Chris Hedges’ Empty Chair Speech


Some good-quality videos of Green Party stuff are becoming available, and this recent one is something to hear, if you have the time:

So you have a choice.  You can take an hour to watch the video and then read my critique, or read my rant, with all the second-hand info about what’s in the video, and then watch it to see whether I’m full of it.

Let’s start with the fact that Chris Hedges obviously knows a lot, and has done some very good things, notably a good lawsuit against the feds, and much verbal defense of the Occupy movement in the media.  He’s visited a lot of places, and interviewed lotsa remarkable people, of which he doesn’t fail to remind us in his talk.  Such namedropping gets more frequent toward the end of the talk, as you’ll see.

Large parts of his talk are very worth hearing, for anyone who might not yet be quite aware of the authoritarian kleptocracy we live under and its shock-and-awe-inspiring power.  It’s when he tries to tell Greens what to do….

Right away, I was reminded of an event we local “progressives” put on many years ago.  We had a very distinguished speaker invited to address the crowd, and he asked me what we most wanted to hear from him.  I told him we’re most interested in what we can do to help the particular situation that he came out of.  (I don’t want to be too specific here with names & such.)  When he got to speaking, all he could come up with was “Talk to your political leaders and tell them to…”  Yeah, well, we were very much honored to have him there, but we had been doing that for quite a while.

So what did someone tell Chris that the Greens wanted to hear from him?  Maybe it was whatever tactical advice he might give us.  Fair enough, but Chris seems to have felt he had to editorialize about what’s wrong with the GP, though by his own admission he had very little exposure to it.  Geez, Chris, I know you’re not stupid.  Why did you have to be one more person who knows nothing about the Green Party telling us what’s wrong with the Green Party?

Let’s start with:

“…the failure of the Green Party is that it continues to play by their rules..uh… it continues to uh…put far too much energy into electoral politics.  That doesn’t mean that the Green Party shouldn’t field candidates, but that should be a very tangential part of what this party is about”

Notice the word “Party” in the name.  That means we’re a political party.  The job of a political party is to provide a ballot line and other support for candidates for office.  You’re tellling us to do less of what we exist for.   Everyone in the Party, or nearly everyone, knows that the GP is meant to be the electoral expression of a movement, not the movement itself, and most of those involved in Party business participate in some kind of activism outside Party business.

For instance, in the anti-war movement in my locality that started after 9/11, at least half the organizers were Greens.  Though the Party joined it, the organizing couldn’t be done under the Party banner much because every time I mentioned to a non-Green that I was a Green, the discussion quickly turned to “It’s all Nader’s fault!” and nothing could get done.  Do you really think there were no Greens in Occupy?  No, later he says he assumes there were.

“…and so my energy uh… was put into the Occupy movement rather than the Green Party uh… because it was a movement and uh… I think if the Green Party has any hope of becoming a credible plan uh… it better do a complete about-face and begin to focus uh… the kinds of logistics that made resistance possible.  Long discussions about the evils of corporate capitalism or showing another film at a college campus I think is an utter and complete waste of time.”

I don’t know whom he’s talking about here with the long discussions and showing films.  It’s been a few years since anyone I’m involved with held video showings, mainly because it’s all on the web, and we can just send out links.  Very little time involved.  As for long discussions….

“I think part of the problem… I have very limited exposure the Green Party but I’ll just… from my limited exposure, it’s just too many chiefs.  Everybody wants to be a chief and I think again, what I liked about the  occupy movement is that it tested that hierarchical form of power  which sucks the life blood out of organizations. I’m sure there’s some people here were in the occupy movement, a seven-hour general assembly drove me nuts uh… and yet, when the occupy movement made a decision they abided by that and i think that uh… hierarchy which again is emblematic within the Green Party is uh… if it’s a failure is it is a grafting of traditional structures of power onto a party for which it is incredibly unfit”

So Chris LIKED those long discussions, seeking consensus, in the Occupy movement.  Where does he think that custom came from?  Haven’t Greens been doing this for 30 years or more?

“Hierarchy” is a complete shot out of the blue.  “Emblematic within the Green Party”????  I really, really don’t know which Greens he’s talking about here.  If anything, people complain that they can’t get authoritative pronouncements out of us.

