The November elections sharply underlined the need for a political alternative to the two parties of big business and war. The Democrats rose to power on the massive wave of anger at the Iraq war and Corporate America, yet have no intention of ending the occupation anytime soon or standing up to their corporate masters.

In the elections, the main party standing nationally on an independent antiwar, anti-corporate platform was the Green Party. Socialist Alternative supported votes for a number of Greens across the country as the best way to register a clear protest against the two parties.

Below the media radar screen, the Green Party has continued to develop. In the 2006 elections, Greens ran 382 candidates in 38 states for local, state, and national offices, winning 62 positions – all of them in local elections.

In Illinois, gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney won 11% of the vote. In a two-way race between a Democrat and a Green for the U.S. House in Colorado, Green Tom Kelly received 21%. In Richmond, CA, a Green was elected mayor (see article below).

These votes, along with the victories of Greens in a number of local races and the strong support others received in races for state houses, demonstrate the growing potential for building a political alternative to the two big business parties.

Debate in the Greens
From their beginnings up to the present, the Greens have been wracked by internal debates over their political program, their relationship to the Democrats, their internal structures, and their class orientation. Many of these questions came to a head in the 2004 race when deep divisions arose over whether they should endorse Ralph Nader or David Cobb as their presidential candidate.

The Cobb wing supported a “safe states” strategy of not consistently challenging John Kerry to avoid enraging their friends in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. They came out on top at the 2004 Green Party convention. However, probably half or more of Green Party activists supported Nader and his running mate Peter Camejo, who launched Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI) after the convention.

The left wing of the Greens, grouped around GDI, correctly argued against the capitulation to “lesser evil” politics and that the Greens’ national internal structures were undemocratic. They have also had a more working-class orientation.

Without such an approach, the Greens are doomed to remain a small pressure group on the Democrats, incapable of building an effective movement against corporate rule. Achieving the central goals motivating most Green Party activists – a peaceful, ecologically-sustainable world free from poverty and oppression – will require challenging the power of big business. This can only be achieved by mobilizing the American working class, organized as an independent political force, into a struggle against capitalism itself.

From this standpoint, a number of Green candidacies, around GDI and beyond, were particularly important even though they did not receive impressive vote numbers. In New York, Howie Hawkins, a longtime labor activist and GDI founder, ran a campaign for Senate against Hillary Clinton, exposing her pro-war, pro-corporate candidacy and laying the basis to solidify Greens and others against “lesser evil” arguments during Clinton’s likely 2008 presidential bid.

Similarly, in Washington former Black Panther Aaron Dixon ran against pro-war Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, while in California Todd Chretien ran against Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Peter Camejo ran for governor. These campaigns and others generated a certain buzz within important sections of activists, particularly in the antiwar movement, forcing open a debate on the need to break from the Democrats. The Greens’ candidates were featured on Democracy Now! and won endorsements from Cindy Sheehan, among others.

However, these campaigns failed to gain real traction, receiving vote totals around 2%. This reflected the negative role of most of the leaders of the antiwar, union, and other movements who campaigned for the Democratic Party, and the dominant mood among many workers and youth to vote for the Democrats to get the Republicans out, as well as the weaknesses of the Greens.

What Kind of Party Do We Need?
At the heart of the debate in the Green Party are questions over the kind of political party needed to wage an effective struggle.

The starting point of any political party seeking to challenge big business is that it must be clearly independent of the Democrats and Republicans. It would need to fight on a consistently antiwar and anti-corporate platform, with bold and far-reaching economic and social demands in the interests of workers, young people, and the oppressed.

Workers and the poor are the vast majority. The two corporate parties systematically exclude our issues from the political debate, which is the main reason so many abstain from voting. For a party to develop into a serious force it would need to root itself in the struggles of working people, leading campaigns not only in the electoral arena, but also in our workplaces, schools, and communities on the key issues facing our class.

While many individual Greens are themselves involved in grassroots struggles, unfortunately almost nowhere are the Greens, as a party, mobilizing to independently build and lead social struggles.

How the Greens choose to orient in the 2008 elections – whether or not they again bend under the “lesser evil” pressures exerted by the Democratic Party – will be an important test of whether, in the years ahead, they can play a positive role in the broader struggle for a truly mass opposition party, rooted in the working class, and capable of confronting the political rule of big business.

Green Elected Mayor of Richmond, CA
“People stood up to Chevron and said NO!”

In this gritty working-class city on the east side of San Francisco Bay, grinding poverty, violent crime, pollution, and fiscal scandal fueled the campaign of Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin, who became the first elected Green mayor in a U.S. city with more than 100,000 residents.

Justice interviewed Tarnel Abbott, a volunteer for McLaughlin’s campaign and a longtime leader in her union, SEIU Local 790, which represents most city workers and endorsed McLaughlin. “This is a company town in a lot of ways. Chevron contributes thousands of dollars to the candidates of their choice. What I’m so proud of is that people stood up to Chevron and said NO,” Abbott said.

The incumbent mayor, Irma Anderson, “wife of former Mayor and Councilman Booker T. Anderson, has deep roots in the black community. She was also supported by Chevron and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.” (Contra Costa Times, 11/8/06) With this backing, the mayor spent over $110,000, whereas McLaughlin refused corporate donations, raising $14,000 from labor and supporters.

Anderson’s central campaign theme was combating crime by hiring more police and expanding military-style crackdowns on gangs. Richmond competes with Oakland and Compton as the most violent city in California.

In contrast, McLaughlin “spoke about ending violence by dealing with root causes, not just throwing more money at the police. She was proposing that we hire a thousand young people to get them real jobs,” explained Abbott. “The Richmond Youth Corp would be part-time union jobs with the city.”

To fund this and other programs, McLaughlin and supporters put an initiative on the ballot to force Chevron to hand over $8 million per year in tax revenues. However, Chevron and its political supporters succeeded in defeating the initiative through a big misinformation campaign, Abbott said.

Incumbent Mayor Anderson presided over financial scandal in 2004. “The money was so badly managed that they couldn’t pin it on anybody. $35 million in debt and they could not account for that lost money,” said Abbot. “At the library I work at, two-thirds were laid off and library hours were cut in half… almost half the city’s workforce was laid off.”

“The current president of our union did not support Gayle; she supported the [incumbent] mayor… How could you endorse the people who laid you off? That was the Democratic Party machine at work again. But the people in our union didn’t want to play the game… The membership voted overwhelmingly to support Gayle and agreed to give several thousand dollars to her campaign.”

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