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BY PETER MIGUEL CAMEJO
October 14, 2003
SYMPATHY & RESPECT
Because of the Green Partys participation in the recall election we have gained new respect and sympathy from millions of people in California and throughout the United States.
The Green Party made history in the recall election on several levels. In part because of the 5.3% of the vote we received in November 2002, and in part because of the nature of the recall, we were immediately considered a major candidate by the media.
This status resulted in a historic breakthrough. A third party gubernatorial candidate was included in televised debates. The Green Party has reached this status not because of any one specific event or candidate but because of our overall following and successes in California.
The televised debates allowed millions to hear and see a Green candidate for the first time. In the first debate on September 3rd, I decided against trying too hard to make an impression. For instance, I avoided humor. This was because many listeners expect a third party candidate to be peculiar, unusual, shrill or single issue focused and desperately seeking attention. We needed to appear exactly the opposite; sensible, serious, calm, and with a clear message.
Many of you heard my closing remarks in that debate but you would not know that I practiced them probably over 300 times. I worked it over word by word so that it would be 60 seconds long and still touch on a large number of key issues. As it turned out, we were given 2 minutes and so I added to the message a bit as I presented it, including slowing my delivery down. But I did not dare try too hard lest I lose the flow and impact. As it turned out, I took 2.1 minutes.
In the September 24th debate that included Arnold, I was prepared to take a more aggressive stance. My wife, Morella, advised me strongly against it. We had a liaison committee with the Green Party of California leadership which held conference calls to advise me before many of these key moments in the campaign. In those discussions we made the crucial and correct decision not to attack anyone.
We decided not to focus on Arnold, especially not to attack him in a manner that could be perceived as a personal attack. Focusing on Arnold would make him the center of attention and win him sympathy. Even though this cautious strategy may have seemed too mild, it was better to differentiate only on platform issues and keep the message focused. I thought before the debate that the other four candidates would go into an attack mode. To my surprise, Tom McClintock had apparently made a similar decision to avoid attacking Arnold. Obviously Arianna made the opposite decision and tried to provoke Arnold and expose him. In my view, this did not work well. If all the candidates had stayed on message, the lack of substance in Arnolds responses would have been clearer. Instead he was judged on his ability to handle the attacks.
As I walked off the stage after having been heard by possibly 20 million people, I wasnt sure how well I had come off. Then I saw the faces of the young people who came rushing towards the front to shake my hand.
This decision on our part to stay focused and not make attacks turned out to be one of the most important ones we made. I stayed focused on our basic message and kept the image of the Green Party as serious and polite. There was another policy I followed that had a very positive result for us. I made an effort to give positive comments when another candidate made proposals or points that we Greens feel were valid. Also, I tried to be generous in any comments regarding the character or intentions of other candidates.
The media was at first quite confused by this. They are used to candidates only being vicious to each other and trying to assign the worst possible motive to whatever another candidate does or says. In the early weeks of the campaign the media thought I must be planning to withdraw because I was saying kind things about Arianna Huffington (more on Arianna later). When I congratulated Cruz Bustamante for calling for public funding of campaigns, for example, the media at first concluded that I must be considering endorsing Bustamante.
By the last two debates I felt I had sufficient credibility to use more humor. The media was starting to understand what I was doing and like the public, reacted positively. The result is that in almost all polls rating my performance in the debates, we came out quite well.
A San Francisco Chronicle web poll which rated debate performance showed us in first place at 32%. This was well above all others, especially Arianna who came in last at 8%. A more scientific poll of Democrats put us in first place at 25% and declared us the winner over all others.
The campaign as a whole and the debates in particular won the Green Party acceptance, respect and sympathy. We won some support and recruits, but on a mass scale the sympathy was not yet strong enough to overcome the spoiler factor and result in votes for us.
OUR VOTE DECLINES
It is surprising that after such massive and positive exposure our vote declined from 5.3% to 2.8%. In the 2002 campaign people were convinced that Gray Davis would win in spite of a projected vote of 3 to 4% for me. Many polls showed that. Therefore people felt somewhat free to vote Green. Still, we probably lost half of our vote due to the spoiler factor in 2002. This time it was different. A kind of panic set in among many of the people most likely to vote for us because of the fear of Arnold.
The Democrats have gained a reputation for dishonest campaigning. Davis is a master of demonizing his opponent as a way to get people who dislike him to vote for him. While he still succeeded in getting about half his vote from people who think he is doing poorly, this time the demonization partially backfired.
DEMOCRATS LIE ABOUT THE POLLS
The Democrats tried an outright lie at the end of the campaign. It was primarily intended to mobilize their ranks but it was also a maneuver that hurt our vote totals. In the last two days of the campaign, they began announcing that they had polls showing that they were neck and neck with the Republicans, both on the recall question and in the Bustamante vs Schwarzenegger race.
