Consensus was the theme as 126 independent partisan activists from 26 states and 40 organizations gathered on the campus of George Washington University June 1-4 for a political issues campaign conference entitled "Third Parties '96: Building the New Mainstream."
The meeting of independents came one week after the indecisive May 25-27 meeting of Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition in Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting brought together a spectrum of labor and liberals. Jackson compared the role of minorities in the Democratic Party to slaves and sharecroppers: "We delivered. Then they ignored us. We do not intend to be ignored, taken for granted, pushed off and exploited any longer." On the one hand Jackson announced another one of his voter registration and education drives that have been financed by the Democratic Party leadership routinely for the past decade or so, and on the other he threatened to bolt the party, saying "This is not about political positioning," and "we need expanded options." To many observers it seemed that this might be the time for a break finally, but many other former Rainbow supporters remain very doubtful of Jackson's ultimate commitment to a break with the two-party system. "We need a new direction," Jackson said later. "Toward that end, the Rainbow Coalition announced plans to explore independent ballot access, starting at the state and local level. It is time for progressives to argue their case...." The mission of the Rainbow was articulated to the "actually existing third parties" at the DC conference by Rev. Graylon Ellis-Hagler, who ran as an independent for Mayor of Boston and is now pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in DC and a Rainbow Coalition leader. He spoke at the opening plenary entitled "Building on Common Ground," emphasizing the need for a multi-racial coalition. The ballot-access exploration is being coordinated by Ron Walters, who envisions a National Rainbow Party, and who was slated to join the Greens and others in a press conference on the Third Party movement. There was also a brief visit to the conference by Benjamin Chavis, the former head of the NAACP, who has been moving to the left and is forming a new left-of-center civil rights leadership organization . Linda Martin, formerly with the Hawaii Greens and now a leader of the Virginia Green Party and coordinator of the conference, said in advance of the meeting that it might not result in multi-party agreement on a third party campaign in 1996, but, "it may give heart to those who feel that the political process and their elected representatives have left them without options." Martin, who garnered 50,000 votes or 13% as a candidate for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Daniel Inouye in 1992, opened the session with a critique of both Pres. Clinton and the Congressional deficit hawks: "The 'balance the budget' slogan is basically a design to destroy our safety net," she pointed out. "We have to learn to work in coalition," she emphasized, stressing the basic theme of the conference. The breadth of the representation at the conference was unprecedented, with third parties of the Right, the Center and the Left represented by activists. All worked together in small groups led by professional facilitators in a successful effort to draft a "Common Ground Declaration." Among the organizations that sent activists were the Pacific Party (Oregon), the Boulder Progressive Coalition (Colorado), the Mountaineer Party (West Virginia), the Independence Party (Kansas) and the Statehood Party and Umoja Party (DC). Greens were present from California, New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia, Georgia, Minnesota, Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and, of course, DC. Some of the independent partisans present also identified with left organizations, such as the Committees of Correspondence, Solidarity, Socialist Party USA, and the Left Green Network. Libertarian Party representatives followed the rules of consensus-building side by side with Green Party activists from various States and side by side with Patriot Party supporters, one of whom said they were fans of Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party. One of the DC Conference co-sponsors, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, is aligned with the NAP, which has a reputation for "rule-or-ruin" tactics. New Alliance Party is actually headed by controversial social therapist Fred Newman, a former associate of Lyndon Larouche in the National Caucus of Labor Committees. In 1974 he led a split that created a "vanguard" called the International Workers Party, in order to "move from a position of left hegemony to a position of leadership of the class". The IWP secretly controlled dozens of affiliated, nominally democratic organizations, according to a report by Political Research Associates (Cambridge, 1987) and articles in Ms. magazine (May June 1992) and The Nation (May 4, 1992). The Patriot Party, initiated by Lowell Weicker, was represented at the DC meeting by activists from California and Virginia. In Virginia, according to Bruce Weiner, who spoke at the Friday evening plenary, "a coalition has been forged with the Green Party of Virginia. Called the Virginia Citizen's Coalition, the Patriots and Greens will run candidates identified both with the coalition and with their own party by a common slate of issues agreed to between the two parties." The Patriot Party has been trying to convert local branches of Ross Perot's United We Stand, America (UWSA). But there is currently a bruising battle between many State sections and the UWSA National Headquarters over the issue of who decides policy and strategy. The Patriot Party is also reviving the Prudence, Action, and Results Party (PAR) in Louisiana, which is on the ballot there as a result of Ross Perot's 1992 race for the White House. There were also members of the Communist Party USA, the Democratic Socialists of America, We the People, and other groups that are very unlikely to join nationally in a break with the