What Does It Mean to Be a Green?

Phill Courtney, twice a Green Party candidate for Congress in Riverside County, explains why he's still a Green, and why he still works to end our country's dysfunctional two-party duopoly.

Last year, if you weren't paying that much attention to the election, or were even trying to ignore it (and who can blame you?), you might have thought that there are only two political parties in this country. That's completely understandable, because, quite frankly, that's what our two major parties want you to think in order to maintain their smothering grip on political power---a grip which has lasted now for over 150 years.

Consequently, it's hardly surprising that the Libertarian's candidate for president this year fell just below one percent of the vote, while other third parties did even worse. But the genuinely harmful consequences of what some now call "the two-party tyranny," far exceeds the mere frustration of third parties working for genuine " hope" and "change." It's clear by now that what the two-party system's unchallenged power has actually created is a political culture of corruption and criminality that continues unabated because there's no other parties to check them, and the two of them protect each other.

And I say this not merely because I've been a third party candidate who's run for office twice--and lost twice. No. I say this because I'm an American who's deeply disturbed about the directions my government has taken during the course of my life, and knows that other political viewpoints are in desperate need of representation, which is not the case for me in our current two-party system. After all, if we say we have a "representational democracy," shouldn't we actually have one?

I've been in the Green Party since 1991 because I am not represented by crimes such as endless war, whether you call it bringing "freedom and democracy" to other counties or not. I am not represented by torture, whether you call it "enhanced interrogations" or not. I am not represented by extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens abroad, whether you call it "a targeted hit on a suspected terrorist" or not. And I am not represented by drone strikes on "enemy combatants," which kill far more innocent men, women, and children than combatants, whether you call these men, women and children "collateral damage" or not.

Sadly, though, we live in a culture of complacency, which either engages in moral bargaining, justifying what our government is doing and the people it is killing (both the innocent and the guilty) on the grounds that it  "keeps us safe;" denies that any of what I mentioned above is actually happening; or is simply unaware of what's going on, caught up as it is in the distractions provided by celebrities, shopping, sports, or the acquisition of what Fox commentator, Bill O'Reilly, recently called "stuff." We're simply too busy to think about what's going on, or to think, period.

But for those of us who can't help thinking about what's happening, our government's human rights violations are not acceptable, and are certainly not justifiable, either morally or legally, and we continue to look for ways to end them. But we know, first of all, that simply voting every four years for the "lesser of two evils" (what I call the "L.O.T.E. vote"), is not one of those ways. Or, to paraphrase the philosopher, Edmund Burke: "All that evil needs to triumph, is that good people continue to vote for the lesser of the two."

However, the perverse power of the "L.O.T.E vote" continues to hold people in its thrall. This year this was brought home to me again when I attempted to convince a friend, who's been a Green for years. to vote for Jill Stein, our candidate for president. In the past, when she'd expressed her fear that voting for the Green Party candidate might help elect a Republican, I'd attempted to convince her that in California the Democrat will win the electoral votes, so she could vote for whomever she wanted, but she'd always cave in.

My friend is a long-time peace activist (in fact, I'd met her at a peace rally in 1991), and a vocal and passionate opponent of executions, so this time I attempted to turn her around by pointing out that President Obama has kept the war in Afghanistan going for almost four unnecessary years, and had executed more people with his drone strikes than the state of Texas could even dream about with their lethal injections, and this time I thought I'd done it. But, she caved again, telling me that despite all I'd said, she knew, deep down inside, that Obama had "a good heart."

But hearts don't matter if what you do with your hands and your policies is killing, torturing, and depriving people of their human rights, whether or not they're guilty or innocent. International law is clear: torture cannot be allowed, and no one is to be deprived of their rights without a trial, a conviction, and a sentence, whether or not you're a "terrorist," or the family next door who's been killed in a drone strike, which is just one of the reasons I remain a Green.

Over the past twenty years, several Democrat friends have urged me to give up on the Green Party, return to the Dems. and help to change them "from within." To which I say: okay, but when will that happen, in the next twenty years, or, after we're all gone? Many good-hearted people have attempted to change them "from within," from Dennis Kucinich to Marci Winograd, and, of course, a huge number of Greens, and they've been driven away, and dismissed; people who've been willing to do what I have done, and that's to put principles before partisan politics.

Finally, yes, I do know the practical realities of the "winner-take-all," two-party system which effectively shuts out all other voices. However, I also know the solution, which is proportional representation, because, as our governor, Jerry Brown, once told me personally at his former headquarters in Oakland, without it, "you're dead in the water." This is a system which allows the proportion of voters who vote for a certain party to have a proportion of representation in a governmental body.

Recently I met a woman through her husband. He's working with a group called Fair Vote, which, among other electoral reforms, is working to implement proportional representation through the initiative process. She's from New Zealand, which does have proportional representation, as do most first-world democracies, including Germany, where the Green Party began, and is now in charge of an entire region, and she told me bluntly: "Without it, your country's done."

I don't know about you, but I don't want my country to be "done," which is why I'm not done working for the Green Party, and for the cause of true, representational democracy. To me, that's what being a Green is all about.                         


Phill Courtney has run twice for Congress with the Green Party. His e-mail is: pjcourtney@eartlink.net. Some organizations to contact regarding proportional representation and other electoral reforms include Fair Vote: www.fairvote.org; Common Cause: www.commoncause.org; and: Californians for Electoral Reform: www.cfer.org. Another recommended source of information is the radio show, Democracy Now, at 6 and 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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