Peter Camejo: Keep California Green Party united


From Peter Camejo, Green Party VP candidate for Ralph Nader and frequent candidate for California governor.

The Green Party in California is threatened by actions of a minority that could result in an open public division. A small, right-leaning clique has been working for several years to take over the party.

They are led by an open fusionist, Michael Feinstein, who wants the Green Party to put Democrats on its ballots.

Well, it all goes back to the $10,000 check, doesn’t it? The Green Party of California has never recovered from that because it is inherently and incurably incapable of taking decisive action. Yes, I was there, up close and personal too. The whistleblowing on the $10,000 check, as Camejo details (even though it happened over five years ago) is still ripping GP-CA to shreds.

GP-CA had ample opportunity to collectively do something about it, but instead they ignored it, denied it, argued endlessly and rancorously about it, and never reached closure, much less a plan of action. So now it’s blowing up in their faces.

Some history. I was the whistleblower. As Treasurer of the Green Party of Los Angeles County Council I filed complaints with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and with the Santa Monica Police Department because I was given a copy of a canceled $10,000 check made out to the Green Party that was deposited into a personal bank account controlled by Mike Feinstein. In fact, the FPPC told me that, as treasurer, I had an obligation to file a complaint. (If you’re interested, the whole long and tangled tale is here in the archives of Polizeros.)

The FPPC and LA D.A. eventually chose not to file charges. However, Feinstein, who was also a member of the Santa Monica City Council, got blown out of the water in the next election, coming in ninth even though he was the incumbent. That the $10,000 check was prominent in local Santa Monica news was unquestionably a factor in his defeat.

I expected some flack for filing the complaints. What I did not expect was almost universal attacks from Greens for doing so. Their overwhelming response was, ‘Goodness yes, we need to be completely honest and aboveboard, but you shouldn’t have done this because, well, you shouldn’t have.’ Others said, ‘Shhh. We have to go slow and keep it quiet.’ Wow, what a ringing endorsement for transparency and openness in government that was. (To my two allies who watched my back from Day One, thank you, you know who you are.)

Camejo, in his open letter, now apologizes for taking a go-slow stance, and he is a Green for whom I have huge respect. Maybe he can stop the GP from self-destructing, but I doubt it. Many of its best activists have given up and left the party. Meetings are consumed by vicious internal fights. Outreach and visibility at all levels of the GP is almost nonexistent now.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Green Party will be studied in the future as an instructive example of what not to do, of how a promising new party that could have made a big difference — and for a few years, did — collapsed instead.

As I’ve said here many times before, the problems of the GP are structural. An informal consensus system of governing does not work in the real world of politics once you move the meetings out of living rooms and into the streets.

Jo Freeman’s The Tyranny of Structurelessness is the classic on this, explaining precisely how consensus doesn’t work, how a few will game the system, and how consensus can lead to paralysis of action. She wrote it in ’72 about the women’s movement and it’s still just as relevant.

This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others.

Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power [and ] is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not.)

For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit.

That’s why the structure in a group needs to be obvious and why there needs to be, among other things, clear-cut ways of ending conflicts in a timely matter. Otherwise it can disintegrate into endless infighting and then the whole purpose of the organization is lost.

There are many dedicated Greens who do huge amounts of effective organizing on a local level. But the structure of the party itself precludes that from flowing upwards and then becoming effective on a national level.

Where was (and is) the Green Party on the Iraq War? Sure, they oppose it. But their actions have mainly been to send out press releases when they should have been organizing nationwide protests. They could have been a major player in the antiwar movement, and recruited a zillion new members in the process. But sadly, the GP has been on a long, slow slide to irrelevance for years. The problem is not a lack of dedicated members but a lack of workable structures.

[tags]Green Party, Peter Camejo[/tags]

  • At the end of the day, if you can look yourself in the mirror and still feel like you have your dignity intact… You probably did the right thing.

    Choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.

    I actually see some merit to structurelessness, but only in the way that it works in the Blogosphere. We have 60 million Bloggers, and each one is throwing different shit at the fan every day, derived from their own personal perspectives, and while some of it hits it, most of it doesn’t. But when it does it eventually becomes part of the “structure” as far as the netroots is concerned. Very few try to coordinate these efforts, but it still seems to function quite well.

    But the Blogosphere is not a political party. Completely different animals.

  • Dave Riley

    I always have a lot of time for Camejo who is certainly one of the most astute political activists I have ever met. He made many visits here to Australia during the eighties so I’ve monitored his political development with interest–and despite the distance, I’ve still been able to learn from him.

    I also hope he overcomes his current battle with cancer and my thoughts are with him.

