At a spring forum on environmental issues in Brighton, the Green
Party candidate Douglas Campbell tried to present his agenda.
He wanted to say that he favored building a 100-megawatt, municipally
owned wind farm to avert a California-style power crisis and
protecting the Great Lakes from oil drilling by promoting alternative
power sources. And rather than giving General Motors $188.7
million in tax exemptions to build a new factory, he hoped to
call for supporting hybrid vehicles.
Joe Peil/City Pulse
resident Raymond Ziarno is the Green Candidate for Michigans
Secretary of State. If elected he would make Election Day
a holiday, introduce internet voting, and permit same-day
the Green politician, who tips the scale at over 250 pounds,
had no chance to get his message out. Hed just taken a
seat when Brighton police and Michigan state troopers hauled
him out by his arms and legs. The Michigan League of Conservation
Voters, which hosted the event, said only primary election candidates
were invited. Campbell was handcuffed. Six police officers threw
me down to the floor, and three of them piled on top of me to
make sure I didnt go anywhere. One rib was definitely
broken, while the X-rays were ambiguous on a few others, he
says. The Green candidate, who wants to make lemonade out of
lemons, says that should he become Michigans next governor,
Ill be looking at police brutality.
In all likelihood the former automaker who designed a solar
powered car will not be elected the next governor of Michigan.
But Campbell showed during his appearance at last weekends
Green Party Convention in Lansing that its becoming a
little easier to be Green. Less than two years after presidential
candidate Ralph Nader collected nearly 3 million votes (more
than 10 times the margin separating the two main candidates),
Green Party activists in a dozen states are launching aggressive
campaigns for state and local office.
As voters throughout the western world become disillusioned
with politics and political parties, new social movements are
emerging as key actors in the promotion of change. The rise
of the Michigan Greens in 1997 reflects this trend. A major
milestone was the 2000 petition drive to place Ralph Nader on
the states ballot. In addition to successfully collecting
over 52,000 signatures, at the last presidential election several
hundred Michigan members were recruited to the party.
The Green Partys agenda calls for universal health care;
fair trade including minimum pay and environmental safeguards;
narrowing the gap between rich and poor by eliminating tax breaks
for corporations paying below living wages, opposing fast
track trade agreements and democratizing World Trade Organization
tribunals, and a moratorium on the death penalty and the expensive
missile defense system.
In the last federal elections, the Greens ran nearly 300 local
and state candidates, nearly a third of whom were elected. In
California, five towns including Santa Monica, now have Green
mayors. According to exit polls, the Green campaign brought
more than 1 million new voters to the polls.
One expected to see a crowd of longhaired radicals, left over
from the days when hippies and peaceniks prepared for the Age
of Aquarius, but the professionalism of the Partys annual
state convention last Saturday at the Days Inn on South Cedar
Street didnt match the stereotype. The 32 candidates nominated
for the Nov. 5 general election also undermined this stereotype.
Lets take Campbell, for instance. Having worked with both
Chrysler and Ford makes him a provocative choice for governor
in a state dominated by the Big Three automakers and their auxiliary
The Green candidate for the conservative Michigan Supreme Court,
Donnelly Hadden, has been a successful environmental attorney
for fun and profit since the 1960s. We sue
air polluters, water polluters, we sue people who put sewage
in your basements, we sue landfills, we sue people who leave
leaking underground storage tanks behind when they close their
gas stations. Hadden has won some notable cases, including
Oakwood Homeowners Association v. Ford (1977), Oakwood Homeowners
v. Marathon Oil Co. (1981), and Her Majesty the Queen v. City
of Detroit (1989).
Green Party candidate Doug Campbell gets removed from the
gubernatorial forum by Brighton police officers after he
refused to leave. The forum was open to candidates properly
registered for the primary with the secretary of state.
One rib was definitely broken while the X-rays were
ambiguous on a few others, he says. The Green candidate
says should he become Michigans next governor, hell
be looking at police brutality.
the right campaign, theres a good chance to slip
a Green into office, he argues. After all, the candidates
name will appear on the ballot as non-partisan. Its
going to be a bitter, dirty, mud-slinging battle said
Hadden, who intends to build a network of colleagues who will
either promote the Green Party in public or be a source of financial
support. He points out that not many attorneys are fighting
the big polluters, since most environmental lawyers are on
the other side.
Lansing resident Ray Ziarno, who is running for secretary of
state, is perhaps the Partys least typical candidate.
After serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, hes
worked for GM, Sears, the Census Bureau, the Postal Service
and as an engineering consultant and political volunteer. Along
with John Austin (Democratic Party), Ziarno is an expert in
electoral reforms endorsed by the Michigan Election Reform Coalition,
whose co-coordinator, Lynn Hartung, says, They both support
full public funding of elections, aggressive campaign finance
reform efforts and meaningful election reform that will enfranchise
Ziarno said in an interview that in the last few decades 80
countries have become democratic, but none have adopted the
American electoral system. Both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon,
he argues, won elections with less than 45 percent of the vote.
Ziarno believes the system of Instant Runoff Voting IRV
practiced in city council and school district elections
nationwide, should be introduced to guarantee majority rule
in the United States. Alaska is holding a statewide referendum
on IRV this fall.
IRV means voters rank candidates in order of choice, indicating
favorite candidates as well as runoff choices. If the voters
first choice is eliminated, his or her vote counts for a second
choice candidate. Under this system, most of Ralph Nader voters
second choices would have gone to Gore, who would have won the
2000 presidential election, Ziarno claims. If elected Michigans
secretary of state, Ziarno would make Election Day a holiday,
introduce internet voting, and permit same-day registration.
Terry Link, Director of the Office of Campus Sustainability
at Michigan State University, believes that if the Greens can
make a significant electoral breakthrough, progressive
politics will be born. Unlike most European countries,
however, the United States is overwhelmingly a two-party system.
The deck is stacked against third parties. Hopefully the
stamina of the Green Party is sufficient to eventually change
the face of politics, in two ways: by forcing the other parties
to move toward the Green Partys core values, and by getting
people elected to local positions.
Link is co-coordinator of the colloquy, What in the World
is Going On?, hosted last session at the Brookshire Golf
and Country Club in Williamston. The colloquy focuses on issues
such as 9/11, ENRON, the Middle East conflict, climate change,
AIDS and the growing gap between rich and poor. Link says Green
parties worldwide intend an ambitious systems approach
encompassing social and economic justice, ecological integrity,
nonviolence, peace, and democracy.
Although these aims may seem a million miles from political
reality, in many European countries third parties have achieved
the breakthrough into the political mainstream precisely by
promotion values such as peace and environmental and social
justice. As a direct consequence of the Greens success,
Germany has developed the strictest environmental protection
legislation in the world. Could these Michigan Greens really
be at the start of something new? Starting a third political
party in a traditionally bi-partisan system wont be easy.
How were the German Greens even able to enter the federal government
in 1998? The political scientist Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh concludes
in the 1997 book Social Movements in Politics: The
Green party movement appeared
during a recession in the
world capitalist economy. It was also a time when the West German
party system was stagnant; major parties were imitating one
another rather than offering telling criticisms of the current
order and imaginative proposals for substantive change.
The parallel with the United States is obvious the lack
of clear blue water between the two main parties on most major
issues mirrors German politics in the 80s, when no party
was advocating social transformation or opposing the dominance
of big business. The difference is perhaps that the West German
constitution made conditions for the formation of a new party
more favorable than they are in the United States. West Germanys
federal political system and its modified system of proportional
representation offered favorable chances for a social movement
wishing to launch an electoral campaign.
After crossing the 5 percent threshold in five state elections,
the Greens captured 5.6 percent of the vote in the 1983 federal
election and became the first party in three decades to break
into parliament. As a major victory, in 2000 an elected coalition
of Social Democrats and Greens passed a bill to decommission
nuclear power plants that are more than 32 years old without
reimbursing the power companies.
I noted at the conference this weekend that Michigans
Green Party appeals more to professionals than did the German,
Austrian and Netherlands campaigns that had begun two decades
before. And who were the candidates, after all? A lawyer, a
retired U.S. Air Force officer, a former automobile engineer.
The eloquent consumer lawyer Jerry Kaufman, running for attorney
general, was trained by Ralph Nader himself. Hair was short
at the meeting and shirt tails were tucked in.
You may be surprised to hear that I used to be a nuclear
engineer, Campbell said in an interview. He did component
testing for several nuclear power plants, including one on Three
Mile Island. Unlike other gubernatorial candidates, Campbell
calls for a complete shutdown of nuclear power and weapons.
