On September 5th, an email went out on the Hamilton county Green Party listserv to local members from Gwen Marshall, the leader of the group. The email concerned the upcoming mayoral election and how the party relates to it. What was contained in the email was a scathing attack on candidate Roxanne Qualls, former mayor and current city council member, and soft support for John Cranley, another former council member.
The email contains a key phrase that, I think, illuminates the current M.O. for the Greens, both nationally and locally: “There are 4 candidates for mayor, but only two who are really in the running.” This is essentially a manifestation of the “safe-state” strategy that has plagued Green Party politics since at least the 2004 presidential election. Simply put, the strategy gives de-facto support to one candidate (typically a Democrat) that they want to win, lest the other, more horrible candidate get into office. It is quite striking just how far this strategy will go, even supporting the better candidate over someone who may be running for the position in the Green Party itself, only seriously campaigning in states where the preferred candidate safely has the vote.
In the absence of a Green party candidate running for mayor this year, it is not surprising that they would give their support to some candidate who is in the race, but Cranley is a disgusting choice for a party that formally (though not necessarily in reality) puts itself to the left of the Democrats. Indeed, this comes out in the email when Gwen writes
Both candidates consider themselves Democrats for the most part, but Cranley is being “accused of” being supported by Republicans, whereas Roxanne Qualls’ campaign manager’s Republican credentials got her a job working for an [sic] Republican elected official and later as a Board of Elections official so the whole “Republican Issue” is a non issue. Who becomes the mayor will have a big impact on the direction of the city, so this does actually matter since the primary election results will impact the momentum of the election process.
While Gwen states that “the whole “Republican Issue” is a non issue,” the rest of her message seems to actually be an argument over which candidate is more progressive, or more “Democrat” in modern political lingo. This is a sad state of affairs for those of us who were excited to support, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president in the last election.
I know many readers of (and certainly many writers for) Streetvibes agree that we need to rebuild the left to pose a real alternative to the two business parties that run our country (and city), but this is not the way to do it. It would be one thing if the Greens ran a candidate in this election, but they are not. It would also be interesting if the Greens participated in activism specifically as Greens, but they do not, outside of electoral politics.
There is an exciting alternative that people on the left can look to in these kind of races. Kshama Sawant is a candidate for city council in Seattle. She is an activist, an economist, and a member of Socialist Alternative, a left-wing political organization. Sawant has an interesting cancidacy, having run for the Washington State House of Representatives in 2012, she received 29% of the vote in the race against the Democratic house speaker. In a primary for the city council election this year, she received 35% of the vote, what her website calls “a clear message… to an out of touch political establishment.” She came in second to the democratic incumbent who received 48% and she will move on to the general election in the fall.
But what the Sawant campaign offers is not just a look at an alternative candidate, but also an alternative to political parties as we know them, which the Greens can take a cue from. Sawant comes from a background of years in activism, and is a member of an organization that regularly fights on issues like environmentalism, anti-racism, and classism mostly outside of elections. These are issues that the business parties rarely talk about, and when they do, it’s in the service of those in power. I think the local Green Party should look to the Sawant campaign and groups like Socialist Alternative for inspiration and totally and completely disavow the Republican and the Democratic parties, even when they aren’t running a candidate themselves.
The email from Gwen Marshall attempts to differentiate Qualls and Cranley (who both identify as Democrats) based on a few hot-button local issues, but it fails in one key place: to highlight that, if elected, either candidate, both firmly rooted in the political establishment, would serve not the workers in the city, but the business owners who seek profit and not justice.
As the elections have shown in recent years, the safe state strategy is a losing battle. The email from Gwen smacks of a sentiment akin to making due with what we have but if there is anything that the Greens and other left parties must grasp in these tumultuous times it is that what we have is not worth the trouble to save. What we have is a system where the Anna Louise Inn can be sued and forced out by a selfish 1 percent-er whose companies are regularly given economic development funds by the city. What we have is an Over-the-Rhine that is being whitewashed as a playground for hip youth and the privileged class from the richer neighborhoods. What we have is a city where the police kill a black citizen once every 10 months or so with no recourse. Both Cranley and Qualls are part of this system, the Greens should recognize this, and should, as Kshama Sawant and the party she is a member of is doing, pose an alternative.