    However, this tale is a sordid one ..and while I always lament the stoushes we get into on the far left, at least we make a point of knowing what is at stake and what sort of game play people will sign onto. Just because you are a “Green” it doesn’t mean that accountability goes out the window because the only rigorous scrutiny is one that is absolutely insistent on openness.

    However, for the Californian Greens to flounder would be a tragedy because as third party prospects go, the Greens are a breakthrough — a breakthrough of course for as long as they remain independent of the Democrats.

    In that sense, the question of the missing dough is merely a side show. The real tragedy is that the Greens won’t live up to their promise and instead, wallow in something else.

    Me? I’m sticking with the hard road on the green left…

  • DJ

    As the GPCLA Treasurer prior to Bob, I had a similar experience to Bob’s: that method of consensus-building does not work. (“VIBES!”)

    I still believe that if the GPCLA had taken matters in hand, the fiasco of the $10,000 need not have gone as far as it did. I was the Treasurer when this was first brought into the open. But instead of addressing the matter, people on both sides of the dispute– which have since become factions– refused to take action, believing it would go away. It didn’t.

    The reason I left the party was only indiedctly related to the money issue: it was the process, which left a promising organization paralyzed, unable to take any action because no agreement was possible. This came about more from a handful who were more interested in process than in whether anything ever got done. They were not leaders in any sense…. but the Green structure is so anti-leader, it can be led astray by anyone. Hence, another small group was able to take advantage of that paralysis to fail to take responsibility… and the rest is history. Yet even before the “scandal,” the amount of action the organization actually engaged in was frustratingly small.

  • structurelessness

    blogs are networks, I think, that’s how we communicate and mobilize. It’s very much like open source software/warfare, in fact.

    Green Party

    Yes, folks, in Green Party meetings in California, a “Vibes Watcher” is chosen before the meeting starts and should someone become too impassioned, will yell “yibes” at which point everyone must go hug a tree or something and stop all that hierarchical authoritarian conflict nonsense. I am not making this up.

    Greens as a movement did huge amounts and were the canary in the mine on global warming. But as a party, there obviously are big problems.

  • Peter Camejo has done good work for the Green Party. His highlights are his first 2 campaigns for Governor, where he did a great job introducing the Green Party to millions of Californians. After that, his contributions went downhill. In 2004 he split the Green Party to run against us. We still have not recovered from that harsh break.

    Currently Peter Camejo is trying to divide our tiny Party, acting to harden any divisions into permanent sides. He is circulating a manifesto that makes broad-brush ad hominem attacks.

    I am all for debates. But we need to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to debate the issues, and not villify individuals.

  • At least Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May only has to fend off distortions from the press, not from within her own party.

    Bob, you know I am a hard working peace and Green Party of California activist since 2000 when I got active on the Nader campaign.

    I voted for Peter 3 times for Governor and for Nader/Camejo for President in 2004, and worked my butt off for Peter’s campaign in Los Angeles in ’02 and ’03.

    However, the last couple years I have become disillusioned by Peter’s lengthy occasional rants, which are very divisive and don’t tell those of us active anything we don’t already know (and are filled with inaccuracies), would certainly scare away any new or young people that read it, and which appear to me like he is getting his information from very few people.

    I’m not saying there are no problems within GPCA. I disagree with Peter fomenting internal fights. I agree with Orval’s sentiments.

    Lisa Taylor
    Los Angeles City Greens Volunteer Coordinator
    GPUS delegate applicant:

  • Structureless? The GP of Cal has plenty of structure. Too much of the wrong kind. It’s got a cumbersome decisionmaking process that’s inappropriate in a setting where people aren’t working towards the same goals, but it’s got a process. Trouble is it’s also got way too many people with real emotional issues that prevent them from working effectively with others, who have promoted themselves into pivotal positions, which they maintain by intimidation, and no way for the group to unseat them. Maybe LA County is the same, I don’t know.

  • Hank Chapot

    I would recommend that Mike Feinstein sue Peter for slander. The charges repeated herin have been investigated by the actual authorities who have jurisdiction, and they were dropped. Peter knows this and by repeating them, he is knowingly repeating false information. That is the definition of slander.

  • Cameron: What you say about GP-CA is quite a lot like what Tyranny of Structurelessness discusses.

    A cumbersome decision-making system that can be gamed by a few is exactly what she’s talking about!

  • Linda Fern

    It is ironic that in the process of demonizing Mike
    Feinstein, Peter Camejo is exhibitng behavior that
    is amazingly similar to that of those very Democrats,
    whom he eschews, who want to demonize all Greens.

