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Twentieth Anniversary of the American Green Movement

Twenty years ago, on August 10-12, 62 people came together in St. Paul, Minnesota on the campus of Macalester College, to found the United States' first national Green organization, the Green Committees of Correspondence. The meeting brought together activists from New York City, New England, the Missouri Ozarks, California, and other areas. Participants divided into groups of three to imagine what a future green society would be like. Words such as "empowerment", "neighborliness", "connectedness with the earth" and "community" emerged from this exercise. A shared vision seemed evident, but also differences; some which would later become major issues among American Greens.

The official report from the St. Paul conference notes that "Several people thought we needed to work towards an independent political process, though many others argued third parties are a dead-end --." Thus the 'split' between "movement and party", between an activist and a ballot box oriented American Green movement, was present from the beginning.

The name "Committees of Correspondence" was chosen intentionally to "recall the network established by grassroots democrats in the struggle for Independence --". It was also stated that "The Committees of Correspondence will maintain gender balance and move towards racial, ethnic and class inclusiveness." The meeting ended at 3:00 p.m., Sunday, August 12, 1984.

One interesting aspect of this first meeting is the participants' attempt to define "Greenness". The following draft definition ends the meeting's official report:

"Green" politics interweaves ecological wisdom, decentralization of economic and political power wherever practical, personal and social responsibility, global security, and community self-determination within the context of respect for diversity of heritage and religion. It advocates non-violent action, cooperative world order, and self-reliance."

Here can be seen the earliest form of today's well known Ten Key Values; a statement of principles which reflected the diverse origins of the American Green movement.

Mark Satin has posted (radicalmiddle.com/ten_key_values.htm), that the Ten Key Values grew out of a late night session at St. Paul led by grassroots activist Jeff Land and himself. West coast author and feminist activist Charlene Spretnak and members of Murray Bookchin's New England Institute for Social Ecology were also primary contributors. After this session, an East coast, West coast dialogue went on for several months, which ended in the release of a final version at the end of 1984 superseding the paragraph quoted above.

Greens today still debate the exact meaning of the Ten Key Values: which today are generally listed as Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy, Decentralization, Community-based Economics, Feminism, Respect for Diversity, Personal and Global responsibility, and Future Focus/Sustainability. Never-the-less, whatever any one Greens' individual interpretation, there can be no doubt that underlying the ten principles is a vision of definitely radical implication; no less than the creation of a new world from the shell of the old!

(Reprinted from Green Politics, Fall 2004)

The Greens, Past, Present and Future

Two opposed images of reality struggle for acceptance today. One is the world of happy, wealthy, zestful consumers, projected daily from corporate controlled TV screens. The other is the violence, emotional isolation, job insecurity, environmental pollution, global climate change, and resource depletion we experience-either directly or indirectly-in our actual lives. More than anything else, the Green movement is a movement to help people recognize the falseness of the first image. Once this has happened, people will began more and more to work together to change reality to become the kind of world they really want it to be. However, for the Green movement to succeed it is important that Greens themselves have a clear image of who they really are. One of the best ways to do this is to understand Green history, the story of the Green movement past and present.

Past: As the article above explains, the United States Green movement began 20 years ago with the Green Committees of Correspondence (GCoC), founded in August 1984. The GCoC did not represent any one political philosophy; generally, however, it emphasized activism, education, and community organizing over electoral politics. Looking critically at the American politic system, the majority of the GCoC felt that until much grassroots organizing had been done-as an early Green pamphlet put it, until there were "active Green groups in every neighborhood and town in the country"-a Green electoral party could be no more than symbolic. These early Greens also envisioned the Green movement as working for a radical, overall change in American society, not just reforms. The organizational form adopted to reach this goal was a network of dues paying members, grouped in multi-state Regions and connected through a national Clearinghouse.

By the beginning of the 1990s, however, some Greens were becoming impatient with the GCoC's strategy of radical, slow, long-term organizing. These Greens-mostly members of the GCoC-called for the immediate creation of state Green parties, and some for a national Green party. Because of this, two factions began to compete inside the GCoC. One, a "movement" faction, supported the GCoC's original strategy of activism and community organizing; the other, a "party" faction, called for a turn to electoral politics. In 1990, state Green parties were organized in Alaska and California. In 1991, in order to resolve the conflict between movement and party factions, the name of the GCoC was changed to The Greens/Green Party USA (TG/GPUSA). Organizationally, this meant that The Greens would remain an activist ("movement") party based on dues paying members, but that it would include a place for the affiliation of state Green parties.

In 1996, several state Green parties came together to form the Association of State Green Parties (NASGP) outside The Greens/Green Party USA. In 2000, Ralph Nader was nominated by the NASGP as a Green presidential candidate; his campaign was also endorsed by TG/GPUSA. In July 2001, the NASGP changed its name to the Green Party of the United States (GPUS).

Present: As a result of the above history, there are two Green parties in the US today. One, The Greens/Green Party USA traces its beginning to 1984. The other, the Green Party of the United States, can trace its roots to the formation of the ASGP in 1996, and is essentially a split of more politically conventional Greens from the GCoC and TG/GPUSA. This year, the GPUS is running David Cobb as its candidate for pres ident; Ralph Nader is running as an independent; and at the recent Green Congress in Chicago, The Greens/Green Party USA reaffirmed it commitment to the mission of the original American Greens, long-term activist organizing for true democracy and a Green society. Such a vision of radical hope is one of the most valuable resources any party can offer society.

Future: As the global ecology continues to deteriorate, the gulf between rich and poor widens, and the US government settles into what appears will be a permanent militarized economy, Greens everywhere will face fundamental questions about how to proceed, as ordinary' ( non-activist ) citizens. Will America's traditional once-each-four-years trip to the polls politics be sufficient in times such as these; or is a more activist approach to politics necessary? What can be done to assure a secure future for family, children and grandchildren in the difficult times which are no doubt ahead? These are questions each Green and each American can only answer for her or himself. One thing is certain however: the Green Party USA and the principles guiding it will be a significant part of whatever future unfolds.

(Reprinted from Green Politics, Fall 2004)

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