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Playing it ‘safe’

Greens pledge independence from greenbacks

By Leigh E. Rich

It really isn’t that easy being Green.

If you’re not being mistaken for Ralph Nader or swallowed like a pesky fly by the bullfrogs that are the two mainstream political parties, you’re being accused of handing the state of Florida and, in essence, the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush.

But presidential hopeful David Cobb has gone Green anyway. And cautiously.

He and the rest of the Greens don’t want to simply hand the swamp back to Bush, whom Cobb calls “the White House’s illegitimate occupant.”

Instead, Cobb is growing the Green Party from the grassroots, planting as many Greens as he can at local and state levels and sowing the scene for a “nonviolent revolution” higher up. Just not this election.

Cobb’s “safe states” strategy helped secure the Green ticket, which went to consumer activist Nader in the two previous bouts for president.

That and the fact that Cobb, an attorney and the co-founder of the Texas Green Party, and running mate Patricia LaMarche, an environmental activist and former Green candidate for governor of Maine, are actually registered Greens. Nader couldn’t boast as much even in 1996 and 2000 when he was the Greens’ front man. For some, the incongruity was like having Ms. Piggy run The Muppet Show.

Though Nader still carries a political weight, even throwing it about in the current election in an attempt to oust Cobb from the California ballot, the Green team has continued to plow ahead by visiting so-called safe states and entreating voters not to “waste their votes.”

A vote for Green, Cobb says, in certain states—those in which Bush or Kerry already has a stronghold on the electoral votes—is an incipient step to change the two-party dominated system and “the corporatists” funding them.

“We the people are not in control of this country,” Cobb said when he spoke to Coloradans at Arvada’s D Note last week. Instead, it is corporations and their CEOs that have “hijacked our country” and tarnished America’s shining image in the world.

In the remaining swing states, those that could determine the 2004 election, Cobb and his Greens care only of banishing Bush from the White House. They encourage electors to pull the lever for Kerry, even though they believe he is only “incrementally” better than his opponent. Kerry, they say, is still pro-war and anti-universal health care.

Cobb minces few words when discussing the current administration, stating “George Bush stole that election” and it should “be called a judicial coup d’etat.”

Running Nader on their ticket, the Greens have been criticized for aiding and abetting Bush’s so-called victory by commandeering Florida votes that supposedly would have gone to Al Gore. It is an accusation the Greens deny, though Cobb’s safe states plan will presumably prevent this from happening again.

The Greens weren’t the only factor in the outcome of the 2000 election, Cobb says, and “if all the votes were counted in Florida,” Gore would have come out on top.

“One of 10 was the Nader and the Green Party campaign, but there were nine other reasons,” Cobb emphasizes, noting that “what others call ‘spoiling,’ we call ‘participating.’”

To sit out the election, as Nader originally planned to do, merely squelches third-party voices and voter choices, Cobb explains.

“We had an impact” in the 2000 election, he adds, promising voters that in all elections “we’re going to continue to run.”

And the Greens’ long-term goal? An overhaul of the entire system.

Pledging to end the war in Iraq and the war on drugs, repeal the Patriot Act, create a single-payer health care system, establish a livable wage, dismantle the costly military and prison-industrial complexes, and institute instant runoff voting, Cobb and his cohorts want to see systemic change in American politics and policies.

“That kind of change has never happened in the two established parties,” Cobb says, pointing to several social movements in the history of the United States—from the abolition of slavery and child labor to the establishment of the women’s vote, social security, workers’ comp, the 40-hour workweek and the direct election of senators—that were realized because of the efforts of third parties.

“That fabric (that is the United States) was literally woven together by third parties before us … when the established parties of their day vigorously fought against them.”

But Cobb cautions, deeming the Greens “the only party advocating that level of systemic change”: “We know that voting alone won’t bring us democracy.”

Instead, the party advocates “a commonsense approach to the problems that face us” that would include, inter alia, revamping U.S. foreign policy, health care and the election system—and the corporate interests that are at the center of it all.

“We have to change our foreign policy … or we’re going to breed even more terrorism,” Cobb warns.

Calling Sept. 11 “tragic” and “sadly foreseeable,” Cobb says that America needs to first understand and then address the root causes of terrorism.

The United States’ involvement in foreign affairs, Cobb unequivocally believes, is “always to steal resources for corporate interests.” And it is often “offensive rather than defensive—and I mean offensive in every sense of the word.”

He cites the United States’ hesitation to interfere in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the bombing of Afghanistan beginning in 2001 as examples.

“The Afghani government tried to extradite Osama bin Laden,” Cobb says, dubbing the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan “an utter and absolute failure” in the name of Caspian reserves.

“Afghanistan is in a total mess,” Bob Kinsey agrees, also speaking at the “Go Green” event in Arvada with Cobb. Kinsey is the Green candidate up against Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave and Democrat Stan Matsunaka for the 4th CD’s House seat.

Cobb alternatively calls for “a strong defensive position” and one in which “we do not encourage oppression overseas.”

“Of course there are hot spots in the world,” he admits, areas in need of peacekeeping measures. But Cobb and the Greens advocate doing so in conjunction with the United Nations.

With Afghanistan, Kinsey says, “we went in like a bunch of cowboys”—though the Texas-born Cobb disagrees with the metaphor “because real cowboys are full of integrity.”

“We’re not anti-cowboy,” Kinsey promises, adding some levity to the Greens’ solemn and frank approach.

Regarding health care, the Greens say America must move to a single-payer system. This does not mean, Kinsey is quick to assure voters, the British version of socialized medicine but rather, according to the Green Party Web site, one that is “publicly financed at the national level, administered locally, and privately delivered with freedom of choice of provider.”

