Stupid Green People

Greens struggle to be taken seriously

Photo by Gustavo ArrellanoJudging solely on attendance and fiscal standards, the Orange County Green Party hosted a triumphant fund-raiser on Sept. 20. Held at Garden Grove's GEM Theater, the rally raised more than $2,000 and attracted an audience that overwhelmed the auditorium's 175-seat capacity to hear Green Party member Peter Camejo make his case to be California's next governor.

But the fund-raiser's success exposed a nagging problem for the Greens: a flippant political attitude and weirdness with racial issues that denies the party the mainstream respect it so desperately seeks.

The problem arose from a slogan—"Not Another Stupid White Man"—that organizers used to publicize the Friday-evening event. The advertisement was a play on Michael Moore's best-selling, left-leaning book Stupid White Men (which chronicles the ineptitudes of stupid white men in power) as well as a description of Camejo (who is not white—he's Latino—and definitely not stupid). According to Green Party insiders, the party's central council reached a decision by consensus to use the slogan on fliers with caricatures of two stupid white men, Gray Davis and Bill Simon.

It was supposed to be a joke, but this decision didn't go well with some progressives and party members, who felt that using "Not Another Stupid White Man" alienated potential voters not privy to leftist witticism and made the Green Party seem jejune.

"You need to be careful in how you use humor in politics because it could marginalize the candidate and turn people off," said one non-Green activist who attended the event. "Using a catch-phrase which they think is clever like that, they're preaching to the choir instead of trying to get new voters."

As evidence, witnesses told the Weeklythat a white man was so enraged when he saw the flier posted on a beauty-store window that he threatened to take it off with a brick.

The slogan quandary shows that the Greens still have problems marketing themselves to non-progressives. Getting new voters has been an overriding obsession for the party, which achieved national prominence from Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. But do Greens want to continue their progressive-chic reputation—which alienates white voters (and others) who have never thought in progressive, anti-racist terms—or will they move beyond jokes and obvious white guilt to be serious?

If the Friday-night event gave any indication, expect more of the former.

Before Camejo spoke, KPFK The Morning Show host Sonali Kolhatkar chastised the overwhelmingly white Green audience for not recruiting minority members. "We need to reach out and engage the marginalized sections [minorities] while understanding that they must deal with life, even more so," she curiously explained in a breathless, 15-minute speech. "It's enough to make a Green turn pink."

All the audience could do was laugh nervously.

Lieutenant governor candidate Donna Warren echoed Kolhatkar. After detailing a litany of issues affecting Californians—lack of affordable housing, health care and education being the most important—she essentially told the audience they could never accurately understand these problems.

"I'm sure not many of you have been to 42nd and Central," said the African-American grandmother of two, "because it's impoverished and minorities live there."

Then Camejo came onstage and joked, "I'm a Venezuelan-American, and I know that the way to take a bribe is with unmarked $100 bills in a suitcase given under the table at a bar." It was a jibe at Davis' Oracle debacle but looked ridiculous in the middle of a speech attacking the governor's horrendous energy record.

But the audience quickly forgave Camejo's off-kilter-yet-intellectual delivery because his promise of luring minorities to the Greens enthralled them. Camejo predicted that in five years, minorities would dominate the Greens.

"There will be a 1,000 percent rise in the Latino voting for Greens," he proudly determined. "I was on a Spanish radio show, and a family called in saying all 14 members of her family would vote Green," he explained. "The next caller said all 18 members of their family would vote Green. Then I told the next family that I support birth control."

Once again, such jokes—while well-taken—wouldn't fly well with an electorate disgusted with the two major candidates but not willing to cast their votes on a third-party seen as not being serious. But such judgments exasperate Greens, who feel they must deal with a higher standard simply because they are a third party—especially when it comes to the dreaded minority vote.

"When criticisms are leveled at Greens that we're not doing outreach toward minority communities and are too white, it's pretty frustrating," said party member Vangee Oberschlake. "Certainly we can be doing more, but please! We have people from diverse backgrounds at our leadership positions toward which the major parties can't even compare. Look at Camejo, a Latino. Warren's an African-American. Even [Ralph] Nader is Lebanese. Yes, we need to do more at the local level. But at the party level, I think we've demonstrated a real commitment."

To her, the "Not Another Stupid White Man" decision was a play on a well-known author's work: nothing more, nothing less.

"If someone is following the various political crises and they happen to be a Caucasian male, how could they possibly be offended by the slogan?" Oberschlacke continued. "It was in reference to a best-seller. We even had an asterisk next to it specifically referring to Moore's book.

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