B y J o h n D . B a n k s
SINCE 1992, WHEN the Green Party in Arizona qualified for ballot status, it has lain nearly dormant. That lack of electoral activity cost the party a place on the ballot last year, and the local organizations all but disappeared.
If you start hearing from the Greens in Pima County, Phoenix and Flagstaff in the next couple of months, however, the cause of their sudden reappearance won't be any great mystery.
This past weekend, nearly a dozen Arizonans attended the 1995 National Green Party Conference on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. They were part of a crowd of more than 200 on hand from 25 states, Canada, Australia and Niger, to attend workshops, listen to Green candidates and officeholders, and generally renew their energy to pursue a future for their party.
"The conference reinforced for me the idea that with community interest and empowerment, we can manifest change in our environment," said Janice Olch of Tucson. A "retired architect," Olch occupies her time with volunteer work and activism on behalf of groups working for social change, including the Dineh Alliance on the Navajo reservation.
She said it's essential to get the local Greens active again. "We do need community-based activism under the Green name," Olch said. "We want to give people a better idea who we are and what we're about."
The choice of the conference site was due in large part to the showing last year of New Mexico's Green candidates, including Roberto Mondragon, who received 10 percent of the vote in his race for governor.
Mondragon, a former Democratic lieutenant governor, was warmly received during his appearance at this past weekend's conference, but the reception was no less enthusiastic for the several other Greens from around the country who have actually gained political office:
Cris Moore, a conference organizer, is a member of the city council in Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital.
Mark Chilton and Joyce Brown are members of the Chapel Hill, N.C., Town Council.
One of the party's biggest successes to date is Keiko Bonk, chair of the County Council of the Big Island of Hawaii. Bonk not only spoke to conference participants, she sang to them as well.
Such a moment was not out of character for a diverse gathering that included people such as Chapel Hill's Chilton, who was elected to his post at the ripe old age of 21. Virginia Brodine, an 80-year-old Communist from Roslyn, Wash., the filming location of TV's Northern Exposure, advocated throwing out the "terminators" (Republicans) and "imitators" (Democrats) and electing "innovators."
Guy Chichester, a former Green candidate for governor in New Hampshire, road the bus 58 hours to attend the conference. Betty Wood, coordinator of the Green Party USA Clearinghouse, loaded her computer and massive database into a car and drove 32 hours with another New York activist to Albuquerque.
Foreign guests included Christobel Chamarette, one of two Green senators in Australia, and Adamou Garba of Niger, coordinator of Africa's 21 Green parties. Others speaking and attending represented a variety of progressive organizations and parties which have found a comfortable place with the Greens.
Such a confluence of interesting people and perspectives is a main attraction to these annual events for many Greens, and it seemed to have the desired effect on the Pima County Greens present, such as Jack Strasburg, a founder of the Green Party movement in Arizona and Pima County.
Strasburg, a computer programmer/analyst who describes himself as a "full-time activist working on Native American and community economics issues," said that "burn-out" after the 1992 elections accounted for the decline of Green activity locally. He also suggested that a healthy level of activism in Tucson and Pima County made it difficult to find a focus for Green organizing.
One likely focus now is proportional representation, a method of voting that creates legislative bodies which more closely resemble the actual vote. Numerous proportional schemes are in use around the world, including some in American cities and counties. In Tucson, for instance, a proportional vote would ensure that the city's Republican minority were no longer unrepresented on the city council.
"Proportional representation will empower people to vote and to vote Green," Anne Carl believes. A University of Arizona graduate student in environmental education, Carl called proportional representation "one of the best things I heard at this conference."
Carolyn Campbell, chair of the county's Green Party and an aide to Tucson City Councilwoman Molly McKasson, has been working with other Greens and the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, D.C., to institute "PR" systems around the country.
"We need to convince the public that it's not OK to accept a system that is undemocratic," she wrote in a report for "Green Horizon," a party newsletter.
While council duties kept her from going to Albuquerque, Campbell said before the conference that she expected that "a lot of what will happen with the Greens in Arizona in the next year will come from what goes on there."
A full slate of workshops filled the time between plenary sessions, and conference-goers heard presentations on environmental risk assessment, Greens on-line, sustainable economics, permaculture, the 104th Congress, fundraising, consensus building, campaign finance and health care reform, and spiritual values.
"Greens are more than just environmentalists," said Alan Leibensperger, treasurer of the Pima County Greens. "That's only one aspect of our focus."
Leibensperger, who is also active in the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association in Tucson, listed the Greens' "Ten Key Values" to illustrate the breadth of the party's concerns.
Adapted at the first national conference of U.S. Greens in 1984, the values are constantly referred to: "Ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, feminism, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus."
The Greens conference witnessed several of those values in action, particularly during a question-and-answer period following Bonk's address. She was straightforward in admitting that she erred in agreeing to form a majority coalition with the four Republican members of the Big Island's county council, who then shut her out of their deliberations.
"I made a mistake," she replied, to sustained applause. She corrected her mistake by joining the council's four Democrats in the majority on the grounds that they make her the chair.
While the values help Greens focus, they do not prevent contention, as was painfully obvious at a press conference when one angry person on the dais chastised other members for inattention to issues of racial and ethnic sensitivity.
Some dissension always bubbles to the surface, according to many Greens, which accounts for long and emotional discussions of many issues. Although some fear such divisions could split the party and render it less effective than it has been, others are eager to point out that confronting issues openly is one of the strengths of the party. In Albuquerque, intense discussions continued from earlier gatherings included subjects such as national coordination between local parties and the possibility of running a Green candidate for president in 1996.
The Pima County members have smaller issues in mind. In addition to proportional representation, suggestions for action include issues of toxic wastes, water quality and water use. Strasburg and Olch both also want the local party to serve as a bridge between local peace and justice and environmental groups.
"A coalition like that would strengthen all positions," Olch said, "and we would become a more recognizable force. Then maybe next time the voters will know who we are, what our potential is, and volunteer and vote for us."
Strasburg is unapologetic about the recent past of the party and unabashed in his estimation of its future.
"We may not have had a lot to sink our teeth into lately," Strasburg said, "but if people want honesty and integrity restored to government, they're going to have to come to the Greens, because the Democrats and Republicans aren't going to do it."
The URL for the Green Party's unofficial Web page is http://www.rahul.net/greens/.
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