“Hierarchy” is, however, occasionally used as a general-purpose perjorative by anyone who doesn’t like a decision that’s been made.  More of that later.

“You have fast-food workers in New York City just walked out of jobs uh… and boy, you know when something like that happens, that’s where you should be.”

Not much in the way of strikes in my own locality, but I do recall Greens standing with striking grocery workers in 2004, and buying them pizza.  That’s seven years before
Occupy.

As we move on to questions from the Greens in the audience, about things that Greens are doing, we begin to get things like this from Chris:

“uh… that’s exactly what I’m saying:  that every organizational effort to be built around action that is focused on something concrete. Another meeting about uh… you know uh…  “Here’s our position and why can’t you understand how enlightened we are?”  is a killer so I think what you’re doing is exactly what im advocating.”

He says something similar when someone brings up Cheri Honkala’s long work among the poor and homeless.  Being reminded that Greens are doing exactly what he just said Greens are NOT doing obviously bugs him a bit.  He starts name-dropping more, starts talking more about “the left” than “the Green Party”, as a sort of retreat.  Maybe he’s just talking to his cronies over at the Nation now.  He also starts the “Keep it short, I have to go.”

And way toward the end of his talk, we finally get this:

“Part of my frustration with the Greens is that I remained true to Nader in 2008.”

So he thinks we’re wasting our time running candidates, but stayed with Nader in the most NOTHING campaign he ever had.  Then he goes on to quote a policy suggestion Nader made at that time about reforming the financial system.  This is after saying how useless policy pronouncements are.

So the fact that he was involved with the Nader campaign might explain some of the unexplainable:

I’ll tell this story as I gathered it from the scuttlebutt among Greens at the time. No citations, I’d have to dig up old emails, and I’m too lazy for that.

Back in 2003, as Greens started to think about the 2004 presidential election, Nader, or his people, met with Green “leaders”, such as they were, and some of them were very much opposed to having Nader run again on our ticket.  The main reason seemed to be the stigma attached to him by the Dems’ interpretation of Florida’s results in 2000.  That’s a whole long story that I’m not going to spend time on again.

Nader, or his people, asked for some assurance that if he ran for the Green nomination, he would get it.  No one could give such a guarantee, obviously, because candidates for the nomination have to run in the primaries.  The Green voters will decide, and no one can guarantee results a year ahead of time.  In other words, Nader, or his people, were assuming that we had leaders who could deliver the delegates for the nomination.  I have no idea where they got that idea, but there might have been a few people who opposed him and bragged that they could block his nomination.  This is the only explanation I can think of for some “hierarchy” pejorative applied to Greens, and it probably would have existed only among Nader people.

So most of Chris Hedges’ knowledge of the Green Party is filtered through the Nader campaign.  Really, Chris, that’s not a good source.  If you spend too much time with Nation staff and wealthy, high-profile activists you’re going to get a pretty distorted view of the Green Party and any number of other grassroots organizations.  That’s exactly what you seem to be warning the Greens against in much of your speech.  Physician, heal thyself.

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10 Responses to Chris Hedges’ Empty Chair Speech

  1. Matt Leslie says:

    “Not much in the way of strikes in my own locality, but I do recall Greens standing with striking grocery workers in 2004, and buying them pizza. That’s seven years before Occupy.”

    Yes, the Green Party of OC read a statement of support to hundreds (thousands?) of striking workers and other sympathetic union members at a mass rally in 2004. The Democrats were caught off-guard, and had to scramble to put something together for the next event.

    I generally like what I hear from Chris Hedges, but his griping about the Green Party strikes a familiar key. Celebrity progressives like himself are always crying in the wind about how there is no mass progressive movement, but somehow they are too busy themselves to work tables at events, call voters, write letters, and generally do whatever it takes to contact people to let them know that the movement they seek is right here, and what’s more, it’s actually on the ballot. I hope he keeps up his inspirational work of getting arrested, but if he wants to see a more effective Green Party he ought to learn a little more about what does work before concentrating on what doesn’t.

  2. Charlotte Avant says:

    I identify as a deep ecologist, peace worker, and civil rights activist. If not the Green Party, what other party gives priority to these issues for me to join? Good job, Greens. Keep up the good work.