Monday evening, the day before the election, I went on KPFK in Los Angeles and as they hooked me in I heard Antonio Villaraigosa announcing that the polls were exactly tied. I do not think Antonio was himself lying; he was just repeating the lie fed to him by others. It is amazing how poll results can be manipulated. I hope there is no one so naïve as to believe that the voters were split 50/50 on Monday and then the next day Arnold wins by 16%, 48% to 32%, and Davis loses in the recall by 10%, 55% to 45%!
These lies that were spread far and wide by the media helped reduce our vote further. There probably has never been an election with such a high number of those who wanted to vote for us, but didn't. There is also another phenomena that may be involved. I call it the third party curse in a winner-take-all system. Once the novelty of a new party or candidate wears off and supporters see that a third party candidate does not win, they stop voting for you in spite of their support for your platform. Such people can be won back in local races. And of course they would come back to us if we had Instant Runoff Voting.
The political mistake made by those Green supporters who voted Democrat is sad, because a large vote for the Greens would have given us power in discussions with Democrats and Republicans. It would have strengthened the chances for Green candidates to win local races. Green supporters who voted Democrat wasted their vote even from the point of view of so-called strategic voting. Strategic Voting is a new and polite term for lesser-evil voting.
WHAT OUR VOTE REVEALS ABOUT OUR BASE
Some of the exit polls showed us with a larger vote than we actually received, so some might be suspicious that perhaps our vote wasnt fully reported. Its more likely that voters told pollsters how they wish they had voted, not how they actually voted.
The exit polls show our support quite strong among young people. We were at 9% for 18 to 29 year old voters. African Americans were the strongest racial group to vote for us at 6%, followed by Latinos at 5%. European-Americans came in at 3%. People not registered Democrat or Republican gave us 8%. The poorest people in California (below $15,000 a year income) gave us the highest vote of all income categories with 9%.
In gender we were split evenly. One poll showed that the more education people have, the more they tend to vote for us. So who is a typical Green Party voter? An underpaid but educated, 24 year old African American or Latina who is registered Decline to State! The demographics of our support continue to shift beyond our original base, which is primarily European-American environmentalists and 60s progressives. Our initial base is still critical to the Green Partys efforts and activist core. We should see our expansion as the early steps in becoming a truly mass party.
2004 ATTACK CAMPAIGN
We need to be aware that we will face a very difficult time over the next 13 months. The Democrats will launch an unfair campaign which is really against democracy. They will attack the Green Party simply for running candidates. The Nader effect from the 2000 Presidential election has become a standard term now for Democrats. They use it as a way to oppose free elections and blame the victim for their opposition to democracy. The level of dishonesty and hypocrisy this shows is rarely appreciated. These Democrats have no complaints when their leadership votes for a resolution calling for Unequivocal support for George Bush or votes for the Patriot Act, or gives repeated standing ovations to Bushs State of the Union address with its attacks on the rule of law. Instead they attack the Greens for supposedly helping to elect Bush while they openly, politically support him.
In the recall election many Democrats could not see the hypocrisy in urging Greens to drop out to prevent spoilership, but not calling for Tom McClintock to drop out so that he wouldnt spoil the race for Schwarzenegger. In other words, they have no shame in trying to win against the will of the people.
The worst mistake we could make is to bend to this pressure. Many Greens will, many already have. In the recall election this phenomena was already at work. Differences will be heightened among Greens regarding our approach to this problem. All of this is normal. If it were not the case it would mean we are not part of reality. Our task is to handle internal differences in an extremely democratic manner, showing respect for all points of view, especially minority views. Unlike the Democrats, we do not suppress criticism but regard it as positive, part of a normal process.
One of the smartest moves the Green Party made was to compromise and allow its members to disagree on the recall and not take a formal Party position, which would have been very divisive. Events can some times lead to sharp differences which then shift over time as people get a chance to think the issues through or further events clarify the roots of the differences. We will probably be arguing the recall issue for some time, but it is no longer such a divisive danger now that it is in the past.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY FRONT ORGANIZATIONS
There is a web site called MoveOn.org that presents itself as progressive. I believe it is nothing more than a Democratic Party organizing center, allowing Democrats to keep progressive minded people co-opted to the Democrats. They launched a campaign, as did Code Pink, against Arnold Schwarzeneggers attacks on women. But this campaign was directly linked to a Vote Democratic campaign and therefore would not mention anything negative about Democrats, specifically allegations that Gray Davis intimidated and attacked women he worked with. The truth is that the real purpose of both of these campaigns was to help the Democrats, no matter how sincere many of the people were in their disgust with Schwarzenegger. I attended one of these events and spoke at it. The content of the event, sponsored by Code Pink, was overwhelmingly focused on defense of womens rights, inter mixed with some pro-Davis signs. Unlike MoveOn.org, Code Pink tried to some extent to keep the two issues separated.
