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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

January 15, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO GREENS IN TROUBLE

Steven T Jones, SF Bay Guardian - This should be a great time for the Green Party. Its namesake color is being cited by every corporation and politician who wants to get in good with the environmentally-minded public; voters in San Francisco are more independent than ever; and progressives have been increasingly losing the hope they placed on President Barack Obama.

But the Green Party of San Francisco - which once had an influence on city politics that was disproportionate to its membership numbers - has hit a nadir. The number of Greens has steadily dwindled since its peak in 2003; the party closed its San Francisco office in November; and it has now lost almost all its marquee members.

Former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez, school board member Jane Kim, community college board member John Rizzo, and Planning Commissioner Christina Olague have all left the party in the last year or so. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi - a founding member of the Green Party of California and its last elected official in San Francisco - has also been openly struggling with whether to remain with an organization that doesn't have much to offer him anymore, particularly as he contemplates a bid for higher office.

While a growing progressive movement within the Democratic Party has encouraged some Greens to defect, particularly among those with political ambitions, that doesn't seem to be the biggest factor. After all, the fastest growing political affiliation is "Decline to State" and San Francisco now has a higher percentage of these independent voters than any other California county: 29 percent, according to state figures.

Democratic Party registration in San Francisco stood at 57 percent in November, the second-highest percentage in the state after Alameda County, making this essentially a one-party town (at last count, there were 256,233 Democrats, 42,097 Republicans, and 8,776 Greens in SF).

But Republicans could never have made a real bid for power in San Francisco, as Gonzalez did in his electrifying 2003 mayoral run, coming within 5 percentage points of beating Gavin Newsom, who outspent the insurgent campaign 6-1 and had almost the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him.

That race, and the failure of Democrats in Congress to avert the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, caused Green Party membership to swell, reaching its peak in San Francisco and statewide in November 2003. But it's been a steady downward slide since then, locally and statewide. . .

Mirkarimi was one of about 20 core progressive activists who founded the Green Party of California in 1990, laying the groundwork in the late 1980s when he spent almost two years studying the Green Party in Germany, which was an effective member of a coalition government there and something he thought the United States desperately needed.

"It was in direct response to the right-wing shift of the Democrats during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. It was so obvious that there had been an evacuation of the left-of-center values and policies that needed attention. So the era was just crying out woefully for a third party," Mirkarimi said of the Green Party of California and its feminist, antiwar, ecological, and social justice belief system.

But he and the other founding Greens have discovered how strongly the American legal, political, and economic structures maintain the two-party system (or what Mirkarimi called "one party with two conservative wings"), locking out rival parties through restrictive electoral laws, control of political debates, and campaign financing mechanisms.

"I'm still very impassioned about the idea of having a Green Party here in the United States and here in California and San Francisco, vibrantly so. But I'm concerned that the Green Party will follow a trend like all third parties, which have proven that this country is absolutely uninviting - and in fact unwelcoming - of third parties and multiparty democracy," Mirkarimi said.

Unlike some Greens, Mirkarimi has always sought to build coalitions and make common cause with Democrats when there were opportunities to advance the progressive agenda, a lesson he learned in Germany. . .

Today, as he considers running for mayor himself, Mirkarimi is weighing whether to leave the party he founded. "I'm in a purgatory. I believe in multiparty democracy," Mirkarimi said. "Yet tactically speaking, I feel like if I'm earnest in my intent to run for higher office, as I've shared with Greens, I'm not so sure I can do so as a Green.". . .

Gonzalez left the Green Party in 2008, changing his registration to DTS when he decided to be the running mate of Nader in an independent presidential campaign. That move was partly necessitated by ballot access rules in some states. But Gonzalez also thought Nader needed to make an independent run and let the Green Party choose its own candidate, which ended up being former Congress member Cynthia McKinney.

"I expressly said to Nader that I would not run with him if he sought the Green Party nomination," Gonzalez told us. "The question after the campaign was: is there a reason to go back to the Green Party?"

Gonzalez concluded that there wasn't, that the Greens had ceased to be a viable political party and that it "lacks a certain discipline and maturity." Among the reasons he cited for the party's slide were infighting, inadequate party-building work, and the party's failure to effectively counter criticisms of Nader's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. . .

Gonzalez was also critical of the decision by Mirkarimi and other Greens to endorse the Democratic Party presidential nominees in 2004 and 2008, saying it compromised the Greens' critique of the two-party system. "It sort of brings that effort to an end."
But Gonzalez credits the Green Party with invigorating San Francisco politics at an important time. "It was an articulation of an independence from the Democratic Party machine," Gonzalez said of his decision to go from D to G in 2000, the year he was elected to the Board of Supervisors. . .

Many loyal Greens dispute the assertion that their party is on the rocks. "I think the party is going pretty well. It's always an uphill battle building an alternative party," said Erika McDonald, spokesperson for the Green Party of San Francisco, noting that the party plans to put the money it saved on its former Howard Street headquarters space into more organizing and outreach. "The biggest problem is money."

Green Party activist Eric Brooks agrees. "We held onto that office for year and year and didn't spend the money on party building, like we should have done a long time ago," he said. "That's the plan now, to do some crucial party organizing.". . .

All of those who have left the Green Party say they still support its values and wish it future success. And the feeling is mostly mutual, although some Greens grumble of how their party is now being hurt by the departure of its biggest names.

"I don't begrudge an ambitious politician leaving the Green Party," said Dave Snyder, a member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District Board of Directors, and one of the few remaining Greens in local government.

But Snyder said he won't abandon the Green Party, which he said best represents his political values. "To join a party means you subscribe to its ideals. But you can't separate its ideals from its actions. Based on its actions, there's no way I could be a member of the Democratic Party," Snyder said.

Current Greens say many of President Obama's actions - particularly his support for Wall Street, a health reform effort that leaves insurance companies in control, and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan - vindicate their position and illustrate why the Green Party is still relevant. . .

Even Peskin agrees that Obama's candidacy was one of several factors that hurt the Green Party. "The liberal to progressive support for the Obama presidency deflated the Greens locally and beyond. In terms of organizing, they didn't have the organizational support and a handful of folks alienated newcomers."


2 Comments:

Anonymous robbie said...

I don't think the Green Party ever recovered from the 04 Election debacle, where the national Green Party decided to endorse John Kerry.

January 16, 2010 8:11 AM  
Blogger Charles Douglas said...

If you mean recovered from the debacle of David Cobb and his disastrous affect on the Green Party in California and nationally (not to mention the near-total destruction he has wrought here in Humboldt County), then I absolutely agree.

January 16, 2010 10:54 PM  

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