A Vote That Counts
by Sven Eberlein
Imagine casting a vote for a party you like rather than voting for the
lesser of two evils. Imagine one of every 11 people doing the same. And
then, just for kicks, imagine being recognized as a respected, legitimate
member of society for doing so, rather than being called a naive radical
spoiling the party for the big leaguers.
This is what life is like for Green voters in Germany. After raking in an
astonishing 8.6 percent of the vote in the Sept. 22 election (up from 6.7
percent in 1998), the party that introduced itself with bouquets of flowers
to the German parliament more than 20 years ago has now become an
established player in German politics: After the latest election, no
significant decision in Germany will be made without a Green stamp on it.
Licking the seal on this year's absentee ballot was by far the most
empowering feeling in my young life as a member of a democratic society. As
a German expatriate, it has been difficult to watch so many of my friends
here at the voting booth check the name of someone whom they consider a
spineless puppet. The alternative is to go with a candidate who speaks with
integrity and get crucified by a mob accusing you of throwing away your
So while my poor American compatriots' ballots for Ralph Nader and his ideas
of social justice, peace and equality went straight to the waste basket, I
was invited to cast a vote that not only has significant bearing on whether
Germany will support President Bush's war in Iraq, but also strengthens the
Green Party's position of power within the governing coalition. Foreign
Minister Joschka Fischer and Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin are just
two of the prominent examples.
Earlier this month Californians chose between two gubernatorial candidates nobody
liked. Honestly, did you meet anyone other than their campaign managers who
touted the virtues of Gray Davis or Bill Simon? So how come we didn't hear
more about Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate for governor who
addressed issues an average citizen can relate to, like universal health
care and minimum wage?
The most obvious reason, of course, is that Davis' and Simon's campaign war
chests were stuffed with donations from corporations, who drive the
political agenda, drowning out many others. But more poignantly, it is the
persisting image of third-party candidates as half-baked wing-nuts and
tree-spikers that instills an irrational fear of the nonestablishment
candidate in the American voter. Funny, whenever we actually got to hear
Camejo, he sounded like the most levelheaded and knowledgeable kid on the
Germany uses a democratic system called Proportional Representation (PR), where the "winners" take only
as much power as the people give them and the "losers" still get to work for
their constituents. In this system, third parties are always at least allowed to state their case.
When the Greens first jumped the 5 percent hurdle in 1983, they were
certainly a motley bunch of idealists, but given their chance, they stepped
up to the plate and earned the people's trust. To put it in American terms:
How do you ever find out if your rookie quarterback is a "gamer" if he never
gets a snap?
Twenty years after being substituted into the game, the German Green Party
has become an established playmaker. Many Germans vote Green, an act as
ordinary as recycling or walking. Punks like myself actually get to
participate in democracy, feeling like well-adjusted members of society and
pushing voter turnout to over 80 percent. Now isn't that radical?
Sven Eberlein, a San Francisco-based freelance writer and musician, is a
German citizen and legal resident of the United States.
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