Greens coloring up the political landscape 

Al Gore and George W. Bush are stumbling along in what consumer advocate Ralph Nader terms the "ballot-shielded two-party duopoly of Tweedledum and Tweedledee."

Meanwhile the national Green Party is capitalizing on the momentum borne of a year full of activism -- from protests over the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. and the World Trade Organization in Seattle to a growing disgust over the corporatization of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

The Greens will hold their national convention in Denver this weekend, and thousands are expected to attend to select a presidential nominee. While Nader is expected to be picked for president, two other colorful characters are also in the race. Jello Biafra, the creative force behind the Dead Kennedys is running, as is Stephen Gaskin, who helped found the Farm in Tennessee -- at the time the largest hippie commune in the world -- in the 1970s.

Like Nader, both Biafra and Gaskin have revived interest in politics among groups which have become disenfranchised and have run away from politics screaming.

"Our political system has degenerated into a government of the power brokers, by the power brokers, and for the power brokers, and is far beyond the control or accountability of the citizens," said Nader. "It is an arrogant and distant caricature of Jeffersonian democracy."

Democrats -- and even some Republicans -- have chastised voters who support third party candidates, characterizing them as "throwing their vote away." This year, Democrats particularly are nervous that Nader will take votes away from their candidate Gore. In a close election -- as polls currently predict for this year's race -- those lost votes could mean a loss for Gore.

But convention coordinator Dean Myerson dismisses the notion that people should vote for the lesser of two evils.

"I think you waste your vote when you vote for someone you don't like," Myerson said. "Democracy is about voting your conscience."

The Greens' efforts are not just about agitation, and in fact have a huge stake in this year's election. Several union groups, disgusted with Gore's weak record on labor, have joined the Greens or threatened to throw their support behind Nader.

"The energy from the labor unions will put that much more of a ripple through the election," said Myerson. "Teamsters and turtles forever -- it's a funny phrase, but it has enormous political impact."

The magic number

And for the Greens, 2000 offers a major opportunity -- securing that magic five percent of the vote. If the Greens can get five percent or more, the party will qualify for matching funds (estimated at $10 million or more) in the 2004 presidential year.

"This is where we scare the Powers That Be," Myerson said. "If Gore loses the election it will scare them -- this is an important way to make the powers and the system take us seriously."

The convention promises to be both animated and cerebral. Columnist and populist commentator Jim Hightower is the keynote speaker. Other speakers include author Manning Marable, the director of the Institute for African American Studies, and Dr. Helen Caldicott, a physician who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament.

In an interview earlier this year, Hightower condemned the "incredible vacuum and a collapse of the Democratic Party" that has left us this year with "two corporate candidates who couldn't excite the American public if they gave them both a flame-thrower."

"A millennial election should really be about rather fundamental issue[s] and about going to the people and asking, 'how are we doing?' and 'where do we as a society and as a country want to go?'" Hightower said.

"A millennium is a riveting societal moment and we should have had a real discussion in this country. Instead we're having just another money-soaked, corporate-driven, made-for-TV snoozer of an election."


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