Why I Became a Green

by Owen Silverman Andrews on July 17, 2016

owen silverman andrews

Owen Silverman Andrews

I stood in the rain to hear Obama stump in Virginia, wrote supportive Op-eds in my university’s school paper, and felt elated on election night.

The honeymoon lasted all of six months. By the summer of 2009, I was in the streets protesting Obama for bailing out the banks, supporting a coup in Honduras (guided by Sec. of State Clinton), and refusing to fight for single payer during the health care debate. In August I engaged in my first civil disobedience, participating in a travel challenge to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a decades long international campaign that led to Obama reversing a half century of U.S. policy toward the island’s socialist government.

By 2010, I refused to vote for congressional Democrats who’d voted for the Iraq War and other imperialist aggression (leaving ballot lines occupied by Schumer, Gillibrand, and Engel blank), but still felt comfortable voting for state-level Democrats because, as my mom has reminded me many times, “the courts matter, especially for women.” If I even noticed that both Senate Dems and Dem gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo were being contested not only by Republicans they were sure to beat, but by Green Party candidates as well, I didn’t think much of it.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Oakland, CA, a hotbed of left organizing. I worked an erratic schedule at a corporate retailer, spent time with my girlfriend and her family, and for about a year and a half didn’t make time for movement work.

In the Bay, however, if you don’t find the movement, it’s only a matter of time before the movement finds you. In September of 2011, the plaza outside Oakland City Hall was occupied and renamed for Oscar Grant, who had been killed by BART police officer Johannes Meserle two years prior. I quickly joined the international mass movement/moment of Occupy as a member of the OO General Assembly Facilitation Committee in what amounted to a crash course on non-hierarchical organizing, communication, and direct action.

During these months, I learned critical lessons about intersectional solidarity, anti-repression activism, and consensus-based decision making. I witnessed first-hand the special persecution Oakland Police Department officers and other agents inflicted on Black activists (especially those with prior arrest records) — but also learned, after seeing White, male-bodied Iraq War vet Scott Olsen’s skull fractured by a tear gas canister in front of my very eyes and getting tear gassed a few times myself that even those with White privilege would be checked violently for challenging the authority of the state and capital. I was exposed to anarchist ideas for the first time, and experienced the difference between direct democracy and what passes for democracy in mainstream usage of the term.

When Occupy activity fizzled, I went to Central America, where for three months I cut some sugar cane, milked Jersey cows and shoveled their shit, led a delegation of North American students to partner with a mountainside community in the construction of a library, and spent another two wandering the isthmus. The privilege to work and travel abroad exposed me to revolutionary insurgencies in El Salvador and Nicaragua that had transitioned to electoral politics. I learned of the successes and compromises involved in this transition. I noted the overlap between vibrant social movements and left political parties, observing that they were not one and the same but neither were they mutually exclusive.

When I returned to the US in the fall of 2012, I landed in DC and participated in Occupy DC’s final action, storming the front doors of K Street lobbying firms to decry the influence of big money over both Republicans and Democrats. In DC, I served sandwiches at a restaurant, taught ESOL classes at a community college, and worked for two anti-imperialist Latin American solidarity non-profits. In each of these settings, and in my personal life, I learned valuable lessons about international, national, local, and workplace organizing.

When the 2012 election rolled around, I felt confident that voting for President Obama as the lesser evil compared to Mitt Romney was neither ethical nor strategic. I had spent the past three years opposing Obama’s economic and foreign policies, as well as the policing and gentrification policies of liberal local Democrats in Oakland and DC. Ethically, to undercut the organizing work I’d done alongside allies in Oakland, El Salvador, and DC on Election Day would have been to betray them. Strategically, it would have undercut the grassroots advocacy of members of Congress I’d done for SOA Watch and CISPES to push Democrats to enact more humane foreign policy, as well as the local anti-oppression organizing on police accountability, Islamophobia, and gentrification I’d been a part of.

As a result of this emergent perspective, I voted absentee for Jill Stein (G) for President, Colia Clark (G) for Senate, abstained from the two-way House of Representatives race and local New York legislative races in which Democrats were heavily favored, and voted for the Democratic judges against their Republican challengers.

