September 7, 2000
The 6 O’Clock Solution
Voters who like the Greens must balance their desire to vote against the status quo against the specter of "President Dubya."
Ralph Fertig, a retired judge and current community activist and novelist, has what a lot of progressive Californians are looking for: a solution to voting on Nov. 7.
Fertig, a lifelong Democrat until four months ago, registered with the Green Party recently as a statement against the two major parties' kowtowing to corporate America. "It's not ideology that runs the government anymore," Fertig said. "It's money."
Fertig calls the Green Party "characteristic of a [past] Jewish commitment to social justice, a party clearly devoted to those issues. [The Green Party] may not be pragmatic, but it appeals to anyone who was reared in that epoch."
However, Fertig was impressed enough by Gore's acceptance speech that he'll wait until voting day to make his final decision. If Gore is pulling ahead, he'll vote for Nader, a vote he believes that will contribute to building an alternative third party in this country. (Nader needs 5 percent of the vote to get 12 million dollars from the federal government for the 2004 election.) If not, he'll vote Gore.
"I'll wait and see what Gore does," he said.
Although this may serve as a perfect solution for some of us - those who like what the Green Party stands for but are terrifically afraid of a Bush presidency - waiting until 6 p.m. on voting day isn't exactly what the Green Party had in mind. For one, they're not happy about Nader being tagged as a spoiler for Gore, as many political analysts have claimed.
For Greens, who are dedicated to establishing a viable third party in this country, Nader is anything but the spoiler; it is the Democrats and the Republicans that have ruined the party. The Republicrats, as they call them, are pawns of private interests that push profits above all else, with little regard for social responsibility.
And for Jewish Greens, who make up a large percentage of party leadership, the Democratic Party has failed to support the populist values of their forebears: immigrant rights, a living wage, health care and fair trade, all the issues they are now fighting for under the Green banner. For them, voting Green is the only morally right thing to do.
"Historically, Jews have been at the forefront of social activist movements," said Rebecca Kaplan, a candidate for Oakland City Council on the Green Party ticket. "We need to be actively concerned with forms of oppression, even when Jews are not the targets.
"A lot of values of the Greens are the same as tikkun olam," said Kaplan, who attended the Conservative [Jewish] Academy of Toronto, where it was considered normal to be engaged in politics. "In the Talmud there is a saying that any knife you use to injure another person is treif forever. We look at rules like that and relate it to our modern [world]. It is analogous to the way our food is gotten ... or the way we pollute our environment," Kaplan said.
As an example of socially responsible Judaism, she cites eco-kashrut, dietary practices that forbid eating foods from crops raised or harvested using environmentally harmful methods or involving the oppression of workers, a doctrine extended to any consumer item.
"Today, genetically altered food can contain pigs' genes without FDA disclosure," Kaplan said. "The Greens are calling for mandatory labeling of engineered food."
Our ancestors might not have had pigs' genes on their minds when they fought for immigrants' and workers' rights, but the Jewish populist movement at the turn of the 20th century was driven by key values that constitute the Green Party platform today: social justice, ecological wisdom, grass-roots democracy and nonviolence.
"The Greens share historical roots with 1890 populism drawn from socialist [Jewish] Europe," said Mike Feinstein, a member of the Santa Monica City Council. For him, the Green Party is a natural fit. "Traditionally, Jews are raised to be rigorous thinkers and question authority, to be interested in something that changes the system, not just to accept the status quo."
In the early '90s, after helping found the Green Party in California, Feinstein made two trips to Sweden to experience firsthand the workings of the Greens in action. "I saw that having a third party succeed wasn't such an unreachable dream but a practical reality," he said.
By practical, Feinstein means the slow, painful process of building something worthwhile. "To have an internally democratic organization, things are slow, frustrating, especially when trying to come to consensus," he said. "If one was only focused on the short term, one would go to the nut house."But Feinstein doesn't dwell on his frustrations. "I'm ecstatic about what is happening to us," he said enthusiastically. "We have focused on municipal races where we have an opportunity to bring our message to the people."
Although it took several years for the Green Party to build enough support to make an electoral approach viable, Greens have made a strong showing in a number of local races. Seventy-two Greens hold office in the United States, and 243 Greens are running in the 2000 general elections, including Medea Benjamin for U.S. Senate (see sidebar, below).
As much as supporters would like to see the Green Party succeed, the concept of President George W. Bush is too scary to wish them too much luck.
On the one hand, the Greens seem naive about the differences - or lack thereof, according to them - between the Democrats and the Republicans. Just look at gun control, health care, education and a woman's right to reproductive choice, for one thing (and one could go on).
On the other hand, the Greens don't seem remotely disillusioned about what it will take to build a third party in this country. By concentrating on the long run - winning support through municipal and county elections - rather than the short run - who wins the 2000 Presidential race - they are making a commitment to the issues that will lead us into the next century.
"I tell people to think of the bigger picture," says Benjamin, "to think about creating something new: a progressive party that stands for all the things we really care about and that will invigorate the democratic system."