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Indybay Feature

Green Party Presidential Debate in San Francisco: Show of Unity?

by Robert B. Livingston (gruaudemais [at]
It was not without trepidation that I attended the Green Party Presidential Debate today at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco-- and despite moments of inspiration, cheer and hope... I left mystified. Will the Green Party enter the 2008 Presidential race strong and unified-- or will it continue to become increasingly marginalized by a leadership more concerned with creating pockets of influence than with igniting an authentic and diverse national movement capable of substantially challenging the status quo of a country increasingly controlled by corporations?
San Francisco
January 13, 2008

"What is missing?" I kept asking myself from the moment I arrived at the Herbst Theatre this afternoon.  It seemed all of the keys were in place for a dramatic and catalytic presidential debate that would put the trivia of the the two-party presidential debates in a spotlight.  Despite the full house and exhuberent audience participation, somehow that never quite happened.

Earlier I had encountered Cynthia McKinney and confessed to her that my dream would be for Nader to throw his support behind her campaign-- and I could see in her eyes that she truly hoped so also... but she also looked as if she hadn't any idea what Nader had in store.  It remains to be seen if Nader will declare his own independent candidacy-- to broaden debate about the issues he cares most about?

After seeing McKinney, I saw Nader, looking weary and somewhat disappointed, huddling with his advisers-- something did not seem to be happening according to plan.  I was never able to talk with any of them, although I had hoped to do so.

During an intermission, I encountered a few prominent local Greens huddling-- what were they talking about?  They shooed me away-- whatever it was they did not want me to know.

Whatever was going on, the full audience were treated like children-- no one ever explained why Nader was not to share the stage with the Green candidates.  All that was announced was a terse message that the organizers had been informed 48 hours before the event that he would not appear with the Green Party candidates and that he was not an official candidate.  Was Nader going to announce his own independent run for the presidency?  I was told later that Nader had not yet declared. (Indeed, before the event Green Party organizers said that Ralph Nader's office had asked them to state that he is not a candidate.)

I was also told after the event by Aimee Allison that Nader had not shared the stage with the Greens for "legal" reasons:  was that a way of saying that rules set up by those who set up the debate could not allow him to share the stage-- or was it his own agenda that disallowed him from sharing the stage?  I was never sure.  

At one point Cindy Sheehan, one of the moderators, asked Nader about his potential candidacy.  Alone on the stage, Nader quipped about building bridges to the Green Party and embarked upon an eloquent diatribe against the control corporations increasingly have over our country-- a control that can be described as being fascist.  He said that on the issues, the Green Party as compared to the two corporate parties (Republican and Democratic Parties) was as different as day and night. He suggested that internal conflicts and excessive rule-making within the Green Party did not much interest him and advised that the Party grow by keeping its focus on the issues it professes to be concerned about-- and by organizing. Much of Nader's soliloquy on a host of issues was devoted to advising the party to become angry and energized by the increasingly negative turn our country has taken in recent years.

So what happens next?  I wonder-- and I'm sure many people wonder.  Will Nader run?  If he does-- what will that mean for the Green Party? What will that mean for Cynthia McKinney's campaign? (At one point in the debate, Jared Ball declared that the debate was less a debate than a discussion of unanimity of support behind Cynthia McKinney, clearly the most popular of the candidates that shared the stage.)

Rather than leaving the event energized-- I left mystified-- except for one thing:  clearly Nader and the Green Party candidates virtually share the same interests.  All the debaters were eloquent and sincere.  The audience all hoped for unity and purpose. All were solidly behind Cindy Sheehan's independent congressional campaign in San Francisco against Nancy Pelosi.  Both Nader and McKinney appeared bent toward making the critical issues of our day tantamount to any party bickering or conflict.

So where was the magic?  Where was the transparency?  Where was the unity and purpose?  

Stay tuned....


Of note:  To my knowledge, Matt Gonzalez did not appear as a moderator as advertised.  Elaine Brown did not appear because she left the Green Party.

On stage to debate were Jesse Johnson, Kat Swift, Cynthia McKinney, Kent Mesplay,and Jared Ball.

