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Toward a New Paradigm
by Adriene Sere

"Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures," said Winona LaDuke last month at a press conference in Ashland, Oregon. The "extraordinary measures" she spoke of were not a call for troops, or violent rebellion, or the sacrifice of lives. LaDuke, the running mate of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, was explaining why she, a mother of a seven-month-old infant whom she breastfed during the press conference, was campaigning to be vice-president of the United States.

These are extraordinary times, filled with extraordinary people, extraordinary ideas, and extraordinary possibilities, as we face never-before-seen crises on this planet.

These are times during which we are faced with global warming, nuclear weapons, genetic engineering, and destruction of remaining wildlife habitat. Eighty percent of the six billion people on this planet live in poverty. Corporations are solidifying their control over agriculture and fresh water sources. Two million women worldwide are trafficked into sex slavery, numbers that have certainly reached holocaust proportions. The U.S., the superpower of the global crisis, further disempowers its own population, savaging the federal safety net, while directing public funds to subsidize corporations, men's sports stadiums, and unneeded military weapons.

These are extraordinary times and they require extraordinary acts. What places LaDuke and Nader's campaign as among the most extraordinary of acts is the effort to implement holistic, justice-based politics to counter what systematically endangers and degrades our lives and planet. While progressive activism is now carried out one issue at a time, with a "laundry list" of purposes, this campaign encompasses the entire picture of problems and solutions, ready to be implemented with no more than the endorsement of the greatest number of voters in this country.

Nader and LaDuke are calling for corporate accountability. They call for a living wage and an irrevocable safety net. They want single-payer health care and full reproductive choice. They want to cut the $325 billion a year military budget by $150 billion, and then use that money for education, public transportation, and anti-poverty programs. They want to abolish nuclear weapons. They want to encourage industries to provide sustainable, alternative energy. They want to end U.S. support for the world's dictators and oligarchies. They want an end to the WTO, and the beginning of global trade institutions that put floors, rather than ceilings, on standards for workers, consumers, citizens, and the environment.

If Nader and LaDuke win the election—which is not at all likely, but is a possibility if they are included in the debates—the victory would amount to a peaceful revolution. The entire package of progressive issues would appear in center stage. Since the media could not ignore the President, the Vice-President, and their staff, the public would remain informed on issues that are relevant to them. People would have the power to participate in the politics that serve their own best interests.

In his nomination acceptance speech, Nader said that Green values are the values of the majority. "Let us not in this campaign prejudge any voters, for Green values are majoritarian values, respecting all peoples and striving to give greater voice to all voters, workers, individual taxpayers, and consumers."

If this is so, the moment of implementing "majoritarian" values through electoral politics is at hand. The public merely needs to hear these politics articulated during the series of presidential and vice-presidential debates, and then vote for the candidates who represent these values. The revolution would be no more dramatic than that. Congress would have to work with President Nader because, as Nader said on CNN TalkBack Live, "Were I elected president, they would have to follow a major civic mobilization all over the country. You know, these politicians in Congress, they have their finger to the wind, and that would be a lot of wind. So we would have, I think, a lot of good success with the members of Congress."

At this point, however, the possibility of a Green Party presence in the debates is quickly passing by. To effectively press for inclusion, progressive activists would have had to mobilize early on, make inclusion a public issue, and inspire the mainstream to pressure the powers-that-be to open up the debates. But with other things to do, other battles to wage, the progressive movement has not prioritized this presidential campaign.

The shift toward majoritarian, holistic politics could still happen if Nader and LaDuke lose the election, but win at least five percent of the vote. This victory would give the Green Party footing in future elections. It would allow the Green Party greater ease in appearing on ballots across the country in the next election. More importantly, the Greens would receive millions of dollars in matching funds for the next presidential election, as well as funding for the costly nominating conventions. Furthermore, it would strengthen the grassroots challenge to corporate power over our government, and galvanize the progressive movement with hope and a sense of achievement.

