I believe strongly that there is an effective antidote to divisiveness and splitting on the Left. At a state convention of the Pacific Green Party held in Eugene a couple of years ago, I remember folks from Washington State asking us in Oregon to tell them how to work out an effective Party structure; and I remember thinking, Us? — we can’t even get our own act together, let alone advise others!
Now I don’t have the panacea that will work for everyone, but I know of something that helps, and I plan to discuss it. Talking it over. Sitting, as we did at the Bipartisan Cafe a couple of nights ago, four committed activists with different points of view, and exchanging ideas at length and in depth. We were Michael Sonnleitner, political science professor at Portland Community College; Seth Woolley, the guiding personality of the Portland Greens, longtime secretary of the Pacific Green party, and present candidate for Secretary of State for Oregon; Scott Green, candidate for Master’s degree in political science at Portland State University; and the writer of these lines, a retired teacher of mathematics.
The general idea is, that truth is like oxygen: it can kill bacteria and cleanse, but it also can be dangerous. The journalist and Vietnam veteran John Grant points out today
Everywhere we turn we encounter power that rules by secrecy and bullshit. The best politicians are too often those who can speak in riddles and runes that get them elected but have little or nothing to do with how they will eventually rule if elected. Can anyone even imagine a direct, honest answer from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? They and their political entourages are terrified of real truth. Truth is like kryptonite.
I recount the discussion here, without having cleared my views in advance with the other three participants. That has its problems, I know. The Empress of All the Russias Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796) successfully seized and held power for three decades in a patriarchal society, and she rather famously composed a set of Rules for visitors to her summer Hermitage — see the frontispiece here. The Chair of the Slavic Languages Department of Stanford University tells us that “Nineteenth-century, Soviet, and now [that is, in 2004] the new Petersburg nationalist historiography have repeatedly tried to belittle Catharine’s contribution to Russian history and culture,” but her accomplishment speaks for itself. Rule Number 10, “Disputes shall not be taken outside the izba [the editor advises the reader here, ‘An izba is a peasant hut.’], and what goes in one ear should go out the other before one steps through the doors,” gives me pause before I proceed, but does not deter me.
Indeed, the discussion at the Bipartisan Cafe last Thursday night involved charges arising out of Seth’s belief that I had talked with a reporter about the Co-ordinating Committee decision last March not to condemn the bombing of Libya by the U.S. Although I had not done any naming of people’s positions, and said only what the vote was, Seth immediately dropped me from the cc-list without any SCC vote on the matter, weeks after the SCC pledged at a state convention no Party member would be dropped from the list until after a vote.
Not only that, Seth wrote of my “lies,” of the “danger” of allowing me to participate in Party discussions due to my “childish” behavior.
Michael Sonnleitner found that unfortunate, but not as much a matter of concern as what had prompted my resignation in the first place from the SCC — namely, that three out of five members present voted to override a block, at Seth Woolley’s suggestion. He moved the discussion to the possibility of the Pacific Greens giving up that practice. A block might trigger a delay, or the requirement of a super-majority.
Michael found the recent practice of railroading action items through meetings on majority vote distressing. “A simple majority is too much like our culture [of oppressing minorities] as a whole for me to be comfortable with it.” Even Seth admitted that on those occasions where a group had overridden a block by simple majority, it had usually — almost all the time, even — led to the person who placed the block withdrawing, and division rather than consensus emerging.
Scott Green spoke of his support for my position and Michael Sonnleitner’s. We have a responsibility to reflect the Green Movement as a whole, he said, and majority-rule is the same old politicking most young people find objectionable.
In sum, a basis for the Pacific Greens revising a practice that has not worked well for us emerged in this discussion. It was only four people talking late into the night in a small cafe in outer East Portland, but it was just the honest exchange which I claim can cure what ails us.
I’ll keep you in touch.