Photos by Max S. Gerber except where noted
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.
The Greens are also the only ballot-eligible party that opposes the war in Iraq, which could explain why it is the only growing political party in the United States.
Though there are no official figures, according to Michael Feinstein, Santa Monica's Green mayor, a large percentage of the more than 151,000 registered California Greens are between the ages of 18 and 25. This is not surprising, given that the Green platform is basically made up of all the things we believe in when we have most of our lives ahead of us.
But party membership isn't the only thing going on here. Many of the people actually running on the Green ticket and winning elective office are eyebrow-raising young. For example, 21-year-old Heather Urkuski, Centre Township, Pennsylvania's auditor, was 19 when elected. Todd Jarrell, District 8 city councilman in Madison, Wisconsin, now 23, was 22 when elected. Joyce Chen, a New Haven, Connecticut, alderman, was elected this past November at 22. In Germany and Sweden, where the age limit for national office is lower, Anna Luehrmann and Gustav Fridolin, both 19, were elected to Parliament this past September.
The Activist: “What's most important to me is social justice for the youth in my community.” —Cindy Santiago, 18
Middle school and high school kids, not necessarily a group associated with political activism, are also going Green. For example, 15-year-old Kirk Podell wore a “Vote for Nader” sandwich board to Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Feliz during the 2000 campaign and was scuffed up by fellow students. He was 12 at the time. Eighteen-year-old Cindy Santiago made her foray into politics in the ninth grade, when she organized 250 students to “walk off” school in protest of Proposition 21, “an anti-youth proposition” that called for trying “youths as young as 14 as adults.”
“What's most important to me is social justice for the youth in my community,” says Cindy. “Right now I'm working with community groups to get better relations with the Police Department because there's police harassment and intimidation in my community.”
When Prop. 21 passed, Cindy helped establish a community center in her neighborhood and worked with the mothers of the youngsters she felt were being tried unfairly. She's currently the Green student-body president of Santa Monica High. Even in such staid places as Iowa, 18-year-old Kevin Owens, a senior at Kennedy High in Cedar Rapids who was inspired by consumer activist Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, organized an anti-war protest this past October at which 50 students wore black armbands.
“I think what attracts young people to the party is the anti-war stance and decriminalization of pot. They seem to be interested in that,” says Forrest Hill, a Green Party adviser at UC Davis, who is doing post-grad work in mathematical ecology. Hill, who attended the first Earth Day in 1970, talks to a lot of kids through his outreach work for the party. “The environment is naturally a priority to kids. I also think that kids are more sensitive to the social injustices around them. As we get older, our priorities change.
“I also think we have a youth bent because we are an activist party; we're in the streets, and kids like activists.”
Whether or not youthful attraction grows into an adult relationship remains to be seen, but even some Democrats believe the Green appeal is more than infatuation. “I think they are on their way to becoming a major party,” says Ed Espinoza of the National Committee of the Young Dem-ocrats of America.
The Canvasser: “It’s the only thing I can do, ’cause I can’t vote yet.” —Alex Davis, 17
SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ALEX DAVIS GOT INTERested in the Greens this past summer because of Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore. “I read his book and saw his movie,” explains the Palisades High senior. “I was listening to KPFK, and I heard him in an interview and thought he sounded really interesting. They actually tried to stop his book from being published 'cause he was making fun of Bush. They didn't want that after 9/11.”
Alex, who saw the filmmaker's plea on his Web site for fans to “express their dissent” every day, canvassed an upper-middle-class Santa Monica neighborhood south of Montana with Green Party materials on a sunny Sunday last fall in preparation for the November 5 election. “It's the only thing I can do, 'cause I can't vote yet,” says Alex, who excels at creative writing, recently taught himself Final Cut Pro, and hopes to one day make films like Moore. Alex, whose dad is a music producer, is inspired by the political rock band Rage Against the Machine and once met Rage/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello.
Handing out Green Party information door to door on the weekends during your senior year in high school may seem ineffectual against the Democrats' and Republicans' massive political machinery, but it illustrates a recent study by political researchers Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates that shows that while kids are turned off by the electoral process and corporate politics, they are turned on by community activism.