The crowd was told at the start that Ralph Nader would appear separately from the Green Party candidates, which he did after they debated.  He never shared the stage with them.

Disclosure:  I endorsed Ralph Nader at (which never published my comment that I hoped Cynthia McKinney would declare her candidacy.  I afterwards endorsed Cynthia McKinney.  My hope continues to be that Nader and McKinney could find a way to run together.  I am a charter member of GDI, Greens for Democracy and Independence-- I believe that an authentic and strong Green Party requires transparency and valid representation-- it should not endorse candidates in the corporate parties.

It is my understanding that today's event will be broadcast and reported widely-- as soon as possible I hope to provide links to such in the comments section.  I hope others will make productive comments and corrections below.
§Herbst Theatre where the event took place
by Robert B. Livingston
This was the announcement of the event here at indybay,org:
§Cynthia McKinney before the event
by Robert B. Livingston
§Ralph Nader before the event
by Robert B. Livingston
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Nader was late for the event: not true. In typical fashion, it failed to mention that Cindy Sheehan is a congressional candidate in San Francisco. It further reported that hecklers received claps of approval-- from Chronicle reporters I wonder? Perhaps some people clapped approval for those that removed the hecklers.

The Chronicle article tried to make the debate sound trite:
§Greens Presidential candidates debate
by Robert B. Livingston
Left to right: Jesse Johnson, Kat Swift, Cynthia McKinney, Kent Mesplay,and Jared Ball.
Cindy Sheehan, an independent candidate for congress is seated on the right.

Here is Cindy Sheehan's campaign website:
§Ralph Nader speaks alone.
by Robert B. Livingston
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by reader
We live in a mysterious time. The mystery is not the Greens -- every party is in the same battle against the facist takeover of the country -- it's the people of this country and what's been done to them for the last several hundred years, as well as in the last 50 or so. Who are we and how did we get here to this awful place where we are riding a war machine around the world with no way to stop it?

In the end, nature will probably have to take corrective action. It's not up to one party or another, it's everyone.
The Green Party's rally will be rebroadcast with listener questions called in on KPFA, 94.1 FM, Tuesday, Jan 15, at 7 p.m. Peace & Freedom Party candidates will be on the Kris Welch show at Noon on Friday, Jan 18. For the Green rebroadcast, see

Since there were no Democrat-Republicans scheduled, the above rally could only be a show of unity, not a debate. There is nothing wrong with that and I am glad both P&F and the Greens had campaign rallies so the public could hear the candidates and learn about these two peace parties, the only two peace parties on the ballot.

While the Chronicle is doing its best to ignore the obvious, that Cindy Sheehan's campaign is a major challenge to Nancy Pelosi's incumbency as the Chronicle is the mouthpiece of the same capitalist class Nancy Pelosi serves and of which she is a member, Nancy Pelosi has sent at least 2 mailers so far this month, which is to say the first week of this year she sent one and we just received another in the second week, obviously to all registered voters in her district as this writer is certainly not a Democrat. The latest one was the usual slick nonsense about protecting "national security," reminiscent not only of Hitler Bush's same propaganda line, but also of the anti-communist era of 1945-1991, when both the Democrats and Republicans outdid each other in claiming to fight communism; now they claim to fight terrorism. Of course, they are all fighting the workingclass. Nancy Pelosi and her gang are so clearly removed from the needs and interests of the workingclass that her mail is simply junk mail. The fact that she is campaigning, after 20 years in office, means she is worried and that is good news for all of us who have suffered from her promotion of capitalism.

