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National Greens Discuss Growth

By Oliver Lukacs
Staff Writer

Feb. 23 -- Councilman Michael Feinstein sat inside the Westside Greens' office on Pico Boulevard last Friday evening and flashed peace signs and thumbs ups as visitors from as far away as Hawaii and Sweden stepped through the entrance plastered with handmade anti-war posters.

For months, Feinstein had been brainstorming the second meeting of Green Party officeholders in the U.S. and the first in five years. And now, as the more than 30 delegates filed into the softly lit room lined with global Green party memorabilia, Feinstein saw a "success story" and the building blocks for the party's future.

"We don't get a lot of contact with each other," said Feinstein, who also organized the meeting in 1998. "We're really pioneers at the beginning of a political movement. Someday there'll be tens of thousands of us, but for now we benefit by coming out of our individual isolations and bonding together."

Feinstein envisions bonding all 175 elected greens sprinkled across 25 states into an integrated network of officeholders, building from the ground up an organization of representatives who can act as a unified political force to impact federal legislation.

The weekend conference in Santa Monica was a key step, as the casually attired delegates who represent the seeds of such a network lounged on the used couches covered with Rastafarian-colored afghans and filled the connecting kitchen, living room and office space with a buzz -- laughing, talking, networking.

"Most places there is just one Green elected," said Feinstein who has been a driving force behind building the Los Angeles area party into the nation's largest Green constituency. "Santa Monica is an exception. We have more than one Green on the City Council."

With three elected and ten appointed Green officeholders, Santa Monica boasts the second largest concentration of elected and appointed officials in the nation, behind Berkeley, which has 20 Greens on twice the number of boards and commissions, Feinstein said.

Until the weekend conference, many Greens were unaware of their counterparts nationwide, Feinstein said. While feeding on salad and vegetarian Mexican lasagna the delegates gathered in a circle on the old couches to introduce themselves and share their experiences and concerns.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown, who along with Feinstein and Rent Control Board member Jeff Sklar is one of the Greens elected in Santa Monica, kicked off the meeting by ticking off the impacts that a couple of elected Greens can have on their City.

McKeown cited the anti-war resolution and the ban on smoking in public parks recently passed by the council and touted Santa Monica as home to the "world's only solar-powered Ferris Wheel." He also noted that a local ordinance banning ATM surcharges is poised to go before the Supreme Court.

"Me and Mike are being personally sued by Bank of America," said McKeown proudly, igniting a burst of applause. "These are things you can do on a local level. You can bet your bottom dollar that no Democrat or Republican on a state or federal level would go against the banking industry."

Santa Monica's Arts Commissioner Jan Williamson spoke of the skyrocketing property values "making it impossible" for artists to live and work in Santa Monica. "Having artists live and work in the City is a livability issue, it makes the City more friendly," she said.

Iris Oliveras, a co-owner of surfsantamonica.com and member of the City's Architectural Review Board, discussed the importance of preserving the City's architectural character, especially Downtown, or "you could open your eyes ten years later and it's a completely different city."

Elected Greens form cities as far-flung as Sweden and Hawaii shared their experiences on their local councils, boards and commissions.

Lotta Hedstrom -- one of 17 Greens in the seven-party, 349-member Swedish Parliament -- came to Santa Monica to figure out "how do we organize as Greens? How are our politics constructed? What crucial issues, internally, do we focus on?"

Unlike Sweden, where the battle over health care, education and the environment has been largely won, Hedstrom called America "a great battlefield… especially concerning democracy, the Greens have a great challenge."

The Swedish Greens are currently running a "work less, live more" campaign to reduce the 40 hour work week and fighting a long term battle to shift the burden of taxation from workers and employers to energy companies and major polluters.

Marc Sanchez, a member of the Board of Education in San Francisco, addressed his school system's $22 million budget shortfall and spoke of reassessing proposition 13 as a revenue stream for education.

Julie Jacobson, a former Green County Council member in Hawaii, and her husband Bob, who currently occupies that post, spoke of how developers were ripping up the sacred graveyards of Native Islanders to build luxury condominiums and apartments. They also addressed the growing problem of Mexican street gangs comprised of the children of low-wage workers brought to the island to staff the hotels.

Publicizing the accomplishment of Greens on the local level -- where 99 percent of elected Greens currently serve -- is the first step towards building a Green political machine, Feinstein said.

"There should be more media about Greens in office, but not just in the Nation magazine or Rolling Stone, but People and Cosmopolitan," Feinstein said.

Feinstein -- who has written a 674 page independently-published book on the topic -- contends that each officeholder represents a success story for a fledgling third party that is beginning to make a dent in the two-party system. The Greens' example would counter "the corporate press covering third parties saying we can't go anywhere, it's not possible, it's a two-party system.'

"That's a mantra that is beat into the heads of people on an ongoing basis, and we have to counter that, not with propaganda, but with reality," said Feinstein, who in 1992 helped organize the first global Green conference in Rio de Janeiro.

With a projected $1 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the National Party is poised to help elect more Greens to local offices nationwide, Feinstein said.

"We think spending the money on promoting officeholders is a valid expense," Feinstein said. "By forming ourselves (the officeholders) into an ongoing organization we can be part of the budgetary process."

Feinstein hopes to tap the talents of elected officials to host "campaign schools" nationwide to train Greens how to successfully run for office.

The importance of publicizing the "success stories" of officeholders hit home after Feinstein saw the level of organization of Greens on a trip through Europe. He realized it was time to "institutionalize" the Green party movement by merging the energy of the street with the experience of veteran officeholders.

"It is important for our party to be involved in doing other things like marching in the street," Feinstein said, "but marching in the street doesn't get you elected."
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