Voters tired of the squabbling between Democrats and Republicans might think they're stuck with two less-than-ideal choices. But the Green Party of the United States is alive and well this election cycle, and they're in the midst of a hot presidential primary fight themselves. TakePart's Joanna Foster spoke to national spokesman Scott McLarty about the Green Party's history and platform, why they're much more than a group of environmentalists, and why they're America's fastest growing political party.
TakePart: Can you start by giving a brief history of where the Green Party comes from and when it first made a big splash in U.S. politics?
Scott McLarty: The Green Party really began in the early 1980s in Germany with Petra Kelly, and became a movement and a party. Joschka Fischer, who recently went on to become the foreign minister of Germany, was in it from early on. From Germany and Belgium it spread through other countries.
Around 1984 or so it showed up in the U.S. as an isolated activist movement group. Beginning around the mid-1990s, there was a growing sense that the party needed to become serious as an electorally participatory party.
In 1996 Ralph Nader ran for president; it was a very modest campaign—he spent less than $5,000. The experience helped the party get its feet wet in terms of campaign organizing. Later in 1996 there was a meeting of Greens from around the country in Middleburg, Virginia, at which the Association of State Green Parties was established. That was preliminary to a formal national Green Party that was formally recognized by the Federal Election Commission in late 2000. We have been a genuine national party since then, and Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign really helped put us on the political stage.
TakePart: What is the highest level to which a Green Party candidate has been elected?
Scott McLarty: We have had a few party members elected to state legislatures. Recently, John Eder was elected and then re-elected to the House of Representatives in Maine. We also have a couple of mayors in New York and California, including Gayle McLaughlin who is the mayor of Richmond, California, population 100,000.
TakePart: What does the 2012 election season look like for the Green Party?
Scott McLarty: I think it should be very interesting. We have a good contest going on for our presidential nomination. Jill Stein, who currently has a strong lead, has been a prominent member of the Green Party for years. She has run a few times for statewide office in Massachusetts, including for governor. During that gubernatorial race, she faced off with Mitt Romney in a debate and was declared the winner—we're pretty proud of that!
The other candidate is prominent in a different way—Roseanne Barr—the well-known comedian and actor. Our national convention is in Baltimore, Maryland, July 12-15. We also have members running for congressional seats in California, New York and Ohio.
Something new this election season is also the momentum coming out of the Occupy movement. The Green Party has benefited quite a bit from it. A lot of those people have declared themselves uninterested in the two-party status quo and don't want to participate in it. Both our presidential candidates have been involved with the Occupy movement and have spoken at their rallies.
TakePart: What are the key issues for your party?
Scott McLarty: We are an antiwar party in favor of redirecting the enormous defense budget to help provide single-payer universal healthcare coverage.
We also support strong action to combat climate change, and we are deeply disappointed that President Obama has gone along with offshore drilling, fracking and mountaintop removal. We are also disappointed that he has approved federal spending to build nuclear power plants. We believe the key to economic recovery is in expanding the renewable energy industry and developing green infrastructure.
Another key value of the Green Party is that we accept no money from corporations—this is very much in the air in 2012 because of the Occupy movement and because of the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court. We hope our message of keeping corporate money out of politics will strike a chord in a year where we anticipate seeing an unprecedented volume of ugly and dishonest pro-corporate advertising.
TakePart: Why is the Green Party so much more mainstream in Europe than it is in the U.S.?
Scott McLarty: It really comes down to the election system in the U.S. We have winner-take-all at large elections, which tends to privilege two parties and turns the election contest into a contest between two parties.
If we had proportional representation and instant runoff voting reform, where you could rank your choices, we would have an election system much more friendly to alternative parties.
Democrats and Republicans have worked together to pass election rules that hinder any kind of serious competition. The election laws in some states are quite outrageous. In Pennsylvania, for example, if you're running as a Democrat or Republican for a statewide office, you have to collect 2,000 signatures in order to qualify. In recent elections if you were running as an alternative party candidate you had to collect in excess of 67,000 signatures.
Despite all this we are gaining momentum. In Maine the Green Party represents 3 percent of registered votersm and we hope to be on the ballot in 48 states come November.
TakePart: What are some big misconceptions about the Green Party?
Scott McLarty: People should know that we are not just an environmental party. We are a party of national healthcare, grassroots democracy and a working people's party for economic justice. We consider ourselves an imperative for the 21st century in the same way that the Republican party, which began as an upstart third party in the 1850s, was an imperative for that time. The big crisis back then was slavery, and the Republican party was an abolitionist party. We consider ourselves to be in an analogous position in this century, but now the big crisis is climate change.
TakePart: Anything else you'd like people to know about the Green Party?
Scott McLarty: Visit the website! Find out about your local and state Green parties. We invite people to get involved, and if you do feel very strongly, you might even think of running for office. We don't believe you have to be part of the political or financial elite to hold office.