How the color green can sometimes fade.

Author:Grossman, Victor
Position:Thinking Politically

In German, the color green has nothing to do with jealousy; it symbolizes hope. When the Greens got started back in the 1970s they did indeed breathe new hope into the stuffy atmosphere of West German politics. The groundwork was laid during the immense opposition to a nuclear energy plant at Brokdorf near Hamburg. In the autumn of 1976, angry crowds gathered to protest--5000, then 30,000, and in February 1977,50,000 people defied police moats and barbed wire and then armies of helicopters, dogs, horses, water cannon, and tear gas.

The seeds of the Green movement, citizens' initiatives and many local groups, were often not limited to this anti-nuclear fight, however, but covered a wide range of ecological issues. By 1978, local parties had been formed in Hamburg, Bremen, then in Hesse and its main city, Frankfurt/Main. 3500 West Berliners also met and formed what they called an "Alternative List" (or slate).

New movements in Germany face an electoral hurdle. The proportional representation system gives voters two votes: one for a candidate in their district, as in the USA, but a second one for the party they prefer. With rare exceptions, the Greens have been unable to win a plurality for their candidate in any electoral district. If a party can win 5% or more of the second votes, however, it is awarded parliamentary seats proportional to its vote. But getting 5% is not easy for newcomers--especially "pariahs." Nor did it become easier when different wings of the party developed, flying off in opposing directions. One, environmentally motivated but conservative in other matters, looked askance at curious types in the other wing, conspicuously non-conformist youngsters from the Leftist student movement which reached a crest in Germany and France in 1968. The conservatives mistrusted the weird clothes and hairdos, but even more the stress on extra-parliamentary action and the inclusion of issues like anti-militarism, feminism and egalitarian economic demands which seemed alarmingly pro-socialist. Their leader, a conservative environmentalist, Herbert Gruhl, had been a deputy of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Despite such differences, however, the movement, under a variety of local names and banners, began improving its electoral percentages. In October 1979 in Bremen, it won its first seats in a state government (Bremen, like Hamburg and West Berlin, was both city and state) by the slimmest of margins (5.1%). This led to a decision to combine local groups wherever possible and beat that 5% hurdle elsewhere as well.

On January 12 1980 in Karlsruhe, the Greens were founded as a new party. It met again two months later, elected regular officers and passed a broad left-leaning program. First, it demanded that all atomic power plants be closed and new ones prohibited. It called for disarmament, one-sidedly if necessary, and demanded that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact systems be dissolved. It called for an end to the ban on abortions and demanded a 35-hour work week. Its basic principles were to be social, ecological, non-violent and grassroots-democratic. After hot debate, membership was opened to members of other parties, like the ultra-left, so-called K (for Kommunist) parties, but this double membership was later rejected. Most of this was unsettling for conservatives, and Herbert Gruhl led his often horrified supporters out of this radical wilderness to form another party, which exists to this day but never gets anywhere.

The loss of Gruhl was more than compensated by a new leader with great charisma, the militant young Petra Kelly. Her name derived from her step-father, an American officer, and she had been active in the Washington, DC student movement during the 1960s. At this second congress of the Greens she was elected as "spokesperson," the title given the three main party leaders.

One week before this congress the new party chalked up 5.3% in state elections in the large, important state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. In May 1981, the Alternative List--a name used by Greens in West Berlin--pushed its way into third place with 7.2%, and in 1982 they won 8.6% in...

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