If the Green Party fails to win that minimal five percent, the effort to win political power for "majoritarian," holistic values might move at a much slower pace, or even flounder. A presidential campaign four years from now could prove to be far more difficult than this one. Ralph Nader is a rare individual who has an unmatched record in fighting for the public interest, unwavering integrity, and a remarkable ability to communicate to ordinary people the implications of a vast number of issues. If Nader, at 66 years of age, cannot win five percent of the vote, how will the Greens fare next time, when corporate power and corporate control of the media have become even more solidified, and Nader might choose not to run again?

There is a lot at stake for women in this election. Feminists know we face the possibility of a Bush administration, and many feel that's cause for panic. The difference between Al Gore and George Bush, however small in the long run, looks like a canyon real close up.

But the possibility of a Bush administration might be less of a risk than a poor showing for Nader. If Nader fails to win five percent because of the immense "lesser of two evils" vote (and that's what it is—has anyone ever said they are voting for Gore because they think he would be a better president than Nader?), we could be trapped by corporate-controlled politics which will not protect our rights and interests.

In a mere eight years, the Clinton administration, which euphemistically "compromised" with far right-wing reactionaries, brought us the demise of the federal safety net, NAFTA, the WTO, and devastating sanctions against the Iraqi people. The Clinton administration facilitated unprecedented concentration of corporate power over the media. Gore will do his best to keep us going in the same direction.

Granted, if minimum wage would go up one dollar per hour under Gore a year earlier than it would under Bush, that matters. If Gore would postpone the privatization of social security, that matters. If Bush would appoint more reactionary Supreme Court judges than would Gore, that matters a lot. Nader argues that the Republicans would never reverse Roe vs. Wade because it would destroy the Republican party. He's probably right. The real threat is the attrition of our rights, including abortion rights. Under Gore, the attrition might be less and slower. Under Bush it might be more and faster. If Gore would spare women, people of color, lesbians and gay men, workers, and the poor one more inch of rights than would Bush, that matters.

But it is difficult to know for sure under which administration we would get that extra inch. Were Bush elected, he would not have the popular mandate that Ronald Reagan did during the early 80s, and could have greater difficulty pushing a reactionary agenda than would Gore. If Gore won the election because Nader failed to win a significant percentage of votes, progressives would sigh in relief that Bush didn't win, and continue the fight for change within the impoverished, interminable, piecemeal approach to activism, as marginalized as ever, despite the likelihood that what progressives are fighting for already represent the values of the majority.

In short, if Nader fails to win a significant percentage of the vote, the country would remain within the same paradigm of a politics of destruction, with no sign of change.

Women and other oppressed groups can and do make gains in a piecemeal fashion within this political paradigm. But these gains are always accompanied by a compensatory backlash. The oppression simply changes routes, and takes hold in new places. We can save a forest in the North, but lose one in the South. Workers win a minimum wage and safety standards, but corporations then move overseas to exploit workers with no such protections. Women have won the right to divorce, to vote, to get an education, to have a livelihood of our choosing, and to keep our own wages. But backlash has followed, with the rise of pornography, the demonization of single mothers, the shattering of the safety net, and globalized sex slavery of the poorest of women.

As long as we continue to fight within the same paradigm of destruction, the problems simply move around from one place to another. The political paradigm of Gore is the political paradigm of Bush. The difference is in the details, and the details will lessen some of the harm, but not for long.

Nader, LaDuke, and the Green Party propose a different paradigm, one that would restore health, empowerment, and dignity to human society, and begin a responsible relationship between our society and the earth. Unlike most "alternative" leftist politics, these politics don't in principle exclude or marginalize women. Although Nader's primary focus is challenging the corporate threat, when he addresses women's rights, he does so in a holistic manner, without the ambivalence or superficial lip service that we so often get from the left.

