Turning the Green Party Black by Donna J. Warren with Jonathan David Farley, D.Phil.

My name is Donna, and I once had an addiction problem. I was addicted to the Democratic Party. But then, in 1999, while attending a meeting in South Central Los Angeles, I met a young man who handed me some dog-eared sheets of paper, describing the "Green Party" and its platform.

"My God," I spurted out after I had read what he had given me: "I'm a Green!"

This has also been the reaction of other black Greens that I have met as I toured the country. Dr. Jonathan Farley, a Green Party activist from Tennessee, became a true believer in 2000, when someone told him that the Green Party supported reparations for slavery. Scales fell from his eyes, and Dr. Farley became a Green.

On National Public Radio's "The Tavis Smiley Show," Dr. Farley and I were asked if Greens weren't just a bunch of chardonnay-swilling tree-hugging white liberals. Yes, it is true: trees get more than their fair share of love from Greens. But the Green Party is about more than the environment. It's also about social justice.

You see, the United States of America, with its insatiable appetite for slavery, gives our children a despicable choice: serve the master in prison for life or serve the master in war and die. (While Blacks make up 12% of America's population, we represent more than 40% of the prison population and 40% of the military. In combat, we are 60%.) Our country spends more than the rest of the world combined on "defense." That's why we can't ensure good homes, good jobs, good schools, and good health care for all.

The Green Party says No: no to weapons and yes to people. The Greens believe that our criminal justice system is criminal, that it is ineffective, that it is prohibitively expensive, and that it mainly locks up the poor, the undereducated, the black and the brown.

Greens believe that the so-called "war on drugs" is actually a war on the poor, a war on urban ghettos, a war on civil liberties, a war on peasants in faraway places like Colombia.

Greens oppose racial profiling.

Only the Greens stand between Bush and a potential rain of hell on Iraq's children.

But why should blacks flee the Democratic Party plantation? Isn't massa's barn warm? Yes, there is a legitimate fear that breaking away from a mainstream party will only marginalize us further. But our participation in the Democratic Party does not guarantee us influence. In the 2000 presidential elections, we were presented with four pro-military, pro-business candidates from the two mainstream parties, three out of four of whom opposed affirmative action. (Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman opposed affirmative action as late as 1996.) The Democrats want our votes, yet they ignore our voices. And in the 2002 Florida election, including the race for governor, the same 90,000 voters erroneously classified as felons in 2000 were again barred. These 90,000 were mostly black.

In California, especially East LA, the Latino community is coming out of their Democratic comfort zones: they're starting Green Party chapters. In fact, the 2002 California Green Party slate was led by Peter Miguel Camejo, a Latino, and myself, an African-American. Camejo marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, while I am the lead plaintiff in the suit against the CIA for infesting South Central with crack. Black Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, a woman of true courage, has supported Green candidates and was a scheduled speaker at the 2002 Green Party convention. She just may be the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2004.

"That's all good," someone asks in the back row, "but isn't the Green Party white?" Sure it is - just like the Democratic Party. The difference is, our party articulates our interests.

It is true, however, that the party's outreach to communities of color has been awful.

When 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader visited Nashville, Dr. Farley asked him why he didn't schedule a lecture at historically black Tennessee State University. "They can come to me," was Nader's reply.

But the Greens are getting it a little more each day. Ralph Nader made sure to schedule a speech at Tennessee State the following year. (It must be said, though, that while Nader spoke at Fisk University in Nashville in 2000, Al Gore, despite his campaign headquarters being based in Nashville, refused all invitations to speak at Fisk until near the very end of his campaign.) And Nader correctly points out that when we fight to keep toxic waste dumps out of inner city playgrounds, when we struggle for a living wage, even though these issues are on the surface race-neutral, communities of color are the winners.

Besides, there's talk of a new sheriff in town. A powerful "McKinney for President" movement is growing within the Green Party. Every Green I've met wants Ms. McKinney to join our ranks. And though, like all parties, we must have primaries, many of us already have our "McKinney 2004" bumper stickers.

In the wake of the Democratic disaster of November 2002, political commentators agree on one thing: Today's Democrats are too spineless to stand up for us. They all-too-easily surrendered our civil rights, our economy, and our children to the molochs of Republican rule (whom Democrats, and not Greens, placed in office).

Greens will rescue the money going towards jails and send it back to colleges and schools. We'll end the public financing of sports stadiums and use that money to pay for universal health insurance. Free trade agreements like NAFTA will no longer undercut American workers' wages and foreign workers' rights. And corporations will have to pay their fair share in taxes, just like the rest of us.

The Greens are the new opposition. We're fighting the prison-industrial complex and Three Strikes - alone.

We're fighting for people over profits, for peace instead of war - alone. We are fighting for social justice and reparations.

Yes, the Green Party is now white, but when we all join it, it will become the Black Party that Marcus Garvey longed for. (And, white or not, a party that supports reparations for slavery and segregation is the party I want.)

In the past, African-Americans had two parties to choose from. Now, there is only one choice, the Green Party. From now on, Green is the new black.

Donna Jo Warren is a native of South Central Los Angeles and a former Green Party candidate for Lt. Governor of California (www.donnawarren.com). She may be reached at cottry@worldnet.att.net. Dr. Jonathan Farley is a former Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at Oxford University (www.greenpanther.org). He may be reached at farley@math.vanderbilt.edu.

Donna Jo Warren with Dr. Jonathan Farley

Monday, November 25, 2002