A Response to the Open Letter from Environmentalists: “Are Environmentalists Too Pure to Beat Donald Trump?”
By Howie Hawkins
A group of aging environmentalists is out with an Open Letter telling people: Don’t vote for the Green Party. As the aging environmentalist who is the Green Party candidate for president, let me respond.
The role of the environmental movement should be to make its demands on every candidate, not make compromises to provide cover for a candidate like Biden with a feeble environmental record and platform. By settling for Biden without making any demands or getting any commitments, they have given away their power. As President, Biden will ignore them because they settled for nothing.
Black voter suppression, not the Greens, elected Bush and Trump
Punching down and to their left at the Green Party, the Open Letter blames Green presidential candidates Ralph Nader for electing Bush in 2000 and Jill Stein for electing Trump in 2016. It’s the same scare-mongering smear we hear every election.
It was Black voter suppression and the Electoral College that put the popular vote losers Bush and Trump in the White House, not the Green Party.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris, co-chair of George W. Bush’s Florida campaign, suppressed tens of thousands of Black voters and ballots in Florida in 2000 through voter roll purges and disqualified ballots. Black people who were able to vote in Florida went 93% for Gore. The “official” victory for Bush was 537 votes. Republican voter suppression in that election should be a notorious national embarrassment. Instead of fighting the Republicans for stealing that election, the Democrats have spent 20 years blaming Ralph Nader and the Green Party for “spoiling” it. That narrative hides how the election was stolen by the Republicans. It demonizes Nader and the Greens for exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly, and petition to run against the two-party system of corporate rule.
It was Jill Stein of the Green Party, not the Democratic Party, who went to court in 2016 to get over 75,000 uncounted ballots from mostly Black and likely Clinton voters in Detroit counted. Trump won Michigan’s electoral votes and the presidency by 10,704 votes in Michigan. The judge ruled that Stein had no standing because she could not win the election if those ballots were counted. Clinton did have that standing and her lawyers were present at the hearing, but they refused to agree to a count of those votes (Greg Palast, How Trump Stole 2020, p. 122). Yet Democrats blame the Greens for Trump.
Moreover, exit polls in 2016 show that 61% of Stein voters would have stayed home and only 25% would have voted for Clinton if Stein had not been on the ballot. Plug those numbers into the close battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016 and Trump still wins in those states. Yet Democrats blame the Greens for Trump.
It is the Green Party, not the Democratic Party, that has been campaigning since the before 2000 election to replace the Electoral College with a ranked-choice national popular vote for president. Bush and Trump lost the popular vote when they were first elected. The Electoral College put them in the presidency. The Greens didn’t do that. After twice getting winning the popular vote and losing the presidency due the Electoral College, one would think the Democrats would have embraced this proven nonpartisan solution to the problem of center-left vote splitting that has put right-wing losers in the White House. Instead, Democrats work to keep Green Party instead of the Electoral College off the ballot.
Party suppression is a form of voter suppression
The same day that this Open Letter was released, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suppressed the Green Party, which has had its presidential ticket on the ballot in Wisconsin in every election since 1996. Democrats challenged the Green ballot access petition. The Democratic members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission blocked the Greens from presenting their documentation that they had met all the ballot access requirements in the hearing on the challenge. The review of the facts and the law in the dissenting court opinions show that the Greens were undoubtedly ballot qualified. But the majority of the court disregarded the merits of the case in order to end the delay in the mailing of absentee ballots that the Democrats’ anti-democratic actions had precipitated.
Both parties contributed to the absentee ballot delay. The 4-3 Republican majority court waited a week to render its decision. This is what we get in a country where partisan hacks of the two governing parties administer elections for their own parties. That is is how they do it in Russia and China but not in legitimate electoral democracies around they world where independent nonpartisan agencies administer elections.
