October 6, 2003
I like these Green Party folks; my first encounter with them was nearly
ten years ago in an impetuous little college town in northern
California. Out of dank boredom, I went to one of their meetings and
ambled in as they were planning a local campaign for Ralph Nader, during
his first run. There was a Green Party candidate for city council there,
Bob Ornelas, who was packing several two-liter Coke bottles full of
beer, fresh beer from the tap at his brewery, the Coke bottles from the
dumpster out back.
We didn't get Ralph elected to the presidency that year but we did get a majority of Greens on the City Council, for the first time in American history.
Not long afterward, we hosted a California Green Party gathering and when I volunteered to find the keynote speaker, I was duly advised that Winona LaDuke would be a welcomed choice, since she was our candidate for Vice President. When I was finally able to connect with her she declined because of an impending delivery, that of her second child, then she suggested I contact a person she was working with, Chris Peters, of the Seventh Generation Fund, since he lived in the same town as I.
When Chris spoke on opening night, he shook the ground and every Green on it. We felt the sorrow and despair of a ravaged people and the dignity of a race at one with this Earth; I am humbled by the memory of it.
The Greens assembled the next day for a full slate of forums and I was amazed at the diversity of people. It was the most incredible mix I have ever seen under one roof and it seemed that everyone had their own cause and issue; it was then that I realized what 'grassroots' really means. When the local Republicans ran a picket outside the meeting hall with signs that read "Watermelons -- Green on the outside, Red on the inside" we all applauded their activism; some of them cheered along with us.
Winona LaDuke did make it into town sometime later, and while sitting on a couch with her discussing native sovereignty, I was taken by her presence and her overwhelming intelligence. She is an old soul with the wisdom of ages, everyone's mother and sister and daughter.
As you might imagine, the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives were not happy with the Greens' success, their constant political sniping became so irritating and distracting that within a few short years, after chiding the Greens relentlessly for not attending the meetings and supporting the Council, I decided it was time for a visit from Ralph Nader. We needed a morale boost and who could deliver it to our jaded ranks more effectively than could Ralph?
One of our Council members, Jason Kirkpatrick, acquired a fax number for Nader at his desk in Washington and I wrote a letter. I wrote it with the intent of getting a response, rather desperate I suppose, and the day after Jason faxed it to him Ralph called me, at my home.
I'll never forget it.
The call came in about one in the afternoon on a Saturday. I picked up the phone and said "Hey." The voice at the other end said, "Good afternoon, may I speak with Michael Stowell, please?" I recognized his voice immediately, I mean, who wouldn't, and as I sank into a chair I croaked, "You're speaking to him."
"Ralph Nader, here, in Washington; a pleasure to speak with you, Michael!"
Do I sound stunned? I was stunned!
He was one of the most personable people I have ever had a conversation with, and funny, and sharp as a tack! I am not kidding. After thirty minutes on the phone with him, I felt like we were old friends. I tried not to beg, but I must say I implored him to come to our town and talk with our Greens. He did not say no, he said that he has a sister in San Francisco and the next time he came out, he would see about stopping by. A short time later, he was in front of an audience at our local university.
The tickets were ten bucks each, the money for Public Citizen, his non-profit, and I was broke. Two nights before the event, a local radio show announced they were giving away two tickets to see Ralph Nader, I believe it was to the third caller. Guess what.
He was right on form, a great speech and quite animated. Afterward, he took questions for an hour, and very few people left, so I sat there, waiting my turn, and finally got up the nerve, and stuck up my hand, and there I was talking with him again (he recognized me immediately); asking him to give the Greens 'hell' for not attending the Council meetings in support of our Council. Ralph has a very nice way of giving people 'Hell.'
Attendance improved, dramatically.
While he was in town, Nader gave a press conference at City Hall and talked about the dangers of letting a Wal-Mart into our area; they were pushing hard to get in. Within a few days, the discussions about Wal-Mart were history; their PR team, packed up and gone.
More years went by, and I heard about Peter Camejo, he was running for Governor of California. Next thing I know, he was in town, addressing a good-sized crowd of supporters and I was videotaping the event for our local access station. I am very impressed. He should be the next Governor of the state of California.
And I am continually amazed by the dedicated citizens of this small town in the redwoods of northern California. Type "Arcata" into a search engine and see for yourself.
Oh yes, and Bob Ornelas is still part owner of the same brewery, has become a waste-reduction consultant, is still on the Council, serving his third term, another record for the Greens, and now he's the Mayor.
Good folks, those Greens.
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Resources and Related Internal Links
The Green Party of the United States
California Green Party
Humboldt County Green Party
Peter Camejo for Governor of California
The Seventh Generation Fund
A Trip To Sanity: Arcata - Gilles d'Aymery (Nov. 2002)
Not Convinced Yet? Then Check The Color Of Hope - Gilles d'Aymery (Nov. 2002)
The Greens on Swans
Michael W. Stowell is a local activist in Northern California.
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