What is the point of being a liberal if we silence ourselves when our voices are needed most?
Why be a liberal when we fail to act exactly when our voices are needed most in the voting booth?
The best fauxgressives can do is offer a hollow, vain, narcissitic answer: they are afraid they will lose.
Even though it is painfully obvious that progressives have already lost long ago.
These questions were running through my head when I discovered The Avocado Declaration, initiated by Peter Camejo, a presidential candidate for the Socialist Workers Party in the 70’s.
Long weary of milquetoast excuses from sore losers, I was gripped by the strength and seriousness of the document. (Strength & seriousness is what I love about socialists)
As a background, my introduction to Camejo was circa 2002-3 when he ran for governor of California as a staunch anti-war Green Party candidate; he called himself a ‘watermelon’ —green on the outside but red on the inside. During that lonely bleak time, he was the only political figure I knew of vocally against the Iraq war. I wasn’t a Green at the time (I went from a “D” to “I” about a year later), but at least I knew there was one party where my views were welcome, and I respected their fortitude.
“An avocado is Green on the outside; green on the inside.”
During the 2004 election cycle, Greens took the Democrats’ advice: do not become a credible threat to the system.
Camejo wouldn’t stand for it, and issued a manifesto to Greens specifically, but it’s applicable to all on the left who are afraid to act with moral courage exactly when it is needed the most. It was written 8 years ago, but it is still more than relevant today. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but have put an abbreviated version below.
THE AVOCADO DECLARATION
January 1st, 2004
Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign exposed a crisis of confidence in the two-party system. His 2.7 million votes marked the first time in modern history that millions voted for a more progressive and independent alternative. Were the Greens right to run in 2000? Should we do the same in 2004? The Avocado Declaration based on an analysis of our two-party duopoly, and its history declares we were right and we must run.
STRUGGLES FOR DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Every major gain in our history, even pre-Civil War struggles –such as the battles for the Bill of Rights, to end slavery, and to establish free public education– as well as those after the Civil War have been the product of direct action by movements independent of the two major parties and in opposition to them.
Since the Civil War, without exception, the Democratic Party has opposed all mass struggles for democracy and social justice. These include the struggle for ballot reform, for the right of African Americans to vote and against American apartheid (“Jim Crow”), for the right to form unions, for the right of women to vote, against the war in Vietnam, the struggle to make lynching illegal, the fight against the death penalty, the struggle for universal health care, the fight for gay and lesbian rights, and endless others. Many of these struggles were initiated by or helped by the existence of small third parties.
When social justice, peace or civil rights movements become massive in scale, the Democratic Party begins to shift, and presents itself as a supposed ally. Its goal is always to co-opt the movement, demobilize its forces and block its development into an alternative, independent political force.
The Democratic Party’s core group of elected officials is rooted in careerists seeking self-promotion by offering to the corporate rulers their ability to control and deliver mass support. And to the people they offer some concessions, modifications on the platform of the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party preaches defeatism to the most oppressed and exploited. Nothing can be expected, nothing is possible but what exists. To the people they justify continuous betrayal of the possibility for real change with the argument of lesser evil. It’s the Republicans or us. Nothing else is possible.
DEMOCRACY VERSUS COOPTATION
When you are part of the top 1% of the population that has as much income as the bottom 75% of the people, democracy is a permanent threat to your interests. The ability of the Democratic Party to contain, co-opt and demobilize independent movements of the people is a critical element in allowing the continued destruction of our planet, abuse, discrimination and exploitation based on race, gender, sexual preference and class, and the immense misdistribution of wealth.
DEMOCRATS ATTACK THE GREEN PARTY
Soon after the 2000 presidential election The Democrats began an attack on the Green Party on the grounds that since there is no runoff system, that is, since the Democrats in partnership with the Republicans do not allow free elections, the Green Party’s existence and its candidate for President Ralph Nader in 2000 should be declared responsible for George Bush becoming president.
Their political message is simple and clear: “no voice truly critical of the platform of the Republicans may be permitted; only the Democrats must appear as ‘opponents’ to the Republicans”. They have no objection to rightist, pro-war third party candidates entering the race and promoting their views.
LESSER EVIL LEADS TO GREATER EVIL
The effectiveness of the “lesser evil” campaign has penetrated within the Green Party, where a minority supports the concept that the Green Party should not run in 2004. Behind this view is the concept that politics can be measured in degrees, like temperature, and that the Democrats offer a milder and thus less evil alternative to the Republican Platform. This view argues that to support the “lesser evil” weakens the greater evil.
