2008 Fall Opinion

By Mike Feinstein, Green Party of California

In this country we do no justice to our cause by accepting and internalizing the language of our electoral opponents and oppressors.

Sometimes expressions become so much a part of our every day vernacular that we fail to even question their subtle biases, let alone their accuracy, and then we may internalize those biases and inaccuracies. When that happens with expressions that define how we relate to each other as individuals, or how we are organized as a society, whole movements often rise up to challenge their use. That is why we often challenge certain expressions as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ or ‘homophobic’, for example, and why there are even overt workshops to ‘unlearn’ racism, sexism and/or homophobia.

But what about ‘winner-take-all-ism’?  Never heard of it?  It happens every time someone says we live under a ‘two-party’ system. In the United States, we do NOT live under a ‘two-party’ system. But each time we fail to challenge that terminology—let alone if we use it in our own speech—we effectively internalize the language of our electoral oppressors. This is functionally no different than when racist, sexist or homophobic epithets go unchallenged. And just like with those epitaphs, it should be no surprise that winner-take-all-ism is used intentionally by many in power to marginalize the full participation in society of various types and groups of people with which they do not agree or support.

By law, there is no such thing in the United States as a two-party system—i.e. the law does not state, “There shall only be two parties.”

Rather, we live in a mostly private/largedonor/corporate-funded winner-take-all electoral system, with mostly gerrymandered districts and with media that are mostly owned by increasingly fewer and larger corporations. It is that cumulative dynamic that has tended to produce only two ‘major’ parties in the American context; and it is that dynamic that in turn leads to the collusion by those two parties to enact laws to make it even harder for other parties to compete, and to appoint judges who would not overturn those laws upon legal challenge.

Therefore if there is a legal system to be changed, it is the winner-take-all system, not the two-party system. The former is a system and the latter is a dynamic resulting from that system.

Every time we identify the problem as the dynamic instead of the system (or the ‘symptom’ rather than the ‘disease’), we voluntarily give away our argument and energy to those who want to deny us our proportional place at the governing table, because it simply makes us sound like electoral ‘losers’ who are on the outside because we can’t compete with our ideas, which then just feeds into their desire to further marginalize us. Instead, we should be calling attention to the structural problems within the electoral system that is already in place.

And this structural problem is not limited to the American experience. In the U.K. where there are two major parties (Conservative, Labour) and one almost major party (Liberal Democrat) and in Canada where there are also two major parties (Conservative, Liberal) one almost major (New Democratic) as well as the special case in Quebec of the Bloc Quebecois, the unrepresentative defect of winner-take-all-ism still exists. Therefore it is not only erroneous but also self-defeating to start from the premise that ‘the system’ is either a ‘two-party’ (or ‘three-party’ or ‘four-party’) system and then argue it is that two-party system which should be changed.

The kind of reforms Greens advocate —public financing and inclusion in debates for all ballot-qualified candidates, instant   runoff voting for our executive offices and proportional   representation for how we elect our legislative representatives—would be fairer to all candidates and parties. Yes this is more nuanced than simply railing against a ‘two-party’ system, but  it is also far more accurate and actually gets to the root of  the  structural problem that we are confronting.

Under such a fairer electoral system, it will be up to the public how many parties are viable. We Greens have no absolute right to be represented in the system just because we think we have good ideas. That is up to the voters to decide (however it should not go without mentioning under such systems voters have elected Greens in dozens of countries around the world.)

But in this country we do no justice to our cause by accepting and internalizing the language of our electoral opponents and oppressors. If we want electoral system reform that gives fair representation to the diverse perspectives held in our society, including those we hold as Greens, we must begin by reforming ourselves.

Green philosophy is all about seeing the big, interconnected picture and confronting the social ‘isms’ that diminish who we really are. If we want to succeed electorally, we have to do the same thing with the biased and intentionally limited ‘winner-take-all-ism’ that the myth of the two-party system portends.


All at Risk

By Brent McMillan, Political Director Green Party of the United States

We are currently witnessing a massive corporate green washing.

I have been involved in farming for almost 25 years now. Each year when I fill out my tax forms, on the Schedule F: Profit or Loss From Farming I check a box, “All investment is at risk.” For many of us in the Green Party we realized, long before most Americans, that all is at risk. Those that think that they will be able to keep what they have, as we move further and further into corporatism, are in denial.

How has American culture moved further and further from sustainability, democracy and community and become more and more corporate based? Food, transportation, housing, and media, all have become dominated by corporate interests. This didn’t happen over night, it happened gradually. Like erosion, this process of gradualism breeds complacency; that is there is no response until the last piece of foundation sand and rock gives way and the house it was supporting just topples off the cliff. No one feels a sense of urgency as it occurs over the years.

My Celtic forebears in Scotland learned an important lesson. They were invaded many times and often outnumbered. They learned when you’re outnumbered enlist the land.

They found that if you could find a pinch point in the landscape and get there first you could stop a larger force from advancing. I won’t go into the gory details here of how they did it. But there is an important lesson there for us greens. Currently we are badly outnumbered. Yet the need for our beneficial presence in the culture is immense. For us our pinch point is global warming, climate change, the collapsing U.S. dollar, peak oil, peak everything. We need to position ourselves there now. We need to be building and living working models for how to remain human as these issues play out. We need to be communicating the solutions that we have learned through our experience. This is not a technical problem. There is nothing new that needs to be invented. This is a cultural problem. It is a question of will.

We are currently witnessing a massive corporate greenwashing. Corporations realize they cannot ignore these issues so they are paying them lip service, but have no intent of substantially changing. They say, yes peak oil is coming. Climate change is happening therefore, let us drill offshore now and build more nuclear power plants for the future. They are fundamentally incapable of grasping the full nature of the problem.

When I lived in Washington State I would go to a place called Ocean Shores where there is a jetty built by the Corps of Engineers years ago. Its intent was to keep silt from accumulating in a nearby harbor so shipping could get through. When I go there I am struck by the arrogant thinking that we could control the Pacific Ocean. I watch as the waves crash into the jetty and spray goes a hundred feet into the air. As a result of the man-made jetty the coastline north of there is eroding. As a result of this erosion condominiums and hotels are slowly but surely falling into the ocean. Now there is real power.

I frequently meditate on this idea, “There are those that say they know but don’t do. They don’t know.” What do you know that you should be doing but have found that you’re just not there yet? What do you need to get there? The solutions often lie in community. ‘I’ can’t do it, but ‘we’ can. Community solutions are often cooperative in nature. In Seattle, we saw the development of Voluntary Simplicity Circles. In Washington, D.C. I have seen the beginning of support groups for people who are working to “unclutter” their lives. Who is your support group? Who are the people who have got your back? If you start making a list, it might pleasantly surprise you.

Brent McMillan contributes a regular column for Green Pages. He can be contacted at brent@gp.org. Or share your thoughts at the Green Pages blog: http://www.gp.org/greenpages.