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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

A Historical Look at Green Structure: 1984 to 1992

by Jodean Marks, DC Left Greens

Introduction:    As Jodean Marks' article makes clear, a look at the development of a national Green organization in the US shows that structure should not be an insurmountable obstacle in overcoming the current split between the Green Party USA (GPUSA) and the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP). Those who split from the Green Party USA in early 1992 to form the Green Politics Network (GPN) and call for an Association of State Green Parties had just participated in a national mail referendum and then in the consensus on movement and party structure at the 1991 Green Congress. They wanted a national Green Party and they got it. In 1992, from outside the organization, they called for state party representation on the national committee, and at the 1992 Congress they got that, too. Still, the GPN stayed outside the Green Party USA. One of their complaints is that the GPUSA tries to dictate to state parties.

In fact, GPUSA still has the bottom-up democratic-decentralist structure that has characterized it since 1984 when it started as the Committees of Correspondence. Another criticism is that GPUSA is anti-electoral. The reality is that GPUSA embraces both electoral and non-electoral work. It tries to link them in a manner that has been one of the defining characteristic of the Greens since Petra Kelly and Rudi Dutschke traversed West Germany in the late 1970's urging activist groups to organize the German Greens as a national movement-based party. "One hand in the legislature and two feet planted firmly in the movements" was one of the metaphors they used. As Jodean Marks notes, the GPUSA structure has evolved in response to the demands of the movement and no doubt that evolution will continue.

-- Howie Hawkins

The Committees of Correspondence (CoC) was founded in the summer of 1984 with the purpose of organizing local Green groups, providing a clearinghouse and newsletter, and working toward the founding of a Green political organization in the United States. The locals organized themselves into regional confederations, representatives of which met three times a year (until the 1991 restructuring) as the Interregional Committee to exchange information and coordinate among locals and (largely self-defined) regions. This terminology and structure apparently reflected the organization's roots in the bioregional movement, which rejected political boundaries in favor of boundaries indicated by natural phenomena such as watersheds, flora, and fauna, and in the municipal confederalism of the social ecologists, who viewed existing governments above the municipal level, i.e., the state and federal governments, as illegitimate.

In accordance with the Green principle of grassroots democracy, the CoC was a bottom-up organization. About the only requirement for locals was that they advocate and adhere to the Ten Key Values; within these bounds, each was free to decide on its own purpose, structure, process, and actions. As of late 1986, Green locals' activities varied widely, from electoral politics (running candidates for local, county, and state office), to alternative institutions (setting up direct farmer-to-consumer marketing and a bank for low-income communities), public education (organizing conferences, forums, and lecture series), media (a Green radio show) and publications, citizen watchdog groups (on water quality and on biotechnology), demonstrations, and support of efforts of other environmentalist and progressive groups.

In spite of the fact that the CoC was inspired by the Green parties of Western Europe, particularly the Federal Republic of Germany (which were formed to give an electoral voice to the citizens' movements and engaged in both "movement" and electoral activity), it was possible for an active member of a local, a local itself, or a whole region, to engage in "movement" work exclusively without any involvement in the electoral arena. It was even possible to maintain that the CoC either should not engage in electoral politics at all or should not form an independent political party. It was, however, unheard of for anyone in the CoC to maintain that the organization should engage in electoral politics exclusively without "movement" work.

Since the CoC was, ostensibly, a larval organization, a loose confederation formed to develop the basis for a full-fledged political organization, it was considered inappropriate to have national spokespersons or to make decisions on the national level. Decisions could be made at Interregional Committee meetings, provided that proposals were furnished to the locals well in advance so that first the locals and then the regions could discuss them. The regions could then instruct their representatives, provided that the representatives reached consensus at the meeting, and provided that no locals raised objections within a given time period after the meeting. Representatives were to vote (or agree or block or stand aside, if the consensus process was used) only as instructed by their regions.

This process was always cumbersome; as Green groups sprang up around the country and had to deal with the public and with kindred organizations, the inability to act at the national level became insupportable. In 1990, after the two-and-a-half-year process of drafting and approving the Green Program was largely completed, the Green Committees of Correspondence (GCOC), as the organization was then called, turned to the task of "restructuring": creating a Green political organization that would be able to act as a national entity but would still be controlled by the locals.

