Building a Blue-Green Coalition in California
By Marcy Winograd
Former Democratic Candidate for Congress
After the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, with its codification of imprisonment without charge or trial, I could no longer register voters for the Democratic Party – even with the hope of involving new registrants in the California Democratic Party’s popular Progressive Caucus. If I could not ask someone to join the Democratic Party, I could not in good conscience stay in the party, even as an insurgent writing resolutions and platform planks to end our wars for oil.
Unfortunately, too many corporate Democrats, beholden to big-money donors or to a jobs sector dependent on militarism, vote for perpetual war and the surveillance state, replete with secret wiretaps, black hole prisons, and targeted assassinations. Far too many who are fearful or bought by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee vote for legislation that relegates Palestinians to second-class citizenship and threatens to take our country to the brink of an unthinkable war on Iran.
President Obama, despite his eloquence and initial popularity, has continued, and in some cases, expanded Republican Party policies under George Bush by escalating drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; hiring deregulators from predatory banks to craft economic policy; repeatedly putting Social Security cuts on the table; lifting a 20-year moratorium on new nuclear power plants; signing NDAA legislation that eviscerates due process; increasing U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids and arrests of undocumented workers.
As the US empire crashes on the shores of rapacious greed, as power shifts from the federal to the local level, the Green Party can play a crucial role in creating and promoting local economies, worker or consumer-owned cooperatives, model municipal policy and participatory democracy. The time is ripe for municipal federalism with its emphasis on cities sharing expertise, policies, and strategies for community building in a sustainable world.
I want to be part of that movement to create a post-empire future that rejects perpetual war, addictive consumerism and vulture capitalism to embrace a life-affirming vision of sustainability with measurable goals for energy, water and food independence.
As more people struggle financially and the cost of energy and optional travel increases, Americans will stay closer to home to invest and recreate more intensely in their communities and neighborhoods. Our challenge in the age of withering empire is to set a new economic course that helps us invest our resources in ourselves, rather than multinational companies that extract our wealth and labor for the 1%.
While running Greens for federal office may help to register new Greens, to attract young people to the Party, the Greens’ resources – economic and grassroots – are best used at the local level where the Party has experienced the most success in the United States. In 2011, 8 out of 12 California Green Party members running for local office got elected.
In Richmond, California, the working class city’s Green Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, representing more than 100,000 residents, took on Chevron, resulting in a 115-million dollar pollution settlement, enacted a waiver on residential solar power fee installation; and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest anti-foreclosure ordinances that exacts a $1,000 a day fine on banks who fail to maintain foreclosed property. McLaughlin was one of several Green Mayors to publicly oppose the dirty tar sands project, signing on to a letter to President Obama urging him to reject, as he recently announced, the XL pipeline that would carry the dirtiest crude from Canada across the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.
In the city of Fairfax in Marin County, Green Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero and a majority Green city council has banned intrusive Smart Meters, and authored successful ballot initiatives to ban plastic bags and the cultivation of genetically modified organisms. Fairfax is the third California city to have a Green majority on its town council, joining Sebastopol in Sonoma County from 2000 to 2008 and Arcata in Humboldt County, which had the world's first Green majority on any legislative body between 1996 and 1998 and then again from 2000 to 2002.
While water board races are not often high-profile races, water board seats may be the front line defense against corporate privatization of our increasingly-scarce water supply. Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, President of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, understands this. The youngest Green elected to local office, Soppoci-Belknap is working to stop the sale of the county’s watershed to keep water in the public domain.
In Los Angeles, LA Community College District (LACCD) trustee Nancy Pearlman, elected first as a Green before becoming a Democrat (something that happens too often to avoid Democratic Party rival candidates), advocated for tough sustainability standards which resulted in the LACCD becoming the first community college district in the nation to adopt a LEED environmental building certification standards. Under Pearlman’s Green leadership, all nine LA community colleges developed green jobs training programs.
