s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 14 contents
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?
- 1. No Role for State Parties -- This is only an issue because of misperceptions (and, to be frank, deliberate misrepresentations on the part of some) about GPUSA. State parties already elect representatives to the Green National Committee in GPUSA. State parties don't elect the delegations to the Green Congress, the national convention, but their members elect delegates through their locals. If what ASGP means when advocating a state-based national structure is really that they don't want a national party democratically constituted by its individual members, then we are talking about another question: who are the members of the national Green Party? That is probably the most difficult issue US Greens will face on the road to unity and I will discuss it below.
Sooner or later as we grow, there are going to be too many local chapters to have them all with direct representation in a national convention. Since it would make some people happier, let's move to state delegations now for organized states, provided voting delegates are apportioned to states according to the number of GPUSA members in their state and delegates are directly elected by the GPUSA members.
- 2. State Party Autonomy -- This criticism is another misconception. GPUSA practices "democratic decentralism." Policies decided by the Green Congress and Green National Committee are not binding on the state parties. They are only binding on the national officers of the GPUSA, so that majority membership decisions actually affect the actions of the party. Majority positions determine the national policies, but those policies are not binding on states, locals, or individual members, who are free to abstain from their implementation and to publicly dissent from them.
- 3. Participation Costs -- The most telling critique of the current GPUSA delegation system for the Green Congress has been that small locals can't afford to send delegates across the country to Green Congresses, which biases the voting delegations toward the locals closest to the site of the Green Congress and toward the most affluent locals far from the site. Currently, locals as small as 3 members get a vote in the Green Congress. Locals get one vote for 3-4 members, two votes for 5-9, and one more vote for every 10 additional members. Another problem arising from this delegation scheme is the disproportionate votes given to small locals of less than 10 members in this otherwise proportional system, thus perversely rewarding locals that are not very successful.
The participation costs problem has simple solutions, however. One is a travel-cost sharing system that would equalize or at least reduce the cost differences of participating in the Green Congress for delegates near and far from the site. Another solution is simply to spread the cost of sending a delegate among more Green Party members by setting a higher member/delegate ratio, which could be done with either a local or state delegation system.
- 4. No At-Large Members-Some ASGP partisans object to the GPUSA requirement that members with voting rights be members of local chapters-and if we adopt higher member/delegate ratios as I just suggested, members in small locals and state parties might not be entitled to representation. I think we should make some allowance for at-large representation in our national conventions, but it should be at a higher member/delegate ratio than for the members organized into locals. There is no grassroots democracy in the Green Party without organization at the grassroots where members participate and become informed. Incentives in the structure should favor active membership in locals over at-large members who float into state and national conventions representing no one but themselves.
- 5. Election Laws-Another myth is that some state election laws forbid parties from structuring themselves around active, dues-paying members organized into locals. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News spoke to this question recently:In 1989 the US Supreme Court ruled in Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee, et al., that it's none of the government's business how a state party is organized. One of the specific laws invalidated had to do with the maximum amount of dues that a state party could charge members of its state central committee.
At the national level it's even plainer. A series of US Supreme Court decisions starting in 1972 have said that no government has any business trying to tell a national political party nominating convention how to run its affairs, whom to seat, etc.
Parties have First Amendment rights to run their own affairs. No government has any authority to tell the Green Party it can't charge national dues.
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.