The new structure, approved by a majority of the locals by mail referendum in mid-1991, vested the highest decision-making authority in the Green Congress (composed of representatives of locals), which would meet only once a year. The Green Council, like the Interregional Committee (IC), was composed of representatives of some 12 regions (redrawn to keep the number down). It would meet three times a year and would carry out the decisions of the Green Congress. The Coordinating Committee, elected by the Green Congress, was to carry out business between meetings of the Green Congress and Council, and its seven members would serve as national spokespersons. The name of the organization would be The Greens USA.

By this time, Green electoral activity had expanded greatly, and some state Green parties were being formed. There were now Greens who were interested primarily in forming state parties and running candidates and less, if at all, in citizen activism, public education, and creation of alternative institutions. In June 1989, at the conference to draft a Green Program, the Politics Working Group issued a statement encouraging Green electoral activity but recommending that Greens begin running candidates at the local level and only proceed to the state and then to the national level when there were a substantial number of Green officeholders at the level immediately below. A minority of this working group disagreed, stating that it was worthwhile to run presidential and congressional candidates in order to educate the public and attract more people to the Greens. Some of these people, and others who shared this view, set up the Green Party Organizing Committee (GPOC) in 1990, attracting as members many Greens who were interested in organizing state parties and running candidates.

At the first Green Congress of The Greens USA in Elkins, West Virginia, it was agreed to accommodate the concerns and activities of the GPOC by setting up The Green Party USA as an affiliated PAC to perform the following functions: facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, skills, and analysis for Greens engaging in electoral activism; at all levels; aid in the development and execution of Green electoral initiatives, up to and including the formation and accreditation of state parties seeking ballot access; be responsible for the day-to-day application of the accreditation guidelines, which determined access to Green Party USA channels of communication and resources for all Green electoral formations; conduct fundraising for Green electoral work, in keeping with current Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission regulations; and identify and fund suitable Green electoral initiatives, through a granting process based on clear and specified criteria, in keeping with the current electoral accreditation process. Granting criteria would be presented to the Green Council for review and comment.

The Greens USA would be incorporated as a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit advocacy organization, and a separate 501(c)(3), GreenFund, would attract funding for "educational and charitable" projects. A working group was set up to solicit input from Green individuals and locals and "propose viable options for integrating Green Parties into the national structure." When this working group failed to reach consensus on a group report and recommendations, the Coordinating Committee named three people as the New Ad Hoc Working Group on the Green Party USA to formulate proposals for the 1992 Green Congress.

By the time the Green Congress met in Minneapolis in the summer of 1992, members of the former GPOC had withdrawn from The Greens USA and set up a separate, competing organization: the Green Politics Network (GPN). There was no longer any reason to keep The Green Party USA formally separate from The Greens USA. A nonprofit consultant had advised members of the Budget and Finance Committee that our needs would be best served by incorporating as a political party. To facilitate this process, the New Ad Hoc Working Group proposed, and the Green Congress agreed, to change the name of the organization to The Greens/Green Party USA and the name of the Green Council to the Green National Committee (GNC); to create an Electoral Action Working Group that would take on the functions of the Green Party USA; and to amend the Charter to allow a state-level Green organization (whether a Green party or simply a confederation of locals) to declare itself a "region" and send two representatives to the GNC.

These measures were taken in order to (1) fulfill our original mandate of creating a Green political organization, (2) keep "party and movement" in a single, unified organization, and (3) serve the needs and recognize the importance of state Green parties. Some Greens believed that the GNC now would (and should) evolve from a body composed of representatives of regions to one composed of representatives of states.

This telescoped account covers the period from 1986 through 1992, when I was active in the Greens at the local, regional, and national levels. There have been changes in the structure of The Greens/Green Party USA since that time, but the organization remains willing, as it has always been, to adapt to serve the needs of its members and their activities while retaining its commitment to grassroots democracy.

Jodean Marks served on the Green Council in 1991-92, on the New Ad Hoc Working Group on the Green Party USA in 1992, and on the Green Coordinating Committee in 1992-93.

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