EIU Memories: Campus Greens

During the 2000 presidential election, student groups around the country cropped up to support Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, a consumer and environmental activist. Nader ended up receiving 2.88 million votes, or just 2.74 percent of the popular vote. Never-the-less, many Democrats considered Nader a spoiler who cost Democratic candidate Al Gore the election. In retrospect, his impact on that race was probably overstated.

When I entered Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois in the fall of 2000, the Bush vs. Gore campaign was in full swing. I was idealistic, ready for change, and thought I knew everything. In other words, a typical college freshman. In late October, a friend convinced me to attend a meeting of the campus Green Party. Though I was more libertarian-leaning, curiosity and a desire to “get involved” led me to the former English lounge on the second floor of Coleman Hall (meetings were later moved to the Student Union).

Joining the Green Party at EIU turned out to be a fruitful decision, as I made several lasting friends and gained valuable experience. My first post-election political act was to write a five-page letter detailing what I believed to be the problems facing the country to newly elected President George W. Bush. I received a generic letter and a photo of him and Laura in reply.

With no national campaign to support, the campus Greens sort of petered out, to the point where in February 2001, I was the only person who showed up to their weekly meeting. In March I met with founder Jeremy Pelzer, who today is a political journalist in Ohio, about re-forming the group or breathing new life into it.

Old flyer for the Charleston Green Party

A year went by before that talk led to anything of substance. Elections are the lifeblood of politics, and the upcoming 2002 midterm elections energized campus activists. On Wed., March 6, 2002, the Student Senate approved the Charleston Green Party as a recognized student organization. The name was both ambitious and hopeful, since we didn’t have any actual Charleston residents in the group.

For the next few months, the main task of this new organization was to support a University of Illinois professor named Carl Estabrook in his congressional campaign, but that’s a story for another day.

For the fall 2002 semester, Jeremy served as president of the Charleston Green Party and I was vice president. We made some new friends, including a freshman named Kelly, who went on to become a talented photographer, and a political science major named Ben Marcy, who currently works at the University of Minnesota.

The Green Jenkins performs at Greenfest. Photo by the author.

Kelly helped organize a fundraising concert aptly named “Greenfest”, which we held in the MLK University Union ballroom on November 9, 2002. It featured live bands, including The Green Jenkins featuring Ryan Groff, Empyrean, and Rebekah’s Tape, as well as a sketch comedy troupe called Lunchbox Voodoo. It was fun, but so poorly attended the Daily Eastern News’ headline was “Small crowd partakes of Greenfest offerings”. Ouch.

Despite our best efforts, Estabrook failed to win the election. In the end, I think the entire Green Party failed because there was nothing to distinguish it from the mainstream Democratic Party during the Bush years. That, and the widespread perception that Ralph Nader threw the 2000 election in favor of Bush made left wing activists skeptical of third parties.

As the Iraq War loomed, Jeremy and Kelly became more heavily involved in antiwar activism, and Jeremy dedicated himself to lobbying the Student Senate and the Charleston City Council to pass antiwar resolutions (the Student Senate narrowly rejected an abridged version of the resolution 14 to 13 in Feb. 2003). In December, I stepped down as vice president and nominated Kelly for the position.

While we remained friends, we began to devote our energy elsewhere. Jeremy transferred to the University of Illinois, Ben formed his own activist group, and I returned to my libertarian roots. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been an active Green Party on campus since. It was a brief moment when a handful of us came together on the political fringes to try to make our voices heard.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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