Do Black Lives Matter for the Green Party?
At the 2016 US Green Party Convention in Houston, Bruce Dixon of the Georgia Green Party and Black Agenda Report says that Greens have learned from the Sanders movement that political change must be funded by ordinary people
KWAME ROSE, TRNN: Kwame Rose here for the Real News Network live in Houston Texas. We’re here at the Green Party National Convention. This is the second day of the convention, and right now it’s been a morning full of events and conferences and talks and workshops.
I’m here right now joined with Bruce Dixon, senior editor at blackagendareport.com who just gave a talk on membership and dues for the Green Party.
Bruce, how are you doing? How’s the convention been for you?
BRUCE DIXON: I’m doing better than a whole lot of folks, man. How about yourself?
ROSE: [laughs] I’m just trying to be like you when I grow up.
DIXON: Uh-oh, well, no comment.
ROSE: Bruce, talk to me about, right quickly, we just left the Democratic National Convention. There was a significant exodus of Bernie Sanders supporters and delegates from the Democratic Party who say they’re going Green. So, at this moment what’s the state of the Green Party?
DIXON: Well, the workshop that I just conducted along with Howie Hawkins, who was the 2014 gubernatorial candidate for the Green Party in New York State–He won five percent of the vote. What we were talking about is what we would have to do to transform this party so that we can be an appropriate vehicle for the thousands and tens of thousands of young activists, young and old activists who are looking for a new political home in the wake of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the revelations, at least it’s revealed to them recently, of what the Democratic Party really is and really is about.
And when we ask ourselves that question as Greens, are we ready to receive thousands or tens of thousands of new activists, the answer is, no we are not. We are weak. We are underfunded. We are understaffed. How do you get around that? And the answer is that we have to constitute ourselves as a membership, dues-paying organization where the dues-paying members are the ones who directly elect all of the parties officers and directly select all the parties’ campaigns and candidates.
Right now, believe it or not, Democrats, Republicans and Greens all use a very, very similar model. Democrats and Republicans run their campaigns with one-percenter money and corporate media, and they use those to speak to their mass base. And their candidates and their campaigns are totally independent of their local party organizations and independent of their actual voting base.
Trump was a great example. Donald Trump ran, and he ran in spite of all the local Republican organizations. He used his reality star cache and months of free media just from being outrageous, that they just gave him, in order to appeal to a mass base in the Republican primary, and so he won in the Republican primaries in spite of all the local Republican organizations.
Bernie Sanders also proved that he was independent of his base. His campaign was independent of his base because he embraced Hillary almost uncritically, and much of his base said, well, heck no, we don’t like that. And he said, tough, you’ve got to deal with it.
But right now Greens are, believe it or not, using that same model, only they’re doing it without the corporate money and without the media, and consequently without much success. And so, we have to break out of that model and do something very different.
ROSE: Well, Bernie Sanders, in the beginning of his campaign he didn’t have a lot of mainstream media attention. The Green Party, there’s not a lot of mainstream media presence here at this convention either, but what Bernie was able to do, was able to get 2.5 million dollars in individual contributions that averaged 27 dollars a month, 27 dollars per contribution. What can the Green Party learn from that type of platform?
DIXON: Well, what it teaches us is that the money is out here. And I kind of beg to differ with you. Bernie did get a lot of mainstream media attention. He appeared on face to face debates, four, five, six of them alongside Hillary Clinton. They were carried Fox, on CBN–
ROSE: –But he didn’t get the serious attention that Hillary Clinton got.
DIXON: He didn’t get the same kind of attention that Hillary Clinton got, but I’m saying that he got corporate media. He got corporate media and he got money, but the deal is that the Green Party is not going to get corporate media. It’s just not going to happen, because the corporate media are owned by the one percent, and so when you get one-percenter money and corporate media you’re getting the media and the money from the same place.
Bernie managed to get a large amount of his money from ordinary people, small donations, and what I’m saying is that there are some people inside the Green Party and some people in the left who say, you can’t ask poor people for dues. You can’t ask 10 or 15 dollars a month dues for your political organization. Well, we say, yes you can. Churches ask for money from poor people all the time, don’t they? Okay, and Bernie also again here proves that poor people will give to your cause if they think it’s worthwhile. And we’re trying to rebuild the Green Party as a mass membership organization.
