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Feel The Pain
"If you voted for Nader, don't feel guilty or conflicted
for one minute."
Well, that's a relief. I was concerned all through the election that Nader voters would feel guilty -- or conflicted. Now I don't have to worry. Not for one minute.
I mean I would hate for Mike Feinstein and Kevin McKeown to feel guilty -- or conflicted -- a couple years from now when H.E.R.E. Local 814 appears before the National Labor Relations Board to protest Loews' use of Darth Vader to intimidate its workers and faces an NLRB majority appointed by George W. Bush. (The new President will have two vacancies to fill immediately upon being inaugurated, and another a year after that.)
But the Green psyche is not the only one at risk. Consider potential President-Elect George W. Here's a fellow whose life has been ruined by good luck, and now he might get even more of it. What a blow to his self-esteem if he wins the election because Palm Beach had a bad ballot day.
Feel the pain.
"And don't mourn, organize!" Ibid.
For an organization that espouses small-d democracy, the Greens have a surprisingly top-down attitude toward organizing. Around the county they have elected just a few score local officials, but they run someone for president.
Sorry, but America as a whole is a conservative place. The most unproductive and self-defeating effort for the left is to try to elect a radical President, yet the left has always made progress under moderate Democrats.
The Greens could learn something from the radical right. They organize around issues -- abortion, guns, school prayer, etc. -- but they also work within the Republican Party, building their strength in state legislatures and in the Congress. In spring and summer, they dominate Republican primaries, but come November, their tacticians are skillful enough to aim to the center and win general elections.
But I am not sure the Greens care. Practical politics -- getting things done -- is not their thing.
I might be more generous to the Greens if I had not witnessed Green Party "organizing" first hand here in Santa Monica, which began when Feinstein arrived in the early 90s.
One has to ask: Why should the Greens organize in Santa Monica in the first place?
Without help from the Green Party the Westside of L.A. established some of the strongest grass-roots environmental organizations around, such as Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Coalition for Clean Air and Tree People. Santa Monica already had Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, perhaps the most successful local left-wing political organization in the country. We have active neighborhood organizations and home-grown social service organizations like Ocean Park Community Center and Community Corporation.
What was left to organize?
When Feinstein arrived his idea of "organizing" was to join with hard-line "neighborhood protectionists" to take over the Ocean Park Community Organization. OPCO at the time was the progressive organization that had spearheaded the revitalization of Ocean Park.
Feinstein chose to join a faction that was so no-growth they had opposed construction of the new Los Amigos elementary school campus. Too much traffic.
Feinstein and his friends got themselves elected to the OPCO Board of Directors, which was easy to do at the time because there were not enough candidates to make the elections competitive. Driven by Feinstein and his fellow ideologues, OPCO abandoned the mix of social justice and sustainable development that had always been at its core, and came to be like a typical no-growth homeowners association, opposed to everything. It is now a shadow of its former self.
The most outrageous example of OPCO's transformation was its opposition to Project New Hope, the affordable apartment complex on Ocean Avenue for people with HIV. I will never forget the City Council hearing where Feinstein, appearing as OPCO's representative, went toe-to-toe with Councilman Ken Genser, arguing that the city, which owned the land, should develop it for a "higher use." (Incidentally, in refuting Feinstein's argument Genser was brilliant and the exchange showed why, of all of Santa Monica's politicians, the current mayor is the hardest to characterize.)
Having now "organized" Ocean Park, Feinstein moved on. His next target was SMRR. Specifically, he wanted to run for City Council and he wanted SMRR's endorsement. Feinstein tried packing the 1994 SMRR convention with Green Party members, but the tactic failed. He came back in 1996 and succeeded. Further "organizing" led to SMRR's endorsement of fellow Green Kevin McKeown in 1998.
That is the extent of Green Party organizing in Santa Monica. It has not been quite as bloody as the Homestead Strike, but by golly, someone had to do it.
In fairness, I must acknowledge that on the City Council Feinstein has taken some brave votes, most notably in favor of abiding by state law to allow second-units in R-1 districts, and casting various votes in favor of First Amendment rights.
The point is, however, that Feinstein and the Green Party have received far more in benefits from their association with SMRR, and with Local 814 and SMART, than these local organizations have received back. Feinstein has become an important figure in the international Green network. He's often quoted in the national media. Santa Monica is a well known city, and having two Greens on the Santa Monica City Council has added considerably to Green Party USA's legitimacy. Feinstein has never run as a Green in Santa Monica, but when it is his turn to become mayor, you can be sure the Green Party will take credit.
Oh yes, one more thing. When construction began on Project New Hope in 1997, Feinstein, by now a member of the City Council, appeared at the ground-breaking to accept the people's gratitude. Now that's organizing.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Are we still fighting the Civil War? Look at the electoral map. The old Confederacy and the West vote one way, the Union (at least most of it) votes the other.
We hope politics will be about issues. We fear it will be about personalities. But in a close election it becomes apparent that politics comes down to an American version of tribalism. Euphemistically, this is sometimes called regionalism, but race, ethnicity and religion have been crucial in the creation of our political culture.
The states whose electorates have largely been the product of immigartion since the 19th century (including internal migration by African Americans) vote for the Democrat. States dominated by "real Amurcans" vote Republican. It is not just a matter of prejudice or affinity, but also different attitudes arising from different experiences.
As we all know, the swing state is Florida, which used to vote like Georgia, but which is now "immigrant."
In the long term, this trend bodes well for the Democrats. Since the Civil War the majority party has never been for long the party of the South, although for a time the South was part of the New Deal coalition.
But Ralph Nader says the closeness of the vote between the Democrats and the Republicans means that they are the same. If this is the case, does that mean three percent of the voters are progressive and the rest not? I sure don't think so.
It's true that national elections have to be won in the center, and the mixed-up views of the "undecideds" can drive everyone crazy.
But the convergence of the parties and the compromises real politicians have to make to move their programs forward should not hide the progress that has been made in this sometimes strange and unpredictable democracy.
The fact is that the left should be proud that decades of activism have changed the political dialogue. Even lip service is important as an expression of normative values. Civil rights, the environment -- no politician can win without at least saying the right things.
Talk is no substitute for action, but good talk is better than bad talk. This is good convergence, and if Nader is upset with this, then he's got a problem.
I hope he is conflicted. At least.
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