In 2014, I had my second opportunity to vote for Green Party candidate for NY Governor Howie Hawkins, and this time I seized it. In many ways, the 2014 New York gubernatorial race foreshadowed the current moment we are living, with figures like Senator Bernie Sanders, Secretary Hillary Clinton, mogul Donald Trump, and the ideas they represent clogging news arteries and disrupting the tidy demarcations of U.S. American political life.

In the 2014 NY Gubernatorial Democratic Primary, a progressive came out of nowhere to challenge an incumbent corporate Democrat with a famous last name. Sound familiar? In this case, it was Professor Zephyr Teachout snagging a third of the vote from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She might have come even closer had the Working Families Party, which operates largely within the left flank of the DP, endorsed her as a candidate who shared their policies, instead of trying to win concessions from Cuomo in backroom negotiations. He later reneged on his promises to WFP, and created a similarly named party (Women’s Empowerment Party) in a vicious attempt to deny WFP the 50,000 votes for him on their line needed to keep their future ballot access.

What happened in New York in 2014 should inform our understanding of the Bernie phenomena in 2016, and its limitations: cowardice and miscalculation by the institutional left-wing of the DP (WFP in ’14, most of the Progressive Caucus in ‘16); a powerful insurgent primary campaign against powerbrokers and economic elite that evaporates back into the DP after losing (Teachout is now running for Congress as a Democrat in Upstate NY, endorsed by Sanders); a raucous debate on the left about strategic voting fueled by an unhealthy dose of fear mongering, hypocrisy, and failure of imagination (many NY progressives argued that despite his betrayal and their incompetence on the big stage, voting for Cuomo on the WFP line in order to maintain their ballot access was preferable to voting for a real alternative in GP candidate Howie Hawkins).

I gladly voted for Hawkins. He received 5% of the vote in results that saw Cuomo rout the ultra-conservative Republican candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, by 14 points. This result moved the Green Party up to line D from line F on the ballot, ahead of the Working Families and Independence parties. It also mobilized 184,419 voters — many disaffected Democrats voting Green for the first time — to vote their politics and their conscience, instead of voting out of habit and fear. Brian Jones, Theresa Portelli, and Ramon Jimenez rounded out a full Green slate for statewide offices, posting historically strong showings for Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller, respectively.

Analogous to the Hawkins gubernatorial candidacy two years ago, Dr. Jill Stein is running for President for the second time against a wacko right-winger and a corporate Democratic hawk. But in both cases, their second attempt is much different than their first. Conditions within the Democratic Party are in disarray and a tectonic shift in the country’s comprehension of wealth inequality and anti-Black oppression has occurred. Occupy and Black Lives Matter activists, even those who reject electoral politics outright, have created a fertile environment for an alternative to the left of Democrats whose decades-long creep to the right has been abruptly halted (or at least complicated) by the Sanders campaign. Factor in the even greater disruption within the Republican Party (which is fueling former Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party candidacy for President), and we are in a political moment ripe for left organizing, in the voting booth, the streets, and everywhere.

This year was also the first time I worked on an electoral campaign for a government office. When Dan Robinson, a friend I’d made during a credit union organizing campaign we’d both been a part of in DC, announced he was running for Maryland House of Delegates in 2014, I was excited. Takoma Park, the liberal bastion of Maryland, seemed ready for a Green candidacy, and Dan had cooperative business experience and a term on the Takoma Park City Council under his belt. It felt refreshing to work the polls on Election Day in Silver Spring and Takoma Park for a candidate whose commitment to democratizing the economy I’d seen firsthand. In a four way race for three District 20 spots in the House of Delegates, Dan received 6,801 votes, or 9.1% of the total, missing 3rd place by 20% or about 15,000 votes out of a total 73,955 cast. The three Democrat candidates, especially the two non-incumbents, plastered Progressive Democrat across their yard signs and campaign materials, making Dan’s vote total impressive given that they’d done everything possible to deny him breathing room to their left.

By the summer of 2014, I’d moved from DC to Baltimore, my partner’s hometown and began working for an immigrants’ rights organization. I arrived as Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was taking place halfway around the world. Building on a previously existing network of activists, I worked with others to help found Baltimore Palestine Solidarity. We’ve won several victories at the local and state level, but have faced stiff resistance from Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Elijah Cummings.

