by John Andrews, Co-chair, Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts
There is a deep and growing awakening in America to the fact that our government is not serving the people. It's evident all across the political spectrum. On the left, it manifests itself in the Occupy movement with their call to reject the rule of the 1%. On the right, it's evident in the Tea Party which declares that government itself is the enemy. And in between, it's evident in poll numbers that show decreasing confidence in elected officials.
There is almost no segment of society that expresses confidence in those who currently hold power. Even before the current government shutdown fiasco, 78% of Americans disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job. Some recent polls have found Congressional approval ratings as low as 5%.
In fact, Congress is less popular than cockroaches. Literally. In a survey taken in January, one question was "What do you have a higher opinion of: Congress or cockroaches?". Congress lost 43% to 45%.
Right here in Massachusetts, the rejection of the two major parties is appearing in voter registration numbers. The largest voter bloc in Massachusetts by far are the unenrolled who declined to be identified with any party. They comprise 53% of the electorate as of October 2012. What's more, the unenrolled are clearly growing, up from 50.8% in October 2008. The Democrats were 37.0% of the electorate in 2008, but by 2012 they had declined to 35.9%.
Republicans come in at 11.2% of registered voters, and their numbers are also slowly declining. While the two big parties (and the Boston Globe) keep telling the voters that they have only two choices, it appears that voters have discovered a third choice: none of the above.
Voters are right to give a vote of no confidence to the ruling political establishment.
They know it’s failing them. But such alienation has a corrosive effect on American democracy. The democratic institutions that are essential to a modern society cannot survive if people cannot trust their government. A real solution is needed which involves a restoration of power to the people - not a phony "hope for change" campaign that disappears after the election and engenders only cynicism.
It's significant that for the first time, national surveys show that a solid majority of voters say that there is a need for a third party. In a Gallup poll in October, 60% of Americans said that the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. Only 26% of people felt that the two big parties are doing an adequate job of representing America.
Is the Green Party part of the answer? Obviously, there are a lot of dissatisfied voters who lean progressive and who may be ready to switch their allegiances. Our candidates report that they are finding it easier than ever to convince people that they need to stand up for their beliefs by going Green.
In Massachusetts, Green-Rainbow registration reversed a decline that had been occurring since 2004 and between February 2012 and October 2012, surged from 5103 to 6507, a growth of over 27%. A major factor in this growth was probably the Jill Stein for President campaign since similar surges were reported in other states where the Stein/Honkala team was active. The Green-Rainbow Party has an opportunity to continue such growth by running high visibility races with candidates that appeal to persuadable voters - especially young people and people of color.
But despite the encouraging signs, pulling off any major political realignment will take time. Many disaffected voters are so discouraged that they aren't ready to take any political movement seriously. And at least half of disaffected voters are being attracted to rightwing, anti-government movements. Many Democrats are frozen in place by their party's drumbeat of fear that says that no matter how badly Democrats have betrayed you, you have to support them to keep Republicans out of office.
In this environment, Greens stand out as a party of true democracy, inclusion, justice, and real solutions. Greens have proven their worth all over the world and have made great contributions in communities where they have taken mayoral positions or seats on city councils. Our challenge is to recruit and empower the progressive voters who want to see a government of, by, and for the people, with stronger democratic institutions. There are clearly enough such voters to quadruple the size of the Green Party, if not increase its size tenfold. Once that growth happens, the Greens reach a critical mass for challenging entrenched power and the whole game changes.
Because we are such a small party in America, we measure our success here by how steadily we are growing, not by whether we have won the presidency or put governors in office. In these practical terms, the next two years present us with an incredible opportunity for growth.
The threats to our democracy and our economic security have never been greater. The need for an independent, unbought, progressive political movement has never been greater. And there are plenty of voters who want to vote their values instead of their fears.
Our most difficult hurdle is simply to be heard in a nation in which the media gives free air time to our competitors, editorial rooms impose news blackouts on third parties, big money rules elections, and the two big parties use the power of their offices to erect barriers to getting our candidates on the ballot. But Green candidates across the nation are showing that progress is possible. Greens have been elected to hundreds of municipal offices. Our national candidates have used the internet and independent media to bypass the corporate media blackout and reach millions of voters. Greens have a tremendous potential for growth over the next few years. And the fate of our nation may well depend on our success in changing the political landscape.
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