But it isn't just young people who are losing interest in our electoral process. Voter turnout in the 2000 national election barely topped 50 percent, only slightly less anemic than 1996's all-time low of 49 percent. For organizations such as the Center for Voting and Democracy that make it their business to study the “voter crisis,” the problem is distrust in the political system and a scarcity of politicians people can actually relate to or believe in. With a population made up of almost 25 percent minorities, 50 percent women and close to 34 million individuals living below poverty level, the rich white men who dominate the ballots are just not cutting it for huge blocks of the potential voting pool.
“Most Americans don't have any idea what it would be like to have not just the candidates, but people elected, look like the country,” says CVD's Caleb Kleppner. “The big story is that people are shifting out of the Democrats and Republicans. I think that there is growing dissatisfaction, even disgust, with the two majors, so all kinds of people are looking for alternatives. You see this reflected in the rising number of people who aren't affiliated with any party and with the rising number of people affiliated with the Greens. The niche of the Green Party is traditional liberals who feel betrayed by the Democrats. At the same time, there are a lot of conservatives that don't feel the Republicans are advancing their agenda . . . two parties just aren't enough.”
“People call the Greens spoilers, because they think we took votes away from Al Gore,” says Shawn, who, along with some 50,000 other concerned citizens, attended the October 26 anti-war protest in San Francisco. “It's important to think that the Greens are challenging this two-party system that has been entrenched and impenetrable. For a long time the Democrats have been the only alternative. But more and more they accept money from the larger corporations and enact legislation that hurts minority people, underprivileged people and the environment just as much as the Republicans.”
An interesting thing is occurring in the political lives of some former '60s radicals. The Democratic Party that they have long aligned themselves with is now perceived by some, including their children, as being as reactionary and out of touch as the Republican Party they resisted when they were young. While the baby boomers were paying bills, putting their kids through college and driving SUVs, their party moved from left to center.
“It was a gradual process,” says Green Party poster boy Ralph Nader from his home in Washington, D.C. “It really turned bad in the 1980s when Tony Coelho, then in charge of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urged them [the Democrats] to take money from the big corporations. Before that they would get more money from the labor unions. [The Greens] are filling the gap that corporate Democrats once filled before they became corporatized.”
After an hour or so of canvassing the neighborhood, Alex came upon a woman who was examining her roses. Sally (not her real name) is a lawyer who lived in Berkeley for many years after she graduated from UC Berkeley. She now lives in Santa Monica with her family. Sally invited Alex in to see her garden and they struck up a conversation. Within moments, she learned from Alex that her 19-year-old son, “Mark,” a student at UC Santa Cruz, who is also interested in law, is a registered Green. “Good for him,” she said with a smile of surprise. Sally and her husband are still Democrats. Soon, though, the liberal lawyer was reminiscing about her Berkeley years during the politically volatile '70s.
That radical era has a hold over young Greens like Shawn as well. “I'm charged by the ideals that were out in the '60s and early '70s,” he says, sipping his first-ever chai latte. “That just seemed like a time when things were happening, when young people were directly involved in confronting the government on what they thought were injustices. It seems like until the whole September 11, and the events that took place then, we were sort of drifting in a period of idleness and prosperity and not really questioning anything.”
Like many people his age, Shawn is still discovering who he is. “I'm a person who is interested in so many different things, music, theater, politics. But there are so few unexplored territories in the world.” Shawn recently took “an enormously freeing, spontaneous” drive up to Big Sur, and is inspired by such artists as Jim Morrison, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.
“I think for a while I was a bit wary of politics. It seemed ephemeral,” he explains. “But I think the political environment of the time has a direct influence on social and creative movements. From Vietnam to the French Commune in the 1870s, times of intense political war and such have produced some of the greatest minds, greatest works.”
