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“Appreciation ... [to] Mark Satin for keeping Green discussions in New Options compassionate and interesting.”
– Allan Hunt Badiner, in Badiner, ed., Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, 1990

The Difficult and Passionate First National Meetings of
the U.S. Greens

New Options Newsletter’s First-Hand Reports on the First Three National Green Gatherings, 1987 – 1990

by Mark Satin

These articles, from my newsletter New Options, were controversial at the time they were published, not because they are inaccurate or merely impressionistic (though certain Greens never tire of saying so), but because they all too accurately report on the early Greens as we really were – what we thought and felt, what we argued about (and why), how we treated one another (too often, very badly), and what was holding us back from tens of millions of potential supporters (hint: it was not The System).

Why does any of this matter today?  Because for all their problems, the early Greens at least attempted – in a sustained, principled, and even courageous way – to create something this county still desperately needs (and according to recent polls, still actively wants): a third MAJOR political party or force.  One that would be “neither left nor right, [but] in front,” as a German Green slogan put it.

So I offer these articles to members of the younger generations as blueprints for creating a major third party.

Taken together, they are, frankly, a virtually complete compendium of all the attitudes, behaviors, and organizing mistakes you’ll want to avoid (often implicit in my text – e.g., why were so few mainstream business and professional people included in these gatherings?).

But my articles also respectfully memorialize the grit, spirit, and outside-the-box thinking you’ll need if you really want to challenge the Democrat-Republican duopoly that is destroying this nation and savaging this Earth.



[Psst: The letters responding to these articles are at least as interesting, and revealing, as the articles themselves!]

Fear and Longing at the Green Gathering: First National Green Gathering, Amherst MA, 1987.  Read pp. 1-4, then skip to the last two pages, where I’ve added letters from a subsequent issue responding to the article.

Last Chance Saloon: Second National Green Gathering, Eugene OR, 1989.  Read pp. 1-4 and 7-8, then look at the last two pages where I’ve added letters responding to the article

You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry: Third National Green Gathering, Estes Park CO, 1990.  Read pp. 1-4, then skip to the last eight pages – an entire subsequent issue – which I devoted to letters responding to that article.

The next Green Gathering – at Elkins WV in 1991 – precipitated the breakup of the early Greens into separate and competing entities, the Greens / Green Party USA and the Association of State Green Parties (now the Green Party of the United States).  You can learn about that breakup and its aftermath from many of the texts cited in section IV below.

FYI, in 2012 I wrote an article for Green Horizon magazine about the founding conference of the Greens in St. Paul MN in 1984, and especially about the visionary document that was spontaneously conceived there, the “Ten Key Values” statement.  You can find that article HERE.


Greens from the 1980s at one of their then-favorite destinations, the post office.  Michael Wade, second from right, attended the first Green Gathering for the Chapel Hill NC Greens.  Suzanne Sheber, third from left, attended the second and third Gatherings for the South Florida Greens.



New Options was a political newsletter I founded in Washington DC in November 1983.  I raised $91,000 to start it (over $200,000 in today’s dollars) from 517 people who’d met me through my talks on my book New Age Politics (1976) or through my work in the New World Alliance (1979 – 1983), a national “transformational” political organization.  Within a few years I’d built New Options into the second largest independent political newsletter in the U.S., thanks in part to my mastery of direct-mail, and in 1989 it won one of Utne Reader’s “General Excellence” awards.  You can learn more about New Options and view high-quality PDFs of 25 still-relevant back issues HERE.

Reporters in the 1980s typically either ignored the Greens or, if they were “movement” reporters, helped them put their best foot forward.  By the time I founded New Options I had already spent 20 years in the social change movement, SNCC, SDS, Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, Vancouver underground-press collective, New World Alliance, etc. – and I not only understood the importance of what the Greens were trying to do.  I also understood the danger of incipient social-change groups not having a mirror, held up by an experienced friend, in which they might see themselves clearly and truly, warts and all.