Democratic Party. In the y'all-come-on-down spirit of the DC Conference, however, all the different parties and splinters were able to shape what could become the progressive issues agenda for 1996. Even the New Party formations of Maryland and DC co-sponsored the meeting, although Daniel Cantor, the NYC Executive Director of the NP, who spoke at the Friday evening plenary session, made it clear that the group he heads is closely tied with Clinton supporters and would not back a unified third party presidential campaign. The Nation (June 26, 1995) reported that the executive committee decided that they "didn't want to be spoilers." The magazine repeated someone's blooper that the NP membership has hit the 521,000 mark. Actually, the New Party is one of the best financed efforts but still relatively tiny, with 4,500 members at the end of last year (LA Village View, Dec. 2, 1994). The New Party does have a ballot line in Wisconsin, through its affiliate, the New Progressive Party, which inherited the ballot line of the Labor-Farm Party. In its only outing in its own name, the NPP candidate for State Treasurer, Kathleen Chung, received nearly 3% of the vote last Fall. Her campaign gave the NPP ballot access for four years. The largest third parties remain the odd couple of California politics, the Green Party, created in 1991 with 103,000 registrants, which had dropped down to 86,198 by the 1994 race, and the Peace and Freedom Party, created in 1967, which has managed to hold on to 66,955 members. They accounted for 359,000 statewide votes in 1994 and many more total votes for Congressional and State Legislature candidates. If the two parties united, that might provide the stimulus for building a party of half a million members by the year 2000.. Green Parties are also on the ballot in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and New Mexico, where their numbers are smaller, but where their state-wide percentages have been much larger. In New Mexico, for instance, the Green candidate for State Treasurer, Lorenzo Garcia, garnered 121,000 votes to win a record-breaking 33% of the vote (more than any third party statewide candidate in America in sixty years), with a Party membership of only about 700. It has since doubled in size. As Howie Hawkins of Greens/Green Party USA pointed out, over a million votes were cast for 80 Green candidates across the U.S. in November. In Hawaii, Keiko Bonk-Abramson won re-election to the Hawaii Council with 60%. In Maine, Jonathan Carter received 6.3% of the vote for Governor. In Rhode Island, the Lt. Governor candidate, Jeff Johnson, got 6.1%. In Alaska Joni Whitmore received 10% of the statewide vote for the Congressional seat. Hawkins points out that, "Independent left support of 5-10 percent in many places will be enough to deny the Democrats victory... Being 5-10% spoilers can be our wedge into proportional representation... Once this fact is established, it is time to explain the virtues of proportional representation and fight for it." (Crossroads, May 1995). Rob Richie, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, outlined the alternatives to today's anti-democratic, big-money, winner-take-all system. The alternatives include Preference Voting and Mixed Member forms of Proportional Representation. Richie says, we "must come out of the hills and face winner-take-all voting on the open plain." John B. Anderson, former Presidential candidate for the Citizens Party and now the National Chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy, is currently on a national tour to promote Proportional Representation. The CV&D will hold its annual conference in Boston on Nov. 11-12. For information call (202) 882-7378. Ballot access, meaning both how to get a line on a state ballot and how to keep it when the Republicrats smell a fire in the forest, was a burning issue at the DC conference. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News and the Coalition for Free and Open Elections, told of a number of legislative measures to dampen the flames of discontent, the most extreme being in Florida. Ellen Miller and John Bonifaz of the Center for Responsive Politics took on the issue of campaign finance reform, one of the central issues of the Conference. Their research and charts illuminated the links between campaign gifts and "corporate welfare." As Miller showed, although $772 million was spent in the 1994 Presidential campaign, that was a modest sum compared to the outcome of this largesse. He estimated that, as a result, over "$100 billion every year goes for corporate tax breaks." Media access was also a central concern for the independents, who heard remarks from Larry Bensky, National Affairs Correspondent for Pacifica Radio, and Sam Smith of the Progressive Review, one of the conference's organizers. The Third Parties Conference was initiated by several leaders of the Green Politics Network with the hope of forging a coalition of independent parties strong enough to build a "New Mainstream." They aim to launch a broad counter-offensive to the steal-from-the-poor, enrich-the-global-pirates, let-bigotry-ring hoopla of U.S. politics today. Notably absent from the Conference was Labor Party Advocates, which is laying plans for its Founding Convention in March 1996. LPA was formally launched in 1991 by Tony Mazzochi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers, and it has slowly grown into an organization of several thousand unionists. LPA has said it wants to build its own forces before entering into coalitions with third parties. Leo Seidlitz, the LPA coordinator in Northern California says, "we all agree we have to work in coalition with other non-labor organizations. But first we have to organize ourselves before we can coalesce, or we'll lose our focus" (LA Village View, April 14, 1995). While some participants expressed worries that a broad populist coalition challenge could be seen as contributing to the defeat of Clinton in the November '96 election, most were committed to the idea of Independent Political Action at the national as well as local and state level. The New