Nationally, Greens are leading the “Move to Amend” effort calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish “Corporate Personhood,” or as former Green Presidential candidate David Cobb describes, “the legal doctrine that allows corporations to overturn democratically enacted laws seeking to protect citizens from corporate harm and abuse.” Cobb is now the National Projects Director for Democracy Unlimited, a coalition of Greens, Progressive Democrats, libertarians, and Declined-to-States organizing forums and rallies to challenge unlimited independent political expenditures by corporations.
Greens are also spearheading efforts to pass city ordinances embracing a Sustainability Bill of Rights, which would set measurable goals for energy independence, local food production, and clean air, land, and water. While Pittsburgh became the first city in the nation to pass a law protecting the rights of nature against corporate exploitation, Santa Monica could be next in line, thanks to the work of a coalition called Santa Monica Neighbors Unite! led by urban gardener Cris Gutierrez and Green Party urban forest advocate Linda Piera-Avila. Greens in the city of Santa Monica, which previously elected one of the first Green mayors - Michael Feinstein, a co-founder of the Green Party in the U.S. - are in the forefront of this effort to pass a Sustainability Bill of Rights ordinance that would recognize “the fundament rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist, thrive, and evolve” - and set a goal of 100% local water use by 2020.
Throughout the US, Greens and allies are at the fulcrum of the occupy movement, defending homeowners facing foreclosure, practicing participatory democracy in the street, and successfully altering the national discourse from deficits and taxes to wealth inequality and privilege. In Oakland, Green Samsarah Morgan helped start the Children’s Village at Occupy Oakland, where children can play and protest peacefully. Former LA County Council Co-Chair of the Green Party Rachel Brunkhe mobilizes marches on Bank of America in San Pedro, home to the largest port in the country; former Green assembly candidate Peter Thottam organizes thousands at Occupy the Rose Parade, where Wells Fargo, one of the most notorious banks for robo-siging illegal foreclosures, was one of the parade’s chief sponsors; Al Shantz, Green Vice President of Napa Valley College’s Student Senate, launches Occupy rallies downtown and on the Napa Valley College campus; Harrison Wills, a Green President of the Santa Monica College Associated Student Body tells an Occupy crowd at his campus, “There's socialism for corporations and capitalism for the rest of us."
Rather than running candidates for every state and federal office, Greens can invest their energy in campaigning for local non-partisan offices, in electing Greens to neighborhood councils and city councils; union leadership positions, pension and credit union boards, associated student bodies – and to movement-building and media messaging that injects and accentuates a Green anti-consumerist pro-sustainability vision into the economic discourse.
Power to the cities!
Though our emphasis should be local, our scope global as we solidify relationships with Green Party members across the world. Let us hold the Greens from Europe to Africa close to our hearts as we reject nationalism - its attendant racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating – and embrace global citizenry and planetary-caretaking.
Let us look to the German Green Party, the first to enjoy national prominence and the catalyst behind Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022. Encouraged by the German Greens, we must challenge billions in U.S. federal subsidies for new nuclear power plants and demand plant closures from California to New York. With a void in leadership in the U.S. anti-nuclear movement, the Green Party can play a key role in re-invoking the moratorium lifted under the Obama administration.
Elsewhere in Europe, Greens have launched a Green New Deal (GND) aimed at “reducing inequalities within and between societies, and reconciling our lifestyles - the way we live, produce and consume - with the physical limits of our planet” through progressive taxation, tax incentives for green initiatives, and new economic indicators beyond the Gross Domestic Product. For example, in Vienna, Austria, a GND initiative built “bike city” – a housing project that includes bike rental and maintenance, a compressed air station, 300 bicycle parking spaces, and extra large elevators for bike transport.
