Green parties meet in Portland:
Another step toward a Green populist groundswell

By Patrick Mazza

Fifty people crowded into a Portland, Ore. living room the first weekend in April to give shape to a new national Association of State Green Parties. They aimed to seed a U.S. Green populist force that will reach mass proportions in coming years.

Maine Green John Rensenbrink, one of the new Association's prime inciters and inspirers, set the tone as the meeting opened. Rising to address delegates from 16 member states and observers from a number of others, Rensenbrink said, "This land is under assault from pernicious forces. What's required is nothing less than a fundamental shift in power, from corporations to ordinary people. To get there from here, we need the tools of democracy.

"The master key, the really important tool, is a Green Party that is credible, serious, inclusive, people-oriented and willing to speak truth in a language we can all understand."

People spent most of the remaining weekend crafting and tuning a national political organization that could well evolve into that instrument. It was nuts-and-bolts work, debating and creating bylaws, setting up national functional committees such as media, fundraising, platform, electoral exploration and third-party cooperation, and electing officers.

The delegates did allow themselves a bit of time to blue-sky in a "hopes and dreams" session.

"We need to be a national presence," said Linda Martin of Virginia, the former Draft Nader Clearinghouse chair who was elected one of the Association's co-chairs. "I would love for us to become the swing votes as in Scandinavia and Germany."

Tennessee delegate Winston Grizzard said, "My dream is that one day they'll say, 'You're the social justice folks; you're the people for democracy;' as well as saying, 'You're the people for the environment.'"

"Creatively use the tools of democracy to bring a vision of hope and reality of success to a demoralized populace," said Maine Delegate Nancy Allen.

"I would like the Greens to reject utopia," Lowell Nelson, an observer from Minnesota, said. "The formation of the ASGP is itself a rejection of a utopia of a few years ago."

Indeed, the creation of a loosely knit confederation of state parties, all heartily involved in the electoral project, represents a shift in Green politics. Many local circles of Greens that are more married to a purist eco-anarchism look with disfavor upon messing about with states and elections. It is "trying to beat the master with the master's tools," an impossible paradox.

The populist strain of Greens represented in the ASGP has a view more founded in the American experience of struggles to expand the democratic franchise -- first beyond property owners to all white males, then to women, then to African-Americans and other people of color. They understand that virtually any feature on the national landscape making life more democratic or equitable has been a product of popular insistence. From social security and unemployment insurance to utility regulation and the direct election of U.S. senators, any balance or buffer against the raw power of wealth has been brough only by democratic upsurges.

If utopia is elusive, the new Green populists are bent on restoring what Ralph Nader calls history's greatest proven problem-solver -- democracy. The critical path toward anything Greens want, from social justice to environmental sanity, begins with re-enfranchisement of a population whose democratic powers are being eroded by the power of money in politics.

The new Association, with its emphasis on the democratic toolbox, is very much a product of the '96 Nader Green presidential campaign and the cross-fertilization it represented. Nader's sharp focus on restoring democracy and taming corporate power clicked with state Green Party activists engaged in the grassroots basics of that project. Many key party activists met in Middleburg, Va., shortly after the election to lay the groundwork for a national state parties association.

The Portland delegates ultimately ratified the mission statement adopted six months before in Middleburg: To help grow strong Green parties in all states, and to create a "legally structured national Green Party federation." The only change made at Portland was that last word, "federation." While subtle, it signified an important intent of the delegates, that whatever national party rises out of all this be truly bottom-up, formed of autonomous state parties each with their own vitality and expression.

That insistence on autonomy has been an ironic issue in a running debate between members of the Association and the older national Greens organization, The Greens/Green Party U.S.A. TG/GPUSA is formed of individual members and local groups, and is governed by a voting system that many regard as byzantine. While supposedly bottom-up, it has led to a kind of central control by a national level "Green process." State Green Party organizers have often found the "process" unfriendly to electoral projects. Many key state parties such as California have never joined.

A number of Greens have been trying to find a ground to unite the various Green organizations. After Middleburg they issued a "Call for Unity" signed by some 458 Greens. Organizers of the April ASGP meeting worried this might prove a fractious issue in Portland. However, discussions between "Unity" and Association organizers before the meeting produced a statement that gained unanimous approval. It called for opening a conversation on unity while acknowledging the Association's key point -- that any national party must respect state autonomy. A TG/GPUSA observer on hand admitted that might be a hard sell with his organization.

However those issues resolve themselves, the Association of State Green Parties is building a momentum toward coming elections and stronger Green Party efforts in states across the country. In a time when the two major parties are increasingly discrediting themselves, and economic globalization is cutting the ground out from under middle-class security, the time is ripe for a populist revolt

"We find ourselves on a great battlefield, a great wasteland of the blunted dreams of millions," Rensenbrink said. "We have to raise a Green standard in politics."

The Green populist force that was seeded at Middleburg and Portland will continue to take shape over coming months. As before the meeting, delegates will continue to meet and make decisions in cyberspace, via e-mail. A new website, HTTP://WWW.GREENPARTIES.ORG, will carry continuing news of the ASGP and Green efforts generally. An Association newspaper rolled out at the meeting is now available for $20 annually from Green Pages, PO Box 5631, Santa Monica, Ca. 90409.

And delegates will have another Portland meeting in October, only this time in Portland, Maine. "Portland to Portland" is the Association's latest rallying cry and the next leg on the journey toward a Green populist groundswell, its members hope.

For more information contact: Eastern states -- Linda Martin, 703-642-5710, email; Western states -- Patrick Mazza. 503-283-9621,; Legal Adviser -- Tom Linzey, 717-530-0931, email

Patrick Mazza is a Portland, Ore.-based ecological journalist who edits Cascadia Planet, a Northwest bioregional website at HTTP://WWW.TNEWS.COM. He was also elected co-chair of the Association of State Green Parties in Portland.

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