Early Years of California Greens and their national and international Green roots

By Charlene Spretnak

"A ritual procession of twenty-seven people - including a nurse, a shop steward,a former general, a mason, several teachers, a veterinarian, a computer programmer,three engineers and a scientist, a bookseller, an architect, a journalist, anda lawyer - walked through the streets of West Germany's capital on March 22,1983 with a huge rubber globe and a branch from a tree that was dying from pollutionin the Black Forest. They were accompanied by representatives from various citizens'movements and from other countries. They entered the lower chamber of the national assembly, the Bundestag, and took their seats as the first new party to be electedin more than thirty years. The new parliamentarians insisted on being seatedin between the conservative party, who sat on the right side of the chamber,and the liberal-left party, who sat on the left. They called themselves simply Die Grunen, the Greens."  -- from Green Politics, by Charlene Spretnak & Fritjof Capra

European Seeds

In the late 1970's, activists in various European movements - disarmament & anti-nuclear, women's rights, social justice, labor, and other progressive social causes - began to join together, linking their separate struggles to a broader common agenda, working for a fundamental transformation of all social institutions. Unable to agree on a name, they agreed on a color: green - for life, for nature, for the earth. In 1979, Die Grunen was born in West Germany, to be followed shortly by many other Green Parties throughout Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and eventually the rest of the world.

These Europeans were inspired by the popular struggles of the 1960's here in the US - civil rights, women's liberation, peace and student movements - and by the social experimentation and developing counter-culture of that era. Early Green thinking was also significantly shaped by the traditions and struggles of Native Americans; much of the understanding that all life is interdependent, that ecological balance is essential to survival, originated in the wisdom of native cultures. (We also inherited many elements of our Green culture from the anti-nuclear and other grassroots movements of the 1970's: feminist values and cooperative group process, integrating feelings as well as ideas; open, democratic, consensus-based decision-making; an orientation toward nonviolent direct action and small, autonomous 'affinity' groups; a commitment to self-education and sustainable lifestyles; and for some, a spiritual or faith-based orientation.)

In 1983, the West German Greens surprised the world by winning 27 seats in parliament. Other victories followed throughout the nations of western Europe (almost all of which use some form of proportional representation.) Initially dismissed as starry-eyed utopians, Greens gradually won attention and elections by putting forth sustainable, just, pragmatic solutions to political and social problems - and more, offering a vision for the future, an alternative to the suicidal business-as-usual of the other parties. Declaring themselves the 'anti-party party', Greens challenged the existing political system and called for a new, more democratic, participatory, and decentralized political process.

Taking Root in the US

In the spring of 1984, Spretnak & Capra's book "Green Politics" is published,furthering awareness of the green vision in the U.S. (The previous fall, GermanGreen leaders Petra Kelly, Rudolf Bahro, and Gert Bastian had toured the U.S.,giving lectures and interviews.) In May of 1984, at the North American BioregionalConference, several people meet to discuss the need for a green movement in thiscountry. They invite others to a meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, in August, whereafter much discussion the US Green movement is born. The group at St. Paul nametheir new decentralized, networked organization after the Committees of Correspondenceof the first American Revolution. They also establish a clearinghouse and adoptthe 10 Key Values (see previous section). Using these as an initial basis foragreement, the participants in the St. Paul meeting go back to their respectiveregions of the country to begin organizing local Committees of Correspondence.

California Blossoms

The following year local green groups begin forming - first in the San Francisco Bay Area, then throughout the state. The Green Committees of Correspondence (GCoC) breaks California into three regions for representation at the national level. The Northern California Greens, the Southern California Green Assembly and the Greens of San Diego send delegates to Inter-Regional Committee meetings held around the country three times a year.

In July 1987 the first public gathering of greens from throughout the US is held in a redwood grove near Monterey. The 5-day conference, "Greening the West", attracts over 2000 participants. In 1989 delegates from local CoCs throughout the country meet in Eugene, Oregon at the first national Green Gathering, to develop a national Green program (platform), initially called Strategies and Policy Approaches in Key Areas (SPAKA). At the following year's gathering in Estes Park, Colorado, the program is completed and published.

Local Green groups in California liked the idea of having a statewide network of GCoC locals, and in November of 1989, the California Green Assembly is launched. Opinions at the first meeting in Fresno are divided over whether to form a political party, and if so, how soon. The Assembly learns that the name "Green" is currently in the hands of a siloist cult group called 'Green Future', but the siloists qualification period will end December 31.

On January 2, 1990, Kent Smith and Roger Picklum file a request with the California Elections Division for the Green name on behalf of the California Green Assembly. On February 4 the Assembly meets in Sacramento. While most are relieved to find that the Green name has been captured from the siloists, opinions differ sharply on whether to actually form a party. Some want to begin moving toward ballot status at once; others think it premature, and want to first build a broader, more multicultural grassroots base. A few oppose a party altogether, feeling electoral politics is inconsistent with grassroots democracy.

On March 2, the Secretary of State approves the Green Party request, giving the CoC Greens a two-year qualification period. The Assembly meets again in LA in late March; many are not happy with the rapid pace of events. Some long-time Green organizers see the pro-party faction as a small, un-representative group acting undemocratically and ignoring group agreements and process. Conflict over whether to seek ballot status reaches a peak, and the meeting breaks down into a shouting match; Mindy Lorenz is physically assaulted on the plenary floor by an irate green. Party advocates see the differences as irreconcilable, leave the meeting and regroup at Eco-Home in Glendale to continue plans. Some dedicated organizers who had opposed seeking immediate ballot status leave the Greens; the California Green Assembly is never reconvened.

In May, Party advocates regroup as the Green Party Organizing Committee (GPOC), set up a Coordinating Committee, working groups and provisional bylaws (the beginning of our current party structure). Signature gathering is haphazard until the Qualifying working group hires Joe Louis Hoffman to coordinate the Northern California registration drive later that year.

By summer of 1991, with only months left, Greens have gathered less than 30,000 registrations. However, the effort takes off in the fall, and a last-minute push during November and December bring in more volunteers and money. In the end, Greens register more than 103,000 new Green voters by December 31. On January 21, 1992, the Secretary of State announces that The Green Party of California has qualified for the ballot, making us the first new political party to qualify in California in 20 years, and the second Green Party in the US (after Alaska).