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Interview with David Brown

Where would you draw some of the dividing lines between the Green Party and some of the other organizations on the US Left?
Interview by J.C. Myers

Issue #65, January 2004

Interview with David Brown, Green Party County Council Member, San Joaquin County, California on 17 December 2003, in Turlock, CA.

BS: Where would you draw some of the dividing lines between the Green Party and some of the other organizations on the US Left?

DB: The first thing that comes to mind is where it is getting its money from. It doesn't accept money from limited liability corporations at all — that separates it keenly from the Democratic and Republican parties Its platform is a little different. It is predominantly a socialist platform, but honestly, the party is afraid to call it that. They are to the left of the Democratic Party; they are a peace party, as opposed to the Democratic Party, which voted in favor of the Iraq war. They have not gone so far as to condemn neo-liberal policies — which, to me, still puts it within the framework of mainstream politics.

We have been so keen on building numbers at this point that, in my opinion at least, we have watered-down the platform to make it acceptable to as many people as possible without the risk of alienation. But, in people's hearts, I think they see it as a socialist platform — but they're afraid to say it. For instance, when Peter Camejo was running for Governor [of California] the last time, not during the recall, on NPR they asked him, "You ran as the Socialist candidate for President back in the seventies. How has your political outlook changed since then?" And he said, "It hasn't."

BS: In Europe, Green parties have been organized as explicit alternatives to Socialist and Communist parties. Is this also the case in the US? How red is the Green Party here?

DB: Here, they wanted to change the idea of the party platform taking a stance and everybody having to fall in line. Within the platform, they recognized that the minority opinion within the party may actually represent the future's majority opinion. It's possible that a good idea just has not taken root yet. So, when a platform item is passed or when the party takes a stance on something, people are not expected to toe the line. And I have found that there is a strong socialist and Marxist minority within the party.

I think that on the surface, there is a distancing between Green and socialist politics, but the people who are organizers on a regional level tend to be socialists already.

BS: Is the more organized, more formal style of organization something that is necessary or is it becoming outdated?

DB: To be honest, I don't know what the best route for it to go is. I don't know whether the Green Party will last in the long-run in the US. It's just very rare that a third party makes it. In some ways, the best it can hope for is to hit a critical mass where the other two parties steal its platform. There are some people who think we're going to build a third party and it's going to stay, but others are saying, "Let's get these key points out there and eventually it will be stolen and we'll move on."

Sometimes you see the power struggle — people say it's getting top-down; getting too structured. It seems like whenever there's that kind of attempt, people are put in check.

One of the things I enjoy about the Green party is that the structure is very open to participation and input. They will set up a panel and instead of Robert's Rules of Order, they use facilitators — a man, a woman, and a time-keeper. After the panel speaks, they ask for questions and the facilitators run through a process of gender-stacking to ensure that men and women get involved equally. The facilitators scan the crowd to see who is getting frustrated for not having their voice out or which section hasn't been heard from.

BS: Do you take decisions by majority vote or by consensus?

DB: Consensus, if at all possible. They actually have a standard consensus process that they use. Someone will call for a consensus vote on a proposal. If they don't have consensus, they will ask for objections. If, after debate, they can't reach an eighty-percent majority, they don't take a stand.

That's actually a problem for some people — it alienated some people during the [California Gubernatorial] recall race. When the petition was going around [to have the recall vote placed on the ballot] there were members of the party who actively participated in trying to recall Davis. There were other members who actively participated in trying to stop the recall. So, when they called for consensus on supporting the recall, they weren't able to reach it. They weren't able to reach eighty-percent. And by this point, the process became so slow and drawn-out that they were ineffective. The recall went through and the point became moot. Once there was a recall, we ran a candidate, but then we couldn't reach a consensus on whether to vote 'yes' or 'no' on the recall either.

A lot of Greens felt that, obviously, there comes a time when you have to make a decision and we're so democratic that we can't do anything.

BS: It seems that younger people who are attracted to Left politics today are drawn more to the politics of anarchism than to more organized forms of politics. Why do you think that is?

DB: It seems like they feel that the working class is not going to do anything unless they can actually feel like the time they've spent on it produces a tangible result. So, they look to the Peace Life centers with their newspapers and their annual craft sales or their luncheons where they hear each other speak or they bring in a nice liberal from somewhere else, and they just see it as ineffectual. They say, "If it was doing something, the state would be on them — and it's not. So, obviously they're not making the state uncomfortable enough."

Instead of having a meeting every two weeks and talk about it for two hours, they're just going to go out there for two hours and do something. And I think that they're right, because it has built up in a very short time a lot more energy. I think they are drawn to this anarchist philosophy of 'propaganda by deed' because when they do it, they actually have a tangible result. I think that's why this idea is spreading: if we go out there and actually do something, then the people will join us — otherwise, people aren't going to waste their time.

BS: Would you argue for the Green Party to turn more in the direction of contemporary anarchist activism?

DB: There seems to be a generation gap. A lot of the established Greens are very uncomfortable with the tactics of the young people. I love their tactics — I think they're great. But a lot of people are uncomfortable with it.

A lot of the older Greens have been to jail for political reasons; have survived the Black Panther Party movement; the American Indian Movement; and they carry with them a lot of baggage from the early seventies. Many of them feel that the younger activists are crossing a line and it's going to get them all killed. So there is a sense — almost a paternal sense — on the part of the older Greens that they have been down that road, and it leads to having your movement crushed.

I've been trying to convince Greens that you have this young movement that is actually going out there and doing something and you can either alienate them or you can share your experience: "Look, this is how COINTELPRO worked; this is what it did to us; this is how I ended up in jail; this is what happened to Huey Newton." And some people are starting to warm up to it.

BS: Where does the US Left need to go next?

DB: I think it needs to go international. It needs to find a way to break out of the neo-liberal conversation. It's amazing how you hear both sides of the argument and both sides are in favor of this neo-liberal vision of globalization. The Left somehow needs to step out of it.

These anarchist collectives and the Greens need to set up sister-city programs; connect the Greens in Manteca, California with the Partido Verde in a city in Mexico.

We don't need a centralized hierarchy. Look at the example of Martin Luther King: he was very charismatic, but one he was killed, a lot of the energy dissipated. When you have these centralized leaders, it's easy to stop the movement. If you want to build a movement, you do it person-to-person. If you want to kill a movement, you go to the meeting. When people don't have an interpersonal bond first, we're not as willing to stand by each other when things get heated-up.

Related interviews by J.C. Myers in this issue:

J.C. Myers is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.

Copyright © 2004 by J.C. Myers. All rights reserved.