While these campaign rallies are good, it is best not to have great expectations about any campaign rally. They are merely meant to be educationals to the uninformed. The task of both P&F and the Green Party is to register the unregistered in P&F or Green, and that is mostly the workingclass. Half the adult population nver votes, and that half is the workingclass. Currently in California P&F has 57,000 registered voters and the Green Party has 132,000 registered voters. In San Francisco, P&F has 1500; Green has 11,000. When it comes to voters, California may have 13 million voters in November out of 27 million adults; San Francisco may have 300,000 voters out of 600,000 adults. Both parties will certainly benefit from the drastic decline in the economy caused by the bursting of the housing bubble, the end of the vicious lie of the never-existing "American Dream." The presidential election is always a referendum on the economy and on that issue, neither the Democrats nor Republicans have anything to offer the workingclass. Cynthia McKinney will be a good booster for the Greens and P&F is promoting an excellent single payer health plan for the November ballot. For more on that and how you can help, including downloading the petition and circulating it yourself, see:
We need over 433,000 signatures by May 9 to get this on the November ballot which means we need 800,000 signatures just to be safe. Please help.
The Green party has many problems . There's a very real division between those who want a real left electoral alternative and those who rarely are open ''Proud Greens'' outside of rallies like Sunday's . On Monday they are indistinguishable from liberal dems like Leno (who a certain Iranian- American City Supervisor was huddled with at a nearby Peets before the rally ) . That issue , whether the Greens are really(or should be ) independent of the Dems and the Republicans , wasn't really discussed at the debate . When Jared Ball , who announced that he would withdraw to support McKinney , stated truthfully that '' This isn't really a debate , it's just a discussion among collegues '' the audience loved it . Which is sad . Real debates are a good thing . In their absence political struggle will , of course, still go on . But it will be behind the scenes , in proverbial back rooms and will often be ''settled '' by unprincipled 'mutual back scratching''deals of which the rank and file know about only thru rumors and maybe the web !
The Peace and Freedom party has it's own serious problems . It lost it's ballot status in 1998 , regained it in 2002 . But now it's losing registerants again .
It's less the half the size of the Greens and judging from rallies like yesterday's , far less supporters . (They had a similar rally Saturday . Reportly they had less than 100 present ! ) When pressed what the differences between them and the Greens the standard response is that the PF are Socialists and the Greens are not . Though many Greens have long histories in the Socialist Left and some Pf activists are '' Socialists '' only in the most confused sense . One well known local PF woman told me that she wanted to eliminate the Public school system , a bizzare postion that i have only elsewhere heard from from right wing '' home schoolers ''and some supporters of Ron Paul .
Both parties need to evaluate their futures and maybe make drastic changes . As it stands now the ''twin parties of capital '' have very little to worry about at the polling booth .
by Sunni Ruiz
Brendan's post is a excellent summary of the situation we are in. Alas for many good progressive minded people neither the Greens or PF are even on the radar screen . In my union the only debate is whether to support Obama or Edwards . The more serious Union activists are backing Edwards. Those more wowed by the idea of electing a Bi-racial man to the White House are backing Obama , even though he talks in empty platitutes. (I ''love '' his '' We have to get beyond red states and blue states and just have red, white , and blue states ! "'
As a long dead Russian once said '' What is to be done ? "'
by reader
"'This isn't really a debate , it's just a discussion among collegues'' the audience loved it . Which is sad . Real debates are a good thing "

Name one other US Green Party Presidential Debate which had two household names in attendance.


This was a first. It was breaking open new ground. That's all. To have expectations for a first event such as this -- put on by 100% volunteer work, funded by people who work middleclass jobs and rent apartments -- is just misguided, even as it is also understandable that people are frustrated that this wasn't "perfect". Don't worry, we will get there.

Celebrate the moment. A new chapter opens as we move forward.

If a political party in the US fighting against the D's and R's and exposing their crimes did NOT have any problems and came out of the gate with the "perfect" debate, we'd really have to wonder what the heck was going on! Cuba has problems for a reason. Listen to Nader talk about Cuba if you haven't. The oppressed parties and countries have an uphill battle and we all do our best.

Democracy is about "working things out" and that inherently involves internal battles. We have to understand these are a part of growing. Learning how to cope and move through those battles is a long and age-old process. The corporate parties have by-passed "democracy". They have chosen sociopaths over humanitarians, for the money and the power, and sociopaths don't bother with things like consensus or voting their conscience, etc., so their world is a little more . . . slick.

