RUN LOW, SWEET CANDIDATE
( written for the California green party rag called green focus, not sure if th ditor used it.)
By Hank Chapot
Recent commentary on the national level has revolved around the question "what to do in 2006 and beyond?" A delegate from Utah recommends targeting the House of Representatives based on our rise in vote totals from a tenth of a percent in 1992 to nearly half a percent in 2004. Ohio delegates put out a proposal that state parties run slates for statewide and legislative offices and encourages the Coordinated Campaign Committee to develop a plan for volunteer recruitment and fundraise for two pledge campaigns; the first; help Green congressional candidates, the other, help statewide and lastly, almost as an afterthought, local candidates. To its credit, the Ohio proposal recommends we focus (but not exclusively) on "doable" races, city, town, and village councils. I can only advocate this last part of the proposal.
This strategy, coupled with an obsessive focus on the presidential campaign, is problematic for many reasons; it may be good promotion for the political careers of certain individuals but for the most part, house and state legislative races are un-winnable for greens. Those who defend them show a remarkable lack of political practicality when they say, "this will be our breakout year." We all know the barriers to participation, higher partisan races are difficult to win, they devour money, volunteers and talented individuals with small returns and few women run show campaigns.
In California, these electoral fantasists will not face facts. I have so often heard, so-and-so "could win." I just shake my head at the self-delusion that calls for another year of wasted show candidacies. It is, to quote one old green's jibe, "where the rubber meets the clouds."
An alternative strategy (borrowed from others) that I am keen on would have us concentrate on mayoral races, because cities are at the forefront of the environmental and human rights crises, mayor's have executive power and more than half the world's population lives in cities.
The effort to organize the mayors of the world has already begun. At the World Environment Day held in San Francisco in June 2005, mayors from around the world were offered this strategy;
"Mayors are emerging as the most powerful and flexible agents of change. They are able to respond quickly to environmental issues and are uniquely accountable to their citizens. Their enormous purchasing power is shaping markets and making environmental sustainability a manufacturing consideration. They are tackling the globe's most challenging environmental issues and their visionary solutions provide inspiration and serve as models to all sectors of society."
"World Environment Day bring(s) together the world's Mayors to share their environmental innovations and commit to taking action towards further environmental sustainability. Cities have a great deal in common: they have to provide energy, water, transportation, recycling, parks, trees, and clean air for their citizens. Additionally, Mayors are directly accountable to the people in a way that is not always true of national leaders."
Focus on mayoralties and lesser races as a matter of policy, would help achieve the goals of Green politics, would satisfy our belief in localism, would reduce the tensions created by high profile, high waste (and high risk) campaigns, would be a declaration of independence from the rat race and would prove that greens can lead. Actually, they already have. Some have been elected outright, others attained the seat because they received the highest vote, or simple rotation. These mayors have been excellent for the image of Greens, and they've had a chance to actually make policy. In San Francisco, California greens have served as mayors. In New York state, Jason West has become a hero of the new civil rights movement. Elsewhere, green mayors are making great change.
With apologies to the delegate from Utah and the folks Ohio, I oppose focusing on a national race or state-wide seats currently, we are sucking the party dry with these more or less useless symbolic races. An American Third Party has an arc or lifespan that is somewhat predictable, we have ten to thirty years to transform society and force adoption of our policies before we collapse into a cult or bureaucratic sinkhole of internal navel-gazing.
My suggestion that we retrench and aim lower have fallen on deaf ears. I'd like to speak to greens everywhere; organize something as yet unmentioned in all our discourse, build a slate of one hundred mayors(and city council candidates) for cities large and small and step back from the guaranteed loser campaigns. Consider the possibility that dozens of Green mayors will have a more powerful impact on the future and the planet than a dozen symbolic vanity campaigns.
Hank Chapot - Volunteer archivist