Find the Issues, Reach the People

The Building of a Blacker Green Party

Ignoring her advice might prove fatal to a candidate like Jonathan David Farley, an African American mathematics professor who's running for a Tennessee congressional seat—while he's out of the country on a Fulbright scholarship. Farley says gaining minority support is just a matter of time. "I'm very confident that once the word gets out about the Green Party, the Green Party's going to turn black."

Even if the Greens make a serious effort to reach black voters, some observers think the party will never gain much acceptance. Former presidential candidate Ron Daniels, a black independent, criticized Nader for failing to accept an invitation to speak to Harlem's Unity Party of New York. Daniels believes African Americans will need an entirely new party to serve their needs.

White-O-Rama: The Green Party’s New York Rally for Ralph Nader last year
Photograph by Michael Kamber
White-O-Rama: The Green Party’s New York Rally for Ralph Nader last year

"My contention is that African Americans are not likely to be involved in the Green Party or any other party where the leadership and base is predominantly white," he says. "It is not as if people dislike the Greens, but there is a history of people of color feeling that their issues and interests are often relegated to second positions in the left."

That's partly because white liberal politics so often come down to matters of pure economics. Howie Hawkins, a Green candidate for the Syracuse city council, criticizes what he calls the party's strict agenda of fighting corporate control. In an analysis of the post-Nader left, he suggests the candidate could have gotten broader support if he hadn't shied away from social concerns. "I think Nader lost a lot of votes by his reticence to address these so-called 'wedge issues,' " he writes. "If you stand in the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides."

At the local level, Green candidates find that their distinctive views set them apart. Julia Willebrand, a mayoral hopeful, says black women have been especially receptive to her because she has been the only one speaking out about undercover policing and the use of public money to construct a new stock exchange.

Other Greens, like Flushing's Evergreen Chou, who's aiming for a council seat, lapse into the worst kind of defensive blather. "As you know, I'm kind of a rebel," Chou says. "I'm in an interracial marriage. My wife is African American and Cherokee. . . . I have friends who are African American. I don't have to study their issues."

But studying those issues and caring about them—and not just during elections—may be exactly what the Green Party needs to do in order to bring in African Americans. "It takes a lot of time to build trust," says national organizer Dean Myerson. "Oppressed people have been used too many times. They don't just jump every time they see action."

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