first published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, November 15, 2000
WHY I TURNED GREEN
by Matt Gonzalez
SO HERE’S HOW it happened. I went to a rally held in front of KRON, channel 4, with my friends Adam Raney and Larry Roberts to protest Green Party candidate Medea Benjamin’s exclusion from the televised senatorial debates (which included Republican Tom Campbell and Democrat Dianne Feinstein). Other than being sure of seeing some good agitprop (of Feinstein probably) and plenty of police, I wasn’t anticipating anything. I certainly wasn’t expecting any kind of political or moral epiphany.
But as the event wore on, what was at stake became disturbingly obvious to me: a thoughtful, intelligent, and honest progressive candidate for senator was being excluded from the opportunity to reach voters and win electoral support.
I couldn’t help thinking of how most of my support in last year’s district attorney’s race came as a result of being allowed into televised debates with my better-known opponents and how that support has eventually led to my being the front-runner in the District Five supervisorial race.
The more I thought about it, the more I knew I wasn’t OK with it. I didn’t want to be a member of a party that was urging the exclusion of a candidate solely on the grounds that the candidate didn’t have enough support, when it’s precisely television coverage that could win that candidate public acceptance.
So if the Democratic Party is working so hard to squelch valuable debate, why should I remain a Democrat? I was already discouraged by Al Gore’s pronouncements, during the presidential debates, in favor of the death penalty and his equivocation on gay marriage. As I reflected on this, I realized I had less in common with Feinstein’s party than with Medea Benjamin’s.
Spoken word event at the Great American Music Hall featuring Medea Benjamin, Kevin Danaher, Jello Biafra, and Matt Gonzalez, April 2, 2004.
Those who follow political races in this city know the Democratic Party in San Francisco includes sanctioned clubs (like the Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club and the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, just to name two) that engage in massive soft-money campaigns against good progressive candidates. What do I have in common with these clubs and the tactics they employ? How much do I have in common with some of the Democrats these clubs promote, such as Amos Brown, Juanita Owens, Linda Richardson, and Michael Yaki?
I don’t have much in common with them at all.
So I joined the Green Party. I decided I am not going to vote for candidates who support the death penalty or oppose gay marriage. I’m not going to vote for candidates who oppose campaign-finance reform or value the corporation over the individual. Nor will I give the local machine party any legitimacy by remaining a part of it.
Green Party Board of Education member Sarah Lipson and Green Party Board of Supervisor’s member Matt Gonzalez at the Adobe Bookshop, 2002.
I don’t believe the Democratic Party is identical to the Republican Party. And there are some good Democrats working to make substantive change. But the Democratic Party does not, at this time, reflect my primary values.
Of course, I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to become a Green, with many Democrats blaming the Greens for a possible Bush victory. Perhaps the Democratic voters in District Five will want to take it out on me. But as I see it, notwithstanding the Greens and the 19,000 “disenfranchised” voters in Florida, Gore did win the presidential election: he won the popular vote. And just as the Green Party is fighting for electoral reform, specifically urging proportional representation, so too should the Democrats fight to abolish the Electoral College as an outmoded way of electing our president.
Many in my campaign urged me not to change parties or at least to wait until I had won the election. But why should I wait? Shouldn’t the voters in District Five have the opportunity to vote against me because I’m Green? And what kind of impression would I be making on folks whom I’m asking to trust me if I can’t even be honest about my own party affiliation?