Such a view fails to grasp the essence of the matter. Political dynamics work in exactly the opposite way. To silence the voice of the Green Party and support the Democrats strengthens George Bush and the Republican Party because only forces that are clearly independent of corporate domination can begin to shift the relationship of forces and the center of political debate.
The massive overwhelming majority of the world is against Bush’s war policies. The resistance to the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inability of the U.S. media and government to prevent the world from hearing the truth about these events, is weakening Bush’s standing. The corporate interests and their media apparently want to make a great effort to get Bush elected…
They promise that all will be well if the Democrats can take charge and handle the matter better. With this orientation the Democrats free the hands of corporate America to give their funding and support to Bush. With the exception of a relatively few isolated voices, they offer, not real opposition, but only nuances.
And those isolated voices of opposition within the Democratic Party (Kucinich, Rev. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun), no matter how well-intentioned, have a negative consequence: they give legitimacy to the Democrats as the “opponents” of the Republicans.
These exceptions to the general rule are allowed on condition that after the primary campaigns these individuals will urge a vote for the Democratic nominee. This must be done no matter how different that nominated candidate’s positions are from the positions taken during the primary campaign. The cover for their political sellout is the winner-take-all system that allows them to posture as just “opposed to Bush” as they support the very party that has supported Bush.
SUCCESS OF DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The Democratic Party should be seen historically as the most successful political party in the history of the world in terms of maintaining stability for rule by the privileged few. There is no other example that comes near what the Democratic Party has achieved in maintaining the domination of money over people.
Through trickery, the Democratic Party co-opted the powerful and massive rise of the Populist movement at the end of the 19th century using precisely the same lesser evil arguments now presented against the Green Party.
They blocked the formation of a mass Labor Party when the union movement rose in the 1930s. They derailed, co-opted and dismantled the powerful civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war movement and women’s liberation movement. They have even succeeded in establishing popular myths that they were once for labor, for civil rights and for peace.
One quite popular myth is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was pro labor. Continuing the policies of Woodrow Wilson who oversaw a reign of anti-union terror, including black listing and deporting immigrant labor organizers, FDR’s administration sabotaged union drives every step of the way. When workers overcame their bosses’ resistance and began winning strikes, FDR turned on them and gave the green light for repression after police killed ten striking steel workers in 1937. As FDR said himself, “I’m the best friend the profit system ever had.” After WWII Truman used the new Taft Hartley Anti-Labor Act to break national strikes more than a dozen times.
The Democrats have not abandoned “progressive” positions they once held, as some Democrats repeatedly claim, but have simply shifted further to the right as world globalization has advanced, leading to the lowering of democratic rights and the growth of wealth polarization within the United States.
GREEN VOICE MUST BE HEARD
Those who call for a “lesser evil”, which is still a call for evil, will unfortunately succeed. The call for a “lesser evil” is what makes possible the greater evil. Those voices who say Ralph Nader should not run, that the Greens should consider withdrawing, that the Greens should not campaign in states where the vote is close are unconsciously helping Bush’s re-election by weakening the development of an opposition political movement which could shift the balance of forces. Nothing is more important than the appearance of candidates and mass actions that tell the full truth, that call for the rule of law, respect for the Bill of Rights, and speak out for peace and social justice.
SHORT TERM VERSUS LONG TERM
The idea there is a conflict between the short term and the long term is a cover for capitulation. It has been the endless argument of the Democrats against challenges to their policies. When independent movements appear they call on people to enter the Democratic Party and work from within.
Very powerful groups, like the AFL-CIO, have followed this advice. As a result, the number of workers in unions has dropped from 37% of the work force to 12% as they politically subordinated themselves to the pro-corporate Democratic Party.
Rather than success, these movements have found the Democratic Party to be the burial ground for mass movements, and of third-party efforts that sought to defend the interests of the people throughout American history.
If we follow the advice of the “left” Democrats who call on Greens to return to the Democratic Party, the Green Party will collapse like the New Party did for fear of confronting the Democrats.
THE GREEN PARTY
The Green Party can and will win the hearts and minds of people when they see us as reliable and unshakeable, if we stand our ground. In time this leads to respect and then support.
The Greens do not consider themselves a substitute for other movements or organizations, such as peace organizations and other specific issue groups that seek to unite people of all political persuasions around a specific platform. We welcome diversity with other groups that seek to move in the same direction with us but are not agreed to join us. We will try to work with such organizations where common ground exists. Thus the AVOCADO DECLARATION includes a call for the Greens to accept diversity, and maintain unity as we seek to build an effective mass organization.
Let those that agree with the AVOCADO DECLARATION help protect and build the Green Party as a vehicle for democracy, freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Camejo passed away September 13, 2008 in Folsom, California