Dear Congressman Kucinich:
I read your letter of July 24 (Open Letter to Nader Voters and the Greens) asking for my support for your campaign with interest, but also with some bewilderment. Let me say up front that I would love nothing more than to vote for you for President of the United States. I read your long list of issues on which we agree, and I certainly felt that it was a shame that your name will not appear on my primary ballot in March.
But, you see, Congressman Kucinich, last time I checked, you were not running for President on the Green Party line. And while you claim to “understand that Greens and Nader voters are not just liberal Democrats,” you don’t give me a single reason why I should abandon my choice of registration. It does not occur to you that my choice might itself be a principle, that I stand for the Democratic right of the people of the United States to be able to choose among more than two parties!
In fact, your letter does not say one word about the key issues that make it impossible for Third Parties like the Greens to run in the US. You say nothing about the ways that our electoral system is financed. You say nothing about how your party colludes in ensuring that Big Money and undemocratic elections remain the only game in town.
Now, if you were to announce that you were seeking the Green Party nomination as well as the Democratic nomination – if I could vote for you without changing my registration – I certainly would do so.
Short of your doing so, here are my suggestions about how you might approach Greens when asking for our vote:
1. Acknowledge that the right to more than two parties is a Democratic right. We have for so long had an electoral system that, in its legal apparatus, confuses “bipartisan” with “nonpartisan,” that honest people seem to forget the basics: there are more than two opinions about issues. Countries all over the world have electoral systems that promote organization around the true diversity of opinions held by their citizens. If we have only two “major” parties in the US, this is an artifact of our electoral rules and patterns, not a manifestation of the true beliefs of our populations.
Democrats seeking Green votes might start by discussing what they are going to do to open up the political system to multiple parties. (Hint: this might just help to fix that problem of low voter turnout we are constantly complaining about, too.)
The Green Party formally supports Instant Runoff Voting, or Ranked Choice Voting, as a means to open the electoral system to more parties. IRV allows individuals to list candidates in order of preference, so that if their candidate is eliminated their vote may be redistributed to their second choice. In the 2004 Florida election, it is reasonable to believe that enough Green Party voters would have placed Al Gore as their second choice to have ensured his election. Of course, under IRV, since no one has any incentive to vote first for lesser evils, we would know the true support level for Ralph Nader. Was it 10%? 15%? Wouldn’t it be good to know?
2. State clearly that the Green Party is never the reason why Democrats lose. At most we are one factor among many; most often, we are not even a factor. More Democrats voted for George Bush than voted for Ralph Nader. Al Gore was stiff in the debates. Al Gore was so unpopular that even as the Vice President of a party in power during an economic boom, he lost. Al Gore lost his home state – decisively. Our electoral system allowed a minority vote getter to win. Our electoral system does not include runoffs, instant or otherwise. When Bush declared himself the victor, Al Gore did not act like a President or an opposition leader – he just let it happen.
But enough about 2000, because resentment at the Green Party carries over to numerous races which are essentially uncontested to begin with. In our so-called two-party system, the majority of races at the Congressional and State levels are gerrymandered to ensure clear majorities for one or the other of the two “major” parties. In all such cases, when Greens run we should be praised for attempting to bring about Democratic discussion.
3. When you promote one of our issues, name the Green Party as an important force in bringing it to the forefront. It is a pleasure to see you articulate so many issues that are part of the Green platform. But instead of preaching to us about them, why not go into rooms full of Democrats and tell them how much you’ve learned from Greens, how much you think that the Democratic Party can learn from Greens? We’re tired of a one way dialogue, here, and all the power is stacked on your side. Praise us publicly and regularly, until we believe you’re not just asking us for something, but that you’re also giving us something.
4. Express your desire to caucus with Greens in a Progressive Caucus. In a legislature, you are not what your campaign promises say – you can abandon them any time. You are, however, who you caucus with. Indeed, the House Progressive Caucus is a vital institution in spite of the fact that all but one member are Democrats. Think how much more vital it would be if it were made up of members of two parties, one of which was bound but its own principles to refuse all corporate cash.
5. Understand that even if we vote for you, it is a temporary, strategic decision. We will continue to build the Green Party, and continue to ask you to join us. We are Greens because we believe that rightward drift at the governmental level is not a temporary phenomenon, but is the general trend of US politics at least since the New Deal. The argument that the two “major” parties are the same does not depend on the articulations of this or that point on a particular day of an election; it depends on an understanding of how, over two generations, the “major” parties join together to destroy their left flank. When a people’s movement independent of both parties emerges, as happened in the sixties, all politicians in both “major” parties moved left – temporarily. When the people were beaten back, all politicians in both “major” parties moved right.
Have you taken seriously the possibility, Congressman Kucinich, that we really do have something you need, and it isn’t just votes? It is our understanding of what would be necessary to break from this duopoly that prevents Progressive Power. Perhaps you, and the whole Progressive Caucus, would be more effective in accomplishing your goals outside the Democratic Party.
In fact, Congressman Kucinich, if you are the Democratic nominee this time, I might just vote for you in November 2004. But if you are asking for my support at this stage, my answer is, I’d love to support you. Please run for President in my Party’s Primary, so that I can.
Kenny Mostern (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Political Consultant based in Oakland, California. He was Fundraising Coordinator for Peter Camejo’s run for Governor of California in 2002, and has worked on numerous local campaigns for Greens, Progressive Democrats, and on initiatives.