    The title of Peter’s article is “Keep Calififornia’s Green
    Party United,” but his words and actions have only
    served to have the opposite effect, fueling divisiveness
    and acrimony.

    There are Green pursuits far more worthy than this to
    which we should be directing our collective attention.

    Linda Piera-Avila

  • tim smith

    California Greens,

    Peter Camejo writes (note – i am not reposting the full text of Peter’s remarks due to “length”, so i hope everyone can refer to those remarks in another message) :

    “A small, right-leaning clique has been working for several years to take over the party.
    They are led by an open fusionist, Michael Feinstein, who wants the Green Party to put Democrats on its ballots.”

    My name is tim smith, i have been on the GPCA-CC for 2+ years; active at State meetings, committees and General Assemblies for 6+ years; and active at the local level for 15+ years…
    While i know and respect Peter Camejo, and have worked on his campaigns, i disagree with Peter’s statement as indicated above, that the LA dispute is an issue of right vs left, fusionist vs anti-fusionist, etc… The problem, is multi-faceted, and at least in part, is located in the “psychology of power and oligarchic tendencies of organization”, tendencies universal even in democratic organizations…
    While Greens have sought to move beyond these tendencies by incorporating consensus seeking decision-making, and other more inclusive, grassroots, decentralized structures, the problem is ALSO, in part, because so far we still have inadequate and poorly developed mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts and disputes within our organization…
    In short, we really haven’t adopted true consensus-seeking… yet…

    i believe we can resolve our problems if we all participate in good faith ( NOT naively ! )… and if we recognize that whatever solutions we consider will NOT work if we do NOT make a good faith commitment to incorporate differing points of view and attempt to reach some form of consensus…
    We are a very young group organizationally and historically… Compare the abolutionists and how long it’s taken them to achieve their goals; …or compare how many hundreds, or thousands of years native americans needed to refine their inclusive and decentralized tribal councils; …or the Quakers – how long did it take them to create their forms of consensus decision-making…?

    Peter Camejo writes:
    “At the phantom meeting of five, Feinstein made a statement to the effect
    that if anyone tried to challenge this decision, his friends on the
    State Coordinating Committee would back him. Which is exactly what they
    are doing.”

    RESPONSE : While it is true MF has manipulated his way into control of a number of GP committees, it is not true, as i think Peter Camejo implies, that MF’s supporters control the GPCA-CC…
    In fact, they are currently in the minority, often using their minority status to “block” and “obstruct” various proposals and efforts to reach consensus, or a super-majority… And unfortunately the independently oriented majority has not quite reached “super-majority” threshholds… yet…

    ALSO Note – Peter, a portion of the GPCA (including some on the CC) fears and reacts to your sectarian diatribes, your obsession with fusionists, your access to funding and resources, that have been used to smear and attack GOOD Green activists…

    Peter Camejo writes:
    “Speaking of the recent events in Los Angeles County, Tim Smith wrote,
    ‘With these shady power moves, he (Michael Feinstein) invites
    criticism.’ In another email he characterizes how Feinstein functions,
    ‘It is his elitism, hierarchical, unilateral, and manipulative way of
    handling Green Party business that alarm me and that have run this party
    into a blind alley, that must be reversed and can’t be allowed to
    continue . . .’ ”

    “Tim Smith complains that Feinstein’s most recent maneuver of using the
    non-existing, old County Council trying to usurp the newly elected
    council’s rights in LA County was just too much for him and he could no
    longer support Feinstein. He voted for Jared Laiti for State
    Coordinating Committee co-coordinator. He concludes naming two of the
    leaders of the Feinstein current, ‘Cat/Magali/Mike pulled off a coup
    d’etat of the CC, by means of scare tactics and peer pressure.’ By Cat,
    he means Cat Woods of Marin County and by Magali, he means Magali
    Offerman of San Diego.”

    RESONSE : Peter, while i basically agree with the above characterizations, you have interspersed quotes from Zack Beatty, confusing them with mine… Note i said, Zack Beatty !
    Hopefully, that indicates to you and other CA Greens, the complexities of this problem… It is NOT a black and white issue, it is NOT right vs left, nor fusionist vs anti-fusionist, and your attempts to simplify and villify, IMO, only muddy the real distinctions that need to be made in the effort to find a PEACEFUL resolution to this problem, a problem that belongs to ALL of us…!

