I voted for Al Gore four years ago. My favorite political bumper sticker of the season, however, was without a doubt the one that said, "Al and George make me wanna Ralph." Though I did not participate in the reductive thinking of Naderites who said there was no important difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates, I shared their conviction that, like the welfare-reforming, free-trading, health-care-reform-failing Bill Clinton, Al Gore would not be my type of Democrat. But, living in Maine, a swing state at the time, I held my nose and voted D.
That election was a grave disappointment. But in November of 2002, just two years later, I got excited about the possibilities of politics again. That fall I helped to elect then-22-year-old David Segal of the Green Party to the Providence City Council with over 38 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Coming in second was Democrat Kyle Diggins, the nephew of the outgoing councilman, a man who had been one of the most consistent opponents of progressive legislation in the city council. As opposed to Diggins' vacuous proclamations of having lived in the neighborhood his whole life, Segal presented a positive, serious vision based on promoting living-wage jobs, police accountability, fair taxes, and on-street parking. The message, substantive as it was, worked, and suggested that the liberal naysayers who have resigned themselves to the two-party system were overly pessimistic.
Segal is not only the first Green ever elected in Rhode Island; he is, perhaps more impressively, the only non-Democrat among the 35 councilors, state representatives, and state senators that represent residents of the city of Providence. The Segal victory taught me not to throw pragmatism to the wind - after all, I would not have supported Segal running as a Green in more than one or two of the city's other 14 wards - but to enlarge my notion of the political possible.
A few years after the Segal election, I will take advantage of living in the so-called "safe state" of Rhode Island by voting my conscience for president. But I will not vote for Ralph Nader, whose current campaign as an independent I believe is ill-conceived. Nor will I vote for the hapless John Kerry, whom I wish well but could not vote for unless I lived in a state where the election was close.
This year, I will vote instead for David Cobb, the candidate of the Green Party of the United States. But like Cobb and many of his Green supporters, I will urge others who live in swing states like Michigan, Florida and my native Maine to vote for John Kerry. I am proud that Councilman Segal is the founder of a group that will work to spread exactly this message through November 2. That group is called Greens for Impact, and its Web site, GreensForImpact.com, has been getting as many as 1,000 hits a day.
Is the safe-state/swing-state strategy of GFI really any different from the "vote-swapping" of the 2000 election? In my mind, there are two important differences. The first is that, with David Cobb's nomination over Nader by the Greens, the Party has made running only in the safe states its semi-official policy for this year. This is in sharp contrast to Nader's 2000 run, where he campaigned heavily in swing states.
But even though the Greens have decided to play nice, and think of the long-term, much of the liberal establishment is unwilling to cooperate. Get ready to be told, even from such left-leaning institutions as The Nation, that you must vote for Kerry this year even in safe states, because voting Democrat is the strongest statement against Bush. But in a state where the electoral votes are not really up for grabs, what could be a stronger statement against Bush than to support the Greens, a party who opposes his agenda in its entirety? The Democrats oppose bits and pieces, of course, but their 2004 platform will not even be against the Iraq war.
Admittedly, the Greens are not a perfect alternative: they are overly white and middle-to-upper class, and their anti-consumerist politics - in Rhode Island, for example, the Green Party sponsors an annual "Buy Nothing Day" - give them the image of a bunch of out-of-touch ascetics who privilege moral purity over the enjoyment of life. These faults are part of why I remain a registered member of the Democratic Party.
But the Greens do present a real alternative that becomes evermore important as both the Democrats and Republicans continue drifting to the right. Witness John Kerry's recent announcement that he would not support driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Never mind that these immigrants, who number around 10 million in the United States today, are probably cleaning the sheets at every hotel he sleeps at during his campaign. They are illegal immigrants, the "liberal" Kerry says, and they must not drive!
When leading Democrats start to borrow the language of the Reagan-Bush wing of the Republican Party, we know we are in trouble. The good news is that, by supporting the strategy of the Cobb campaign and Greens for Impact this year, safe state voters can send a message against the conservative Kerry campaign without threatening Kerry's chance for victory. We can admit that Kerry will probably not make a great president (prior to adding Edwards to his team, he surely has made an awful candidate). But we must also admit just how disastrous the George W. Bush presidency has been, and just how damaging to our rights, safety and economic opportunity four more years of the Bush could be. As such, Brown students who are registered absentee in their home states should do as I did four years ago - vote Democrat with a clothespin safely protecting your nose.
Peter Ian Asen '04 is now a freelance writer in Providence.