A hundred years ago, the Socialist Party did the same thing, and the Socialist Party was winning local and municipal elections. They had, you know, candidates for governor. They had mayors in two dozen cities, and they had a presidential candidate who got two or three million votes when the population of this country was a quarter of what it is now. He got two million votes one time running from a prison cell. And they collected money from poor people. They were a dues-paying organization.
The state of New York were looking for ways to–Oh, actually, that’s where the primary election came from. Primary elections came from the one percent trying to overcome dues-paying organizations, because primary elections mean that anybody who shows up to vote in the primary can select your party’s candidate. And people can show up, they can have any kind of motivation. They can be the people who’ve been advertised to by the newspapers, advertised to by the media, and they’re not necessarily in sync with what the principles of your party are.
So, primary elections were originally introduced to short-circuit people’s organizations that were done with dues-paying members. The only model, the only model that’s ever worked on this planet for building left-wing parties with mass followings is dues-paying, membership organizations. It’s never been done ever successfully any other way, and so the Green Party’s got to do that.
ROSE: Bernie was able to mobilize a large movement. I think over 13 million people were supporting Bernie during his campaign. But it was a largely white movement, and the Green Party at this national convention is also a largely–Well, it’s 450, I think, pre-registered guests. It’s mostly white people. Is the Green Party a place where–because you said they’re re-branding, is it a place where Black people’s views and ideologies and Black lives truly do matter? Is this the party for Black people?
DIXON: First of all, we’re not re-branding. Branding is the creation–
ROSE: –Rebuilding, rebuilding–
DIXON: Thank you. Restructuring, yeah. Because branding is an imaginary image of something that doesn’t reflect the real thing. We’re working at restructuring the Green Party.
The thing that you’re referring to is the fact that Bernie could not crack the Black vote that Hillary had. The reason for that is the existence and domination of the Black misleadership class in the politics of our Black communities. Nobody is ever going to crack that until there are independent centers of organizational strength built in Black communities that do not answer to the Black mayors, the Black congressman who are uniformly all Democrats, who are not dominated and run by the nonprofit industrial complex. And you have to organize outside those things.
Bernie could not crack that because his Black organizers were going to the same churches that Hillary’s people went to, and the church–I mean, we’ve got Cornel West on our side, but let’s face it. Most of the churches are not going to do this stuff. They’re concerned with paying the bills. They’re concerned with their relationships to their mayor who could make them a real estate developer. They’re concerned with their relationships to their Democrat funders and they’re concerned with the charter school that’s run on church property. They don’t want to endanger that. Pastors have all these things to think about.
So what we have to do is, we have to take the social movement from the nonprofits and we have to organize independently in Black communities, organize independently of the Black misleadership class. It’s not a matter of white people in the Green Party stepping aside to make room for Black people to come in. Black people, Black activists in Black communities have to self-organize and come in here and bring their space with them.
ROSE: Well, it’s interesting that you said that, because just a couple of days ago the Movement for Black Lives released its first ever of its kind political agenda, a really in-depth agenda, I think with over 40 demands of policy action. And [there] also seems to be a discrepancy, because historically older Black people vote for the Democratic Party, but we’re in the midst of a social movement like you just spoke about with Black Lives Matter, but it hasn’t been politicized.
Do Black people start their own–Do we need, as young, Black millennials do we need to start our own party or is the Green Party the place for us to join?
DIXON: We’re trying to make the Green Party into the place that you can join. And no, I don’t think we want–I don’t think there’s really a place for an all-Black party, you know, because we don’t have an all-Black electric company. We don’t have an all-Black car company. That’s not the way the world actually works.
ROSE: We’ve got an all-white party, Republican Party.
DIXON: Yeah, you do. Well, actually I know some Black Republicans too, you know. But the deal here has to be that activists in Black communities have to self-organize. They have to build centers of power, centers of organization that are independent of the existing, Black political structure. That’s one of the reasons why we chose Ajamu Baraka to be, you know, part of this campaign, the vice presidential candidate. Our friend Ajamu has direct ties with many of the folks involved prominently in the Black Lives Matter movement, and so that’s one of the bridges to that.
ROSE: Well, I want to talk to you more about that, right? It’s interesting, because right before Ajamu Baraka was named the vice presidential candidate there was a strong campaign from a lot of Green Party supporters to get Nina Turner to accept the VP nomination, and ultimately the Green Party wasn’t able to convince her to accept it. But we saw at the DNC, she kind of in a sense became the face of progressives at the DNC with the DNC trying to silence her.
