Safe-state Strategy from hell—Greens respond to progressive Dems

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Last week a list of left luminaries—Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters and Michael Albert—published an “Open Letter to the Green Party for 2020” in Truthdig and other outlets. They urged Greens to adopt a “safe-states” campaign strategy this year, meaning they asked us not to run a presidential candidate who might cost the Democratic nominee votes in the swing states and thereby help reelect Trump. As usual, they blame Greens for the election of George Bush in 2000 and Clinton in 2016. Their condescending and recriminatory tone was guaranteed to infuriate, as evidenced by most of the 1000 or so comments on TruthDig and the Green Party’s first published response.
 
Here’s a response from Ajamu Baraka, the Green Party’s 2016 vice presidential candidate, and founder of the Black Alliance for Peace:
 
"Fully expected this from the ‘progressive left,’ but it’s a little early for the perennial ‘elect the Democrat or the world ends’ that we have seen from Reagan forward. 
 
“‘Oh, but Trump is a special case. The worst and most dangerous president in U.S. history.' 
 
“Well these progressives have a different reading of U.S. history than I do because I can think of at least 16 worse than Trump, including all of the slave-owning presidents of this settler state’s first few decades. 
 
“‘But the conditions are different, Ajamu.' 
 
“Yes, we have a global capitalist/imperialist crisis and a struggle among the ruling class between competing visions and interests between the extreme right with a nationalist orientation and base and the transnational neoliberal right that is holding state power—even while Trump occupies the executive component of the state.
 
“In this struggle, the progressives argue that we have a moral responsibility to align with the neoliberal right. In other words, align with the right to defeat the right! That is why for many of these progressives, they don't require any of the Democrat candidates to take definitive stances against U.S. imperialism and in fact a few of them have not found an imperialist intervention by the U.S. in the last decade and a half that they could oppose. 
 
“No, we are not buying it this time. Look, if the Democrat establishment shared the concerns of the progressives regarding Trump, perhaps they would be more open to fielding the best candidate they could against Trump, no matter their ideological orientation. But they are not interested in that because the establishment understands something that these progressives have never understood—power. They would rather lose than give up control of their Democratic Party instrument. 
 
“The protracted struggle to overthrow capitalist power which is the only solution that history and the current contradictions demand, are not bound by the bourgeois election cycles. We must understand that. We must understand that we have to build independent power not tied to electoralism. We will survive 2020 and Trump, if he wins again, which seems to be the course he is on primarily because of horrendous strategic blunders by the Democrats. It will be difficult, but at least there is resistance. And that resistance will only intensify because we have no other choice. Resistance and building power should be the progressive position, not tailing behind the Democrats and fear mongering."
 
Those urging Greens to play it safe in 2020 critique the essay that Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins published back on December 25, “The Green Party Is Not the Democrats’ Problem,” and Hawkins has since published “Every State is a Battleground: Howie Hawkins’ Response to ‘An Open Letter to the Green Party about 2020 Election Strategy’” on his own website.
 
What happened in 2004
 
Some Greens wanted to ally with the Democrats by running a “safe-states” presidential campaign in 2004, when John Kerry was running against George Bush. There was a great deal of argument about that within the party, and about whether to nominate Ralph Nader or David Cobb, but the party did not officially adopt a safe-states strategy, though it wouldn't have done us any good in the end anyway. In his memoir “Every Day Is Extra,” Kerry wrote that he knew Bush had stolen the election from him in Ohio—with electronic voting machines and other election-day dirty tricks—but that he, Kerry, chose not to contest. Why? Because he thought it was more important to unite the country behind the Iraq War and not to expose the rot at the core of US politics:
 
“The decision was mine. I didn’t want to put the country through that again. It would be selfish and irresponsible. I knew some would be angry. People had a right to know that their votes were counted properly. They were correct to be incensed. But I decided I would continue that fight in a way that didn’t put our nation into banana republic status.”
 
George Bush had accused Kerry of waffling on the Iraq War that year because Kerry had voted against one of his bills to re-fund it. Why? Because Bush wanted to re-fund the war by expanding the national debt and Kerry wanted to re-fund it by rolling back a few Bush tax cuts.
 
That’s a real difference, but not one that reflects core Green Party values. 
 
Bernie Sanders and Green values
 
Some Greens believe that Bernie Sanders shares enough of our core Green values to mount a real challenge to the war, austerity, and privatization regime defended by both neoliberals and neoconservatives. Some of us are re-registering just long enough to vote for Sanders in our state Democratic primaries. I mailed my re-registration in California today after suppressing a childish impulse to tear it up in response to the open letter lecture in Truthdig.
 
