US Green movement

From Anarchy In Action

Before it became a reformist political party, the US Greens in the 1980s and early 1990s had a strongly anti-authoritarian orientation, with Murray Bookchin and other Anarchists taking part in chapters and caucuses such as the Burlington Greens, Youth Greens, and Left Greens.

In May 1984, at the first North American Bioregional Congress, activists met and formed a "Green Movement Committee" to form an ecological movement based on the German Greens. The working group planned a conference in St. Paul that summer and adopted Ten Key Values: Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy, Personal and Social Responsibility, Nonviolence, Decentralization, Community-Based Economics, Postpatriarchal (feminist) Values, Respect for Diversity, Global Responsibility, and Future Focus. The group defined the new organization as a federation of local alliances, rather than a national political party. They called themselves the Committees of Correspondence after the committees in the American Revolution. Members left the St. Paul convention and and spread the word across the country.[1]

In 1985, a local Green Party formed in New Haven, Connecticut and ran candidates for City Council. They came in second to the Democrats, beating the Republicans. Months after the election, a City Council member joined the Greens, becoming the first Green elected official in the country.[2]

The Greens held their first national conference in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1987. In 1988, Murray Bookchin and other social ecologists circulated a call for a Left Green Network, a network which wound up calling themselves social ecologists and advocating the abolition of capitalism and the state. To the displeasure of the movement's more moderate elements, the Left Greens introduced and passed a variety of radical proposals into the Greens' platform at a 1990 convention in Colorado: opposition to emissions trading, support for indigenous sovereignty, a three-quarters reduction in the military budget, and more. By 1990, there were 150 active Green locals and 200 other affiliated groups.[3]

A Youth Greens caucus, formed around this time by recent Institute for Social Ecology students, also embraced an anarchist position. The Youth Greens and Left Greens partnered to organize a march on Wall Street on Earth Day of 1990. At 6 am, affinity groups gathered at New York's Liberty Plaza (later renamed Zucotti Park and the site of Occupy Wall Street in 2011), dressed in black bloc attire to conceal their identities.

Dozens of young folks showed up at Liberty Plaza at 6am, and quickly got to work building barricades on Broadway with bicycle racks, garbage cans, and pieces of wood from a nearby construction site, before the sun had even come up. Meanwhile, hundreds of additional folks arrived, and affinity groups began sitting down in front of the entrances of the police saw-horse mazes erected to make sure Wall Street opened for business. Six hundred police were mobilized for this purpose, in effect shutting down Wall Street, surrounding it with saw horses and riot cops so no one could get close. Over 1,500 people showed up for the action, which lasted till the late afternoon, blocking entrances and causing mayhem. Over 200 were arrested.[4]

From 1986 to 1990, the Burlington Greens in Vermont combined Anarchism with an involvement in local electoral politics. They followed a strategy that Bookchin, a member, called libertarian municipalism or Communalism. Their intent was to take local power and rewrite the city charter, so that decision-making power would be transferred from bureaucracies to directly democratic assemblies. Although the Burlington Greens disbanded before they won any elections, some of the short-term reforms they advocated in their campaigns were taken on and implemented by the city government. Most notably, the Progressive Party administration turned the city's waterfront into a public park and put aside plans to develop condos there.[5]

By 1990, there were over 150 active Green locals and 200 other affiliated groups. Around this time, however, the movement began to split into two factions: a reformist, electoral strand and a radical, participatory strand. Exemplary of the reformist strand, in 1989 some national-level activists formed an independent Green Party Organizing Committee, which eventually became the famous U.S. Green Party that ran Ralph Nader for president in 2000. The radical strand formed a national organization called The Greens/Green Party USA in 1991. By the mid-1990s, electoral politics had become the Green movement's de facto focus, and for the most part the Left Greens and Youth Greens difted away to other projects.[6]


  1. Brian Tokar, The Green Alternative: Creating an Ecological Future (San Pedro: R. & E. Miles, 1992), 52-53.
  2. Tokar, The Green Alternative, 149.
  3. Tokar, The Green Alternative 51-53. Tokar, "On Bookchin’s Social Ecology and its Contributions to Social Movements", Capitalism Nature Socialism (2008), http://www.skidmore.edu/~rscarce/Soc-Th-Env/Env%20Theory%20PDFs/Tokar--Bookchin.pdf. Tokar, "The Greens as a Social Movement: Values and Conflicts", Institute for Social Ecology, http://www.social-ecology.org/2006/01/the-greens-as-a-social-movement-values-and-conflicts/. Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl, "A Critique of the Draft Platform of the Left Green Network," Institute for Social Ecology, http://www.social-ecology.org/1991/06/left-green-perspectives-23/.
  4. Paul Messersmith-Glavin, "Remembering the Earth Day Wall Street Action", Counterpunch, 23 April 2015.
  5. Janet Biehl, Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), ch. 12. Also see Burlington Greens.
  6. Tokar, The Green Alternative, 53-54. Tokar, "The Greens as a Social Movement." The Greens/Green Party USA, "Why are there two Green Parties?" https://www.greenparty.org/why.php.