Peter Camejo: Keep California Green Party united

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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]