THE GREEN PARTY ROSE OUT OF THE MIRED POLItics of the Cold War. In 1979, a number of progressive local parties in Germany called “alternative lists” unified and began calling themselves “The Greens” (all parties in Germany are associated with a color). The German Greens opposed the deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles in West Germany and called for the abolishment of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Prior to that, though, parties with similar progressive tenets were popping up throughout the world. In 1972, following the Club of Rome's publication of The Limits of Growth, an influential book on sustainability, Tasmanians formed the United Tasmanian Group, New Zealanders started the Values Party, and U.K. activists, the Peoples Party. In 1981, a Flemish bike-advocacy group, with the Flemish acronym AGALEV, which means “living differently,” successfully ran candidates for its national Parliament. That party soon became the Green Party of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking area of northern Belgium.
Domestically, the same thing was happening. Statewide groups began forming in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Arizona, with some of the first national meetings held in redwood forests. Eventually, an amalgam of local Green parties throughout the country officially formed the Green Party of the United States in 2001, the same year the Global Greens held its first meeting in Australia and became a worldwide entity.
Santa Monica's Michael Feinstein, who has over the years been involved with his party locally, nationally and globally, attributes his party's growth to the hundred-monkey theory.
“There are several cases where movements that are intrinsically youth-motivated discover that there is a party they can go to,” says Feinstein, who himself came to the Greens at the age of 29, after several years of backpacking around Central America. “In 1991, registration growth took off when Bush number one first attacked Iraq. Also what marked our growth were the Seattle anti-globalization marches. You don't see a lot of Democrats coming out against NAFTA, WTO and the World Bank. You will see a huge rise in numbers after the war in Iraq begins.
“The point is, today we are in close to 90 countries. This has spread cross-culturally, which shows that it's a kind of a species-wide response to the unsustainability of our lifestyle.”
The Greens of Germany made world news this past September when they elected 19-year-old Anna Luehrmann to Parliament. “I was annoyed that politicians are usually elder men who don't really care about the problems and ideas of young people,” she e-mails.
Presently, Anna, who still gets excited about the newest Harry Potter, is trying “to be the voice of the young generation. That means, for example, I would like to implement the factor of 'sustainability' to all areas of politics so that we don't live at the cost of generations to come.” At work, her focus is “foreign affairs, the European Union and globalization.”
Closer to home, Anna's peers seem to be just sobering up from a video-game-and-media-saturated daze.
“We grew up in the computer age,” says Shawn, picking at an almond croissant. “Video games, computers, the Internet, cell phones, all these things really started to define our generation instead of being defined by creativity or our consciousness and what exactly we're doing.”
Cameron, who has been working on a yearlong research paper on the effects of pop culture on this generation, theorizes that video games and commercials are basically the opium of the teen masses. “Apparently, if you see an ad eight times you're brainwashed by it,” he explains. “It gets in your mind and stays with you.” Cameron, who “mostly listens” to political rapper Spearhead and Bob Marley, believes the only real solution is to “break away from mainstream media.”
Only 8 years old when he organized 25 of his schoolmates from Mar Vista Elementary to clean up a strip of Venice Beach, Cameron seems to have been born with the big picture in mind. “What's really scaring me now is the polar ice caps melting,” he says, laying his anti-Bush shirts out on a card-table display. “When the ice caps melt, not only are the polar bears gonna die, but the ocean levels are going to rise, which means all this [California] will be underwater. He [Bush] may have his money, but he won't have his land.”
At home, Cameron has four small aquariums filled with fish and different local freshwater samples. He hopes the science project will prove the effects of water pollution on marine life and the need for more sewage-filtration systems. “We only have one for the entire L.A. area. That doesn't seem like enough,” he says. “I'm also really concerned about the forests all being cut down; that's really freaking me out.”
It's easy to write off kids who are concerned about the environment: It's so par-for-the-course that it seems rote. But, as Forrest Hill explained, kids, who have nothing else to think about except the future, instinctively understand that if the world is unsafe for polar bears, spotted owls, wolves, or Pacific salmon for that matter, then the world is unsafe for us.
THE YOUNG PEOPLE INTERVIEWED FOR THIS STOry have some things in common besides the Green Party: Five excel at creative writing and/or poetry. Four are in a band or aspire to be. Five are interested in photography and/or filmmaking. Five participated in the honors, gifted or advanced-placement programs at their public schools. Six do some form of community service or political volunteering. Six are from working-class or middle-class families. Two are from racially mixed households. All of them have at least one parent who's left-wing.