Although my articles on the Green Gatherings are “informal” and may read as if they were casually written, they were anything but.  Inspired by Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, whenever I embarked on a piece of first-hand, first-person, literary journalism I kept three separate notebooks – one to record the important issues and discussions, one to record people’s public and private behaviors, and one to record people’s underlying attitudes and sentiments (including mine).  If I interviewed participants, I’d record those interviews in a fourth notebook. After the conference or event was over, I’d spend days just mulling over my notebooks, then try to pull the material together in a way that did justice to both the minds and hearts of my subjects.

A confession: I was far more involved in the Greens than I revealed in my articles.  I suppose you could say that I took the concept of “participant-observation” to new heights!  Along with Hazel Henderson, I was one of the two U.S. “consultants” on Spretnak and Capra’s book Green Politics (1984), the book that sparked the Green project in the U.S., and according to them I provided significant help (p. 5).  In the original “Vorwort” to the German edition of my New Age Politics, Capra says this:

[New Age Politics] was published in its first edition in 1976, three years before the foundation of the [German] Greens, and represents an impressive document of Green thought in the American social movements of the seventies.  More than that, it was the first attempt to not only describe a new kind of political activity but also to provide a synthesis of the new political theory beyond left and right.  [See PDF of the first edition HERE, and excerpts from the dynamic "40th Anniversary Edition" HERE. – ed.]


Beginning with the founding conference of the Greens in 1984 and continuing at each of the first three national Gatherings, I stumped for our becoming a traditional political party.  The title of the plenary speech I was invited to give at the first Gathering, “Think Fundamentally, Act Realistically,” summed up my position succinctly.  (Perennial Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins recently reminded me how unrepresentative that position was at our founding conference.)

John Ely, in Ely and Mayer, The German Greens (1998), credits me with being one of the four principal initiators of the founding conference in 1984, and Greta Gaard, in Ecological Politics (1998), after discussing my role in co-drafting the Greens’ foundational “Ten Key Values” statement, says:

[Charlene] Spretnak and [Mark] Satin played a significant role in facilitating the articulation of Green political thought, and the philosophies they represented have left their influence on the Greens’ ideological foundation 

Reading my three articles over again last month, nearly two decades after I’d last read them, I was delighted to confirm that my articles caught the political-intellectual issues and early tensions in the Greens as precisely as I’d remembered.  (Otherwise I wouldn’t be offering them to you here.)  But what struck me most about my articles, shocked me in a way, was the element that Buddhist activist Allan Badiner puts his finger on at the top of this page – their compassion.  I loved these people, and I was one with them (not least of all in our weaknesses), and I so wanted us to do well.  That is why I insisted on holding us up to a high standard, as high as the times (and I would add God) demanded of us.

Although it cost me several friendships, I am still proud that I told the exact truth about the Greens as I saw it.  And I am sad that that truth turned out to be as prophetic as I’d feared.




“In his highly perceptive review of the [first] National Gathering, Mark Satin explained it this way:. ...”
– Jonathon Porritt and David Winner, The Coming of the Greens, Fontana / Collins (Britain), 1988.  Porritt had been chair of the UK Ecology party, forerunner of the UK Green party

“[At] the second national [Green] gathering in Eugene [OR] in June 1989 ... [some] Greens were becoming impatient with the Greens’ slow pace of growth.  Mark Satin, one of the ‘New Age’ and more conservative participants, suggested [in New Options] that Greens needed to leave behind some classic characteristics of the sixties counterculture: namely, their fear of money, hierarchy, authority, and leadership.  Satin felt the Greens would need both fundraising skills and a more coherent structure in order to get their message out to a broad base of the population.”
– Greta Gaard, Ecological Politics: Ecofeminists and the Greens, Temple University Press, 1998

