Page 8


INTERVIEW Growing Pains Without Nader, the Green Party Slips a Rung BY NATE BLAKESLEE It was another bad year for Democrats, but they don’t have the Green Party to blame this time around. The absence of Ralph Nader at the top of the ballot was keenly felt by Green candidates nationwide. Even strong nominees, like veteran organizer Ted Glick in New Jersey and well-know intellectual Stanley Aronowitz in New York, polled only one percent in their respec tive races. One of a very few bright spots for Greens was the California governor’s race, where Green Party candidate Peter Camejo polled over five percent. The party’s poor showing in Texasno statewide candidate got more than five percentmeans the party will have to collect petitions just to get on the ballot for 2004. The Green gubernatorial candidate, anti-war activist and author Rahul Mahajan, got less than one percent of the vote. Mahajan, 33, was born in Philadelphia and has lived in Austin since 1977. He holds a PhD in physics from UT Austin. A fixture at Austin anti-globalization and anti-war rallies, Mahajan’s recent book, The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism was well-reviewed, and he is currently at work on a second book, about the war on Iraq, for Seven Stories Press. He spoke to the Observer a week after the election. Texas Observer: How do you account for the Green Party’s poor showing, relative to 2000, in this election? Rahul Mahajan: I think there were a couple of differences. One is that there was simply much less interest in the campaigns, because Nader wasn’t involved, or only partially involved. He did a couple of rallies for some of the candidates. And the other is that I think after 9/11 and the insane warpath of the Bush administration, a lot of progressives decided they had to return to the Democratic fold. But these elections showed very clearly to me that the Green Party has got to do some serious rethinking, because if we can’t break out of this mold, it’s not worth continuing this way. It’s not that I’m saying I think the Party has to give up it’s that I think we have to seriously consider what’s the most effective path for the next four years or so. TO: If you know you can’t be competitive in major races, what is the Green Party’s strategy? Is it to pull the Democrats to the left? RM: Right now the only things we can claim to be doing are: number one, changing the electoral infrastructure through things like instant-runoff voting to open space up for alternative parties, two: to highlight issues we can be certain the Democratic and Republican candidates will be certain not to highlight. In terms of building an organizational base, which is part of our goal, we’ve had very rapid growth up to this point. But we’re ‘not going to continue that rapid growth without fundamental change. What we have seen, however, is that sometimes the logic of saying that a Green Party will help to keep the Democratic candidate honest, sometimes it works. If anything, because of the institutional, let’s just call it’stupidity, of. Democrats, it has more often worked the other way. This election’ was a referendum on several things. One of-the things was the Democratic Party’s strategy of trying to appear like the Republicans. They lost. What’s their remedy? Well [Democratic Congressman] Martin Frost says we’ve got to look more like the Republicans! [Laughs.] I mean, they’re going to continue with this, I can guarantee you. It’s like watching slow motion video of a train wreck about to happen. And that means the pressure the Greens put on them is actually not going to help move them to the left. That’s my guess. TO: The most reasoned argument I hear against the Greens is that they should be working to change the Democrats from within, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel with their own party. Have your thoughts on that changed at all after this last election? RM: I think my fundamental analysis has remained the same. Working within the Democratic Partyyes, it’s important that some people do it, and maybe you can make a few incremental gains now and then, but overall it’s just a losing strategy. There’s a good reason why the entire tide is going the other way. It’s also particularly difficult to work within the Party from the grassroots up ever since Clinton and the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council, leaders of the centrist Democrats] decided to essentially cut the Democratic leadership off completely from the grassroots. It’s much easier to influence the Republican Party from the grassroots than the Democratic Party. I think this is something people are not taking into account, even though in Texas you can see it. In 1980, the only party with an organizational base everywhere in the state was the Democrats. Now their organizational base has collapsed; there are places where they have almost none. There are lots of places where the Greens have more active people than the Democrats do. The reason is that their strat 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/22/02