I can’t say how many Greens are re-registering for the primaries here or elsewhere, and no one I know of is polling us, but this conversation was well underway within the party before the liberal progressives published their letter in TruthDig. I can’t imagine that it will become California Green Party policy because, as Howie Hawkins wrote, “the Green Party is here to stay.” Sacrificing our independent identity and platform in a race at any level would simply fold us into the Democratic Party.
 
I plan to re-register Green the day after the primary and vote Green in the general election no matter who the Democrats nominate. California will vote blue no matter who, and we need to sustain roughly 80,000 registered voters or win at least 2% in at least one statewide race to hold onto our ballot line (meaning to see the Green Party and its candidates printed on California ballots). A party with a ballot line has far more institutional presence than one running write-in candidates, and Greens have put in many long, hard hours to win current ballot lines in at least 21 states. We’ll have to fight for them in other states, as we did in 2016, with petition drives, lawsuits, and whatever else may be required.
 
I will also be voting Green in the general because our candidates articulate Green values, most of all our opposition to US wars, more emphatically and precisely than anyone else will, including Bernie Sanders. Running to the left of Sanders is our best hope of pulling him in our direction, and he clearly knows that a number of Greens are leaning toward voting for him. I received a text message from one of his volunteers who said she knew I was registered Green, so she was asking me to re-register as a Democrat for the primary. I received a phone call to that effect before the primary and the general election in 2016.
 
But what if Sanders is the Democratic nominee? What then in the swing states?
 
Even if the Sanders campaign overcomes escalating oligarchic assaults and he becomes the nominee, I would not recommend that the national Green Party or any state parties endorse him, not even in the swing states, because, once again, that would simply fold us into the Democratic Party. We should not run a disempowering safe-states campaign.
 
That said, if Sanders does win the nomination, I suspect that many Greens in swing states will vote for him and likely even work for him ahead of the general, whether we run a safe-states campaign or not. I doubt I will discourage Greens who plan to vote for Sanders in the swing-states, but that is of course contingent upon how he votes and campaigns between now and November 3.
 
The open letter is full of misstatements about what Greens have said and done. For example:
 
"And finally, if these voters did indeed erroneously believe that it was immoral to contaminate themselves by voting for Clinton or for a Democrat, surely in part that too was encouraged by Green campaigning that treated voting as a feel-good activity ("vote your hopes, not your fears") as if fear of climate disaster, for example, shouldn't be a motivator for political action.”
 
That's an insulting caricature, much like Angela Davis's 2016 description of all third party voters as narcissists. "Vote your hopes, not your fears" is a reasoned strategy to some of us, however unreasonable it may seem to the authors of this letter.
 
In 2016, the late Black Agenda Report editor and Georgia Green Party activist Bruce Dixon said:
 
“A vote for Hillary is not a strategic vote. It’s a vote cast in fear. And we don’t think people should be voting their fears. We think people should be voting their hopes. The Green Party in Georgia, our slogan is 'Vote Your Hopes, Not Your Fears.' And up to now Democratic politics in the Black community have been based exclusively on fear, fear of the white man’s party, the Republican Party. And unfortunately what they get is only slightly better in some ways than the Republican Party and often the kinds of Democrats that we elect are able to do things to us, not for us, that even Republicans could not do. And so this is why we need to build something outside the duopoly and not settle for a choice between President Trump and President Hillary Clinton.”
 
There were differences between Clinton and Trump. Despite traveling to a Scandinavian conference to make sure that US oil companies get their fair share of the oil beneath the melting Arctic, she didn’t crusade for environmental destruction as Trump did.
 
And it did at the time seem plausible that Trump might have meant it when, on the campaign trail, he said he wanted to end endless wars, despite all his otherwise horribleness. Whether that promise had any reality for him or not, the Dems' demand that he bomb Syria, and their applause when he did, didn't help. Neither did their support for the failed right-wing coup in Venezuela and the successful right-wing coup in Bolivia, or their overwhelming House vote for the new $738 billion war budget.
 
There were differences between Clinton and Trump, but they weren’t significant enough to convince all of us that voting for Clinton was more strategic than building an independent party.
 
Obviously, I can’t speak for all Greens, but for some the difference between Sanders and Trump will no doubt be significant enough to make them vote for him in the swing states if he wins the nomination.
 
There may even be a few who will fall for the authors of the “Open Letter to the Greens” argument that “Real solutions will become somewhat more probable even with the likes of Biden in office.” But I hope not. 
 
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Green Party did run a safe-states campaign in 2004. 
 
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and  Peace Prize  for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann-at-anngarrison.com.
 

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