I understand MoveOn.org came out with a Suddenly, I Love Gray Davis slogan. They are openly a front for the Democrats. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and had a place for voters to sign pledging that they would never vote for Schwarzenegger. Of course MoveOn will play a role in mobilizing progressive voters to vote Democrat in 2004 as part of a stop Bush movement, but you can bet your life they will not have a pledge calling on voters to refuse to vote for anyone who voted Unequivocal support for George Bush, because that would be most of the Democratic Partys leadership.
We can expect that Democratic Party controlled organizations like the Sierra Club, NOW; MoveOn and many union leaders will all join in the attack on the Green Party. In so doing they will show their failure to understand or support democracy. Instead, they show their subservience to a corporate controlled party. Their politics opens the door and helps facilitate Republican victories. This is because Democrats always accept the premises of the Republican platform, whether it is the so-called war on terrorism or energy deregulation. The only thing they argue over is the nuts and bolts of implementing this platform. It is these organizations and their opposition to democracy that has historically blocked the development of any effective opposition to corporate domination or the Republican agenda.
When Arianna Huffington first announced her candidacy I saw it as a golden opportunity for the Green Party. I immediately welcomed her into the race and tried to form a working relationship so we would both campaign together to promote the progressive agenda. But it quickly became clear to us that she was not that interested in any serious relationship with the Green Party or in holding joint campaign events.
In three of the first four debates I made positive comments about Arianna. I thought it made our position stronger when asked about the death penalty, for instance, if two candidates opposed it instead of just one. Arianna, however, never said one word that was positive about our campaign or the Green Party during the debates. In fact, in the first debate she twice referred to Bustamante being the Nader, meaning a spoiler. Nevertheless, most of her comments were excellent articulations of issues where we completely agree with her.
The pressure began building on Arianna from the Democrats to pull out and declare for the Democrats. Arianna capitulated in a manner that I thought hurt the progressive movement. She literally became an operative of the Gray Davis campaign. She had pictures of herself with Davis repeatedly shown on TV. She flew with him on his private campaign jet and attended get-out-the-vote Democratic Party union rallies. (By the way, as was explained to me by one union leader, these rallies were failures in terms of their turn out. Exit polls show 49% of Union members voted yes on the recall).
Arianna formally represented the Democratic Party at the October 2nd debate in Los Angeles. So, of course she could not say one word in criticism of Democrats in that debate.
Arianna also joined with Senator Diane Feinstein and Dolores Huerta in supporting Davis, but refusing to support Bustamante. That reflected the conservative wing of the Democrats.
Arianna Huffington remains in agreement with the Green Party on many crucial issues. And we should try to work with her and others who supported her, where we have agreement. One of those issues is public financing of campaigns. However, we have a problem with the wording of her proposed ballot initiative on public funding. As written, it treats third parties as second-class citizens. The proposal is written so that it will only really fund Democrats and Republicans. We will have to oppose her campaign unless the proposal is changed to be more like the laws in Maine or Arizona which treat all candidates equally.
Did we make a mistake in giving her the benefit of the doubt when the campaign began? Some Greens think so, but I think it was correct to welcome her and try to win her over to fight the Republicans and Democrats. I dont think she understands the effects of her reversal, where she first opposed Republicans and Democrats and then began supporting Gray Davis. In the end this only helped Arnold Schwarzenegger win. When progressives who stand independent of the Democrats capitulate and then support those Democrats, it undermines the credibility of our current. In this case it weakened our credibility and made voters more likely to express their anger by voting for Arnold rather than voting Green or independent.
One of her books is titled, Pigs at the Trough. What Governor has put more feed in the trough than Davis, who in the end she championed? The excuse, of course, is that there is a Republican who is worse. Of course, there is always a Republican who is worse.
Well what if its a really bad Republican? Do you get it? We are told that our job is to vote for evil if the Republicans can come up with a really bad candidate. Thats the whole point of the winner-take-all system. The mass of the people gives up on building a political force which will defend their interests because they have to stop evil by voting for more reasonable evil. Even the most Machiavellian schemer couldnt have come up with a more devious system to keep people under control, while allowing them to think that they chose the government. People not only vote against their own interests, but some will argue against and even hate those who try to warn them of their error. And they think they live in a democracy where elections are fair and square. How many times did you hear the argument but Davis won fair and square only a few months ago?
