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ACTIVISTS : ENVIRONMENT : The Greening of Politics : Candidate for Congress Campaigns Under Banner: ‘Neither Left Nor Right, but Up Front’

It’s Environmental Awareness Day at Ventura College and Mindy Lorenz is one of the speakers. She carries a box of leaflets from her car to the main quad, where the Greens have set up a table.

Lorenz is the Green Party candidate in the 19th Congressional District.

Under Lorenz’s campaign poster is her campaign slogan: “Neither Left Nor Right, but Up Front.”

Lorenz is a tall woman with an open face and a direct gaze. When it’s her turn to speak she steps off the stage and walks cross the grass, cutting down the distance between herself and the few students lounging on the edge of the quad.

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Lorenz talks briefly about Green politics, touches on “insane U.S. military spending,” calls our elected officials “a bunch of wimps” and shares her idea of good government: “A government that says, ‘We’re going to ban fluorocarbons--and we’re going to do it next week.’ That’s my kind of government. They did it in Sweden. Why not here?”

After she finishes speaking, she returns to the Green Party table. A few students walk by, some evasive, some curious. One asks, “Where can I register to vote?”

Lorenz shows her. “Check here, and write in the word Green, if you want to register as a Green.”

“We need a new political party,” Lorenz says. “Green parties are springing up all over the world. We need one here.”

They talk for a minute and the girl registers--as a Green.

This is the kind of work Lorenz excels at, grass roots and face to face, where spirituality, world view and a sense of purpose all intersect with politics.

Indifferent or hostile crowds, the small scale of her campaign, the lack of media coverage--these things don’t seem to matter to her. What matters to her is registering Green voters.

After two hours and five registrations--a successful afternoon--Lorenz lugs her carton of leaflets back to her car.

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“Sometimes I want to rant,” she says with a smile. “When I was in the radical left I could do that--and I did. But as a Green, I don’t rant.”

Like the Green Party itself, Lorenz’s activism has its roots in the ‘60s.

“In high school I was a real Kennedy fan and when he was assassinated it was just devastating,” she says. “Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was in college and by that time my awareness of Vietnam was growing and I took those things very personally--I take my politics personally--so that a sense of outrage and sadness . . . have been with me all along, utter outrage and tremendous sadness.

“So much in our culture lulls you into complacency. I try to keep in touch with that sense of outrage, and it’s not hard. I see and hear things every day that make me feel it.”

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Lorenz was teaching at Claremont in the mid-'80s when she became involved in the sanctuary movement. She engaged in civil disobedience and was arrested, but the charges were dropped. She was completely disillusioned with the U.S. government and feeling hopeless.

“I was beginning to see how interrelated the big issues were,” she says, “and I knew I needed a broader political framework to work in.”

That’s when Lorenz began hearing about the Greens in Europe. She sent for their literature, read their platform, and that was it.

“It was a kind of conversion,” she says. “It was astounding and wonderful to find that there was an already existing political party that was saying the things I thought were right.”

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Soon the Greens began organizing in Southern California, and Lorenz became one of the founding members. She’s now active at the state and national levels of the Green Party. And she heads the local chapter, called the Santa Clara River Greens.

Although Greens have been elected at the city and county level around the country, Lorenz is the first to run for Congress.

Press Secretary Brad Smith says the main purpose of her campaign is not to win the election, but to register voters to help Greens achieve official ballot status in the 1992 elections. Eighty-thousand California registrations are required.

“She’s not running to win,” Smith says.

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Lorenz disagrees. “I am running to win. Realistically, we’re prepared not to, and there are other reasons for running. But I think we’d do a wonderful job if we won.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays Lorenz makes the hourlong trip down the freeway to Cal State Northridge, where she teaches art history.

In class, 45 students give Lorenz their rapt attention. As she lectures she flashes slides from two projectors. Her questions bring a flurry of raised hands. Today she’s finishing the Romantic Period.

“With Gauguin, we leave the Romantics,” she says.

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“The poor avant-garde artist. Not only does he think his culture stinks, but he can’t find anyone to listen to him. A lot like the political activist. You come up with this great critique and no one wants to listen.”

Her students, aware of Lorenz’s connection with the Greens, laugh appreciatively.

“One of the beauties of teaching art,” she says later, “is that nothing is irrelevant. No matter what I get interested in, I can always bring it into class.”

Lorenz has a way of making all of her diverse activities dovetail within her. She’s been involved with the Quakers the past 10 years, and that ties in perfectly.

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“When Greens’ politics is at its best,” she says, “it most resembles the best things about a Quaker meeting; their use of consensus, the wonderful way they have of integrating spirituality and activism.”

When Lorenz, a single parent, was contemplating civil disobedience for the first time, her daughter Briana was 9. They had series of discussions about what would happen if Lorenz was arrested and spent time in jail.

“It was scary for me, even more terrifying for Briana,” Lorenz says. The discussions have continued over the years.

“We’re having them now about my involvement with the campaign and how much time it takes,” Lorenz says. “It’s very threatening to know that the Greens mean that much--that I will put almost everything else second to that in order to really devote myself to it.”

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Mother and daughter, now 16, live in central Ventura in a modest rented house surrounded by a white picket fence. And despite the whirlwind of activity, the house is quiet and orderly.

“I’m a compulsive conserver,” she says, “turning off lights, trying not to use too much water, composting, recycling. I’d feel hypocritical not working hard on these things myself, since it’s what we advocate. But I know I must drive my daughter nuts sometimes.”

“Her lists do drive me crazy,” concedes Briana, who is nonetheless an ardent admirer and supporter of her mother. “She makes lists for everything. But I admire her independence, just being able to think for herself. She was brought up in a strict family, and I admire her for being able to be so different.”

Lorenz holds a press conference to announce her candidacy at 1:30 p.m. at the Government Center plaza. A table is set up, leaflets and flyers spread out.

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There’s a good crowd during the lunch hour, but at 1 p.m. everyone leaves the plaza except a gaggle of Greens and a couple of gardeners.

As Lorenz prepares to make her announcement, two young men come up to the table and inquire about registering to vote. But the Greens are more interested in the press conference, and the two men, unattended, walk away.

Lorenz, noticing this, goes after them, answers their questions, brings them back to the table and registers them.

The important work done, she’s ready for her press conference.

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