"I believe that American combat troops should come home from Iraq in 2006 - not the distant future as President Bush does. Furthermore, I believe we must set a May 15th deadline for the Iraqis to form an effective unity government. And, if the Iraqi politicians choose to ignore that deadline, then I believe things will only get worse and we will have no choice but to withdraw immediately."
-John Kerry April 7, 2006
Yesterday morning I logged on to my computer to find an email from John Kerry calling for withdrawal from Iraq and asking me to support him. My first thought was that the statement, as far as it goes, is pretty good. He should get some credit for coming around to this position, finally. After all, Kerry supported the war in the beginning. He voted for it, even though tens of thousands of his constituents were begging him not to. In the three and a half years since then, he has always taken the course that he thought was politically expedient. He refused to make Iraq an issue during his presidential campaign, accusing Bush of mismanaging the war but never questioning whether we should be there and never advocating for withdrawal. He accepted the support of thousands of anti-war volunteers who donated unprecedented amounts of time and money in the hope of defeating Bush but he wouldn't take their advice. Along with most of the Democratic Party, he made a disastrous miscalculation. They thought that they could have it both ways. They took the anti-war vote for granted, figuring that progressives had no where else to turn. Then they tried to attract Republican voters by taking positions only slightly different from the Republican party line. The Flip Flop attack worked because there is some truth to it. The result has been loss after loss for the Democrats, who are seen as not standing for anything.
Kerry has finally decided that he should support withdrawal from Iraq. He must have read the polls that show plummeting support for an obviously failed policy. You can hardly blame people for reacting skeptically.
Yesterday evening I attended Aaron Dixon's Green Party campaign kickoff event . Dixon is running for the seat currently occupied by one term Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. Cantwell recently said that she does not regret her vote to authorize the war and would vote for it again, even knowing what she knows today. She sees no need for an exit strategy. At a recent anti-war demonstration I saw a sign calling on her to have some backbone but that is not her problem. She is standing up for what she believes. She is just wrong. I am focusing on the war here but there are a host of issues ranging from the WTO to her refusal to filibuster Samuel Alito, tax cuts for the rich... the list goes on. Once again Democrats are taking the progressive vote for granted but this time they may not get it. The Green Party and Dixon's campaign are based on the premise that we should vote for what we really believe. As long as we settle for a lesser evil, we will have no chance to make the kind of changes that this country so desperately needs. As Aram Falsafi, a Seattle Green Party leader, says on the Dixon campaign site, " Even if your ultimate goal is to convert the Democratic Party into a genuine alternative to the current ruling cabal, we urge you to stick to your principles and refuse to support a candidate with as horrible a track record as Maria Cantwell -- whatever the polls show on election day. A large-scale abandonment of Cantwell -- not to mention the other seven pro-war Democratic senators up for reelection this year -- will send a clear message for 2008: the antiwar movement will not be taken for granted."
What I saw at the Dixon event was a crowd that was desperate for some real democracy. With all the rhetoric that has been flying around about freedom and democracy in Iraq, it is especially depressing to see what passes for political debate in this country. Most people's concerns are simply not addressed. At the very least the Green Party offers a platform to discuss alternatives to the policies of what some of the speakers at last night's event called our present one party system. To quote Aaron Dixon on his website, " The majority of Republicans and high-ranking Democratic politicians, including the incumbent, have again and again ignored the desires and the best interests of the American people. We need and should have more than just a two-party system. We need diverse voices that will truly work for the interests and well-being of Americans, as well as the world community. We need 3, 4, 5 ... 9 viable national parties that all have an equal chance to win any public office. That will be the indication that we have a true democracy."
This is a strategy to look to the long term. Too often we have sacrificed what we really want, what this country really needs, in the hope of staving off the next outrage. All too often, we have failed on both counts. The Green Party says that it is more important to build a party that can speak out now and eventually be strong enough to have a real effect on policy. Now we have been down the third party path before and it has never come to anything yet but the Green Party has shown some staying power across the country, although success has been scattered and actual influence small. Unlike previous third party efforts, however, the Green Party's positions resonate with a large number of Americans who are increasingly disillusioned with the two big parties. They can also draw inspiration from the European Greens, who have been able to gain some power.
The Aaron Dixon campaign looks like a smart move to expand the Green Party's environmental base to include a strong stand against the war and in support of poor people. Dixon has made opposition to the war a central plank in his campaign. He proudly talks about his efforts to help and empower people through his work with the Black Panther Party and other community programs. The Black Panthers' Free Breakfast Program that gave thousands children a healthy start to their day, their Free Medical Clinics and other programs filled some of the gaps in our society's safety nets. Today's safety net is badly frayed and voices of ordinary Americans are heard even less today than they were back then. The poor are getting poorer even as the rich are getting richer. There is a huge movement for a humane immigration policy with a million people marching in Los Angeles and thousands in many other cities around the country. The war in Iraq is killing our young, destroying Iraq, hurting our reputation and damaging our security. Sustainable energy is a necessity if we are to avoid a Global Warming disaster. If the Green Party can actually pull together people concerned with all of these issues into a lasting coalition they may just have something.