Every so often, John Lewallen gets a bit stressed out by his involvement in the fledgling Green Party of California. That’s when he finds it calming to wade into the surf near his Mendocino home and harvest some choice seaweed.
“I discovered that to do political work you need a business . . . that is cooling to the psyche,” said Lewallen, who sells what he describes as gourmet seaweed to organic food stores through his Mendocino Sea Vegetable Co.
“A lot of times I’m out there in the tide and my head is swirling with our latest political struggles. But I’m being cooled by the seaweed,” he said.
Lewallen is among the 95,000 environmentalists, feminists, peace activists, aging hippies and other Greens who hope to propel their tiny party to power by promoting “ecological wisdom,” social justice, small-is-better economics and “post-patriarchal values.”
But Lewallen, 49, has spent a fair amount of time chilling out in the seaweed lately. His party, certified in January as California’s newest, has been embroiled in a series of internal political squabbles worthy of Machiavelli’s Florence.
In one case, an exasperated Green from Hollywood--a blues musician by trade--sued the party after local Green leaders refused to let him run against a pro-environment Los Angeles congressman. The musician charged that he was denied partly because he wears a ponytail.
Greens in the San Francisco Bay Area--the party’s stronghold--debated a politically correct proposal to reduce “male dominance” at party meetings by alternating men and women speakers, and cutting off additional men speakers after all the women had finished.
“It never became a real issue, because men thought it was unfair,” Shelly Martin, a San Francisco Green, said of the plan, which was defeated. “But some women felt that if there were no women left to say anything, maybe there was nothing left to say and men were just making a lot of hot air.”
Despite the turmoil, Greens have scored some early successes.
About a dozen have won nonpartisan local offices across the state. A Green is a member of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, and Greens sit on city councils in Davis and Arcata in California. In San Diego County, Greens have been elected to several local boards and commissions.
The Green Party already is the second largest of the state’s four ballot-qualified minor parties. (The right-wing American Independent Party, with 217,000 registered voters, is the largest. Peace and Freedom, with 68,182 voters, is third, and Libertarians are the smallest with 66,996.) Sixteen Greens are running for seats in Congress and the Legislature, most of them in Southern California.
Like other third parties in California, the Green Party has its, well, unorthodox features.
Its platform calls for vegetarian meals to be served in jails and public schools. At party meetings, “vibes watchers” make sure members do not get too angry at one another during debates on controversial issues.
Unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, the hierarchy-hating Greens have no party chairman or political director. The closest thing they have to a party executive director is a Sacramento woman whose full name is Cuest.
“To put together a political party with people who despise traditional politics--hey, that’s a real challenge,” said Mike Twombly, a Green who works as a Sacramento lobbyist for civil rights and education groups.
The Greens qualified as a political party after a voter registration drive beginning in 1990 that targeted potential members at environmental rallies, anti-Gulf War marches and rock ‘n’ roll concerts.
Many Greens are veterans of the environmental, anti-war and women’s movements, and a wide strain of 1960s counterculture runs through their party. It is founded on “10 key values,” which the party lists as “ecological wisdom, grass-roots democracy, social justice, nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, post-patriarchal values, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility and sustainable future focus.”
Patterned after Green parties in Europe, the California Greens stress that they are not only concerned about environmental matters. They say they want to synthesize ecological values with others, such as feminism.
The party’s official ballot statement describes it as “a new party that has arisen in response to the need for a new political vision free of the failed ideologies of both the right and the left.”
“The Green Party promotes an ecological vision which understands that all life on our planet is interconnected; that cooperation is more essential to our well-being than competition; that all people are connected to and dependent upon one another and upon the natural systems of our world, and that politics must come to reflect this understanding.”
But the party’s early months have been marked by turmoil, especially an internal debate over whether the party should field candidates for public office this year.
Bay Area Greens--who make up about 60% of the party’s membership--argued that the party was too weak and inexperienced to run candidates for state or federal office.
If it lost too many races too soon, they warned, the party would be doomed to the same kind of political irrelevance as the socialist Peace and Freedom Party, founded in 1967 as an outgrowth of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Today, fewer than 0.5% of the state’s registered voters belong to Peace and Freedom, and its candidates routinely lose elections to nominees from major parties.
Greens outside the Bay Area, however, said the party should run candidates to build campaign expertise and get media attention for its political message.
The disagreement culminated in the party’s adoption of the highly controversial Rule 14, which bars Greens from becoming candidates in state primary elections unless local party councils decide to open a race.
Rule 14 upset some Greens greatly. They argued that it was undemocratic and contradicted the Green principle of decentralizing political authority. The rule is expected to be eliminated after the Nov. 3 elections.
The fight over Rule 14 left a split between Bay Area Greens and those in other parts of the state. No Greens are on the ballot in the Bay Area this fall, while five are running for Congress in Los Angeles County.
Rule 14 also sparked a successful lawsuit by David Davis, a ponytailed Hollywood musician who was denied party permission to run against Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, a liberal Democrat widely regarded as an environmental ally.
“They thought we would be branded as a party of hippies if we sent a longhaired person before an audience . . . that was strait-laced,” said Davis, who later received a Sacramento judge’s approval to run as an independent.
The party was buffeted to a lesser extent by debate over how to incorporate “post-patriarchal values"--party lingo for feminism--into its daily operations.