The Democrats think that by suppressing the Green Party, they will get more votes for Biden. What they have really done is alienate progressive voters, particularly voters in Black Milwaukee who have just seen the Democrats throw their native daughter, Green vice presidential candidate Angela Walker, off the ballot. Walker received 67,000 voters in an independent socialist run for Sheriff of Milwaukee County in 2014. She has a base in Milwaukee. Instead of advancing policies that will appeal to those working-class Black voters, the Democrats think that by eliminating the Green Party competition to their left they have these voters captive. Instead, the Democrats gave those voters another reason to be disgusted and sit out the election.
The Open Letter feeds this divisive narrative by vilifying the Greens as spoilers. A vote for the Greens is not a vote for Trump. A Green vote goes into the Green column, not Trump’s. The Greens are a second front against Trump.
The question for environmentalists is: How are you going to vote against Trump? For Biden who won’t even say Green New Deal? Or for the Green ticket and a full-strength Green New Deal? No one will know an environmentalist wants the Green New Deal if they vote for Biden. They get lost in the sauce. Everyone knows a Green vote is for the Green New Deal.
Instead of urging environmentalists to demand policies to address the climate emergency, the Open Letter targets the one party that is advancing real solutions. Their rationale is that environmentalists will “have a seat at the table” with Biden that they don’t have with Trump. But having given away their votes without making any demands on Biden, their “access” to Biden brings no power with it.
Environmental Lobbyists vs. Grassroots Environmentalists
The Open Letter starts by presenting its signer’s credentials. They are mostly affiliated with professional environmental lobbies and many identify with early Earth Days. I have been around since then as well as a grassroots environmentalist. I organized the activities at my high school for the first Earth Day in 1970 and went to other celebrations and teach-ins at nearby colleges.
The Open Letter claims that some of them helped organize the occupation of the Seabrook nuclear power plant construction site in 1977. I was in the middle of the forming of the Clamshell Alliance in 1976. I don’t recognize any of the signers from that organizing. One of the signers lists for identification “Clamshell Alliance, 1979,” a time when we were divided over direct action tactics. Some of them may have been among the thousands we mobilized for anti-nuclear actions in the 1970s and 1980s. But whatever anti-nuclear credentials they may have, they are supporting a pro-nuclear candidate in Biden. The Democratic platform is pro-nuclear for the first time in 50 years.
As a teenager, I followed David Brower out of the Sierra Club into Friends of the Earth (FOE) in 1969 over the Sierra Club board’s decision to support the Diablo Canyon nuke. David Brower is considered to be the father of the modern environmental movement by many, including no doubt many signers of the open letter. His resolute environmentalism is not reflected in their compromising Open Letter.
It was grassroots environmentalists who organized the Clamshell Alliance with no support from the professional environmental lobbies. After our big occupation of the Seabrook nuclear plant site in 1977, the grassroots anti-nuclear movement exploded across the country. Then the big environmental groups finally got on board. No new nuclear power plants were ordered in the US after 1414 of us were arrested at Seabrook in 1977…until the Obama/Biden administration offered the nuclear industry loan guarantees for new nukes in 2010.
In 1990, in order to fight back against the growing corporate sponsorship and commercialization of Earth Day, I participated in the organizing of the Earth Day Wall Street Action by a network of grassroots environmental groups including the Clamshell Alliance, Earth First!, Left Green Network, and Youth Greens. We attempted to shut down the New York and Pacific stock exchanges. The big environmental lobbies denounced us. They wouldn’t let us speak at their Earth Day rallies. But our actions captured the headlines. We got our message across that corporate polluters were the problem, not the solution. Our action handbook explained why we have to bring production under social ownership and democratic administration in order to have the power to choose ecological production systems. The mainstream environmental groups still haven’t caught up with that ecosocialist message, although many of the younger activists of the climate justice movement are embracing it today.
