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March 1998
Not Easy Being Green: A History of the Green Party

By Thomas Leighton


When you hear the name "Green Party," the image most likely to come to mind is a political party whose main goal is to save the earth. That's certainly what I thought when I took on the task of running for the U.S. Congress twice as a "Green" candidate. In the process, I learned more about the Greens and the involvement of the left in the "Green Movement." As Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green!"

The Green Party originated in Europe, where it evolved as a new socialist movement that stressed concern for the environment. Frustrated by their limited success here in the U.S., some socialists and radical leftists saw the "Green Movement" as a new vehicle for themselves and tried to form an American Green Party. When environmentalists joined them, tensions arose over the emphasis on a radical leftist agenda versus an environmental one. Trying to pacify both groups, they became the "Greens/Green Party USA," a dysfunctional group whose very name reflected their dual identity.

Unfortunately, these environmentalists went down the same road as the British Green party and sought to save the earth by stressing changes in personal life style. Those English Greens became known as "Marxist-Lentilists" before their group folded. Conversely, in America the radical leftists, who openly opposed any involvement in electoral politics, came to dominate the emerging movement for a Green party. Eschewing the electoral arena, they tried to make the Greens primarily a group that favored the "direct action" of marching and demonstrating. Apparently, they didn't understand John Lennon's admonishment, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."

The second wave of American Greens came from Jerry Brown's 1992 campaign for President. These people brought new life to Green efforts, but re-ignited the conflict between those who favor action through electoral politics and those who did not. To defend their control of the "Party," the radical leftists invented something they called "Green Politics" with a definition (seemingly etched in stone) of what it means to be "Green." The obvious question that arose, is who gets to be the judge and jury that decides whether an individual is or is not "Green?"

The third wave of new Green party advocates came from Ralph Nader, who allowed different Green groups to put his name on the ballot in 1996. Rather than share power with new Greens who favored electoral politics, the leftists tried to do an "end run" around the newcomers by filing a fraudulent application with the Federal Election Commission. Hoping to co-opt the Green party name, the radicals made applications on a national basis and also for one individual state -- New York. Notably, out of all the states backing Nader, only the New York State Greens did not comply with his condition that contributions and spending for his campaign be limited to a predetermined amount. As a result, Nader went to the FEC to renounce his connection with the NY State Greens' candidate for Vice-president.

Future Structures

Those of us who would like to have an environmental party in New York wonder if these Greens will self-destruct with the internal power struggles that are the hallmark of the left. Greens must learn to move past traditional left-right issues and offer a new vision that can appeal to diverse segments of society. A key to creating any vital political movement is to inspire young people, who are now completely turned off by politics. Sadly, the Greens, too, have failed to capture the imagination of today's students.

On the bright side, last year I found one issue that does excite many young people -- marijuana. Running with the slogan "Health Freedom Now," I offered an holistic philosophy that emphasized alternative medicine, vegetarianism and ending the prohibition on marijuana. I have learned from experience that Americans will not vote in large numbers for an environmental platform that is subordinate to a leftist agenda. But the concept of having the personal freedom to do what we feel is best for our own health appeals to a very broad constituency. I received more votes (almost 8,000) than any other individual Green has ever received anywhere in New York State, easily surpassing all the smaller, established ballot-line parties (Liberal, Conservative, Right to Life, etc.)

Although no Greens backed my Health Freedom campaign in 1997, I was supported by Shelton Walden (WBAI), Dr. Ronald Hoffman (WOR), Dr. Alan Pressman and Jerry Hickey (WEVD), John Harris (WBAI), Dr. Serafina Corsello (WOR), Michael Ellner (HEAL) and the Candle Cafe. The freedom to choose marijuana instead of alcohol or tobacco is no different from the freedom to choose herbs, vitamins, other dietary supplements or alternative medicine. Marijuana is a green plant that can be used as a medicine and is a renewable resource that can be an alternative to cutting down tress for paper. And, in light of the ecological devastation from animal based agriculture, vegetarianism is a very Green issue. In my heart, I cannot support the NY State Greens if they do not include these health freedom issues in their main platform.

So, what is the real definition of a "Green?" Do you know? Do you know anyone who claims to know? In New York State, what Green means is still up for grabs. The Green party is still evolving as it struggles to come into being. I believe that the leftist agenda has given the Greens an orientation that is spiritually empty. The issues of marijuana and holistic health could fill that void and help carry the Greens to success. But, if the New York State Greens do not support my Health Freedom platform, I will go forward without them in the upcoming gubernatorial election.



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