Future Hope column, July 14, 2008
By Ted Glick
Several times on Saturday, July 12th, the day Cynthia McKinney became the Green Party’s 2008 Presidential candidate, I found myself thinking: I wonder how this compares to the national nominating conventions of the third parties that immediately preceded the Republican Party of the 19th Century.
The Republican Party was once a third party. Abraham Lincoln won office in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote, doing so because the Republicans were in competition with three other parties running Presidential candidates, all of which got double digit percentages of the popular vote.
But before the Republicans were formed in the mid-1850’s other smaller parties—the Liberty, American and Free Soil parties—had plowed the ground and planted the seeds that led to the emergence of the Republicans, Lincoln’s election, the Civil War, the abolition of slavery and, for an historically brief period of time, Reconstruction governments in the South that enacted progressive legislation to benefit both poor blacks and poor whites.
I’m sure those who attended the Free Soil conventions had their doubts. How could they ever overcome the slave owners and the moneyed interests, they must have wondered. How could this relatively rag tag political movement ever become the force needed to make serious change?
It’s hard to believe, sometimes, many times, that we really can change the world. As Ingrid Betancourt once said, one of our greatest obstacles is our skepticism. But then moments happen—historical moments—like Saturday at the Palmer House in Chicago, that give us renewed hope and energy.
It was historic that an African American woman, a six-times-elected former Congressperson from Georgia, and a Puerto Rican woman, a leader of the youth-based Hip Hop movement, were chosen as the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates of a party that will be on the ballot in 30-40 or more states, enough states to mathematically win the Presidency.
It was historic for the Green Party that it made this decision.
But most important of all, it was historic that a new, multi-racial, grassroots movement was born, or re-born, in Chicago. Though predominantly white, it is a movement with strong women of color playing central leadership roles and with an anti-racist consciousness on the part of many of its white local, state and national leaders. It is a multi-issue movement making the connections between racism, sexism, heterosexism, climate change, war, poverty, economic injustice, immigrant rights and other issues. And it is by no means solely electoral. One well-attended workshop discussed the plans of No War, No Warming for nonviolent direct action at the Republican Convention and a “no more stolen elections” campaign. This campaign will gather pledges of people prepared to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience if the fall of 2008 sees the kind of voter suppression and election machine chicanery that we saw in 2000 and 2004.
The timing for the McKinney nomination was fortuitous, happening just as mainstream news stories and commentators are reporting on and writing about Barack Obama’s political right turn, his abandonment or softening of a number of liberal and progressive positions.
Cynthia McKinney’s acceptance speech said little about Obama. Instead she focused on the imperative need for the values-based Green Party and its values-based political platform, one she believed was in tune with the values and viewpoints of a majority of the American people. She skillfully and eloquently wove together a compelling call for action on a range of issues. She was interrupted by applause many times, as was a similar, if different, speech by the VP candidate Rosa Clemente.
McKinney made clear what to her would be a significant victory—5% of the vote, which she saw as establishing the Green Party as a legitimate political player on the national scene. Though visionary and inspirational, Cynthia McKinney had her feet planted firmly on the ground.
She also knew, based on personal experience, that her campaign and her candidacy would experience multiple dishonest attempts to discredit it and direct attacks. The day after her nomination she educated Green Party delegates about the years of public attacks on Martin Luther King, Jr. prior to his assassination as he went beyond civil rights to give leadership against the Vietnam War and for human rights and economic justice.
For the Green Party, this convention was like a pool of cool, clear water found by a group of people hiking across a hot, unforgiving desert.
The last four years have been very rough. It has been hard enough that the Green Party, like the rest of us, has been suffering under four additional years of Bush/Cheney and two years of a Democrat-controlled Congress that has allowed the Iraq war to continue and Bush to avoid impeachment, among other outrages. But for the Green Party, its also been the divisiveness generated by the 2004 contest between Ralph Nader and David Cobb for the GP’s support.
For some, a small but loud minority of 2004 Nader supporters, his loss at the 2004 convention was a reason for repeated and nasty sectarian attacks on Cobb and a number of those who supported him.
Almost none, if any, of those sectarian Nader supporters were present in Chicago, although there were definitely Nader supporters present. But Nader’s decision to run as an independent and NOT to contest for the Green Party’s endorsement this time led to a much more unified and positive political process. 300-350 delegates and several hundred others from almost 40 states came together hoping for the best and, from all indications, left feeling very inspired. They returned home ready to roll up their sleeves and do the essential follow-up to make this new political movement’s first major campaign—the McKinney/Clemente campaign—as successful as possible.
It is to be hoped that as the news about Chicago spreads, a growing number of people will get involved. Most immediately, money is urgently needed, and people are needed to be part of petition campaigns this summer, right now, to get the Green Party on the ballot in a number of states.
The emergence of the McKinney/Clemente campaign raises a number of questions:
For those tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people who are or have been members or supporters of progressive third parties, will you come forward now when something has emerged which is a qualitative step forward and which has tremendous upside potential?
For those people who fully understand that the Democratic Party is in no way part of the solution, will you continue to criticize or do nothing to support the Green Party and the McKinney/Clemente campaign even after the Green Party has proven its staying power and has birthed a clearly significant and needed, hopeful political alliance?
And finally, how much longer can our threatened ecosystem and our suffering peoples wait before a critical mass of independent progressives, radicals and revolutionaries join forces in a strategic, mass-based alternative whose presence and successes can move the country forward in a way that nothing else can?
As for myself, I’ve begun to respond to this historic development. Sunday morning I did something that I’ve never done before for any candidate. I made a $1,000 donation to the Green Party. More accurately, I put a $1,000 debt on my credit card. I did so as a way of literally putting my money where my mouth and my pen are.
One more question: what will those reading this column do? What will you do?
Ted Glick has been a Green Party member and activist since 2000. For the last four years his primary work has been focused on the climate crisis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.