“Satin[‘s] unique New Options newsletter ... seeks a decentralist, ecological, and globally responsible society beyond economic growth, the welfare state, and being the world’s policeman.  [Articles] include ... [one on] the 1990 Green Gathering in Colorado, which bluntly states that ‘what I saw shook my confidence in the U.S. Greens as a credible, competent vehicle for change.’”
– Michael Marien, Future Survey, publication of the World Future Society, July 1991


“Over the years, Satin has unabashedly challenged tired thinking on any part of the political spectrum – particularly the liberal-left shibboleths that many New Options readers may have held dear.  For example, while Satin enthusiastically covered and participated in Green politics, he also took the Greens to task when necessary.  Following their 1990 national gathering, he enumerated ... several reasons why he feared the Greens weren’t capable of launching a successful party, including an aversion to hierarchy that makes decision making proceed at a snail’s pace and an us-them mentality that is ‘dangerously arrogrant.’”
– Helen Cordes, “New Options: Requiem Eterna,” Utne Reader, May-June 1992


New Options ... is one of the leading American exponents of ‘beyond Left/Right’ politics.  Each issue highlights people, books, and groups that Satin sees as helping to break up old dogmas and worldviews with new insights and tactics.  A great deal of this activity seems to reside in ‘Green’ and ‘New Age’ circles, especially if [it] impact[s] on Washington policymakers.”
– Jay Kinney, “The Disharmonic Convergence,” Whole Earth Review, summer 1988

Dynamism / Development: National Review, Commentary, The Nation, Mother Jones ...  Stasis / Green: New Options, Whole Earth Review, Utne Reader. ...”
– excerpts from a graphic display above the headline “The Ideology Shuffle,” The Washington Post, April 1, 1990

“Appreciation ... [to] Mark Satin for keeping Green discussions in New Options compassionate and interesting.”
– Allan Hunt Badiner, in Badiner, ed., Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, Parallax Press, 1990

“Christa Slaton, [first chair of the U.S. Greens’ platform committee] ... , was concerned that Greens carried ‘mistrust into most of their political interactions with each othr ... name calling and insults are routinely exchanged.’  As political commentator Mark Satin noted [in New Options], the irony was that the Greens made a point of saying how important it was to treat people well, yet he found that they sometimes treated each other worse than people in traditional political parties.”
– Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson, Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out, Ballantine Books, 1994

“Though [Satin is] active in the U.S. Green movement, ... he’s reluctant to identify his newsletter as a Green publication.  ‘The U.S. Green movement so far is characterized by an ineptness of organizing strategies and a substantial degree of cultural alienation from the American mainstream,’ he says.”
– Jeff Rosenberg, “Mark’s Ism,” Washington City Paper, March 17-23, 1989

New Options has made some preliminary stabs at naming the emergent politics of our generation.  ‘Postliberal, postconservative, postsocialist’ ... ‘decentralist / globally responsible’ ... ‘future focused’ ... ‘transformative populist’ ... and ‘light Green’ or ‘Greenish.’  The German Greens, who ironically have roots in our Sixties ... , have reinspired American activists. ...  But they are widely perceived as being too soft on the Soviet Union and too hard on mainstream sensibilities. ...  New Options suggests that the New Age / New Left has to continue to evolve into the ‘New Center’ – or fail, for real this time, to change the world.”
– Annie Gottlieb, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Second Coming of the Sixties Generation, Times Books / Random House, 1987




I have serious, sometimes severe reservations about all these descriptions!  But the Green way (aka the New Age way, the radical centrist way, the communitarian way, etc.) is to pay respectful attention to everyone’s truths and experience.  So here you are, with no prejudicial commentary from me.

(Footnote: Prof. Zelko invited me to submit a paper to his symposium and anthology, frequently referenced below, but at the time – 2003-04 – I was immersed in my Radical Middle book and had to decline.  How I wish I had been in a position to participate and contribute.)

I am happy to consider listing other descriptions that discuss the years 1984 – 1991, so long as they are at least partially accessible online.  You can contact me HERE.