Be glad of all the good that came of the event, the tremendous work by local volunteers, young and old, and the increasing diversity of the party.
by deanosor (deanosor [at]
will occur if and when Cynthia Mckinney (the likely Green nominee) gets to debate Obama or Clinton and McCain (or one of the other scary war-mongers) {this is not to say that Clinton and Obama are not scary war-mongers themselves.They are!) and whoever the Libertarians nominate.
by Tom Cleland (tomcleland [at]
Good article on the SF debate! A YouTube from the Jan. 5 Minneapolis Presidential Forum is out now:
by reader
Thanks for the thought, but someone would likely get Wellstoned before such an event would be allowed to occur.

And the mainstream media army would re-write it for their paymasters.

But yes, were it to happen, that's where the true debate would happen.
by Bern Haggerty
Thanks to all you SF-ans for organizing this event.

The Chronical link allows you to comment on their article and vote in an online poll. Please do both--38% currently consider the Green Party a necessary progressive alternative.

I have been following Representative McKinney, and I think she would make an excellent Presidential candidate and President. I also like Professor Bell and Ms. Swift--they seemed like ordinary, honest people who we could trust with America's nuclear arsenal--hopefully to dismantle it. I especially like what Ms. Swift said, i.e., I am running because I can. If every American voter had that attitude, we would have much better elections! Still, Ralph Nader has more experience than any of the declared candidates, from any party, and I respect his independence.

Mostly because of the internet--and despite the television and newspaper monopolies--a whole new generation of kids is growing up knowing they are not required to vote for a bunch of greedy warmongers.
by repost
Green Party Holds Presidential Debate in California

The Green Party held a presidential debate on Sunday before 800 people in San Francisco featuring former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and four other candidates. Ralph Nader, who ran on the Green ticket in 2000, spoke at the event but did not take part in the debate. Nader has not yet announced whether he will run for president again.

Ralph Nader: You want healthcare for all? Who says no? It’s the health insurance industry, the drug companies and the HMOs. You want living wage? Who says no and makes it stick? It’s McDonald’s. It’s Burger King. It’s Wal-Mart. You want peace in the world, and you want a country to wage peace and become a humanitarian superpower? Who’s opposed to that? The Lockheed Martins. What Eisenhower condemned is a military-industrial complex. Just ask: Who keeps saying no? And you know what the focus of a Green Party and an alternative party political movement has to be.

Cynthia McKinney cited Ralph Nader as part of why she was running on the Green ticket.

Cynthia McKinney: Mr. Nader, in a recent piece, asked us to take the next step if we don’t like what’s happening in our country. I’ve heeded his advice: I’ve joined your party. I’m helping Green candidates, and I’m here with you today. I ask you to take the next step with me.

Also participating in the Green Party debate were Jared Ball, Jesse Johnson, Kent Mesplay and Kat Swift.

Credit where credit is due--

Elaine Santore and Luke Thomas did a great job of covering the Green Party debate at Fog City Journal--

especially giving good portraits of the Green Party debaters:
by Irvthom (irvthom1 [at]
I don't think the writer knows the meaning of the word 'tantamount'.
by Robert B. Livingston (gruaudemais [at]
You are right-- thanks for setting me straight about "tantamount" (equivalent in effect or value).

Both McKinney and Nader are more interested in overcoming party bickering to create a stronger and more consequential Green Party. Both are more driven to confront the important issues of our day in meaningful ways.
by Enough Dumbing down
Brother Livingston seems to be trying to retract his earlier critical, astute comments when he describes the deep differences within the Greens are inter party ''bickering ''. '' Bickering '' would be if people were fighting over whether to have a event at 1 pm or 7 pm . Debates over whether the Greens should be a truly independent radical party or a front for the Democrats ( like the so called Working Families party in New York which , while they appear more '' left' never challenge the D.P. on races or issues that really matter . )
There wasn't a debate Sunday . Yet my ticket stubb reads '' Green Campaign 2008 - A Presidential debate that Matters ''.
i reject the idea that debate and dissent prevents unity against Unity against a Common enemy .
Ever been to Mexico ? Not just the beaches but to the mass left rallies, demos, Workers assemblies . The Mexican left has fierce idelogical and tactical disputes . They're up against a regime that will resort to murder , far more often than here in the US. Hundreds were killed in 1968. Dozens have ''disappeared'' in the last decade . But that hasn't caused them to ''dumb down '' their politcs . They almost won the presidentcy !
You can't build a alternative to the D.P. and the GOP by cheerleading sessions . Thoughful analysis , discussion and debate helps not hinders action .
When was the last 800 person sit-down event held by a group left of the Greens in SF?