I was on the same page with David Brower again in 1996 in supporting Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Brower penned his own open letter that year in support of Nader, “Why I Won’t Vote for Clinton.” The letter enumerated the myriad ways in which the Clinton/Gore administration “has done more to harm the environment and to weaken environmental regulations in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years….Nader understands that until we rein in the far-flung empires of multinational corporations and subject them to international sustainable environmental standards, the planet will continue to suffer.”
I was opposed by the Sierra Club in 2010 for calling for a ban on fracking in my Green New Deal campaign for New York governor. The Sierra Club and other mainstream environmental groups were calling natural gas the bridge fuel to renewables. We said that bridge is out and we’ll plunge into the chasm of catastrophic climate change if we take that road. It turned out that the Sierra Club was taking tens of millions of dollars from the gas industries’ biggest frackers. Its executive director at the time was Carl Pope, one of the signers of this Open Letter. Our demand for a fracking ban caught on and the environmental movement, including the Sierra Club, came around to support a ban on fracking. After I received 5% of the vote for governor in 2014, Governor Cuomo could not take our voters for granted anymore and adopted several of our campaign demands that he had never supported before, including the ban on fracking as well as the $15 minimum wage, extending the millionaires tax, and paid family leave.
This Open Letter is not the first time I have been in a movement on the receiving end of criticism by liberal “realists.” In the mid 1960s, we were a vilified minority against the war in Vietnam. In the mid 1970s, we were told our occupations against the Seabrook nuclear power plant would alienate potential support. In the mid 1970s to mid 1980s, we were ridiculed for thinking we would ever get the US to impose economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. In the 1990s, we were told our global justice movement against corporate trade pacts in the 1990s was too anti-capitalist to win broad support. After 9/11, we were told our protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would alienate the political mainstream. In 2008, when we raised the demand for a ban on fracking, we were told our demand for a ban on fracking was undermining the mainstream environmentalists’ campaign to go “Beyond Coal” to supposedly safer gas.
Over time our positions in these movements came to be embraced by majorities. In the environmental movement, I’ve repeatedly seen the professional lobbyists in the big environmental groups denounce the uncompromising grassroots environmental movements, only to see the pros come running to get back in front of the parade later on.
What hasn’t happened yet but I am confident will in time is that the majority positions that the Green Party stands for – Green New Deal, Medicare for All, ending the endless wars – will be reflected in voting for Green Party candidates up and down ballots. In this election, the Green Party is fighting for its survival on the ballot. Although we are on the ballot in over 30 states, our ballot access petitions are under legal challenge by Democrats in several states. In 40 of the states, the presidential vote determines whether a party has a ballot line for the next election cycle. In most states, that threshold is 1%, 2%, 3%, or 5% of the popular vote. In New York, the Democrats passed a law while public attention was focused on the Covid crisis that tripled the number of votes the Greens need to stay on the ballot after this election. When it first got wind of this move, the NY Times story ran with the headline “Democrats Secret Plan to Kill Third Parties.” The Open Letter reinforces this plan to kill the Green Party.
Green New Deal
The letter says the signers are inspired by the movement for a Green New Deal. You’re welcome. I was the first US candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010. Jill Stein ran on the theme of “A Green New Deal for America” in her 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns for the Green Party. It has been the Green Party’s signature policy over the last decade.
Democrats took the slogan but diluted its content after the 2018 mid-terms. The progressive Democrats’ watered-down, nonbinding resolution for a Green New Deal dropped the essential immediate demand for a ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure, eliminated the rapid phase-out of nuclear power, removed deep cuts in military spending to help fund the program, and extended the deadline for zero carbon emissions from 2030 to 2050.
Democratic Speaker Pelosi never let the House vote on it. Republican Leader McConnell did bring it up for a vote in the Senate. All the Democratic Senators voted “present” except for the four who voted “no” with the Republicans. The Green New Deal is not mentioned in the Democratic platform. Its Democratic proponents like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez have not developed as promised a substantive Green New Deal plan as our campaign has. There will be no Green New Deal from Biden and the Democrats.
