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
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.
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.