I rest my case.

Endless debate over details of how to get out of Iraq or political philosophies and ideologies isn't what an alternative party to the corporate parties needs to be focusing on during the US presidential campaign.

For some of these folks on stage it's likely the first time they've ever even spoken in front of such an audience. I'm disappointed by the hardliners -- be they socialist, capitalist or otherwise -- who are sure that the Greens didn't live up to their expectations, yet are not actively doing anything themselves outside of arguing in cafes in Berkeley at midnight, or going to school at Stanford to become human corporations.

If you want "real change", get in there and roll up your sleeves and get to work.

The Greens are doing remarkably well at this stage . . .

Cheerleading happens when progress -- no matter how small -- is clear to so many, and a celebration is starting. If the Greens can continue on this path, the candidates, the issues and the campaigners will fine tune at will. But for now, let the cheerleading be.

KPFA has archived the Green Party Presidential debate in San Francisco to listen to at your convenience:

"KPFA broadcast of the Green Party presidential debate, featuring Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Jared Ball, Kent Mesplay, Kat Swift, and Jesse Johnson and moderated by Cindy Sheehan and Matt Gonzalez. With hosts Larry Bensky and Aimee Allison, and your phone calls."

Go to:
by Theory and practice
I hate to spoil "' Green'' 's post 1/13 high but reality has a way of intruding it's ugly self . Having a coherent strategy and , yes, idelogy isn't just a nice abstract concept . Often it's essential for a group to survive yet along grow . Take the objectively pro-democratic party line of the Cobb/Feinstein faction . If their plan that the Greens should only run in states that the Dems deem 'safe'' prevails , that will destroy the Greens as a independent party . Whatever it might call itself it will become basically just a Green caucas of the D.P
One more thing. I find it interesting when some progressives want to discredit arguments that they won't (or can't ) answer they sound like Bill O'Reilly bashing poor Berkeley . Berkeley Coffeehouses at midnight ? I've done that a couple of times but as a Union City resident and a working Teamster i'm more likely to be found in a certain Hayward brewery pub , at least on nights when i don't have to get up at 5-30 the next morning to go to work !
The Green Party now has videos available of the Green Party Presidential Debate

Mike Feinstein has posted videos at YouTube:



Ralph Nader
by Jared Ball (repost and link)
Jared Ball Ends Campaign in Support of Cynthia McKinney
Jan 17, 2008

At the closing of the recent Green Party Presidential Debate, Jared Ball announced that his campaign would yield to and support Cynthia McKinney’s bid for the Green Party Presidential Nominee ( The “Capitol Resistance” component ( of the “Jared Ball for President” campaign will join the McKinney team and serve as the outreach and presentation arm of the her campaign.Please accept our thanks for your support and encouragement during our campaign - with special thanks to the volunteers and donors who made our work possible. Supporting the Green Party and any Presidential Candidate the party chooses is one basic step that any concerned citizen should take to bring about positive change in our nation today. Our campaign has been about building the Green Party and opening its doors to the true majority in this nation – women, the indigenous, the Hispanics, African-Americans and all poor and working class residents of our country without representation. We hope you will to join us in supporting the McKinney campaign to bring about this reality for the benefit of our communities.

Jared Ball for President Campaign

ps. You can continue to support Jared Ball’s work by visiting Voxunion Media ( home of FreeMix Radio, the Original Mixtape Radio Show and other potent media.
At Electric Politics, George Kenney talks to John Murphy about Nader, McKinney, Elaine Brown, factions of the Green Party (accomodationists and independents) and the PDA (Progressive Democrats of America).

His prognosis is not rosy-- but his honesty is appreciated by myself. I hope his criticism will spur the Green Party to reform and fulfill its promises.

Very worthwhile to listen to and think about-- to stream audio or download the program, go to Electric Politics at:
Todd Chretien, the Green party candidate who ran for the Senate against Dianne Feinstein in 2006, looks at where the Green Party has been and where it is today.
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