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An Open Challenge to San Diego Green Party Members

by Rocky Neptun (rockyneptun [at]
You or I can’t fundamentally change a damn thing in this nation. Not even Obama, with all his good intentions can do anything but tinker around the edges, the illusion of change. The hardware of our political system is not built to accept the software of fundamental change. Greens, we cannot win. But as that great Chicago community organizer, Saul Alinsky, once said, “if there is no possibility of victory, then, just simply stink up the place.“ We can do that….laying the putrid smell of injustice and wealth based politics at the foot of every candidate that runs for any office.
An Open Challenge to Green Party Members

First of all a personal note for those who don’t know me…… While I don’t claim to be an expert on politics or activism; I am one of only a half dozen San Diego Greens to ever get elected to local office (the mid-city planning board) and the only Green to serve on a city-wide task force (the Needle Exchange Task Force). I am, also, one the few Greens who can walk into half the City Council offices (all Democrats) without an appointment and speak with a Council person.

I flaunt my brownie buttons not out of ego but to show that Greens can have influence on a local level if they just dig in and tie their Greendom, the 10 key values, to specific activist spheres of action - in my case, as Director of the San Diego Renters Union. Hugh does an outstanding job tying our values into his health care for all advocacy; while Ann joins our local Green Party to disability rights.

In the fall of 2008, when I was considering running for mayor of San Diego, two of my co-chairs were well-known local Democrats; one was the former Treasurer of the Uptown Democratic Club. They both urged me to drop out of the Green Party and run as a Democrat (since, at that time, there was no Democrat running – Floyd Morrow joined the race at the last minute). I refused.

While we squabble like spoiled brats and all too often are plagued by mouse warrior type “leaders” who talk to hear their heads rattle; the Green Party, for me, is all that is whole and decent in a corrupt political system that is owned by powerful corporate interests. The Democratic Party hierarchy will, time and again, as agents of privilege, squash true economic or political change in this country.

In the past I have been very critical of our local Green Party. The few pages I devote to alternative political parties in my book, San Diego: First City of Empire, is hard on Greens, while lavishing praise on the dedication and perseverance of my good friends in the Peace and Freedom Party. But this is critique that comes from a family member, a fellow Green; through concern and love, always hoping for the best, a reflection of who I am and what I stand for based on simple membership.

About 3 years ago, several dozen Greens met at Torrey Pines, overlooking the Pacific, in a grand, wood-paneled conference area, to plot a future for our local Party. We spent all day there, discussing, reviewing, putting forth specific proposals and ideas; groups to target, organizational details, potential campaigns and issues, planning of socials and get-togethers, fund-raising schemes, a whole gauntlet of suggestions about actions and directions.

But I came away from that meeting somewhat disappointed; as I think most did. Only about 5 of those present are still actively involved with the Green Party. While everyone got an opportunity to put forth their ideas, a smorgasbord of proposals, there was little unity on priorities. The vast work, time and effort that lay before use, through the proposals of what we wanted to do and accomplish; became, I think, a milestone around our necks. The dreams and hopes of sincere Greens met the reality of the sacrifice involved; and quietly, one by one, we slipped away.

Our fundamental failure at that conference, for me, was not attaining praxis – theory and action.

We planned and schemed, ranted and denounced the Democrats, planned outreach to street fairs and gay pride events, invented activities that there would never be enough people to follow through – always toward activities.

Theory is the reason behind our actions. It is our belief system, our ethical compass. Each person at that conference on the future of the Green Party, most I had known for years, were persons of great conscience, who believe in our 10 key values wholeheartedly, who work tirelessly for a world of peace and fairness. We brought our social justice integrity, our many issues of concern, our organizational idiosyncratic notions to the table and they were compiled in long lists, in notebooks and in the minutes.

Yet, we neglected theory; the fundamental nature of who we are as the San Diego Green Party.

Over the years, I have witnessed the continual ebb and flow of new members in and out of active participation, because they bring their particular notion of what the party should be doing, what issue it should be addressing, what event attending and so on…….

I think we, as members of the local party, need to address this fundamental cleavage of our praxis. Between who we are, collectively and what we do, individually; to merge theory and practice.

I don’t believe it is enough to merely associate because we believe in the 10 key values, because we admire our great leaders like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney or the late Peter Camejo or because, quite simply, we like each other. Rather than a shotgun approach to bringing down this corrupt political system, I believe we must use a sharpshooter’s skill, honing in on specific targets and by our actions, not mere words, our pamphlets, tables at street fairs, become a radical, focused, San Diego Green Party.

Over the years, our local party has drifted between being an advocacy group and a small social group. And while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with those areas; firstly, other local advocacy groups, like MoveOn.Org and Activist San Diego are far better at gathering multiple, individual interests and concerns within an organizational context than us. Secondly, most people have belonged to their own social networks for years and while they will occasionally attend a Green event, their commitments lie elsewhere.

I am firmly convinced that we must be what we say we are – a political party. Of course, as a low-ranking, paltry, wanna-be, politician I am prejudiced in my opinion; and I hope you recognize that. However, if the group wants to be the San Diego Green Activists Organization or the San Diego Green Social Network, that’s Ok with me. I simply don’t think we have the resources or the membership to do all three and feel that ineffectual, casserole type activism that leads to few long-term engagements and even fewer victories is why so many “new” members of the party, particularly the young, don’t stay too long with us. Our county-wide membership is down to just 7,000 registered Greens from close to 12,000 in the early days. While Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have been touring the state for months; we haven’t even begun to talk about a candidate (in a year when we have seen the most evil and unfair assault on the poor, aged and disabled in modern political history).