And of course Arianna will argue that she didnt support a candidate, she opposed the recall. While many progressives, including a few Greens make such an argument, I do not agree. The recall was a yes or no vote on Gray Davis and that is how the mass of working people, minorities, and the poor saw it. To vote no on the recall in their eyes was to condone the cut backs in education and the pay to play policies of Gray Davis. The Democrats were able to convince many people that it was all a Republican conspiracy, bought and paid for by one millionaire. To believe that is to delude oneself. The Republicans correctly noted the general rejection of Gray Davis and sought to take advantage of it. They were hoping for a special election where few voters, except Republicans, would show up. Instead, more voted in the recall than in the previous regular election.
There are all kinds of progressive consequences from the recall. In trying to get his base to save him, Davis had to sign many bills he had previously opposed. These included the financial privacy act, drivers licenses for the undocumented, more rights for gays and lesbians and some environmental issues. The debates opened up and millions heard a pro democracy message. Young people suddenly became interested in politics and in general there was an increased interest in political participation.
Arnold Schwarzenegger won, and most of his votes did not come from Republicans! The Republicans ran two candidates. Daryl Issa at one point even suggested he might vote against the recall (to stop Bustamante and keep Davis). Their pro-recall campaign received about 1/3 the funding that the anti-recall forces got. Most of the major Republican donors refused to give to the recall. Some Republican conspiracy.
Paid signature gatherers have also been used for every progressive ballot initiative in recent years. Right now, an effort is under way to reform the Three Strikes law with an initiative that needs funding to gather signatures, and they are looking for wealthy backers. The recall election was far more complex than the Democratic Republican Conspiracy propaganda line.
Since the recall passed, Governor Davis has vetoed a living wage bill and a bill giving the children of undocumented workers the right to attend college at the same rate as other residents of California. Of course, once again, not a word of protest is heard from any Democratic Party leaders or their so-called labor leaders. Imagine if it was Arnold who had vetoed a living wage bill. The Democrats would all be howling in loud protest.
UNDERSTANDING THE DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS
Our party will not survive if we do not stand up to the Democrats. Once we start urging votes for Democrats because Republicans appear to be worse, we will go the way of the New Party, into oblivion. How fast people forget that it was the Democratic Party that led us to war against Vietnam, killing two million people, and it was the Republicans who ended that war. The people who run the United States remain in power regardless of which of their parties they put in charge at any one time. Their goal is to control and appease popular pressure. When they see they can get a Republican elected, they go for it. But if the people begin to protest, they bring the Democrats in to co-opt, disorient and prepare the way for a return of the Republicans.
This dynamic is not a conspiracy, but is simply the nature of our money-driven system. It is a feedback loop that is on automatic. Without liberal and progressive Democrats, the usefulness of the Democrat Party to their corporate rulers would be sharply diminished. They need the Democrats to co-opt and thus de-mobilize mass social movements like the civil rights, peace, womens rights and labor movement.
Of course, individual Democrats can be affected by the pressure from below to oppose some of the pro-corporate platform, and even feel sympathy towards the Greens. In this election many of the people who voted for the Democrats are quietly sympathizing with us. We must not betray that sympathy. They are looking to us to be principled and in the end they will respect those who do not waiver.
But most Democratic Party leaders who consider them selves progressive have bought in to the idea that the best that can ever be done is to keep the Democrats in power, and that is all the people should hope for. They believe that any attempt to go against the Democrats is hopeless. Deep down, they are defeatists who promote a slave mentality. Accept and please the master or you will only anger them. Resistance is hopeless.
What they fail to see is the great power of the people. The power of money is limited by the awareness, the consciousness of the people. The media works day and night to confuse and disorient people so that they act against their own self-interest. But the day-to-day reality of most people counters the propaganda message of wealth.
The Green Party, on the other hand, is the electoral expression of living mass movements, like the peace, womens rights, gay and lesbian, social justice, civil rights and civil liberties movements. Note that all of these movements were built outside the Democratic Party and usually against them. Democrats do all they can to weaken these movements and then to co-opt them, get them off the streets and into the two party game. Once that is achieved, the power of popular movements sharply declines. Greens work to keep these movements independent and to increase the power of people. Our elected officials work to defend the majority and increase the power of the environmental, labor and other movements.
Above all, we Greens are fighting to save the earth. The Green Party stands as a genuine force for democracy, free of the influence of money. The Green Party truly defends our Bill of Rights and the rule of law. We do not waiver or lower our banners because others panic. If we cannot show confidence in ourselves, we can never win masses of people to rally behind us. Time and history are with us. The next generation must see people who stand firm by their principles. The youth who vote for us today will be tomorrows leaders in all the major social movements. We are planting the seeds; they must be watered, not trampled. We made one more step forward in this campaign. Keep our beautiful Green flag waving high and proud!