What does that show you, that, you know, this young, Black woman who has a strong presence, a strong voice, ultimately wasn’t able to be persuaded by the Green Party to come join and run for vice president?
DIXON: Well, first of all, progressive is a euphemism for Democrats. Let’s be real about it. And until Nina tells us otherwise or publicly says otherwise, she’s a Democrat. She’s been a Democrat office holder for 10, 12 years in the state senate in Ohio, and I think she held office as a city councilperson and alderman in Cleveland, so until she says different, okay, until she says different she’s been identified as a Democrat. She’s worked for Democrats. Bernie is a Democrat. Independent, please.
But, that said, she’s a wonderfully capable and eloquent person, and from what I’ve seen in her, a very principled lady, and we have deep and abiding respect for her. And becoming a candidate is a huge, huge personal sacrifice. So, I can’t blame anybody who is asked to be a candidate and who says no, you know, for whatever reasons there are. I mean, you’ve got to take a lot of things into consideration.
And if you’re going to be the presidential or vice presidential candidate for the Green Party there’s going to be a lot of jobs you’re not going to get anymore, okay? There’s going to be a lot of bridges burned behind you. Maybe Nina wasn’t ready to burn some of those bridges yet, and maybe we haven’t done all we could do to make the Green Party as an attractive and powerful place to deal a movement out, to change this world that we live in, and hopefully we can transform ourselves into a more powerful organization, like I said, by becoming a membership-based, dues-based organization, and then maybe that will make it easier for people like Nina to decide to throw in their lot with us.
ROSE: And I want to–How do you make the Green Party more attractive, right? This election is a very important election, and it’s simply almost–It’s over, right? It doesn’t matter if we get Donald Trump, it doesn’t matter if we get Hillary Clinton. Poor people, Black people, minorities, women of color, we all lose, essentially.
How do we win? What does a win look like for the Green Party this convention? Is it getting the 15 percent to make it on the national debate stage? Is it getting the six percent to make it on the ballots? Is it a swing state strategy? What does a win look like for the Green Party this election?
DIXON: Well, first of all, as our presidential candidate Jill Stein says, it’s theoretically possible to win, okay. If all of the–all or most of the people who are affected by this ruinous student debt were to stand up and turn around and face the sun and say, wow, you know, we need to vote for the only candidate that’s going to forgive our debt like the billionaires’ debts were forgiven. So, it’s theoretically possible to win. It’s highly unlikely, of course.
So, that said, what does a win look like? A win looks like building a movement. A win looks like building a party. The Democrat and Republican parties were not built in a day, all right? We just did a workshop that outlined the history of the Democrat and Republican parties, of the party systems in this country, and none of that stuff was built overnight. We’ve got to get out of the habit of being little kids, of expecting instant gratification.
We’re going to vote in a presidential election and all our problems are going to be addressed? It doesn’t work that way. It’s never worked that way, and we should grow up. So winning, what winning looks like is, it could be getting 15 percent and getting in the debates. It could be–in Georgia where I live right now it would be getting one percent of the vote in November because if we don’t get one percent of the vote in November we don’t have the right to run candidates on the local level as state reps, as state senators, as public service commissioners.
Right now there are people who say, like Dan Savage and other people say, why don’t you run people for local office? Well, you know what? In many states the laws are that you cannot run people on a partisan basis for local office unless you’ve already got one percent, two percent, five percent of the votes statewide. So we have to run a presidential candidate or a gubernatorial candidate to get that one percent, two percent, three percent according to the laws of whatever state you’re in, so a win would look like that.
A win would look like coming up with Green Party locals, active, local branches of the Green Party in 100 cities, or 150 cities, because active, dues-paying locals will be able to work in and initiate parts of the social movements in your community. Active, well-funded Green Party locals will be able to contend for leadership of the social movements with the nonprofit industrial complex.
ROSE: Bruce, why won’t the Green Party just come out and say that? Yesterday in a press conference a question was asked to the chairs of the convention whether or not the Green Party would advocate for a swing state strategy, and the response was, no, we are actively, we are aggressively pursuing the presidency of the United States.
