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Salad Days For Greens? : As Ecological Worries Mount, a U.S. Movement Takes Root

June 27, 1989|BOB SIPCHEN | Times Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. — It was the blues as only a Green could sing them: "the hierarchy, patriarchy, eco-destructiveness blues," to be exact. But most of the people spread out on the lawn at the University of Oregon here were too busy talking to sing along with the young folk singer.

Fueled by news of burning rain forests, radioactive air over Chernobyl, and the oil Exxon spilled on Alaskan waters, the Green party has suddenly emerged as an alternative power source in Europe. And Wednesday, as 250 delegates from California and most other parts of the country arrived in Eugene for a five-day conference of U.S. Greens, they shared an almost giddy sense that America, too, might be poised at one of those rare points in history where radical change--or at least a radical change in thinking--is possible.

'Who Are the Greens?'

Delegates excitedly reported that with each new ecological disaster come calls and letters from people with a vague notion that the Greens have plans for harmonizing the human and natural worlds. "Who are the Greens?" the callers wonder. "Where do you stand?"

The problem is, after five years of organizing, U.S. Greens themselves aren't sure.

"There are a lot of people in this country who would like for a Green movement to happen," said Brian Tokar, 33, a bearded, frizzy-haired caricature of a '60s activist and a prominent theorist in a movement that disdains personal prominence.

Greens address the political and economic roots of environmental problems, and examine social problems such as poverty and racism as they fit into the natural ecology. So "there is a lot of expectation from the public" about what they have to offer, Tokar said. But so far, he conceded, U.S. Greens have been unable to define themselves clearly.

Are they the Greens who would work only at the grass-roots level, for instance, or the Greens who would capitalize on the public's growing concern about the environment and launch a national party? Are they the Greens who would come out roaring with leftist rhetoric about capitalist oppressors, or those who would adopt the inoffensive slogan, "We are neither left or right, but out in front"?

Are they the movement of the '90s or, as one conference participant wondered, "just a bunch of leftover hippies?"

Conference-goers who figured those questions could be quickly hammered out in smoke-filled rooms had a lot to learn about the painfully gentle process of Green-style democracy.

The Greens sprouted as an anti-nuclear, pro-decentralized government movement in West Germany in 1979. By most accounts, Green thinking first spread to the United States in 1983, when Petra Kelly, an American-educated Green member of the German Bundestag returned to this country and made an impassioned pitch for Green philosophy on national television.

According to the book, "Green Politics," by Charlene Spretnak and Fritjof Capra, in 1984, 64 U.S. Greens met in St. Paul, Minn., and created a system of local grass-roots Committees of Correspondence, based on the political units of that name during the American Revolutionary War. The gathering also founded a national clearinghouse in St. Paul, which remains the focal point of the committees' activity.

The German Greens had conceived a broad philosophy based on "four pillars": ecology, grass-roots democracy, nonviolence and social responsibility." The U.S. Greens added to these a broad statement of "10 Key Values."

Typically, no one at the conference was able to state even a ballpark figure for how many Greens there are, noting only that they are active in more than 200 U.S. locations.

So far that interest has produced negligible political clout, delegates conceded. But they take hope from what's happening in Europe--where Greens captured 1,800 city council seats in France in March, and earlier this month doubled their seats in the European parliament to 39.

The next step in their evolution here, delegates said, is to develop a more unified national platform. Last year a call went out for anyone who was so inclined to submit a paper for discussion at this year's conference (although for reasons perhaps only a Green can understand, they were called not papers but SPAKAS (Strategy and Policy Approaches in Key Areas).

Conference-goers found themselves confronted with more than 200 SPAKAS with a staggering variety of broadly and narrowly defined titles such as "The Decentralization of Money," "Urban Sprawl Reduction Through Land Value Taxation," "Educational Multi-Media Caravans," "Human Relationships and Sexuality," "Apartheid," "The Return of Federal Land in the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation" and "Homophobia."

So with SPAKAS lumped into 11 basic categories, working groups here dove in to debate and then consolidate each batch of papers into a single coherent statement.

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