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By Maggie Wells
Staff Writer 

A third party perspective


August 16, 2016  | View PDF

Log into any social media outlet and you’ll see an unfortunate number of political posts full of misinformation — about nearly all the candidates running for office including the third party candidates of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. I thought, as a founding member of the Green Party of California (way back in 1989), I’d clear up at least my end of the political spectrum and what I know of the far end of the spectrum from my father, a die-hard Libertarian.

The Greens are one of the two vibrant third parties in California (the other being the Libertarians). We’ve elected mayors, city council members, school board members, etc. Recognize the pattern here? An old school GPOC member works hard to have an impact on the local level and believes that local communities need to have a substantial say in the policies that affect the community.

Greens adhere to something called the “10 Key Values” which the party’s platform is based on (grassroots democracy, social justice, ecological wisdom, nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, feminism, diversity, global responsibility and future focus).

There was a split in opinion however in 1999 — roughly a decade into organizing on whether it was wiser to keep building in local areas where third parties could win elections or whether it was better to run national candidates to get the word out about the party. The less sexy half of the party remained diligent and determined to run local candidates and also candidates where elections were decided by proportional representation. The other half wanted the glamour of running national campaigns. Which is how Ralph Nader ran in 2000 and how Jill Stein is running now in the 45 states that have a Green Party.

I bring this up because of Stein’s popularity amongst former Bernie Sanders supporters as the next best candidate for the highest office in the land. Looking at the 10 Key Values and Sander’s campaign platform, I’d say yes — I can understand the crossover.

But one key element to the Greens is grassroots democracy and for half of us that means NOT running national candidates who haven’t put in the work at the local level.

The United States does not elect its senators, representatives and presidents by the same proportional representation methods of democracy, and neither does California. Our country instead chooses a winner take all system, which is largely encouraged by gerrymandering of districts to ensure wins by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Without a complete restructuring of our republic and its voting system, a minority party simply cannot hope to win on the national level.

For those of us adhering to the 10 Key Values and in particular community based economics and grassroots democracy this works out fine. I’m happy to see wins on transportation boards, school boards and city councils across California — exactly where our perspective is needed.

And as a Green, I won’t be voting for Jill Stein — a vote that I see as irresponsible in light of what’s happening politically on the national stage. There are some in the political world who say a vote for Stein is really a vote for Trump — and that is exactly what it winds up being.

In 1994, I ran for statewide office and though my campaign helped keep the Greens on the ballot (and set a record for most votes cast for a Green world-wide for a few years), inevitably it also meant that Tony Miller (D) lost his job to Bill Jones (R) by roughly the number of votes cast for me.

The idea behind a political party is that it’s a place to implement your ideas for the good (or if you are evil the detriment) of your community. It shouldn’t matter who those great ideas come from so long as they have a chance to be implemented.

I’m happy to see that the Democrats finally adopted a progressive platform after having run as Eisenhower Republicans since Bill Clinton was first elected in the 90s. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her achievements as a senator paint her campaign as a throwback to that same era of responsible Republican values. She just happened to run as a Democrat the way Bernie Sanders happened to run as a Democrat — just at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

This of course isn’t just a centrist and progressive dilemma.

Republicans and Libertarians share the same problems on their right and far right end of the political spectrum. A vote for Gary Johnson — the Libertarian candidate — might have the effect of really being a vote for Clinton. The Libertarians also have often been co-opted by celebrity Republicans (think Rand and Ron Paul).

Democrats and Republicans both, get a little nervous when third parties gain popularity. Both parties assume that votes will be siphoned away from them by third party popularity closest to them on the spectrum. This is true — but it also brings people to the polls that wouldn’t have otherwise voted. That’s not a siphoned vote. That’s a new one.

People want to vote their conscience. They don’t want to have to vote strategically — like playing a game of chess instead of voting for our favorites. But living in a winner take all system means we have no choice but to vote strategically — which is why I register as a Democrat in time to vote in the primary and reregister Green afterwards.

But here’s the thing that shows the real difference in parties these days: The electorate has shifted — through younger people voting, immigrants naturalizing and older generations dying off. We are no longer really a nation of joiners (we can see that in how the numbers have dwindled for Masons, Elks, Scouts, etc). Twenty-nine percent of Americans identify as Democrats, 26 percent identify as Republican and a full 45 percent identify as independent or third party.

For many of us — not unlike myself — I want to vote strategically for whatever does no harm to others, or myself and if I can? Vote for someone willing to push for positive change. In different elections I’ve voted for Greens, Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians depending on the individual and the platform.

My own criteria are similar to the 10 Key Values: I want my air and water clean, my food unpoisoned. I want to have jurisdiction over my own body and all its parts. I want no one’s civil rights to be violated. I want small businesses to thrive and decisions to be made as locally as possible given the confines of population, intellect and creativity. I want decisions to be based on science, facts and collected data. This means the closest presidential candidate to my values is the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

To my fellow voters out there I have this advice: turn off your televisions, judge candidates of both genders by the same criteria fairly.

This election year is teaching us that both major parties are pretty out of touch with the average voter. Both major parties are needing — and sounds like they might be getting — a major overhaul. Like a real Green or Libertarian, concentrate on your local elections — it’s really where you can effect the most change.


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