During his 2000 presidential bid, Ralph Nader noticed that it was these types of middle school and high school kids who were taking an interest in his party. “They would have mock elections, and the kids would demand to have my name on the board with Bush and Gore,” the longtime consumer activist, whom the media often portray as priggish, recalls with a laugh.
Of the college-age kids who have constituted his core supporters dating back to the Public Interest Research Group network formed in the '70s, he says, “They are idealistic; they have energy, and they focus on important issues that are usually ignored. They're the ones responsible for putting the environmental issues on the map with the first Earth Day, April 1970. Fifteen hundred college and university events that same day. It made the cover of Newsweek, Time, the television evening news. Same with the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement.”
Of course, the perception that Greens are purer of purpose and practice than the corporate-financed, major-party duopoly makes the party sexy, if still difficult to embrace. The Greens tightly restrict where they get their money and how much they take.
“We accept no money from corporations, so we're always lacking money and funds,” explains Shawn. “It has to come from individuals, and no more than $10,000 per person per year. In terms of building a political party, that's the number-one priority, having the money to get exposure to get [party] workers.”
Shawn and his friend Alexi aren't working at the Westside Greens office anymore. The ad they saw on the Internet said “free room and board,” but after appeals to house them went unanswered and office manager Danny Meyers couldn't deal with them crashing at his two-bedroom apartment anymore, they had to bail.
Alexi, a political-science major who did a study of broadcasting in D.C., is heading home and plans on hooking up with the small Green Party there. In the meantime, he still stops by and helps out when he can. Shawn, who today has borrowed Danny's 1990 brown Honda, is temporarily staying in Burbank at the apartment of a friend from high school and will possibly go to New York early this year. He's not sure where he'll land. He's thinking about doing some work with the Sierra Club.
The Punk: “I like psychobilly ’cause not a lot of people are into it. . . It’s the same thing with the Greens.”
—Kirk Podell, 15
Shawn may wish his favorite party had more resources, but it was precisely the Greens' lo-fi approach that attracted Marshall High student Kirk Podell. “I think I saw one Nader commercial the whole election, and that was like at 1 in the morning. I think it was cool that they had to promote by word of mouth,” says Kirk.
Sitting under the flagpole on the lawn of his Los Feliz school, the 15-year-old punk, whose grandfather is also a Green, is wearing a black, old-school motorcycle jacket, a Lars Fredrickson (the lead singer of Rancid) T-shirt and thick-rimmed Elvis Costello glasses. He appears to have an appetite for all things underground. “I'm probably one of the only kids in my school that knows who the Greens are,” says Kirk, a dead ringer for Jack Osbourne.
He got turned on to the party a few years back when his classmate Michael Bancroft wore a Green Party T-shirt to school. “His dad is like best friends with Jello Biafra,” he says. “He's the guy from the Dead Kennedys who ran for president with the Greens. The shirt had a flower on it.”
Kirk is trying to start a newspaper, dabbles in photography and skateboarding, and plays in a psychobilly band called Leopard Skin Smoking Jackets. “I like psychobilly 'cause not a lot of people are into it,” he says, playing with the strap of his backpack.
“It's the same thing with the Greens — you get to explain it,” says Kirk, who, like Alex and Cameron, appears stoked at the prospect of passing on information — political and otherwise — to others. “Like the other day, I met a guy who didn't know what psychobilly was, and I got to sit down and have this whole conversation with him.”
Erica Henrickson looks like a younger, softer Michelle Rodriguez. Dressed in a vintage green Hawaiian T-shirt and jeans, with a small cloth bag slung across her chest, she sips iced chai in the sun at the Unurban Coffeehouse, a few blocks away from the Westside Green office, where she volunteered during midterm elections. “I would come in, and there wouldn't be a whole lot to do. For a while, the Internet service was a dial-up. They didn't have a splinter, so when you were on the Internet you couldn't get a phone call. It was just disheartening to see,” says the pretty 16-year-old, who gestures freely while expressing herself.
A few months ago, Erica moved to Santa Monica from Chicago with her father. She now goes to Santa Monica High with Cindy Santiago. She lives in the Pico neighborhood, an area that her fellow Green Cindy volunteers is “mostly Latino and black.”
