not to be overly dramatic or nothin’ . . .

Steven Welzer
6 min readMay 12, 2024

. . . but the short-term fate of the Green Party will be decided two weeks from now.

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Once RFK brought Nicole Shanahan onto his ticket in March he obtained campaign funding that was, relative to the needs of a campaign over an eight-month period (March through October), for all intents and purposes infinite.

By the rules of the electoral system contributors can give a maximum of $6,600 to a presidential campaign. The exceptions are the candidates themselves. There is no limit to what they can contribute to their own campaign. Nicole Shanahan, having been married to Sergey Brin, has a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars. It means that RFK will have all the money needed to pay petitioners to get him onto the ballot in all 50 states (the total cost for that kind of ballot access endeavor for an alternative candidate is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $20 million to $30 million). Once he can show that he’s on every ballot he is sure to be taken seriously as a candidate. If he polls more than 15% by September they would have been required, under the old rules, to let him into the televised debates. Maybe that’s why they changed the rules. Anyway, he could conceivably wind up with 20% of the vote this year. It could be a three-way race for the first time since Ross Perot ran in 1992.

If so, progressives will have to stop saying the thing that keeps the Green Party vote so depressed: “As good as Jill Stein’s positions might be, the winner of this election in November is going to be Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It must not be Trump. So don’t vote for Stein, vote for Biden.”

A Kennedy on all ballots changes the whole dynamic. Meanwhile, against three old white men who all support the Israeli Gaza onslaught will be a woman taking the distinctively opposite position. It could be a perfect storm for Jill Stein to get more than 5% of the vote.

With 5% a third party gets federal funding and a leap in gravitas. It could happen for us this year. If.

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The key step toward being taken seriously enough to ultimately get onto 47 or 48 ballots and being considered as the candidate of choice by 5% of the electorate is achieving ballot access in the key progressive state of New York. Its ballot access criteria is the hardest in the country. RFK will achieve it. Jill Stein might. If she does, then the pathway to commanding attention, money, and votes opens up for the Green Party campaign.

A minimum of 45,000 valid petition signatures must be submitted by May 28 in New York. “Valid” is a bitch. The Democratic Party election officials can throw out a signature for any number of tiny technical reasons. So 60 or 70 thousand signatures must be submitted. Two weeks from now. The Stein campaign has a chance of doing so, but it’s a slim chance.

If they can achieve that it probably will be viewed as the most significant thing to happen to the Green Party since Ralph Nader announced in 1999 that he would run a full-scale presidential campaign the following year.

In anticipation I had the printer send me extra copies of the Fall 2023 issue of Green Horizon. I was hoping for the eventuality that we might, in fact, now be facing and I figured it would be of interest to be distributing the issue at Green Party events all during the presidential election campaign. The page 3 editorial went like this:

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Another chance to break the grip of the duopoly

1992

The Democratic Party candidate, Bill Clinton, was not well-known. The Republican Party candidate, George Bush (the incumbent) was not well-liked. In the wake of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts federal deficits were soaring. As globalization gained steam, jobs were increasingly being off-shored to lower-wage countries. The populace was discontented and the electorate was willing to consider a systemic outsider named Ross Perot.

Perot said he knew how to rein in the deficit. He was a straight-talking Texan who ran as an independent and was able to appeal across party lines. He was actually leading in the polls during most of May and June of that year. If he had made it a three-way race and then went on to found the Reform Party from a position of gravitas, we might now look back on 1992 as the year when the American political system started to accommodate “more voices and more choices.” But Ross Perot had a temperamental personality and very little in the way of political savvy. He failed to assemble an effective campaign team and he wavered in his commitment to the race. He wound up with less than 20% of the vote in November.

Perot was a loner rather than a party builder. His Reform Party never settled on an ideology or a vision. There’s a tendency for third party initiatives to fade into obscurity after about ten years of wheel-spinning. That was the case with Barry Commoner’s Citizens Party, Tony Mazzocchi’s Labor Party, Rocky Anderson’s Justice Party, and Ross Perot’s Reform Party.

2000

The Ralph Nader campaign had notable momentum during the late summer and fall. Nader was holding “super-rallies” that were filling the largest municipal arenas across the country. And he was starting to see the potential to build the Green Party into a real force. Those who worked closely with Ralph during the thrilling crescendo of that campaign (I was privileged to) were aware of how he was making plans to keep barnstorming after Election Day in order to galvanize the growth of state party chapters and Campus Greens locals. But the momentum withered after the December Debacle in the state of Florida (where governor Jeb Bush managed to “adjust” the vote total in favor of his presidential candidate brother, George). Vilification was heaped upon Nader for “spoiling” Al Gore’s ascendancy.

After that Ralph got preoccupied with deflecting arrows. Some Greens became reticent about having such an impact and pulled back from the relationship. So when the anticipated breakthrough of 2000 failed to materialize and the Demonization by Democrats accelerated, the Green Party found itself again consigned to the margins. Nader received about 3% of the vote in 2000, but the Green presidential candidate in 2004 barely got 0.1%.

Yet the Green Party did not disappear, as so many others have done since the only-two-significant-choices system became ingrained 150 years ago. Its endurance under adversity has been notable. It can be attributed to the fact that the Greens offer a distinctive and resonant alternative to all the old ideologies. Such is evident in the growth of the Green politics movement worldwide. It indicates that the Green Party is here to stay.

2024

A Gallup poll released in October 2023 showed that 63% of US adults agreed that “the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing the American people” that the appearance of alternative parties on the ballot would be welcome. That 63% was the highest figure since Gallup first started asking the question twenty years ago. A number of relatively high-profile alternative campaigns have emerged to offer the clearly desired additional choices. That includes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Cornel West running as independents and a centrist group called “No Labels” — in addition to the persisting minor parties, the Libertarians and the Greens.

One could imagine a scenario where Kennedy and West, by critiquing the duopolistic system, help move the electorate toward thinking outside the box, and then the “build something enduring” message of the Green Party is able to take on a special resonance. Moreover, there has been a consistent background current of advocacy in favor of the idea that the Greens, uniquely, could start to serve as the umbrella electoral vehicle for the leftist social change movement in general.

In a recent interview Jill Stein (who is expected to seek the Green Party nomination) said: “The American people have been hungry for options … so get ready. What we’re seeing is a voter rebellion. It’s been a long time coming.” If any of the alternative candidates is able to poll high enough to force their inclusion in the televised debates next fall, 2024 may be remembered as the breakthrough year that opened the door toward eventual full multi-party democracy for the long-suffering American electorate.

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).