Ecology-oriented Green movement attracts followers in the US. But American greens can't agree which group is the real Green Party
Chicago — Since the ecology-oriented West German Greens party surprised the world by gliding into the Bonn Parliament in 1982 with 5 percent of the vote, ``green'' ideas and the word ``green'' have popped up in party platforms and names throughout the West -- including the United States. Today there are greens in Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Australia, Canada, and although most Americans are not aware of them, even in this country.
A plethora of tiny American groups, none officially affiliated with Germany's ``die Gr"unen,'' consider themselves part of the international Green movement. They are divided, competing for the attention of that part of the public concerned about environmental issues. And there is disagreement over which group is the real representative of the American Green movement.
On a general level, greens in the US believe the Democratic and Republican Parties cannot effectively deal with pressing environmental and nuclear concerns and envision a new, decentralized, grass-roots politics where the ecological future of the planet comes first. Their slogans are ``Neither left nor right but ahead,'' and ``Think globally, act locally.''
``A green in the US has a vision of society that is not totally different from our society except that its economy is ecologically based and its politics are clearly based on the philosophy that old politics don't work and wars are no longer winnable,'' says John Rensenbrink, a professor at Bowdoin College and spokesman of the Maine Green Party, who estimates there are 3,000 active greens in the US.
Green activists are involved with local issues and support green candidates for local offices. Some greens in fact run on the Democratic ticket. The New Haven Green Party garnered an astonishing 10 to25 percent of the vote in ward elections in November 1985, running on the issues that Yale University should bear a greater part of New Haven's tax burden, and toxic methods of solid-waste disposal should be abandoned. ``I think it is important that we run our own candidates so we have a palpable, active base,'' said Dr. Rensenbrink.
Nevertheless, the young American Green movement has yet to achieve the success and popularity of the West German Greens. ``While our philosophies are similar, our circumstances are very different,'' said Rensenbrink. Issues like ecology and peace have greater mass appeal in West Germany, and the West German parliamentary system of proportional representation has allowed die Gr"unen access to national electoral politics that is impossible in America.
In the US, a slew of small groups make up the Green movement. They include the Committees of Correspondence, the Citizen's Party, the Humanist Party, the USA Greens, and a number of individual state and local Green parties largely located in California and New England. The environmentalist group Greenpeace does not consider itself politically ``green,'' since it tries to appeal to people of all political persuasions.
They are competing for the attention of people interested in environmental issues. They are concerned, however, that people who are not really greens, are identifying themselves with the movement.
``We are concerned that fringe groups are calling themselves green like the old yippies,'' said Charlene Spretnak, a founder of the Committees of Correspondence and a professor at University of California at Berkeley, a loose national network of Green organizations. ``If groups like that put out the word, they will ruin the word.''
The West German Greens are made up oftwo often bitterly feuding factions, the fundamentalists, who refuse to compromise their ideals for political success, and the realists, who favor a coalition with West Germany's Social Democratic Party. This division is reflected among American greens.
``There needs to be a distinction between greens and left greens,'' said Dr. Spretnak, speaking of ecological activists who have incorporated New Left issues into the Green philosophy.
At a Green conference of more than 400 such activists in Los Angeles three months ago, organizer Robert Gottlieb called Spretnak's vision of the American Green movement too narrow.
``We were trying to identify a type of alternative politics that has its roots in environmentalism, industrial, labor, New Left, and women's movements,'' Mr. Gottlieb told participants. ``There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who identify with these politics who may not call themselves greens who we can get involved.'' Though the Green movement is still quite small, Gottlieb maintains it is growing and that thousands of members of groups such as the Sierra Club are potential constituents.
The West German Greens party, itself, is confused by the variety of American groups calling themselves ``Green'' and competing for their recognition.
Said Petra Kelly, a Green member of Parliament: ``We really don't understand who the real greens in America are.''