When he is asked about abortion rights, he does not limit his response to support for abortion rights. He adds that women should also have the right to choose to have a child—an important stance in a political paradigm in which women of color have been subject to sterilization without their empowered consent, and in which poor and single women are told they don't have a right to reproduce. Nader also takes public stands against the sexual exploitation of women—exploitation that much of the left anxiously guards. For instance, in a debate during the Seattle protest against the WTO, Nader denounced the growth of the pornography industry as one of the despicable outcomes of our "free trade" economy. He also supported the impeachment and conviction of President Clinton because, as Nader put it, Clinton "disgraced" the office, and then lied about it.

For her part, LaDuke, who has spent most of her adult life fighting for American Indian rights, frequently talks about the effects of policy on women. She is one of the founders of the Indigenous Women's Network, and she tends to put women's interests and perspectives at the center of her politics and writings.

Women's interests and perspectives are also integral to much of Green Party politics. Its ten key values include "feminism and gender equity," "respect for diversity," "ecological wisdom," and "social justice and equal opportunity."

The Green Party's Platform 2000, which was ratified at the Green Party National Convention in June addresses equality, but doesn't merely repeat the antiseptic, androgynous call for "inclusion" of women's rights within a male framework. The Platform introduces the potential for parting altogether with the system of coercion. For instance, the "Economic Justice/Social Safety Net" section of the Platform calls for a guaranteed income above the poverty level to all citizens, "regardless of employment or marital status"—policy which is crucial for single mothers as well as women as a group. The section reads in part:

"We believe that work performed outside the monetary system has inherent social and economic value, and is essential to a healthy, sustainable economy and peaceful communities. Such work includes, but is not limited to: child and elder care; homemaking; voluntary community service; continuing education; participating in government; and the arts."

"We call for restoration of a federally funded entitlement program to support children, families, the unemployed, elderly and disabled, with no time limit on benefits. This program should be funded through the existing welfare budget, reductions in military spending and corporate subsidies, and a fair progressive income tax."

The Democrats will not get anywhere near these kinds of politics, certainly not if they can win an election by being not quite as bad as the Republicans.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Green Party will, in future years, remain true to their stated vision, or that future Green presidential candidates will follow the precedent of great integrity and holistic, inclusive politics presented by Nader and LaDuke.

One frightening sign of the potential for future problems in Green Party electoral politics is the list of names the Green Party presidential search committee came up with before the current campaign. The final list included actor Woody Harrelson, and a dozen or so other figures, most of them white men.

When the list was being created, Harrelson, an animal rights activist, had just finished starring in The People vs. Larry Flynt, the movie that makes the Hustler pornographer into a hero. Harrelson actively promoted the movie, and publicly dismissed the articulate objections of feminists like Gloria Steinem. Harrelson's superficial politics and sexism were no secret, but the Green Party committee still found Harrelson to be presidential material, and somewhere in the same league as Nader.

The Green Party is no quick fix to politics of destruction. Its human members come straight out of our sexist, racist society. The party is male-dominated, overwhelmingly white, and, as some ecofeminists have made clear, no picnic for feminist activists.

Whether the Green Party can be a vehicle in leading us toward a new political paradigm depends on whether people with clear, committed politics keep the Greens on track. More women, more people of color, and more people of poor and working classes need to get involved with the Greens' decision-making, particularly since the new paradigm it presents addresses our concerns most of all, not piece by piece, but as a whole and all at once.

The election in November does not offer a final solution, but presents an opportunity to begin to move our society, this superpower in global politics, toward a new holistic paradigm that we urgently need for meaningful and lasting equality, and for long term survival. Putting one's vote toward that crucial five percent is not merely a protest vote. It is not a wasted vote, and it is not a vote for the worst of two evils. A vote for Nader and LaDuke is a vote that carries material and political consequences for the future.

Is it worth the risk? Because a Nader victory is such a long shot, we risk foregoing a few immediate and temporary stop-gap measures for a few dozen of the thousands of terrible dangers we face. What we have in exchange, however, is the power to begin to move life-saving politics out of the theoretical margins and into mainstream political reality.

Globalizing from Below | What We Said


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Copyright 2000 Adriene Sere - All rights reserved by author
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