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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

Individual Members: The Grassroots of Green Party Democracy

by Howie Hawkins, Syracuse Green Party

The big question on structure at the moment in the Green movement is: Should the national Green Party be state-based or local-based?

But that's the wrong question. The real question should be: How do the grassroots members democratically control the local, state, and national levels of the Green Party? In other words, what structure will best embody the Green principle of Grassroots Democracy?

Whether representation to national conventions and national committee meetings of the Green Party is from locals or states is really a secondary, mechanical question. Either way can be grassroots democratic if: 1. grassroots members directly elect those representatives (state or local); 2. the elections use preference voting so all groupings in the party (political tendencies, ethnic groups, genders, etc.) get their proportional representation in the delegation; 3. there are grassroots units of the party in which members discuss and become informed on the issues facing the party and the candidates who want to represent them at the national level.

Local or State Delegations to National Conventions?

The leadership of the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) is saying they won't even talk to the Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA) about unity until the GPUSA sets up a "state-based structure." What are their arguments against GPUSA's delegations from locals to its national convention, the Green Congress?

What some ASGP leaders really mean by "state-based structure" is …that they want to replace individuals as the members of the national Green Party with the state parties. If that's what they mean, good-bye grassroots democracy.

I don't think the question of local or state delegations to Green Party national conventions is what is really dividing ASGP from GPUSA. What some ASGP leaders really mean by "state-based structure" is not that they want to replace local party delegations with state party delegations in national conventions, but that they want to replace individuals as the members of the national Green Party with the state parties. If that's what they mean, good-bye grassroots democracy.

Who Are the Green Party Members?

The idea that the members of the national Green Party should be state parties rather than individual members strikes me as another triumph of the corporate mentality over a democratic one. Parties are legal fictions like corporations-indeed, they are Internal Revenue Code 527 corporations. Why should the Green Party, of all parties, allow party corporations to usurp the democratic rights of its grassroots members? Not even the Libertarian Party, the foremost party of private property rights, goes that far in replacing a collective democratic process with a corporate hierarchy for its party structure. The Libertarian Party and all of the other national progressive independent parties (New Party, Labor Party, Socialist Party, and the Campaign for a New Tomorrow/Independent Progressive Party) are individual membership parties. Why do ASGP leaders object to a national party composed of individual members? Could it be they don't want to be accountable to a membership that is organized, informed, and able to elect, recall, and generally hold leaders accountable?

Some who support the replacement of individual memberships with state party memberships certainly assume the state parties will have democratic processes. But when the state parties convene a national convention, what will be the common denominator that brings their representatives to the national convention on an equal basis?

Registered Voters? Basing delegations on each state's Green Party registration won't work as a common denominator because each state has different electoral laws, which make ballot status more or less difficult. When ballot status is achieved, registration in a party means different things in different states depending on whether they have open or closed primaries. And then there's Minnesota, which doesn't keep party registration lists.

Green Voters? Basing delegations on each state's Green vote is not a common denominator either. A conservative state with a strong base of Green activists will be under-represented compared to a liberal state with a weak base of organized Greens. And how can a state party delegation be accountable to anonymous Green voters who have no other participation in Green activities? Where's the democracy in that?

Population? This is the traditional American party method and it serves to keep party elites in power. When the party leadership has no membership to answer to, they concoct mandates to justify their actions, something we see every day in the Democrats and Republicans. That's why we need a grassroots-democratic alternative, democratically constituted by individual members organized in grassroots units of the party. If the Greens now sent delegations to national conventions based on population, a well-organized state like Maine, with something like a million in population, would be outvoted by a minimally organized state like Texas, with many millions in population. A few Texas Green honchos with no base would outvote the whole Maine delegation, which has a real base.

Or Individual Members? There's no way around it. If delegates to a national Green Party convention are going to meet as equals, they need to represent individual party members who meet common membership criteria.

If we are going to have grassroots democracy in the Green Party, we need grassroots members who meet the same basic standards: agreement with the party principles, active participation in a grassroots chapter, and financial contribution based on ability to pay.

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