Cummings is being challenged by Green candidate Myles Hoenig, who I’ve worked closely with on international solidarity, public education, and racial justice campaigns. The seat long held by Cardin’s retiring counterpart, Barbara Mikulski, is being contested by Dr. Margaret Flowers, with whom I’ve worked against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, protested outside of Cardin’s offices regarding his militaristic Middle East foreign policy, and made our opposition to corporate welfare clear in a hearing of Baltimore’s Planning Commission. This is how it should be: we should choose our candidates and future leaders from among those who have challenged violent power structures, not those who go along to get along.

An interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers and Myles Hoenig, Green Party candidates for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives (MD-07) in Maryland, respectively.

While I was certain I’d vote Green for Congress in the General (having recently switched my New York registration to Democrat in Maryland), I watched Bernie Sanders’ campaign with interest. I agree partially or fully with many of his positions, although I strongly disagree with him on others. Certainly, his positions were much closer to mine than Hillary’s.

I decided to vote for him in the Maryland Democratic Primary, but not to expend any resources on his behalf. I thought he had little chance of winning, and even though he was introducing important ideas to the nation’s political dialog using some of the language of Occupy, he had hamstrung himself as a protest candidate from the outset by declaring that he would support Hillary if and when she became the nominee. While his campaign did a lot in terms of policy-based mass political education, the thesis of his campaign — that you can challenge the Democratic Party to move left in a meaningful way from within — is a dangerous fable being disproven at each meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee in the lead up to the Convention.

That’s not to say I think Democrats should not be engaged by the left because they operate within an irredeemable institution. I spent a few hours a week this winter and spring working on a friend’s City Council Democratic primary campaign (in a councilmanic district where no Green had registered a candidacy). Like Bernie, he lost and endorsed Hillary, but I learned a good deal about electioneering that I can apply to my future work with the GP.

In addition to fundamental campaign practices like door knocking, volunteer coordination, and designing campaign literature, I learned that even relatively progressive Democratic candidates self-censor in order to appeal to the conservative, racist, classist wing of their party’s electorate and elite. I also realized how different Dan Robinson’s Green candidacy had been, in that he eschewed paper literature as environmentally destructive, publicly appreciated all volunteers on his campaign website, and appealed to the left wing of the DP as well as independents and Greens; in other words, unlike the Dems in the council race, he hadn’t compromised his ethics in order to attain power, and had run like he lives.

Throughout my political life, organizing at the local, national, and international level has always been a hegemonic interplay of the agency of courageous change makers and seismic, often unpredictable shifts beyond anyone’s control. Last year in Baltimore, anger borne of social exclusion, economic deprivation, and systemic police and state violence burst forth with a ferocity no NGO, political party, or leader could fully corral. Activist networks were forged, tactics implemented, and lessons learned — all at great cost, most obviously that of Freddie Gray’s life. It’s clearer than ever that Democrats who have been in uncontested power in Baltimore since 1947 have not done much for the poor majority of Baltimoreans except replace the old White political elite with a new Black political elite, who continue to work closely with White business interests.

Whether the likelihood of organizing within these local conditions leading to structural change is amplified by the potential unraveling of the two party state on the national stage remains to be seen. All we can do is organize locally and vote Green. With an activist candidate for Mayor of Baltimore in Joshua Harris, proven community change makers running in several City Council districts, and Dr. Flowers, Hoenig, and Eze Nnabu running for U.S. Congress, the choice between investing limited energy in local organizing and electoral campaigning seems more obvious than ever, because the two overlap so much: we can do both!

With so much at stake and such a wide open opportunity, the current political reality demands an all hands on deck call to action and an all of the above approach to tactics. Onward, toward a greener, more just future.

Owen Silverman Andrews is an English Language Acquisition Instructional Specialist. He is also a TESOL MA Candidate ’16, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Darlene August 23, 2016 at 8:12 pm

Fellas who of you play Pokemon GO? Incredible
game, yesterday i caught rare pokemon Aerodactyl using pokebusterbot !
No ban so far, still using it. You should
too.

Reply

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