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Democracy and independence at stake
Showdown in the Green Party

By Ashley Smith | August 5, 2005 | Page 2

THE GREEN Party's national committee meeting in Tulsa, Okla., on July 21-24 was a heated struggle over internal organization and political strategy.

This was the first national meeting of the Green Party since the 2004 Milwaukee convention that nominated David Cobb as the party's presidential candidate over Ralph Nader. With Cobb running a "safe states" campaign that didn't challenge both Kerry and Bush in battleground states, the Green ticket managed only 100,000 votes, leading to the loss of ballot lines in some places.

Cobb won the nomination despite the fact that a majority of Greens--led by the party's largest affiliates in California and New York--wanted to endorse Nader and advocated a campaign that challenged both corporate parties in all states. But nominating rules that skewed the voting strength of smaller state parties allowed a minority to impose Cobb.

Since the Milwaukee convention, the Green Party has been approaching a fork in the road.

The Cobb wing of the party, which controls the national leadership based on the current undemocratic system, has developed a close partnership with liberals who created the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) in an attempt to corral third-party advocates back into the Democratic Party.

The other wing of the party, led by Nader's vice presidential candidate Peter Camejo, initiated Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI) to address the organizational and political problems that compromised the Greens' challenge in 2004. Over the last several months, the GDI developed proposals submitted to the national committee to require proportional representation, delegates accountable to the will of the membership, and independence from the two corporate parties.

The Tulsa meeting was essentially a contest between these two wings. The conflict first erupted over the seating of delegates from Utah, where two Green Parties claim affiliation, one that supported Nader and another that supported Cobb. The Cobb wing rallied its forces to vote down the Florida delegates' proposal to allow each party one vote, and resolve the disputed affiliation later.

Speeches by Camejo and Cobb on the 2004 election and the future of the Green Party laid out the different strategies clearly.

Camejo stressed the significance of building the Green Party as the political expression of mass social movements and argued for the importance of encouraging debate and allowing many tendencies to exist in the party. He called Green Party's project of an independent challenge to the two party system "the spirit of the future."

Cobb's speech repeated many of Camejo's points, but with significant differences. For example, he went out of his way to condemn what he called sectarianism--his label for anyone who opposed his "safe-states" strategy.

Thus, in an answer to a question after his speech, Cobb denounced CounterPunch's Alexander Cockburn, saying that he "represents why the sectarian left has failed." The not-so-subtle message was that the Green Party should exclude the left and continue cooperation with liberal Democrats.

At a couple of points, Cobb supporters let their real position slip out. "I'm not willing to define us as a party independent of the corporate parties," Illinois delegate Phil Huckleberry declared. "We are more than an independent party; we are a Green Party." An Oklahoma Green said that she had been tabling for the PDA.

The real conflict broke out when the GDI presented its proposals. The Cobb forces didn't argue against them, but fell back on objections about bylaws, other procedural concerns and an attempt to offer an alternative proposal that had not gone through the Green Party's consensus procedure. The GDI stood its ground and rejected the "compromise."

After a long period of confusion--during which the party's pro-Cobb steering committee left the room without explanation to caucus and Cobb supporters lead delegates in doing "The Wave" and singing "Oklahoma" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"--the Cobb forces defeated the three proposals with about two-thirds of the votes.

While the Cobb wing defeated the GDI proposals, its position is a minority in the Green Party--the California and New York state parties, which have a majority of party members, voted for the GDI resolutions. The test for the Green Party will be how effectively the GDI can rally the majority of the party to its project of a democratic challenge to the corporate duopoly.

As Maryland Green Party member and Nader campaign organizer Kevin Zeese wrote, "The overwhelming majority of Greens support real democracy--one person, one vote, delegates voting for who they are elected to vote for--and they want to see a Green Party that stands for something different than the Democrats or Republicans. The Tulsa decisions will be reversed. Greens across the country will realize their Party has made a mistake, and there will be an uprising to correct it--an uprising that will reinvigorate the Green Party."

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