DIXON: We don’t believe in that swing state stuff. That swing state stuff is really a safe state stuff, and after all, why should we make any states safe for Hillary Clinton? Why should we do that? There’s no reason. I mean, we’re going to compete absolutely in every state. We must compete in every state, or else the people who live in those states will say, well darn, you ain’t serious, are you?
ROSE: Yeah, but don’t you got to pick your battles, right? Ultimately Jill Stein–If, in the words of the Green Party there’s an aggressive approach to the presidency and not from a safe state, swing state strategy, however you may have it, ultimately Jill Stein may not get the support that she would get if there was an acknowledgment that the Green Party should do a safe state strategy.
DIXON: We will not do a safe state strategy. We believe that that would violate the trust that people put in us to compete in the campaign and to advocate for, you know, peace and people over profits in every state. If you live in a state where, that’s not a safe state, a state where Hillary might get it, Trump might get it, and we the Green Party refuse to campaign in your state, then why should there be a Green Party in your state at all, okay?
What can we come to you with and say, hey Kwame, you should try to organize in your block. We should try to help you organize, you know, in your hood here and in your city. And you could say, well, like, but dude. You’re not here. You’re somewhere else. You want to stay away from us–
ROSE: –Well, I think that could be said about the Green Party in a lot of Black communities already.
DIXON: Yeah. Well no, because it’s not the job of white people to come and organize Black communities. It never has been the job of white people to come and organize Black communities. It’s the job of activists in those communities to organize their neighborhoods, their cities, their towns, their small towns, their rural areas. It’s our job to do that and it’s our job to organize something in Black communities that’s independent of the current Black leadership class, that’s independent of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Black mayors, the Black state senators and state reps and aldermen.
And that’s what the Green Party has got to do. That’s what independent activists in these Black communities have got to do, and those will be the people who can walk into the green Party and bring their space with them. So it’s not a question of white people making space for you. Nobody makes–I mean, I was in the Black Panther Party 50 years ago. We didn’t wait for anybody to make space for us in the movement. We made our own space and stepped to it, and young people today, they could do the same.
Believe it, these young people are capable of that. They really are. And, you know, we’ve got faith in them. The best young people of every age are always impatient with injustice, and that applies to this age too. And we’ve got the faith and confidence in them that they will step up.
ROSE: [inaud.] We’ve got to wrap it up, but I want to ask you one question. In your honest opinion, what’s worse for our country? A Donald Trump presidency or a Hillary Clinton presidency?
DIXON: I wouldn’t answer that question. That’s not a useful question to me, what is worse. It’s a fact that, our comrade Paul Street who you are familiar with, he said it best when he said that Trump and the Republicans, that’s a clown car. It’s a joke. I heard Paul Jay a few days ago note that during a 60 or 90 day period Trump raised 35 million, and during that same period four years ago Romney raised over 100 million, okay?
The Democrats, by contrast, are a fully-functional, ruling class party. That’s Paul Street’s phrase. They know how to do this. Trump talks an evil, awful game. Hillary Clinton has actually done these things. Her team has actually done these things. So–
ROSE: –But that analogy it seems like Trump is the lesser of the evil.
DIXON: The lesser evil is also not a useful distinction. Glen Ford four years ago or eight years ago coined the term, the more effective evil. Hillary Clinton may be, may be the more effective evil. But even that is a less useful distinction for us sitting where we sit, me in Atlanta, you in Baltimore, than, you know, what we have to do. I mean, whoever wins, the result is going to be evil.
The question is, what do we have to do? What’s going to happen with school privatization? What’s going to happen with gentrification, you know? And what’s going to happen with us self-organizing and not waiting for deliverance from on high? We’ve got to self-organize.
ROSE: All right, there it is. Thank you, Bruce.
DIXON: Oh, and I’m also–You didn’t say this. I’m also the–Oh, you did say it. You can find more of our work at Blackagendareport.com, and also the work of Glen Ford and Margaret Kimberley there too, and hey, that’s it.
ROSE: From Houston, Texas at the Green Party National Convention. It’s hot outside and Bruce just made it a lot hotter inside dropping knowledge. Bruce Dixon, senior managing editor at Blackagendareport.com, thank you for joining us, Bruce.
DIXON: Thanks for having me, dude.
ROSE: All right, thank you.
DIXON: Like that shirt. The Caucasians, huh? That’ll work.
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