The Open Letter tells us without any specifics that Biden “nudged President Obama toward better environmental policies.” Would those include the “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which was a euphemism for fracking the hell out of the country, approving arctic drilling, and subsidizing the construction of new nuclear power plants?
Obama now brags about making the US the world’s top oil and gas producer. Biden’s climate policy continues reliance on fracked gas for generating power and heating buildings. It proposes to make gas burning acceptable by carbon capture and sequestration at power plants, an environmental nightmare that would require a massive new infrastructure system that would price gas out of the market without huge federal subsidies.
Biden also wants to build more nuclear power plants. How did that go when he was vice president? Four of the six nukes started with federal loan guarantees in South Carolina and Georgia have been been abandoned due to cost overruns and construction delays. The two remaining under construction in Vogtle, Georgia face the same problems. Construction only continues because Georgia ratepayers are being gouged courtesy of Brian Kemp, the governor from Georgia Power and the Southern Company who stole the election from Stacy Abrams in 2018 because he ran it as Secretary to State and suppressed the Black vote.
Nukes are dirty, dangerous, and uneconomical. Their power costs two to three times more than most forms of solar and wind power. Why does Biden want to waste money on these economic failures and environmental monstrosities?
The Open Letter touts Biden’s commitment to spend $2 trillion over four years on clean energy. Few details have been forthcoming, but one specific commitment coming out of the Biden/Sanders Unity Task Force on climate that made it into the Democratic platform is net-zero carbon emissions for all new buildings by 2030 and retrofitting four million old buildings in five years. Huh? That doesn’t even add up. There are 120 million buildings in the US. At that rate of retrofitting, it will take 150 years to retrofit all buildings for net-zero emissions.
It should be noted that their term “net zero” is a fossil fuel industry favorite because it allows the continued fossil fuel burning. Carbon emissions will supposedly be offset by carbon drawdown measures like afforestation for “net-zero” emissions. The problem is that we not only have to stop carbon emissions, we have to draw carbon out of the atmosphere by restoring forests, soils, and other natural carbon sinks in the biosphere in order to preserve a livable climate.
$2 trillion for clean energy is not a serious climate program. My campaign estimated the costs of transforming our economy to zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal budget comes to $27.5 trillion over ten years. It emphasizes public enterprise and planning in the energy, transportation, and manufacturing sectors in order to transform all productive systems to clean energy and zero emissions, not just power production but also transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and buildings. It requires this ecosocialist approach in order to coordinate and carry through the reconstruction of inter-related production systems on a rapid timescale.
Trump may call climate change a hoax, but Biden acts as if it is a hoax. The 2020 Democratic platform is a retreat from 2016 Democratic platform on climate change. After removing the “all-of-the-above” language on energy in 2016, the Democratic National Committee explicitly recommitted to that policy in an August 2018 meeting where they also reaffirmed their commitment to take fossil fuel industry money. The Biden climate policy is an all-of-the-above recommitment to fracking for oil and gas and wasting money on nuclear power boondoggles.
Two days after the Open Letter was released, House Democrats released a bill that put Biden’s energy and climate policy into legislation, The Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act. Brent Jones, policy director for Food & Water Watch, responded, “This proposal fails to deal with the climate crisis. It attempts to greenwash carbon capture, advances policies that would actually increase oil production, seeks to release new sources of methane from our ocean floors, and promotes ‘advanced’ nuclear power as a so-called climate solution. This package would lock in continued extracting, processing, and burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. As climate policy goes, it is beyond inadequate.” Food & Water Watch is an environmental group that doesn’t compromise its demands. That is the kind of environmental leadership we need.
Environmentalists should stop calling defeats like these victories. We should stop limiting our demands to what Democratic politicians are willing to do. We should demand real solutions and make the politicians come to us. As the African anti-colonial leader Amilcar Cabral counseled: “Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories.”