Ely, John.  “From Grun to Green: Problems of Translation in the United States.”  Sub-section in Mayer, Margit, and Ely, eds., The German Greens: Paradox Between Movement and Party, Temple University Press, 1998, pp. 200-06.  [Google Books makes this search difficult, but if you try hard enough you can reach four of these pages!]

Gaard, Greta.  Ecological Politics: Ecofeminists and the Greens.  Temple University Press, 1998, chapters 2-5 complete, pp. 53-228, but you may wish to start with pp. 53-77 and 140-57.

Hawkins, Howard.  "North American Greens Come of Age."  Our Generation magazine, vol. 23, no. 1,  Winter 1992, pp. 54-90.

Marks, Jodean.  A Historical Look at Green Structure: 1984 to 1992.”  Synthesis / Regeneration magazine, no. 14, Fall 1997.  Viewable online, page numbers n/a.

Rensenbrink, John.  “The United States Green Party: Up from the Wilderness.”  In Zelko, Frank, and Brinkmann, Caolin, eds., Green Parties: Reflections on the First Three Decades.  Heinrich Boll Foundation North America, 2006, pp. 60-66.  [Rensenbrink’s book Against All Odds: The Green Transformation of American Politics, Leopold Press, Inc., 1999, is much richer and fuller – see esp. Part IV there (“Green Party”) – but it is not readily readable online.  You can buy copies for a pittance HERE.]

Salzman, Lorna.  “The Intellectual Influences and Conflicts in the U.S. Green Party.”  In Zelko and Brinkmann, eds., Green Parties, cited under Rensenbrink above, pp. 101-09.

Schmidt, Steven J.  “The Founding U.S. Green Platform and First Presidential Campaign.”  In Zelko and Brinkmann, eds., Green Parties, cited under Rensenbrink above, pp. 67-76.

Sifry, Micah L.  Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America.  Routledge, 2003, chapter 6 complete (“Compost Rotten Politics”), pp. 145-74, but esp. pp. 145-52.

Spretnak, Charlene.  “The Early Years of the Green Politics Movement in the United States.”  In Zelko and Brinkmann, eds., Green Parties, cited under Rensenbrink above, pp. 42-58.

Tokar, Brian.  “The Greens as a Social Movement: Values and Conflicts.”  In Zelko and Brinkmann, eds., Green Parties, cited under Rensenbrink above, pp. 90-100.  [Tokar’s book The Green Alternative: Creating an Ecological Future, New Society Publishers – see the revised1992 or 1994 edition only – is even harder to peruse online than Rensenbrink’s book; but it is cheaply available HERE.]

Wikipedia.  History of the Green Party of the United States” and “Green Committees of Correspondence.”  Pages in an online encyclopedia.


McMillan, Brent.  “Is Leadership a Dirty Word in the U.S. Green Party?”  Green Horizon magazine, spring / summer 2011, pp. 26-28.  By a recent executive director of the U.S. Green Party.  Shows that the Greens are still suffering from some of the same fundamental problems I revealed in my articles.  At this time, the spring / summer 2011 issue is not accessible on the Green Horizon issues online page, but a complimentary copy may be requested from Green Horizon, P.O. Box 476, Topsham ME 04086.

Parkin, Sara.  “The Origin and Future of Green Parties: The U.K., Europe and Beyond.”  In Zelko and Brinkmann, eds., Green Parties, cited under Rensenbrink above, pp. 31-41.  By a former spokesperson for the British Green Party.  Shows that the UIK Greens were suffering from some of the same fundamental problems as the U.S. Greens.

Slaton, Christa Daryl.  “An Overview of the Emerging Political Paradigm: A Web of Transformational Theories.”  In Slaton et al., Transformational Politics: Theory, Study, and Practice.  State University of New York Press, 1998, pp. 3-24.  By the first chair of our platform committee – the person we bullied out of the Greens at the third Green Gathering (see my article).  Read it and weep for the magnificent thinker and human we lost ... one of many.



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