Here in San Diego, 2000 families a month are evicted because they cannot pay the obscene rent profits landlords extort; over 50 seniors a month hit city streets homeless. We need to fight for rent control. Transit riders are consistently fleeced of hard-earned dollars because the rich will not pay their fair share of taxes; libraries are closed, recreation programs for poor kids shut down, city services suffering across the board. The poor and working-class avoid politics because there is no ability to speak. We should be their voice. We could, I believe, register at least 20 people a day, maybe more, if we moved our street tabling from Normal Heights and the wealthy Gay enclaves to the barrios and hoods, to City Heights , Barrio Logan and Encanto.

For me, I feel that if a person believes in the 10 keys values and in the Green Party you have an obligation to either run for a political office, commit a serious block of time or a few dollars to help other Greens run. One of the greatest disappointments of my 14 years as a Green was when Hugh stepped up to run against that establishment cow, Congresswoman Susan Davis, and her support for the war industry (while personally raking in millions in military supplier stocks) and Greens failed to rally and support him.

Each election cycle, in the primaries, Greens in San Diego County get their ballots and there is no one to vote for, except for non-partisan offices. We can’t even seem to find 11 Greens who will simply allow their names to be put forth to run for the County Council, so that Greens will at least have someone to vote for. No wonder our membership shrinks each year. We seem to be invisible as an active political party.

We need to finally shed our “spoiler” jacket and come out fighting. We need to help our liberal friends in the Democratic Party understand that their party will never adopt “change,” no matter who is President. The government option in health care appears ended, instead of reducing the 700 plus U.S. military bases in the world we are expanding them and this administration appears to be back-tracking on human rights abuses by Mexico’s military and it’s illegitimate President Calderon.

The reason we see fundamental change in Latin America; with most nations turning away from U.S. Empire and its corporate ownership and exploitation, is because these countries never had a Democratic Party. Their political landscape never resembled ours. There was no large effective liberal faction of do-gooders and reformers who assuaged their guilt at material gluttony by sharing a few economic crumbs. Unlike the U.S., there was no layer of Democratic Stalwarts, financed with money from wealthy interests, who, year and after year, funneled social and economic dissent into narrow confines – tinkering with justice, lying about programs (Office of Economic Opportunity, War on Poverty, etc).

There was no vast middle-class who could be given just enough income and social standing to hide who really holds the power and wealth in the nation. A political force, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent , which could be manipulated and frighten so easily, from Willie Horten to losing their personal health care and its quality to hordes of poor, sick immigrants and no-accounts.

Without the equivalent of the U.S.’s Democratic Party, Latin America had a wealthy oligarchy, protected by the military and the rest were poor and exploited. Is it no wonder that the socialist parties of Venezuela and Brazil, and now most of the rest of the region, when finally allowed to vote sought justice in their show of hands.

Some of these South American candidates ran for office when it was illegal. Many were beaten, their homes and incomes seized; others went to prison or were exiled…….and we, a Greens, rail against a political system stacked against us, fail to run because we can’t possibly win, because our message is suppressed by corporate-owned media , because it is unfashionable, because it may alienate our liberal family and friends, a thousand and one excuses why our situation is hopeless, to justify our timidity.

Yet, not just the greats like Hugo Chavez, Morales and de Silva; but to hundreds of thousands of village councilors, mayors, aldermen and women, state legislators, and others who ran courageously year after year, facing financial and physical threats, to keep the promise, hope, and possibility of just world alive, do we owe the effective opposition and possible salvation of a planet faced with U.S. Empire and its evil corporate-owned economic fascism.

You or I can’t fundamentally change a damn thing in this nation. Not even Obama, with all his good intentions can do anything but tinker around the edges, reduced to smoke and mirrors, the illusion of change. The hardware of our political system is not built to accept the software of fundamental change. Liberal Democrats, in classic Clinton reflux, will be forced to accept Obama’s campaign betrayals, sacrifice their poor and working-class sisters and brothers to death and sickness, their children to an even bleaker future and this nation toward a corporate-owned totalitarianism.

If we treasure our 10 Key Values, if you cherish being a Green; then I challenge you to forget our nice yuppie environmentalist image, John Muir in Birkenstocks, put away those pretensious Phd. monikers and all that rhetorical chatter, and get down-right scrappy. We cannot control (or even influence) what the GPUS or the California State Greens do; but here in San Diego we could re-create our Party in a radical, populist movement that mirrors what is happening in Latin America.

Greens, we cannot win. But as that great Chicago community organizer, Saul Alinsky, once said, “if there is no possibility of victory, then, just simply stink up the place.“ We can do that….laying the putrid smell of injustice and wealth based politics at the foot of every Democratic (and Republican) candidate that runs for any office. We can only do that if Greens are willing to run for office or support those that do.

The Quakers have kept the peace testimony alive for over four Centuries, many have died or went to prison, because peace was their key value. The many who have sacrificed and perished to keep the value of freedom alive in Latin America are our latter-day saints.

We, as Greens, have our 10 key Values……..What are they worth?

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