Party, of course, has its own peculiar approach to partisan independence, believing in the bark, but not in the bite: "We are beginning to demonstrate that having a 'threat of exit' actually strengthens the hand of progressives who have to relate to the Democrats." As their Executive Committee announced last year in Z magazine (June 1994), "Joining the New Party doesn't end your relationship with the Democrats, it changes it." The conferees ended the session on Sunday by agreeing to widely circulate a draft platform entitled "A Common Ground Declaration," which represented full consensus on 17 items and a dozen more planks hammered out with majorities of 80% or 60%. The Common Ground covers issues ranging from tax justice and voting reform and defense of affirmative action to deep cuts in the military budget and protection of human rights and the environment, as well as alternative approaches to crime and drugs. On Workplace Democracy, it states, "We believe that economic decisions should be made democratically, with participation by all affected workers, communities, and consumers." This received full consensus, as did the demand for "an end to corporate welfare." After the Conference, Linda Martin spoke to several reporters about the conference. "We thought of this agreement as an alternative to the GOP Contract on America," she said. "We didn't know whether we would be able to reach agreement on anything, considering that the delegates here represent a wide spectrum, left and right. That we were able to reach consensus on a dozen items and super-majorities on another dozen is a real achievement." Martin told The Nation (June 26, 1995), that "We have enough of a platform to actually start shopping for a candidate." A second round of Third Parties '96 is also being planned tentatively for early October in either Boulder, CO or Kansas City, MO. Martin hopes to virtually double the representation and focus on ballot access. For information call (703) 642-5710 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The next step is for the Greens to unify their national organization and begin building viable coalitions with hundreds of local and state forces that want a broad coalition of Progressives. The July 27 Green Gathering is being coordinated by Cris Moore, who won election last fall to the Santa Fe, N.M. City Council on the Green Party ticket. The New Mexico candidate for Governor, Roberto Mondragon, a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor and State Legislator, received 11% of the vote in a tight race that left the three-term Democratic Governor Bruce King just 9% short of a fourth term. Moore told a reporter for the Peoples Weekly World, that, "Historically, New Mexico has been a one-party Democratic state, but New Mexico is experiencing the same problems as people all across the country. I think what we did in New Mexico can be done in the rest of the country as well." Peter Camejo, a former Socialist Workers Party candidate for President and now a Green Party member, addressed the group on "The New Zealand Model" for building a progressive coalition. In New Zealand, Greens have joined with the New Labor Party, the Maori Party, and other feminist and progressive groups to form an electoral front called the "Alliance." Their first successful project was to push through a proportional representation reform, a Mixed Member system like Germany's. Now the Alliance candidate, Jim Anderton, is leading in the polls, and after the November 1996 elections he may be forming a government in coalition with the "old" Labor Party. The follow-through to the start made by the Third Party Conference will take place this summer at two major delegated assemblies. The Greens/Green Party USA National Gathering from July 27-30 in Albuquerque, NM will decide whether the Greens can unify behind a Presidential campaign that all realize is premature, but which may possibly be crucial in building for a future progressive politics. For information, call the GPUSA at (505) 266-4890. And in Pittsburgh the National Peoples Progressive Network and the National Center for Independent Political Action are jointly initiating the National Independent Politics Summit from August 18-20. The NPPN was formed out of the People's Progressive Convention held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on August 21-23, 1992. Ron Daniels, a former campaign director for Jesse Jackson, played the key role in organizing the movement and ran as an independent progressive candidate for President in 1992 with the Campaign for a New Tomorrow. The National Committee for Independent Political Action has been working since 1984 to build a strong, united multi-racial movement for progressive change. Ted Glick of NCIPA, who attended the Third Parties conference, was confident that the Greens would join the national effort. In 1992 the California Greens and other Green Parties passed up the chance to nominate Ron Daniels as their candidate, saying that it was too soon for the fledgling party. The Pittsburgh Summit, however, has been endorsed heartily by the Greens/Green Party USA and the Green Politics Network. In California both the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party Coordinating Committee have joined in the call. In the national call for the Pittsburgh Summit, Tom Condit says, "What changed in the last election was that the Democrats dropped even the rhetorical pretenses they have maintained these 25 years of being the party of working people, people of color, and those of us concerned with peace, justices, and the environment. "If there ever was a time for developing a vision of a real alternative to the profit-motivated economy and corporate-dominated government -- if there ever was a time for building an independent people's movement and party to carry that vision forward -- that time is now," Condit says. For information on the National Independent Politics Summit on August 18-20 call the NPPN at (718)-643-9603. This article may be reprinted or forwarded freely. Comments or questions to email@example.com or P.O. Box 794, Sierra Madre, CA 91025-0794.