later that evening via telephone hook-up to a pro-Nader rally of, according to reports, about 200 delegates and observers.
The Cobb campaign leaflet highlighted what it called an inconsistency between Ralph Nader’s position of trying to influence Kerry/the Democrats and “retire Bush,” and Camejo’
s position, articulated Thursday evening, that “Greens should never, ever vote for a Democrat.” The leaflet asked, “What is the Nader/Camejo strategy?”
Day of Decision
As people began arriving at the Midwest Airlines Convention Center Saturday morning the politicking continued. Cobb forces were buoyed by an unexpected endorsement in that morning’s major Milwaukee daily newspaper, the Journal Sentinel. The headline read, “David Cobb for the Greens.”
The day’s historic events began with the adoption of a comprehensive and impressive, updated national Green Party platform that had been worked on for many months with much input prior to Milwaukee from Greens all over the country.
Then we got down to the main event.
Matt Gonzalez had been decided upon as the Election Administrator by the GPUS’ national coordinating committee. Gonzalez is the Chair of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and nearly won last year in a nationally publicized election for Mayor of San Francisco.
In the first round there were no major surprises. David Cobb led with 308 votes, followed by Peter Camejo with 119, Ralph Nader with 117, no nominee with 109, Lorna Salzman with 40, Kent Mesplay with 24 and various other candidates with smaller numbers, including Joann Beeman, a “favorite daughter” and elected drain commissioner from Michigan.
Both sides were nervous as Gonzalez adjourned the session for lunch. Over lunch caucusing continued with appeals to hold firm by Camejo to both the California and New York delegations, two Nader/Camejo strongholds. Cobb campaign leaders felt hopeful but not certain that they could win on the second round. The outcome depended primarily on how the 109 first round no nominee votes were cast on the second round.
Prior to Saturday both the Cobb and Nader campaigns had “worked” the no nominee delegates. The Cobb campaign argued that those who held that position-people who, in general, wanted the Green Party to focus its limited resources on local campaigns this year-should see a Cobb nomination as their second preference, that a Nader endorsement would be a worse alternative for those who wanted to build up Green Party strength via local campaigns given David Cobb’s first priority of using his campaign to build the Green Party.
The convention readjourned about 2:30 to start the second round of voting. It was reported that there were four options for delegates. One option was David Cobb. Another was no nominee. The third was Kent Mesplay, and the fourth was Joann Beeman. There were no other options because, unlike the first round, the convention rules mandated that only no nominee and candidates who signed a statement affirming that they would accept a GP Presidential nomination would be eligible to receive votes after the first round. Cobb, Mesplay and Beeman were the only candidates who signed that statement.
It was obvious to everyone that the big question was whether or not David Cobb and Pat LaMarche would be able to gain the additional 77 delegates needed to have 50% plus one. If they failed to do so, that would give a major boost to the Nader/Camejo side and continue the voting into future rounds.
The first three states, Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas, reported no movement toward Cobb. But the fourth state, California, was a different story. Cobb gained 22 votes as compared to the first round, going from 13 to 35. The pro-Cobb delegates cheered.
As the reports continued, a clear trend began to emerge.
Cobb was holding his own in every state, gaining one, two or three up until Maine, home state of Pat LaMarche, which thrilled the pro-Cobb delegates by going from 7 in the first round to 18 in the second.
A few rounds later, Minnesota gave Cobb an additional 10 delegates as compared to the first round, and as the reports continued the Cobb vote kept gaining ground. By the time it got to Virginia, he was right there with, unofficially, 77 additional votes. When Virginia gave him six more votes that pretty much sealed it. All that was needed was for the same trend to continue, for Cobb to lose no ground in the remaining four states.
When Wisconsin went 33-1 for Cobb, a gain of eight votes, everyone knew it was over. All that remained was for Texas, which had passed when they were called earlier, to announce that 34 of their 35 votes were for Cobb. Texas is where David Cobb was born, lived and did Green Party organizing until a year or so ago.
For many the celebration began, genuine joy over a hard-fought victory. Hugs and kisses and dancing in the aisles erupted until David burst onto the stage and introduced Pat LaMarche for her first speech to the assembled delegates. Following it, David came to the podium and spoke graciously about Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo as he called for a strong campaign by the Green Party, indicating his intention to go to Ohio, Pennsylvania “and New York, if you want me,” to help efforts in those states to get Cobb/LaMarche on the ballot.
For others, the feelings certainly ranged from mixed to deep disappointment. But as the session was adjourned by Matt Gonzalez, many of us left the convention center feeling extremely proud not just about the results but about the political maturity displayed by the convention as a whole in the way we had just dealt with a hugely difficult, months-long, often-painful issue.
Green and Growing
This was an amazing week, an emotional roller-coaster for those of us immersed in it. For large numbers of the delegates, it was a strengthening experience and not just because we successfully navigated the dangerous shoals of decision-making regarding the big Presidential question. There were the many dedicated activists we met from all over the country who we know will keep building this important organization at the key, local, grassroots level for months and years to come. There were the local Green elected officials like Matt Gonzalez, Jason West, Joyce Chen and Brenda Konkel and many others that we met and interacted with, as well as the candidates running for office all over the country. There were the valuable workshops and caucuses on a whole range of issues, the great street party Friday evening, the general spirit of unity and common purpose that pervaded the deliberations. The women’s caucus, youth caucus and black caucus all took steps forward. International visitors and speakers reminded us that we are part of an international movement worldwide and that we have major responsibilities to the world’s struggling peoples and threatened ecosystem.
The numbers show it: there is clear, persistent, quantitative growth on the part of the Green Party of the United States, now with affiliates in 44 states, with 205 Greens in office and ballot-qualified in 22 states and D.C.
But just as important, Milwaukee ’04 demonstrated that there is also qualitative growth.
As David Cobb said in his inspiring speech Saturday night, the Green Party is chock full of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” In this time of great danger but also great possibilities, this is no small thing.