with Mark Dunlea, Green Party of New York
Mark Dunlea is the clearinghouse coordinator for the Green Party of New York State. He learned politics in Albany and has worked as an organizer for more than two decades. In 1996 he lobbied Ralph Nader to run and worked to get him on the ballot in New York; however, he disagreed with the way the Nader campaign was conducted. Dunlea spoke with DEMOCRACY IN ACTION on July 24, 1999 at the Green Gathering in Washington, DC. Earlier in the morning he had participated a forum on the 2000 presidential campaign at which he emphasized the need to develop clear and realistic goals for any such campaign. "Define victory," said Dunlea, not just in a vague way, but with a written campaign plan. Dunlea identified inclusion in the presidential debates, qualifying for primary matching funds, qualifying for ballot status in a specific number of states, and achieving a target percentage of the vote total in the general election as possible goals for .
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You've been active in progressive politics since way back. Can you talk briefly about your involvement with the PIRGs?
Well I was one of the co-founders of the New York Public Interest Research
Group back in 1972 and worked with them for about five years during that
time. I also helped organized the national Public Interest Research Group
that represents all the states, and I was the first chairperson of that
and worked with them on issues from property tax reform to solar power
to the bottle bill, various energy issues, freedom of information law--good
government type issues.
And then you got involved in the Citizen's Party?
DUNLEA: I actually went to work, after I got out of law school, for a group called ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and they organize low and moderate income people across the county, and I primarily organized for them in the south and the west. And they tried to set up a progressive third party in the late '70s; it was not successful, but a number of us left ACORN at that point and went to help organize the Citizen's Party, who ran Barry Commoner for president in the early 1980s.
about four years working with the Citizen's Party in New York, and I served
as state co-chair for a couple of years and also on the national executive
committee, and my wife and I were the campaign managers for six months
for Sonia Johnson. Most people know Sonia--well she was the first woman
to actually run for president on the ballot. There was a woman in the late
1800's, but women weren't allowed to run or have the vote at that point.
But she was best known for being excommunicated from the Mormon church
for supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, and just had had a contest for
the presidency of NOW with Eleanor Smeal--and went in and she ran for president
and I helped manage her campaign for six months.
You've been with the Greens for how long now?
I consider my work with the Citizen's Party to be an outgrowth of the Greens,
but about 1990 I helped organize the Green Party of New York state and
also my local community. I actually have been elected to office as a Green.
I served on my town board for four years. In New York you're allowed to
run on more than one line; it's one of the few so-called fusion states.
I was elected as a Green and as a Democrat. I also ran about three years
ago for county executive in my county just as a Green--got about 11 1/2
percent of the vote in a three way race for county executive in Rensselaer
County. Rensselaer is right next to Albany, which is the state capital
of New York.
Focusing on presidential politics, based on your experience with the Citizen's Party and what you're seeing now with the Greens, have any lessons been learned from that? Can you expect a more positive outcome or is this going to end the same way?
DUNLEA: Well, I think in the United States before we really see a more positive outcome with progressive parties you're going to need to see proportional representation. In terms of our present winner take all system, which only us and Canada, England and France use, it's quite difficult for third parties to be heard… We have a very corporate-owned media in the United States; they did not provide adequate coverage to third parties.
one of the things I'm very interested in, there are various international
accords related to how elections are to be conducted. The United States
is in violation of those accords, and there has been talk about sending
international observers to monitor the 2000 presidential election. And
that's one thing I'd urge the Green Party to do is follow up on that. Just
like the United States like to send observers to Haiti, so will Europe
send observers to the United States. A lot of foreign individuals who were
in the United States during the last presidential campaign were flabbergasted
that say the Green Party, which finished fourth in the country, received
virtually no media coverage, and that somebody like Ross Perot, who had
done double digits in the previous election, was similarly excluded from
the presidential debates and a lot of the mainstream media coverage.
Can you sum up what effect the Green campaign in 1996 had?
DUNLEA: Well it helped build the Greens into a stronger political movement. The Greens have really been the most successful progressive party in the United States since about the '30s. For a lot of people--you know the Greens have really been organizing since about '85--it was really the first time they'd heard about the Greens was during the Nader campaign, and has resulted in more candidates at the local level being elected. We elected our first candidate to a state level office in California [Audie Bock], got elected to the state legislature. So it's definitely helped our vote totals; we really moved up to the 10% in some of the big races.
what the role of third parties have been in American history is to take
issues that the mainstream parties have been unwilling to deal with and
force that into the mainstream. I don't think that the 1996 election as
yet--we've seen that, you know I can't say that the issues like trying
to control the power of corporations has really been adopted by either
major political party. I think one of the problems we have right now, particularly
under Clinton, he has tremendously accelerated the corporate ownership
of the Democratic Party. And so that would be the party that would be more
likely to pick up on some of our issues, but given that Clinton has put
the party up for sale to special interests, our issues have not had a particularly
receptive…response vis the two major parties since the 1996 election.
How about Nader as a candidate? You mentioned there were some lessons to be learned from that whole experience.
I think Ralph has learned something as well. I mean Ralph was very concerned
last time around about raising funds for his campaign; her refused to spend
more than $5,000 on the election. And I think he recognized himself that
that really limited his impact. And I think he understands that this time
around he has to do it at a more serious level so both the media and the
public will take him more seriously. I think he understands he needs to
coordinate better with the grassroots. I think he generally liked the experience…he
always loves talking to people about issues. And I think he recognizes
that he probably missed some opportunities with the way he ran the campaign;
that if he's going to do it this time he needs to commit to do it in a
much more full-scale effort to make sure that his message and the Green
Party's message is gotten out. I think he also really liked meeting the
Greens. I wish he was…a card-carrying member, which he has not yet formally
done. But I've heard him on public radio saying that he really believes
that the Greens are the most important political movement in the country
at this point…
There are two national Green organizations--ASGP and G/GPUSA--which is confusing to some.
Well, the Greens are so big, it's hard to put 'em in one party; you need two to accommodate the size.
Are you saying that with a straight face?
Well, a little
bit of a grin on my face… I mean the Greens are the largest political party
in the world in terms of the number of countries that it's in. It's actually
in the parliament of two dozen countries; of course most of the countries
have a fairer electoral system. And in most of those countries, having
two wings is in fact quite common. One that is more idealistic and is looking
long-term and speaking to the ideals of the party, and the other wing more
about given the limitations of power and change in our country how can
we best promote the overall vision of the Green Party in the short term,
while downplaying some issues. And I think that is to a large extent the
struggle that takes place between the Association of State Green Parties
and GPUSA; it's more about tactical concerns in the short term. Most members
of the Greens in the United States frankly don't even know that ASGP and
|Copyright 1999 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action|