  3. Tian says:

    I actually agree with him that putting too much energy into ballot access can be a mistake. Lately I’ve been mostly doing green movement work with Bike Party. If you take that “think globally, act locally” thing to extremes, it seems that bicycles are a global touchstone that make sense in a lot of relatively sustainable places. Running candidates does make sense, and it is worth doing, but moreso when you have a steady stream of willing volunteers. When nobody wants to run ballot lines don’t help much.

    • kitchenmudge says:

      Ballot access is, unfortunately, very difficult to regain once it’s lost. The whole idea of maintaining it is to keep it available for any good candidate that might come along.

      Many of my readers know lotsa things wrong with the GP, much more than any non-member would know about. None of them couldn’t be cured by an influx of new members. When major “lefty” figures like Hedges and Nader are silent or dismissive about us, they discourage new members, and make the same self-fulfilling prophecy about us that the msm makes.

  4. Seems to me that a common strategy among all parties and pundits is to point out what is wrong without offering any tangible ideas about how to fix anything. What would you suggest as a way to address your concerns? What’s working (if anything) that can be built upon in the Green Party? What would you say to Chris Hedges or others like him who seem point out the failings of the past but not the possibilities of the future?

    • kitchenmudge says:

      What would I say to Chris Hedges and the like? Haven’t I said enough? It’s not unusual, and not particularly bad, to talk about failings, but people should talk about what they know, not what they don’t know.

    • R j Schwichtrnberg says:

      We started the whole local green shebang in the OC from a community garden in Costa Mesa. We worked together to fight the machines with thin dimes from shallow pockets then as now. The electoral street muscle in this county was stretched with our spirits and we will continue to think beyond occupy. We Are witness to the body politic, we are the left flank that will be present with passion and firm with desire to educate first ,demonstrate alternatives for a planet worthy of our relationship with all that is. You can’t miss it we’ve been branded and then misbranded, laughed at then despised.
      We win every opportunity we can just by being there together to laugh even to consensus.

  5. Hi KitchenMudge.

    My belated response is on account of just finding your blog –while looking for criticisms of the Green Party (that have merit) –to engage. I’ve had no takers in trying to start a “what’s wrong with the Greens” discussion at Energy News, seemingly due to lack of interest.

    * Firsterly: excellent blog, graphics and sense of humor –thanks. I’ll be sharing links to your pages.

    * Secondly, and per your: “–Nader, or his people, were assuming that we had leaders who could deliver the delegates for the nomination. I have no idea where they got that idea–”

    Ohdear –and then look what happened:

    > http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/08/07/how-david-cobb-became-the-green-nominee-even-though-he-only-got-12-percent-of-the-votes/

    Have the Greens “made a clean breast” of that yet? (Odd expression.)

    Do they need to? (I’d like to say “we”, but I re-registered “Independent” after 2004.)

    Am I being low/mis information about how that all went down?

    Perhaps I’m being rather innocent –about “democracy” and how real politics works?

    Craig (sincerity here, too often clueless –not trying to be a smartass.)

    • kitchenmudge says:

      Welcome aboard, Craig.

      Ah, that Counterpunch article takes me back. The wind on my face, the spray of the sea, the rum….

      I wrote about all I care to write about internal crap in the 2004 campaign here:
      http://kitchenmudge.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/you-come-back-now/
      It’s a long story, and maybe I shouldn’t expect you to read it all, but some salient facts to keep in mind when reading that old article you gave the link to:

      (1) When each of 50 states has a different set of definitions and qualifications for a “political party”, and the GP doesn’t qualify in many of them, it’s really difficult to decide who speaks for rank-and-file Greens.

      (2) Nader was at no time in 2004 or 2008 a candidate for the Green nomination for President. Imagine trying to get the Dems or Reps to nominate someone who wouldn’t register with their party, never declared himself a candidate for their nomination, and might or might not deign to accept their ballot line if offered on a silver platter.

      (3) Camejo was at no time in 2004 a candidate for the Green nomination for President. For the primary, he called himself a “favorite son” candidate who would simply stand for an all-out campaign as opposed to a “safe states” campaign. Only a couple of days before the convention did Nader choose him as a running mate, upon which Camejo became the “stand-in for Nader”. If I had known this, of course, I would have voted for Kent Mesplay in the primary.

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