Green grass-roots at University of Nebraska
Students say variety is the spice of politics; push Green Party
By Amber Brozek
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Amber Brozek, a reporter at the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- Cindy Asrir says it's important to have variety in politics.
"Voters need more than just two choices," the co-chair of the Nebraska Green Party and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student said.
"The Republican and Democratic parties are becoming very similar as the Democratic Party moves more toward the right," Asrir said.
Nebraska is primarily Republican, Asrir said, but when voters are displeased with the Republican candidate they just turn their allegiance to the Democratic candidate -- overlooking the Green Party entirely.
U.N.L. senior Tim Jensen says he finds it difficult to develop a voice for any political party at the university level, let alone the Greens -- which many Nebraskans don't even identify as a political party.
"There's a general apathy by students toward politics on campus," he said.
But Jensen, the former president of the U.N.L. Campus Greens, said this year the party is going to great lengths to establish the Green Party identity and voice in Nebraska before the 2004 presidential election.
In 2000, the Green Party was placed for the first time on Nebraska's ballots. That year, Green candidate Ralph Nader got 22,975 votes for the state -- about 3 percent. But with registered Green voters dropping, the status was soon lost.
This year, the party is trying to regain momentum to receive ballot status again in all three of Nebraska's districts before the general election this fall. And because the party lacks state recognition, Nebraska's upcoming primary on May 11 is not that significant, Jensen said.
Green Party members must petition 5 percent of registered voters in each of Nebraska's three districts. The Greens have already received ballot status for one district, but it's not hopeful the party will be able to petition voters from the other districts, said sophomore Naomi Solomon, U.N.L. Campus Greens president.
According to voter registration totals, the U.S. Green Party estimated on its Web site Nebraska had 325 registered Greens in 2000, compared with 392,344 Democrats and 537,605 Republicans.
Nationally in 2000, only 194,873 voters were registered with the Green Party, while 38,529,264 were Democrats and 28,813,511 were Republican. That year Nader got nearly 3 million votes, counting for just under 3 percent of the national vote.
Reaching out to the disenchanted
The Green Party hopes when more people become disillusioned with the Republican or Democratic parties they will turn Green, Jensen said.
"I think a lot of independents already identify with the Green Party," he said. "We want to let students know there is an organization who will help give them a voice for political change on the campus."
In early April, the Nebraska Green Party held its caucus at U.N.L .and picked Texas trial lawyer David Cobb to represent it at the national convention.
Cobb will probably be the only presidential candidate to have visited Nebraska before the fall election. At the end of June, the U.S. Green Party will choose its presidential candidate at its national convention in Milwaukee.
It's been a difficult year for Greens, Jensen said, as the party's 2000 presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, decided to run as an independent because the Greens national convention would be held too late in the year to establish an effective campaign.
"It's nice when a big name runs for your party," he said. "But, frankly, I don't know what Nader is trying to prove by running independent."
Spoiler rep, progressive ethic
Junior Elaine Santore said the current generation is more accepting of choices and options, which is why she's confused people aren't more open to other political parties.
Student correspondent Amber Brozek.
"It's part of being in college and going out of your comfort zone to find out others' beliefs. Then students know what other parties are out there," said the Campus Greens member.
"It's important to have another voice out there," Santore said. "Diversity opens people up."
Solomon said, though, the Green Party is often looked as the "spoiler party."
"A lot of people think the Green Party is ruining the election," she said. But it can still add something new to politics, Solomon said.
Asrir said, "Maybe [we] won't see the huge numbers this year, but we are laying the foundation for future years."
It may take 50 to 100 years, according to Asrir, but she believes the Greens and the Democrats Party will emerge as the two big parties.
"I think it's good to be a part of the progressive party. Because our party is on the forefront of change," she said.