“My dad actually grew up in West Los Angeles,” says Erica. Both her dad, a recently divorced computer consultant, and his father, a retired taxi driver and schoolteacher, are registered Greens. “My dad was really political when he was younger. Then he moved out to Chicago with a radical newspaper, met my mom and stopped being so political. He didn't really do much while he was raising me. He just voted Democrat, settled down pretty much like older people do. But not anymore.” A big smile spreads across Erica's face and her eyes twinkle. Since moving to California, her father has become active again. “I guess he was always Green at heart,” she says.
Of her mom, who remained in Chicago, Erica says, “She's the type of person who would vote for Bill Clinton 'cause he's attractive or something. So, they really didn't mesh well on political terms.”
Sitting with a front-page L.A. Times story about 450,000 people protesting in the streets of Italy against the war on Iraq, Erica expresses her feelings about her father and grandfather's party. “I guess it's just my duty to follow in their footsteps,” she says, fingering the newspaper.
“We all grew up thinking, 'I want to make this world a better place.' And the Green Party allows for that. It doesn't want us to self-destruct. Like right now you see Democrats and Republicans voting to go to war. How are they representing us? People that voted the Democrats into office don't necessarily want to go to war. The Green platform is against violence, and I know that is against war. We wouldn't be bombing Iraq, not just this past year, but the past decade.”
Erica also likes the Green Party's stance on health insurance. The Green Party currently stands alone among ballot-eligible parties in its call for universal health care through a single-payer system that eliminates the influence of big insurance companies.
“I guess for the first two years college students are covered by their parents' [insurance], and then all of a sudden they have to come up with the money for health insurance. How do you pay for that? How can you get sick? What if you get mono? Or a regular cold? I think students that don't come from extremely wealthy families can understand that that's a lot of money. Other countries, European countries, can afford to pay their citizens' health care. Why can't we? We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. California is like the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. I think that's what helped students be attracted to the Greens.”
Erica, who is also a member of the AIDS Awareness Club and Students Against War and Violence at school, had been aware of the party and its platform for years. But it was when her father took her to a Ralph Nader Super Rally during the 2000 campaign that the then-14-year-old became politicized. “I guess that was the first time I really identified with the Greens, when I heard him speak,” she says. “Being in that atmosphere, seeing college students there and being inspired. You can't go to a Dem-ocratic convention and see students, people that are like you.”
WHEN JASON KIRKPATRICK WAS elected to his seat as city councilman for Arcata, California, in 1994, he was 26 and among the youngest Greens to have been elected to public office. He was the only Green on the five-member City Council. By 1996, two more Greens were elected, and Jason, then serving as vice mayor, made history when Arcata became the first U.S. city to have a Green city council majority.
Jason started his political trajectory on the campus of Santa Monica College, where he booked lectures. In 1991, he graduated from SMC and moved to Arcata to continue his political-science studies at Humboldt State University. There, Jason served as co-director of the Campus Greens Network, as student-body president and as the HSU rep to the California State Student Association, where he lobbied in D.C. and Sacramento on behalf of his fellow students.
During his years at Humboldt, he took three months off to travel and attend the first International Young Greens gathering in Stockholm. It was there that he encountered “young progressives, 21, 22 years of age, serving in political offices. These were folks with radical politics, not reformist liberals. Their actions impressed me. I thought, 'Wow, I bet I could do that if I was on the City Council in Arcata.'” Further motivated by having to work with “a weak and arrogant city councilor” back home, Jason figured, “If this dopey guy with no vision can get elected, certainly I could!” So he ran and won.
While in office, Jason's focus was 100 percent Green. He created a state park, brought creeks above ground, developed bike paths, supported soup kitchens and tried to redirect public funds toward community needs as opposed to “distant companies.”
Jason, who earned a master's in globalization studies, now lives in Northern Ireland, where he has worked for many years with the Sustainable Northern Ireland Programme, which was formed to work with community groups and local government on sustainable-development issues. Soon he will move to Berlin to be with his girlfriend, a radical left-wing opera singer with a voice “that would melt your heart.”
