CAMERON RAFT'S LONG, WAVY BROWN HAIR FALLS into his eyes as he adjusts a messenger bag slung across his shoulder. Locals call out as he makes his way down the Venice boardwalk on this crisp, clear Sunday afternoon.
"Most people down here are either tourists or live on the beach, which means they are broke," he says, passing a man promoting alien-conspiracy theories and a pair of breakdancers. "A lot of the tourists are for Bush. It's fun to argue. I get yelled at a lot. I get called 'traitor.' It doesn't really bother me. It's almost rewarding."
The young provocateur hawks his anti-George W. Bush T-shirts here on weekends. He's wearing one of his own designs, a shirt that shows an image of President Bush dressed as Abe Lincoln and reads: "I WANT YOUR sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and sweethearts TO FIGHT MY WAR and make my rich friends richer." Cameron muses that he will most likely stop selling his shirts if the United States goes into a full-blown attack against Iraq, because, he explains, "It's just not funny."
He started his sticker-and-shirt company, Presidential Sweets, two years ago after his grandmother, a retired librarian, started e-mailing him "Bushisms" during the 2000 campaign. That same year, the Palms Middle School student, who believes George W. stole the election, decided that the two main parties were "basically the same" and that his peers needed to be awakened to the political world in which they live. Though he has yet to pay his grandmother back the $250 she loaned him to start the company, the Culver City resident continues to sell his goods on the boardwalk and at local anti-war protests.
Cameron has soulful eyes, long lashes, and five years to go before he can legally vote in this country. He may be just 13, but he already knows which progressive party is for him, and it's not his mother's tired, old Democrats. Cameron is part of a significant wave of under-30 idealists who find themselves seriously drawn to the third party that is considered enough of a threat to the major parties to be labeled "spoilers" in the last presidential election and, more recently, in the fight to fill liberal Senator Paul Wellstone's (D-Minnesota) seat following his death. Perhaps more importantly, to young people like Cameron and 22-year-old Shawn Hansen anyway, it's the only party that carries a link to Michael Moore's Web site. The Idealist: "I wanted to be at the forefront. I wanted to latch on to a movement where I could be a leader, or at least a force." Shawn Hansen, 22 Photo by Marc PoKempner
Sitting at the Casbah, a Moroccan café on Sunset in Silver Lake, Shawn is wearing jeans, a blue oxford shirt and a brown corduroy jacket. A paperback copy of Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi sits beside him on the table. His cheeks are literally cherry red.
"My purpose now is looking for things that grab me, where the energy is," he says. "Politically, the energy is with the Green Party. It's new and progressive, and it's churning out ideas."
A couple of months ago, after reading an advertisement on the Internet, the recent graduate of the University of Illinois came out to Los Angeles with his friend Alexi to intern at the Green Party office in Santa Monica. "I had wanted to make it out to California for a long time," he explains. "It seemed like an adventure, a chance to involve myself in something cool."
Shawn grew up in Antioch, a liberal suburb north of Chicago that is a few miles from the Great America theme park. His parents are English teachers who lived in San Francisco and Mendocino County during the '70s.
"The Midwest is a great place to grow up. There are good values there, but people are stuck in their ways," says Shawn, a history major. "Whereas California is where the ideas are being developed and harbored that will inevitably reach the Midwest five years from now. I wanted to be at the forefront. I wanted to latch on to a movement where I could be a leader, or at least a force."
Spawned from the seminal Green Party of Germany, which formed in 1979 and is now part of the ruling coalition there, the rise of the controversial Green Party of the United States has been less spectacular. Prior to Ralph Nader's "spoiler" 2000 candidacy which pulled 2.7 percent of the vote and was the first ballot-eligible presidential campaign in the party's history the Greens had been mostly a local phenomenon in über-progressive university towns such as Arcata, Santa Cruz and Eugene, Oregon. Now, though, with its utopian platform of sustainability, social justice, feminism, decentralization of money and power, community-based business, respect for diversity, and nonviolence, the Green Party is in a position to exploit a rising mistrust of the political status quo, especially among young people.