    “Art ignores History, but asserts to its terror. The events of our time, the banditry of society, are the source of mass graves, the rubble and slag, that assures its foundations.
    I go to speak and i know what to say, but what is this hostile echo that interrupts?”
    — Rene Char


    tim smith

    In a message dated 5/5/2007 7:18:06 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
    From: Rachel Odes
    Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 11:42 AM


    By Peter Miguel Camejo

  • I don’t want to waste any more energy on this bullshit controversy that simply won’t die, so I’ll repost my two responses to this thread on our internal discussion forum:

    1. My response to the original letter:


    A pox on both their houses, I say – the bad behavior of one party is equaled or exceeded by the bad behavior of the other, leaving the rest of us with little but a bad taste in our mouths. Why should I be forced to choose the lesser of two evils within my own party?!?

    The paranoid/lunatic/conspiracy-minded diatribes, jeremiads, and fatwas Camejo has been issuing in response to internal events within the party (at a state and national level) over the past few years have utterly alienated me. Non-violence, in all aspects, is a core Green value, and Camejo’s violent abjuration of this principle (and the tolerance shown for it by those who associate with him) is gravely disturbing to me. I want nothing to do with a political party where this type of discourse is seen as reasonable or tolerable, and quite honestly, I have to seriously question the rationality of anyone who associates with Camejo at this point. Trying to frame this dispute as some “fusionist”/right-wing conspiracy to take over the party and kow-tow to the Democrats is just plain crazy, and Camejo’s habit of labeling individuals as part of the “conspiracy” and “unGreen” is highly problematic in and of itself.

    Utterly repulsed is not an understatement of my reaction to this postings, and I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this (at least activists with at least some independently gained understanding of the situation within our party). Seriously, folks, I regard rhetoric of this sort as a far greater danger to the viability, credibility and internal integrity of the Green Party than any attempts to manipulate our internal processes for political gain by one faction or another. I’ve tried to stay out of the line of fire in our internal disputes, but I simply cannot hold my tongue any longer.

    – 30 –

    … and a later response to a follow up that emphasized the Feinstein accountability issue:

    This seems like we’ve gone beyond beating a dead horse, into a perverse form of political necrophilia…

    I know, don’t feed the “troll”, but:

    I’m baffled as to what benefit even a full admission of “guilt” by Mike F., at this point, would yield to the party as a whole? What magic transformation would occur?

    I’ve been in Santa Monica, seen that office (a few blocks from the house I grew up in), been inside it, had others close to me inside it, we’re not talking about some palatial space, but a storefront a few feet away from a bar and a Japanese “massage” parlor, on a relatively neglected boulevard far away from Santa Monica’s main commercial areas… my own mother says that it was furnished with furniture from Mike F.’s mother’s home, and she thinks that he probably spent as much of his own money on this space as the party’s.

    Are there no rational limits to the amount of time and energy spent pursuing one particular violation of a “principle”? Is there no ability to calculate cost/benefit ratios?

    If this is the sole documented incident of even theoretical financial impropriety in the last decade (it would seem to be, as I’ve heard of little to nothing else, other than another arguable incident here in Santa Cruz, which may be over a decade old by this point), are we as a party not doing fairly well on that front?

    Seriously, folks, if the definition of insanity is asking the same question over and over and expecting a different result, doesn’t that fit the situation here to a T? Does anyone sudden expect Mike F. to change his approach after how many years? What does beating the skeleton of this horse accomplish? I’m baffled.

    I hear that, in Europe, where rational political systems exist, that minority elements within a party, when they are unable to achieve their political aims, often split off and form their own parties… really folks, there has got to be a process within our party whereby issues are once and for all put to rest, and the folks who are invested in a particular resolution are faced with the choice of simply sucking it up and going on, or leaving and forming their own party if the issue is that significant to them.

    – 30 –

    Whatever damage to the party Mike F. did by his original action has been far exceeded in scope by those seeking to hold him “accountable”. Neither side’s behavior has been commendable, but the amount of energy expended on this particular “scandal” is well into the range of utterly irrational.

    That all said – this is ultimately irrelevant navel gazing.

    The Green Party is strong where it matters: on the ground, at the grassroots, in local areas like Richmond and San Francisco, where it is electing people who are making a real difference, and transforming the local political dynamic. Ross Mirkarimi’s successful term on the SF Board of Supervisors, and Gayle McLaughlin’s term as Mayor of Richmond (after service on the City Council), are more than enough evidence of this.

    Anyone who thinks the Green Party is “history”, isn’t paying attention.

    Thomas Leavitt

    Former Secretary, National Lavender Greens Caucus
    Former Santa Cruz County, County Council member
    Current Accreditation Committee Rep., NLGC
    Green since 1990. Attendee at 1996 Green Gathering that nominated Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.
    Fed up and pissed off grassroots Green.

  • FYI- Wes Rolley is an active GPCA media comm. member, active on many electoral campaigns and in building our party with OUTREACH.