Many women members praise party efforts to put them on an equal footing in leadership positions with men, a concept known among Greens as gender-balancing. Under party rules, committee chairmanships are shared by men and women “co-coordinators.”
“I feel confidence here that I never felt around the Democratic Party at all--that when I speak people are listening,” said Shelly Martin, the San Francisco Green. “It’s not tokenism. . . . My involvement has been very much encouraged.”
But some male Greens complain that the party is taking feminism too far.
“Gender balance is an ideal worth trying to realize whenever you can,” said Mitch Clogg, a Mendocino free-lance writer who said he was denied party permission to run for Congress after a woman Green criticized him as a “loud-voiced, dominant male.”
“But if insistence on gender balance means people who are significantly less qualified are going to be called to perform some task . . . and the task is not going to be done properly or not on time, then as far as I’m concerned it needs to be set aside,” he said.
Some Greens also say the party’s consensus decision-making process damages its ability to function. Consensus is an often tedious procedure used by 1960s activists that can involve hours of discussion until almost everyone agrees.
“I’ve gone to several Green meetings where they go on and on forever and nothing seems to move,” said David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth and elder statesmen of the California environmental movement. “It’s nice to be decisive once in awhile.”
So far, the party has little money and its fund raising is haphazard. It levies no state dues, although some local chapters charge small sums. Sacramento Greens raise money by selling T-shirts and literature at street fairs, and have conducted some telephone and direct-mail appeals.
Despite their philosophical ties, the California Greens have no financial links to European Greens or Greens USA.
Predictably, most California Green candidates on the ballot are ill-financed compared to their major-party opponents.
“I’m being outspent probably 100 to 1,” said Kent Smith, a Green candidate in the vast 1st State Senate District, which stretches from Mono Lake to the Oregon border in northeastern California.
Although Greens are running for Congress and state legislative seats in November, most Green strategists concede that the party is too weak to elect candidates to offices higher than city councils and other local posts.
Some outside observers say Greens may run into the political equivalent of the glass ceiling, with members having trouble moving up from municipal positions to the state Assembly or Senate.
Analysts note that Greens tend to be concentrated in parts of the state that are liberal and environmentally concerned. But because Democratic and Republican incumbents in such areas often are pro-environment liberals, the Green Party is likely to have a hard time persuading voters to switch to its candidates, they said.
“I think their biggest problem is going to be getting people to take them seriously as a viable option,” said Lucy Blake, executive director of the San Francisco-based League of Conservation Voters.
Although Greens may have trouble ascending to state and federal office, they were a major, if not decisive, factor in two state Senate races in Los Angeles in June.
Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) eked out a 580-vote victory over Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) in the Democratic primary election after Hayden’s camp persuaded more than 650 Greens to re-register as Democrats and vote for Hayden.
Many Greens believe that Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who was elected by less than 4% of the vote, was able to win only because of the presence on the ballot of a Green who favors legalized abortion.
During the campaign, Roberti’s major opponent, a GOP woman, highlighted Roberti’s opposition to abortion rights and her support for them. The theory is that the Green candidate, who won 8% of the vote, drew votes from abortion rights Democrats, especially women, that otherwise would have gone to the Republican.
But Greens believe that they can become a significant player in statewide elections such as the governor’s race, which is often decided by only a fraction of the overall vote.
“We can’t win partisan office at this point, so our immediate goal is to determine who wins,” Smith said.
Bob Mulholland, political director of the state Democratic Party, said he was so concerned the Greens would field candidates in California’s two U.S. Senate races this year--and draw votes from Democratic nominees Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer--that he asked Green leaders last year not to form a party.
Mulholland said he expected the Greens to register as many as 300,000 voters statewide. But he noted that their registration dropped from a high of nearly 104,000 in February to 95,000 now, and said he no longer views them as a threat.
But Greens believe that they may be able to take advantage of the dissatisfaction among voters with “Republicrats” to sign up large numbers of Green Party members.
“It’s a grand experiment in a lot of ways,” said Lewallen, the Mendocino Green activist. “We don’t know whether it will succeed or fail. But we’re working with it.”
The Greens’ Creed
Here are summaries of some key pillars, or planks, in the Green Party platform:
* Ecology and Earth Stewardship
-An immediate end to nuclear weapons production and dismantling of weapons.
-Rapid phasing out of pesticides and substitution of organic sustainable farming methods.
-Government creation of a market for recycled goods.
* Social Justice and Livable Communities
-Creation of a work force that is “fully representative of the diverse working population.”
-Appointment of women to “every branch and at every level of government until gender balance is achieved.”
-Legalization of homosexual marriages.
-Eventual availability of free education from preschool through graduate school.
* Peace and Nonviolence
-Closing all U.S. military bases on foreign soil as soon as practical.
-Cutting military spending by 75%.
-Teaching nonviolence and conflict resolution at all levels of schools.
-Abolition of the death penalty.
* Community-Based/Ecological Economics
-A balance between economic growth and ecological soundness: “It is our firm belief that these entities are not mutually exclusive.”
-Creation of small-scale, employee-owned cooperative businesses.
-Encouragement of a “credit barter” system in which people trade currency-like credits for goods and services.
-Requiring large corporations to invest in local nonprofit development corporations.