Air Date: Week of November 10, 2000
Host Steve Curwood talks with John Rensenbrink of the American Association of State Green Parties about Ralph Nader’s role in the presidential race. The Green Party candidate effected the outcome of the election, but did not hit the five percent vote threshold needed to qualify for federal funds in the 2004.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader captured only 3% of the popular vote nationwide. But in states such as New Hampshire, Oregon and most importantly Florida, that was enough to prevent democrat Al Gore from winning much-needed ballots. For the first time in history, a political party that has the environment up-front in its platform has made the crucial difference in a national election here in the United States. Celebrating on election night, Ralph Nader said it's just the beginning.
NADER: Tomorrow, the Green party will emerge as the third largest party in America, the fastest growing party in American·
CURWOOD: To assess future Green party politics, we turn to John Rensenbrink, the founder of the American Association of Green Parties. He says this election marks a new day for the environmental movement.
RENSENBRINK: The environmental movement up to this time has been satisfied it seems to me with sitting below the table asking for the people at the table to give them some scraps. That may sound harsh, but I think that's what's basically happening. Begging posture, a protest, begging posture. Now it's time for us to move to the table itself. To insist on our right to be at the table and that means really getting serious about political activity and political organizing and electoral campaigns. And to the point where we have our own people in power and that is the way it seems to be we will basically address the situation that is so terribly severe in this country and in the world on environmental issues.
CURWOOD: What is the Green environmental agenda?
RENSENBRINK: To me and to many of us the issue of shifting as fast as possible from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy is really fundamental. A second major concern is environmental justice -- the degree to which poor communities and communities of color have been savaged by the placement of toxic industries and so forth in their areas. And then shifting to the global situation, the World Trade Organization needs to have a fundamental modification so that the threat that now exists because of that organization to environmental laws to labor laws to social issues that local, state, and national legislatures have passed, they're being undermined by WTO decisions. That has to be really addressed very, very severely and starkly.
CURWOOD: The race for the White House was tight in a number of states, and some say after the balloting on November 7, that Ralph Nader may well prove to be the spoiler for Al Gore, that the difference between Gore picking up the four electoral votes of New Hampshire was Nader's vote, that obviously, the difference in Florida comes from Nader's votes. What kind of fallout, based on these criticisms do you anticipate for the Greens as a party?
RENSENBRINK: Well the fallout will be not inconsiderable because it's already happening. Democrats are trying to look for a scapegoat, which I suppose, is natural in a very close election like this, people look for scapegoats and there it looks like Nader has really made the difference. In some ways, you know, we could be proud of that because in some ways it's really true that the strength of an opposition challenger is measured by how much they affect the outcome. So in that sense we're here, and they paid attention to us. They didn't want us in the debates, but in the last three weeks of the campaign suddenly they had to pay attention to us and tried like the dickens to get us to change. The other thing I think that is lost in this analysis is Gore's own failure to attract and to keep his own base. I think he only came on very, very late with a strong environmental position.
CURWOOD: John, now the Green Party was looking for five percent for federal financing, didn't get it, how do you build a party without this federal support?
RENSENBRINK: It would've been very good and very interesting if we had gotten five percent and thus qualified for federal money four years from now. But that I don't think will impede our progress very much, because as I said, we have the infrastructure all over the country. We gained eleven more ballot status parties as a result of this election. We got six percent in a lot of very interesting states especially Maine and Minnesota and Oregon and Iowa, for example. We've done very well in this campaign.
CURWOOD: Third parties in the U.S. have had a tough time keeping the momentum going after a strong start. I'm thinking back, of course, the independent effort by John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot getting the Reform Party going in 1992, then accused of being a spoiler when Bush was not able to hang on to the White House. Tell me how the Greens are going to be able to break out of that pattern of sort of the shooting star third party phenomenon - bright light and then gone.
RENSENBRINK: I go back to the fact that Ralph Nader is in alliance, as it were, with the Green party. The Green party pre-existed his entrance in presidential politics. So the future, I think, is one of, how effectively can Ralph Nader and his entourage work together effectively within a pre-existing and strong Green Party. We're evolving too of course as a Green Party as we add more states all the time, and we will be having over forty states associated with the Green Party, with the Association of State Green Parties. So I think this is going to be a really interesting ride for us and an interesting evolution towards a more and more effective and more and more solid, I mean by solid one that is securely organized from the grassroots on up.
CURWOOD: What will we hear next from the Greens nationally?
RENSENBRINK: We, we're going to be having a strategy session in Washington, DC in a couple of weeks. But I think out of that will come a bunch of strategies, but certainly one will be how can we effectively use the political muscle that we've got so far on behalf of the environmental agenda. And I can visualize Ralph Nader testifying on issues that are coming before Congress and the Senate. And he will be there not as a consumer advocate, but he will be there on behalf of three million voters.
CURWOOD: John Rensenbrink is cofounder of the American Association of State Green Parties and author of Against All Odds: The Green Transformation of America. Thanks for taking this time with us today.
RENSENBRINK: Steve it's been really delightful talking to you and I appreciate very much the opportunity.
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