A member of the Republican National Committee when he was 18 (“I never voted for them once“), Jason plans on working with the Greens in Germany.
The 34-year-old, who claims to save 20 percent of his income by using his bike or public transportation instead of a car, envisions himself working in politics his entire life. “Why not?” he asks. “It's a lot more fun than doing jobs that some people do. Plus it actually has meaning.”
Although Jason is proof that some folks can grow up within the party, it isn't easy to balance idealism with adult considerations. Ask Lynne Serpe, now 31, who has been working for the Greens since she was 23.
“I don't make a lot of money as a Green Party campaigner. My brother, who works for Morgan Stanley, and probably makes five times what I average in a year, tells me not to worry, because I'm helping save the world,” says Lynne. “It's hard not to worry about money, especially now that I'm in my 30s. But whenever I think about the alternative, working a high-paying job for some faceless corporation, I know it's not for me.”
Originally from New York state, Lynne, a graduate of Dartmouth with a bachelor's degree in government, currently lives in New Zealand and helps run campaigns for Green Party candidates all over the world. “I move where I am needed, and where I will get paid.” In 1999, she lived in three cities, four in 2000 and three in 2001 (“four if you count the month working in Canberra, Australia, on the Global Greens conference”). She's been stationary for the past 15 months, but hopes to be back in the States by July 2003 for the Greens' annual national conference, where they will be making decisions about the 2004 elections.
Lynne used to volunteer at soup kitchens until she became disheartened by seeing the same people every day. “I don't want to be putting out fires for the rest of my life,” she says.
Instead, she decided to turn her focus to electoral reform. In Green terms this means Lynne supports instant-runoff voting (IRV), a system that allows you to vote for all candidates ranked in order of your preference (see sidebar, “What Democracy Votes Like,” on IRV and proportional representation). This system, which is currently in place in Australia and Ireland, allows for alternative parties to participate in elections without being viewed as “spoilers.” It also enables voters to select their favorite candidate from a wider field, instead of picking the lesser of two evils.
Another Green-supported voting system is proportional representation (PR), which is used in most of the industrialized democracies around the world, including a large portion of Europe. PR works like this: If a party gets 20 percent of the vote, it gets 20 percent of the seats in multiseat districts, in contrast to our one-seat-at-a-time, “winner-take-all” system. This system is responsible for Germany's current ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Greens have also helped form coalition governments in Belgium, France, Georgia in the former USSR, Italy, Finland and Tasmania.
Just as third parties are not necessarily a liberal phenomenon, electoral reform is not purely a Green concept. In fact, conservative Republicans in Utah and Arizona are spearheading IRV as an electoral reform. Arizona's Republican Senator John McCain not only supports IRV but also was the architect of the campaign-finance reform that just passed.
“I try to remind myself that people fought and struggled and died for the right to vote. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to make sure that voting continues to mean something,” says Lynne, who also doesn't drive a car.
AT THE CASBAH CAFé, SHAWN IS SIPping his second cup of tea and pondering an uncertain future. “I think the youth for so long has been at a certain level of apathy. I read a quote on my way over here, for the AIDS Walk, that I think is a pretty good summary of what I feel for my generation. It said, 'I walk because apathy is the greatest enemy of our generation.' I think that's true.”
Whatever obstacles they take on: war, apathy, media manipulation, a failing two-party system, racial and cultural prejudice, global warming, the health-care crisis, unjust sentencing laws, or diminishing resources, Cameron, Shawn, Alex, Cindy, Kirk, Erica and their fellow baby Greens appear bent on having fun doing it.
“Politics can be a party. It's accessible to people. We are grassroots democracy,” says Shawn. “History is cyclical. Ages of great political, social and creative ideas and experience happen something like every 40 years. I think, in regards to what has happened with September 11, the age of scientific progress has reached its limit. Instead of using the Earth for our own purposes, it's about learning how to have some sort of symbiotic relationship with it. Realizing that there's not going to be much of it left if we keep progressing the way we are. It's time for us, whether it's by creative means, or by political or legislative means, to do something. And I'm just so anxious and ready to do that.”