All of which can be done without increasing health care costs, Kinsey and Cobb emphasize, particularly since the United States spent $1.4 trillion in health care expenditures in 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This was 14.1 percent of the gross domestic product, with 39.2 million Americans uninsured.

For the naysayers who are wary of a national health care plan, Kinsey says current corporate interests promulgate lies about the supposed lack of services and increases in taxes.

“Absolutely not!” Kinsey asserts when asked whether the Greens’ health care program would cost taxpayers more. He says citizens ought to take into account the amount of money that currently flows into corporate interests. “The same money flowed into a national (program) … could provide way better care.”

Even the American Medical Association, that’s long been a dragging force in the push for a universal system, “is moving our way,” Kinsey says.

“In fact, significantly moving our way,” Cobb adds. “It’s gotten so bad with the insurance (system) … they can’t even treat their patients.”

Though Cobb notes that physicians often don’t like the spending caps that come with a single-payer system, “It will free them up to actually practice medicine.”

Despite four different attempts in the 20th century to create a national health care system, efforts have failed because “there are not candidates in office committed to it” and voters haven’t been willing to elect those who are, Cobb says, noting there is a cultural desire for it but a lack of political will to implement it.

If in power, the Greens also would control bioengineering—another venue where capital dictates deed, they say.

Speaking of genetically mutated organisms, particularly in terms of engineered foodstuffs, Cobb says, “There was never a bill that allowed that to happen” and such public policy decisions are being made by “unelected and unaccountable CEOs. (They are) not just exercising power. They are ruling us.”

Right now, Kinsey adds, consumers are left only with “caveat emptor”—the admonition to “let the buyer beware”—in their corner.

Such changes cannot happen, however, without a new party in play, the Greens stress.

“We are that party,” Cobb says, ticking off the budding numbers of Greens nationwide. Currently, the United States includes about 300,000 registered Green voters, with more than 5,000 in Colorado. And in only three presidential election cycles, the Greens have grown from 10 organized state parties, five guaranteed ballot lines and 40 elected officials to 44 organized state parties, 23 guaranteed ballot lines and 207 elected officials.

Colorado is currently home to 10 elected Greens, including Art Goodtimes, San Miguel County commissioner; Dave Long, Cortez City Council; Jeffrey Bergeron, Breckenridge Town Council; Jon Fox-Rubin, Basalt Town Council; Peter Gleichman, Ward Town Council; Robert Kelly-Goss, Minturn Town Council; Hillary White, Telluride Town Council; Wendy Mimiaga, Dolores Town Board; Scott Chaplin, Carbondale Board of Trustees; and Richard Hamilton, Park and Recreation District in the special district of South Park.

Goodtimes will defend his county commissioner standing in the November general election. Going for the Green also will be candidates Bruce Meyer for the Colorado House seat in District 4; Tom Castrigno for Summit County commissioner; Tanya Ishikawa for Jefferson County commissioner; and Eric Rechel for Mesa County commissioner.

The Greens have secured ballot access for its presidential nominee in Colorado, but so has the Reform Party with its independent candidate Nader.

“The Green Party is getting larger, it’s getting stronger and it’s getting better organized. That’s a fact,” Cobb beams. “We’re doing it against all odds.”

And if the Greens’ promotion of instant runoff voting (IRV)—which would allow voters to select two or more candidates in their order of preference—is a success, more Greens and other third-party candidates could find themselves in office.

IRV would solve several issues, the Greens say, including increasing voter turnout; reducing election costs by holding only one election instead of two; and stirring up the current two-ingredient political cake.

Currently, “one voter must choose one candidate from a field of candidates,” says Rick VanWie, co-chair of the Denver Green Party and an advocate of IRV election reform. “Most people feel there is not enough choice … (or) their vote won’t have any effect.”

With IRV, as compared to the present winner-takes-all format, Cobb says, “voting participation does in fact go up.”

And Kinsey emphasizes that such election reform would allow voters to pay attention to the issues and candidates to run a “much more serious campaign … rather than this kind of image politics” being waged by both Republicans and Democrats.

“Principled liberals have been sold out by the Democratic Party. Principled conservatives have been sold out by the Republican Party,” Cobb believes.

“Progressive people go to the Democratic Party to die,” Kinsey succinctly states and points to Mike Miles, the Democratic contender for the U.S. Senate who lost the recent primary to Attorney General Ken Salazar. “He’s the one who is bumped out … in the name of image and money.”

Cobb concurs, saying the Green Party is the last bastion for progressives. “The leadership of the Democratic Party undermines a genuine progressive agenda.”

The Greens’ “agenda of peace,” Cobb maintains, would craft a new America that outpaces the current corporate-based “neo-conservative cabal.”

The U.S. “masquerades as democracy when we know it’s plutocracy,” he says. “If that’s not bad enough, we’re creating a racist and sexist world order with the plunder.”

He also believes in a Green revolution, maybe not now but sometime soon.

Citing Gandhi and what he deemed a four-step process for systemic social change—where the “establishment elite” first ignores an emergent party, then ridicules and knocks it, next “fights you like hell,” only later to be overthrown by it—Cobb adds a fifth step: where hindsight says, “Oh, that was inevitable.”

“It doesn’t seem so inevitable when you’re one of the visionaries working in stages one, two and three,” Cobb underscores.

“If you want to live in that (visionary) society, you’ve got to be willing to vote for the candidates.”

And Cobb promises the Greens are ordinary Americans willing to roll up their sleeves to create that new party.

He even pledges, “I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’ when you join.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, August 20). Playing it ‘safe’: Greens pledge independence from greenbacks. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 6–7.

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