Let us build a new American landscape of bike cities, urban gardens, municipal credit unions, barter economies, and city-owned utilities with Greens organizing a new power-sharing worker-member-owner paradigm a la the Mondragon Cooperatives Cooperation in northern Spain. Based in Basque region, the Mondragon is a federation of worker cooperatives employing 84,000 people in four critical sectors: finance; industry; retail; knowledge.
Electorally, I envision a fusion approach – whereby Greens support progressive Democrats, just as Los Angeles Green Party members recommended my candidacy when I challenged war profiteer Jane Harman for Congress, and just as Green Party activists in northern California support PDA’s Norman Solomon to fill retiring Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s seat.
Endorsing progressive Democrats – a la Congress Members Kucinich, Lee, Grijalva – on the national level – and Assemblyman Bill Monning and Senator Fran Pavley on the California state legislative level – makes sense until the Green Party is ready and able to successfully elect statewide and federal candidates of its own, either because the Party has exponentially multiplied its current voter registration, estimated at 300,000 in the nation; 110,000 in California, or because enough cities like Oakland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Portland have instituted instant run-off or ranked-choice voting to increase the likelihood that voters will not simply cast their ballots for pre-ordained winners or lessers-of-evil but instead choose a candidate who truly represents their vision of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability.
Ranked choice voting must be a strategic priority for the Green Party in the U.S., with Greens in every leadership position – be it a partisan office or a non-partisan environmental organization - introducing ranked-choice voting into their respective organization. Strategically, Greens might organize a coalition of third parties – Greens, Peace and Freedom, Libertarians, and the well-funded centrist Americans Elect – to institute proportional representation through state ballot initiatives for ranked choice voting.
Such initiatives would appeal to voters who want to save budget-starved states, counties or cities millions of dollars wasted on run-off elections.
In the meantime, until widespread adoption of ranked choice voting, the Green Party might leverage its power by becoming a fusion party, regardless of state laws like the one in California that prohibit candidates from becoming the nominee of more than one party. On the grassroots level, endorsing Democratic Party candidates active in Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) would address the “spoiler” charge and position Greens as a swing voting constituency, much as a swing state can decide a Presidential election.
Let the Greens be wooed; let every candidate running for city, state, or federal office feel compelled to address the priorities of the Green Party, and let our party learn the lessons of the Swedes and Norwegians who successfully challenged the 1% by building strong coalition governments and coalition movements behind those coalition governments.
While it’s true that California Democratic Party delegates can be stripped of their delegate status for endorsing Greens in elections, there is nothing stopping non-delegates active in PDA from participating in a blue-green coalition that endorses and works to elect local Greens. In fact, that should be the call to action, watering the Green seeds for the next generation.
In LA County, where there are 23,000 registered Greens, and over 900,000 Declined to States, the Party will participate in an aggressive voter registration campaign before the November 2012 election when a Green Party Presidential candidate, perhaps pioneering environmental health advocate Dr. Jill Stein, will likely enjoy ballot status in at least 17 states, including the largest state, California, with its 55 electoral votes, and swing states Ohio, Florida and Colorado. Other Green Party ballot access states or districts include Arkansas, Arizona, DC, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
Though Green Party strengths lies in bottom-up organizing, running a Presidential candidate can provide a strategic stage for the left to critique and challenge the status quo, while attracting “millennials” or younger voters to a party platform that refuses all corporate contributions, supports single-payer health care, advocates zero-waste, calls for a tax on the rich, and opposes not only pre-emptive wars for empire, but weapons sales to other countries.
With strategic planning and a shift in focus, those newly registered Greens can rock the world of monopoly capitalism with a sturdy footing in city soil and municipal radicalism. I will proudly stand with them.
Marcy Winograd, a former congressional peace candidate, mobilized 41% of the Democratic Party primary vote in her challenge to war profiteer Jane Harman. Presently, Winograd serves as as a board member of the Ocean Park Association in Santa Monica and is a member of Santa Monica Greens. Winograd, a public school English and history teacher, helped organize OccupyLAUSD to protest education cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District.