    I refer you to his blog. He actively blogs on state issues such as water, the Delta and the Green Party-both internally and externally.

  • DJ

    When I assumed the GPCLA treasurership in 2001, GPCLA had no accountability, which likely explains how the $10,000 check incident could have happened in the first place. In my Treasurer’s Report of October 31, 2001, which I presume is public record, in response to a prior motion passed in August 2001, I clarified the ownership of the bank accounts, the responsibility for the Pico office lease, and even the legal status of the GPCLA– all of which had formerly been in doubt. It was in the process of this clarification that the incident in question came to light– though apparently one member had been calling it to the attention of GPCLA for some time without being heard.

    Speaking for myself, it was not the original incident, nor even the then-existing lack of accountability, that turned me away from the party, but rather the response to the incident by both the GPCLA and the state structure. The fallout from some six years ago apparently continues unabated, suggesting that I made the right decision in leaving. I wonder how many other supporters and potential supporters the party has lost by failing to move on.

  • Mato Ska

    I find myself in a peculiar position here. I have been in GDI since the Tulsa meeting and participated with Peter there in the meetings. I had several of my pieces included in the GDI website. I have had articles printed in Green Horizon Quarterly opposing Jack Uhrich articles on fusion as contrary to the task ahead in building an independent political party. At the same time I have work with deep greens, and ecological Greens in promoting a strategy of ecologically based bioregionalism which runs contrary to contemporary “left” critiques, including Peter’s. I see no inherent split in the differences as the exist and am afraid that contemporary “left” wing groups have demonstrated sufficiently the bankruptcy of an ideologically-based party. As an electoral party we need to refine the current Platform so that our base expands, not purify it for reasons of differences. I thought Peter’s strategy of IDEA was a sound mechanism for one wing of the party to do just that, and encourage candidates who promote given issues and positions to benefit through financial and organizational support that is all too often absent.

    I am planning to make a move soon to San Francisco to develop a consulting operation for Greens that will provide financial support, organizational volunteers, internet assistance, FEC accounting assistance, legal support and a variety of support for a new generation of Green candidates. I do not seek to get in the middle of this dispute, but since I supported Nader in NM, I also assured that Cobb’s name would be on the ballot, so there is what I called in the GHQ “A Missing Conversation” that I see being played out here in this discussion.

    Contact me at to consider how we can move forward in building a mass-based political party that promotes ecological restoration and ecological democracy.

  • Here’s a modest proposal:

    The factional food fight here does, as Lisa pointed out, seem to be driven a lot by personality. This is dumb and a giant waste of time. Don’t we have more pressing matters to attend to? Shouldn’t we be a much bigger party by now?

    We sure could be, if we stopped brow-beating one another.

    So let’s take the personalities out of it. I propose both Peter Camejo and Mike Feinstein take the next five years off from any and all participation in the Green Party of California.

    I am a lot more seriouser than you think.

    Just take a break, guys. Take some time off. You need it. We’ll take it from here. Thanks for your service.

    And as for the rest of you factionistas: stop being idiots. Think about what you can concede to this so-called “other side,” bury the hatchet and move on (but without the “.org”). The Dems and Repugs laugh at you, so stop it; just, stop. We’ve got bigger fish to fry than each other.

    Oh, and one last question to ask yourselves: Is there a problem? Or are YOU the problem?

  • Sharon Peterson

    As Bob, Connecticut Man1 and DJ have pointed out, there is a structural problem. Actually, there’s more than one.

    — The Green Party of California — a big organization in a big state — has absolutely -no- mechanism for resolving conflicts.

    — There is also no agreement on how to handle internal integrity issues. There is no Code of Ethics, and the Bylaws provide little guidance and have no teeth.

    — The Party’s own decision-making processes tend to thwart all attempts to upgrade or repair its structure.

    — We don’t even have a Mission Statement or an established function. beyond “political party.” Which can mean many things.

    In any organization run by humans, disputes will occur. So will questions about, or true lapses of, integrity. If solutions are nonexistent or blocked, the issues won’t just go away. The organization will falter, or disintegrate completely. And the frustrated humans within it will move them to a personal level because there’s nowhere else to take them.

    To simply remove the people without addressing the problem does not necessarily make the problem go away. At best, it leaves a nice hole for more problems to crowd in.

    And eventually, the organization may run out of people to kick out.

    “Tyranny of Structurelessness” is a classic. I keep it bookmarked and re-read it often. So is Paths to Failure . (Hope the link shows properly.) It’s a longer, heavier read, a socialist view of how the Left faltered in the 70s. It, too, describes many all-too-familiar behaviors.

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