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COLUMN ONE : Still Green in World of Politics : Sure, there are quirky features--'vibes watchers' at meetings and a plan for vegetarian meals in jail. There is also stressful infighting. But the state's Green Party has scored some early successes.

September 28, 1992|JACK CHEEVERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every so often, John Lewallen gets a bit stressed out by his involvement in the fledgling Green Party of California. That's when he finds it calming to wade into the surf near his Mendocino home and harvest some choice seaweed.

"I discovered that to do political work you need a business . . . that is cooling to the psyche," said Lewallen, who sells what he describes as gourmet seaweed to organic food stores through his Mendocino Sea Vegetable Co.

"A lot of times I'm out there in the tide and my head is swirling with our latest political struggles. But I'm being cooled by the seaweed," he said.

Lewallen is among the 95,000 environmentalists, feminists, peace activists, aging hippies and other Greens who hope to propel their tiny party to power by promoting "ecological wisdom," social justice, small-is-better economics and "post-patriarchal values."

But Lewallen, 49, has spent a fair amount of time chilling out in the seaweed lately. His party, certified in January as California's newest, has been embroiled in a series of internal political squabbles worthy of Machiavelli's Florence.

In one case, an exasperated Green from Hollywood--a blues musician by trade--sued the party after local Green leaders refused to let him run against a pro-environment Los Angeles congressman. The musician charged that he was denied partly because he wears a ponytail.

Greens in the San Francisco Bay Area--the party's stronghold--debated a politically correct proposal to reduce "male dominance" at party meetings by alternating men and women speakers, and cutting off additional men speakers after all the women had finished.

"It never became a real issue, because men thought it was unfair," Shelly Martin, a San Francisco Green, said of the plan, which was defeated. "But some women felt that if there were no women left to say anything, maybe there was nothing left to say and men were just making a lot of hot air."

Despite the turmoil, Greens have scored some early successes.

About a dozen have won nonpartisan local offices across the state. A Green is a member of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, and Greens sit on city councils in Davis and Arcata in California. In San Diego County, Greens have been elected to several local boards and commissions.

The Green Party already is the second largest of the state's four ballot-qualified minor parties. (The right-wing American Independent Party, with 217,000 registered voters, is the largest. Peace and Freedom, with 68,182 voters, is third, and Libertarians are the smallest with 66,996.) Sixteen Greens are running for seats in Congress and the Legislature, most of them in Southern California.

Like other third parties in California, the Green Party has its, well, unorthodox features.

Its platform calls for vegetarian meals to be served in jails and public schools. At party meetings, "vibes watchers" make sure members do not get too angry at one another during debates on controversial issues.

Unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, the hierarchy-hating Greens have no party chairman or political director. The closest thing they have to a party executive director is a Sacramento woman whose full name is Cuest.

"To put together a political party with people who despise traditional politics--hey, that's a real challenge," said Mike Twombly, a Green who works as a Sacramento lobbyist for civil rights and education groups.

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The Greens qualified as a political party after a voter registration drive beginning in 1990 that targeted potential members at environmental rallies, anti-Gulf War marches and rock 'n' roll concerts.

Many Greens are veterans of the environmental, anti-war and women's movements, and a wide strain of 1960s counterculture runs through their party. It is founded on "10 key values," which the party lists as "ecological wisdom, grass-roots democracy, social justice, nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, post-patriarchal values, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility and sustainable future focus."

Patterned after Green parties in Europe, the California Greens stress that they are not only concerned about environmental matters. They say they want to synthesize ecological values with others, such as feminism.

The party's official ballot statement describes it as "a new party that has arisen in response to the need for a new political vision free of the failed ideologies of both the right and the left."

"The Green Party promotes an ecological vision which understands that all life on our planet is interconnected; that cooperation is more essential to our well-being than competition; that all people are connected to and dependent upon one another and upon the natural systems of our world, and that politics must come to reflect this understanding."

But the party's early months have been marked by turmoil, especially an internal debate over whether the party should field candidates for public office this year.

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