He claims nuclear power is much more expensive than other forms
of electricity. In 1988 the variable costs of nuclear
power started to exceed that of coal.
accidents at Chernobyl and TMI had a major influence on the
growth of Green parties across Europe. In a three-part series,
Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Jim Detjen and Susan Fitzgerald
discovered that hundreds of workers had been contaminated by
radioactive particles on TMI. Today Detjen, who is director
of MSUs Knight Center of Environmental Journalism and
has been nominated eight times for the Pulitzer Prize, recalls
how safety rules were quickly improved following the article.
No new commercial nuclear power plants have been built in the
United States since TMI.
Detjen believes the rise of the Greens in the United States
may be a step-by-step process. He expects the party to grow,
especially in university communities, but also in more liberal
areas like Oregon, Maine, Vermont and Washington. He sees a
high likelihood that Green issues will be co-opted by Democratic
and Republican parties. Of course, this makes the Green Partys
election challenge all the more difficult. All the candidates
for Michigan governor this year emphasized the importance of
environmental protection, including clean air and water supply
and the importance of recycling.
It indicates that the campaign strategists understand
that the voters want environmental protection. But when it comes
down to it in all likelihood they will end up having
to choose between corporate sponsors who pay the bills and the
environment, says Campbell. As an example of bi-partisan
lip service he mentions last years congressional vote
to improve the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standard
on fuel efficiency levels for automobile engines. Fifteen
out of 16 of our representatives in Congress, including Michigan
gubernatorial candidate David Bonior, voted against it. What
kind of environmentalism is this?
were a few UAW members at the meeting on Saturday. Ken Mathenia
is an electrician at Delphi car factory who joined the Greens
as a volunteer in 1998. We see our jobs being outsourced,
adding that maintaining the CAFE standard hasnt
brought us any new jobs. Mathenia said many of his co-workers
agree with him and share his anger. Candidates are puppets
for the corporations who pay for their campaigns. He calls
for publicly financed campaigns and cant understand the
lack of enthusiasm for a third party. Abraham Lincoln
was from a third party, the Republicans. They have changed a
great deal since his days, though.
Might the Greens be an effective force for progressive change?
David Dempsey, policy adviser for the Michigan Environmental
Council (and a City Pulse columnist), said he thinks so. He
said that every environmental ballot proposal put before voters
in Michigan since 1968 has passed with an overwhelming majority.
Environmental issues can be put at the core of a political
party, along with related issues of clean economic growth and
humane treatment of our fellow citizens through universal health
care, and civil rights initiatives, he said.
But Dempsey, who is the author of Ruin and Recovery: Michigans
Rise as a Conservation Leader, also perceives problems
for the Michigan Greens. They have not yet recruited a
critical mass even a small critical mass of respected
environmentalists, let alone leaders from other communities
to hammer out a vision and begin reaching out to a network of
official membership total is hard to calculate because the party
structure is decentralized, but it has an estimated 500 members
in Michigan. Paul Emery, office manager of the Capital Area
Greens, has roughly 150 members on his contact list and says
that while chapters in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Traverse City and
Grand Rapids are considered to be strong, the Lansing chapter
is relatively weak. The progressive elements of Lansing
are already so close to the Legislature, explains Emery.
The 59-year-old activist calls himself a heretic because he
left the Democrats, for whom he used to campaign. During the
Vietnam War, he worked for Democratic peace candidate Eugene
McCarthy and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention
for Jesse Jackson. The straw that broke the camels
back was last year, when Al Gore totally prostituted himself
for the Miami vote in regard of the Elian Gonzales issue,
said Emery. He started to dislike the Democrats when they not
only accepted zero tolerance policies initiated by Republicans
but also decided to be even more draconian than Republicans
in their war against drugs.
What are the social conditions that would make a new political
movement successful? In his study of the rise of the German
Greens, Cyrus Zirakzadeh emphasizes the importance of political
frustration and intensity of activism. As theorists might
expect, many Greens had previously been active in social groups
and institutions, such as peace marches, religious organizations,
and college study groups. There they developed many of the goals
and strategies that they would later pursue as movement activists.
Zirakzadeh points out that government threats to civil liberties
and high unemployment among recent college graduates motivated
Germans to vote for the Greens. Its easy to see parallels
in the United States today, in the growing surveillance of the
USA Patriot Act, the economic downturn and the increasing costs
of education. The Michigan Greens base their hope for political
impact in this frustration with current politics. They consider
themselves to still be a small force, but as the famous anthropologist
Margaret Mead, quoted in their campaign material, once said:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world. Indeed, its the only thing
that ever has.