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What a Green should do about Bernie Sanders

A New Electoral Politics is Possible

Ian Wilder and Prez Candidate Cynthia McKinney.

Ian Wilder and Prez Candidate Cynthia McKinney.

This article is meant to explore an alternative to what is given as a quadrennial binary choice of either attacking a progressive Democratic Presidential candidate or an imminent existential dilemma of Green Party closing shop and submitting to him.  This article could have just as easily been written in past presidential election cycles about Kucinich as it is now written about Sanders.  I want to caution my Democratic Party friends that I see no need to widen scope of this inquiry to include corporate Democratic Leadership Conference candidates such as Clinton, Obama, Kerry, and Gore.

Before I dive into a discussion of what to do, I want to make clear that this is not merely armchair musings.  I have been in the streets as an electoral activist for over 3 decades. I have carried countless petitions; run phone banks; run campaigns: run for office myself; been a committeeperson in two different parties; and worked Presidential  conventions for two different parties.  I started in electoral politics at age 17 with my mother’s town board race, was a County Democratic Committeeman at 18 and left the Democratic Party to become a Blank voter in 1993. I came back to electoral politics in 2000 with Nader’s Green Party run (as many did); joined the Green Party; and was elected New York State Green Party co-chair within 2 years.  Though I now focus on local politics, I keep informed about the national discussions.

In a manner that is tiring to those who have been through numerous Presidential election cycles, I am watching the same argument go through Democratic party and Green Party circles regarding the latest progressive Democratic Presidential hopeful.  It’s like being stuck in the back of the car on a long trip listening to a long-married couple up front have the same argument that they have on every trip. It’s hurtful. No one wins, everyone loses, and the trip is made miserable. In that way, this discussion is not about any particular argument on any particular car trip, it is about making the whole process better for everyone regardless of the candidates or the year of the election cycle.

In working toward a better alternative, we first have to understand where we are now.  The current state of US presidential politics is based on a closed competition, much like the corporate interests that fund it. The Democratic and Republican politicians that uphold this system spend much public time tearing into each other when there is little to separate them while closing ranks to prevent any person from bringing in an ideas that offend their corporate funders. These Democratic/Republican gatekeepers make sure to censor the discussions both of those in their parties and outside their parties.  The most obvious example of this censorship is the subverting of the US Presidential debates from an exchange of ideas run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to an event entirely controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties and funded by foreign corporations like Anheuser Busch.

Presidential candidates like the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders provide some of the ideas that the Democratic and Republican Parties work hard to keep from even being heard.  Their ideas are based on the collaborative ideal that built the US.  As Ben Franklin noted: “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.” Franklin, the ultimate bootstrap capitalist, spoke even louder about the power of collaboration in his deeds.  He had a hand in founding many public institutions including the local fire department, university, and first US public library.

Now what I am suggesting is a two-way street. It benefits both Greens and progressive Democrats to focus on positive change.   It is just as much a waste of progressive’s time for Greens to harp on the progressive Democrat’s inadequacies such as Sanders’ military-industrial foreign policy as it is for the Progressive Democrat’s supporters to troll Green Party organizations to switch registration from Green to Democrat despite the numerical inadequacy of this tactic in affecting Democratic primary election outcomes.

Obama learned this lesson in seeking the presidency: instead of wasting time and money working to keep voters from supporting the Green Party candidate as Kerry and Gore had done by trying to keep the Green party candidate off of state ballots, Obama focused instead on garnering support for himself by seeking out the maximum vote count among possible supporters.  This tactic of focusing on a positive program rather than a negative one paid off handsomely for Obama, and while the opposite program failed Gore and Kerry.  

Progressives need to take this one step further and support one another on issues of agreement.  A model for cross-party support was provided on September 10, 2008. when Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA, Green Party), Pastor Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party) and Ralph Nader (Independent Party) held a press conference at the Press Club in Washington, D.C. to announce that they were in agreement on four principles:  bringing the U.S. troops home; protecting our civil liberties; investigating the Federal Reserve; and balancing the federal budget.

A major step towards a politics of cooperation would be a joint statement supporting an electoral system that fosters cooperation instead of antagonism.  The current electoral winner take-all schema (even if the winner only get a a plurality) is not based in the US Constitution nor has any proof of being the best system to support democracy, it is merely custom enshrined in state law.  The two corporate parties benefit from keeping this inadequate system in place, so they will often collude to keep it in place despite their public protestations.

Stein and the Green Party have long argued for an electoral system that mirrors this public sentiment.  The public wants an electoral system that eliminates the outrageous waste of money, wasted votes, and the politics of attack.  The alternative of a preferential voting system would foster the discussion of ideas while making every vote count and require that any winner have at least a majority of the votes.  An example of this type of voting is Instant Runoff Voting where the candidates are ranked by the voters with the bottom choice drop off and those votes reassigned to the next choice until a majority winner is chosen. This type of voting is used for the Hugo Award, Best Picture, and MVP along with a number of municipalities and associations across the US and internationally.

Whether you Feel the Bern or Chill with Jill, we can work separately on our candidates campaigns and work together for long term progressive solutions rather than being caught up in the rip tide — or bickering car ride — of the current election cycle.

One Response

  1. Mr Wilder,
    I agree with the sentiment of your email. My last vote for President went to Jill Stein, my last local election votes were cast on the Green Party Line.
    Senator Sanders has a legitimate chance to gain the Dem nomination and I am working toward that end. I support most of Senator Sanders policies and unlike Kucinich and the Green party, he may win NH and achieve enough support to overcome the media blackout.
    I am looking forward to giving America a general election ballot that includes both Miss Stein, and Bernie, rather than Hillary.
    I think Green party energy would be much better spent locally. It is always a disappointment when I see cross endorsements and no true Green Party candidate on my local ballot.
    Should Hillary win the Dem nomination, I will remember which party supports the same policies I do. Should Bernie win, I will still remember.
    Hopefully, Bernie’s support will tell the Dem party that they need to move to support the same policies that the Green Party already endorses.
    Most of the local elections in Suffolk County were won with only 30% of voters casting votes. Give us something to vote for that will make progressives come out n vote.

    Thank you
    Steven Cecchini.

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