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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

Greens Propose Unity: The 1997 Gathering

by Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance

The Greens/Green Party USA now has a state-based structure. As of September, 1997 State Green Parties are the unit of representation for both the annual Green Congress (the policy-making body of The Greens) and the Green Council (responsible for Green finances and decisions between Congresses). Nevertheless, the "Chichester Proposal" for a State Green Party structure preserves the right of locals to have direct representation, if they so desire. It also preserves dues, thereby averting the danger of Greens becoming financially beholden to outside interests.

State Green Parties are the unit of representation for both the annual Green Congress...and the Green Council...

But this successful effort to unify two competing sides was achieved at great cost. Congress time was diverted from coordinating a Green action/legislative campaign to the interminable "structure" debate. Frustrated that the Congress barely had time to approve resolutions on the Cassini launch, Multilateral Agreement on Investments, and Crack the CIA, many delegates left feeling that future Green Congresses should devote themselves to coordinating mobilizations which include direct action, development of legislative agendas, and grooming of Green candidates.


The issues which divided delegates at the 1997 Gathering in Lawrence, Massachusetts go back at least to 1991. Even before that year, Greens were divided between those wanting a radical alternative to the Democrats and Republicans and those who wanted an organization very similar to theirs, but with the name "Green." The former believed that fundamental social transformation requires a party based on grassroots activism. They have advocated a structure based on groups of political activists who work together on a variety of issues and run candidates when election campaigns would be helpful in attaining their goals. A more moderate orientation has maintained that the only reason a Green Party exists is to run candidates for public office. For the radicals, elections have only been one part of an overall strategy of social change. For the moderates, elections have always received a "privileged role" and other forms of social struggle have been portrayed as outside the purview of a political party.

They have advocated a structure based on groups of political activists who work together...and run candidates when election campaigns would be helpful in attaining their goals.

After the great restructuring debates of 1991, the radicals won a decisive victory at the Gathering at Elkins, West Virginia. Members said that they wanted a Green Party which saw electoral work as one component of a range of Green activities. But there was a place for all Greens in the GPUSA. In order to accommodate those interested in electoral work, the GPUSA established a policy for accrediting State Parties, and in 1992 it changed its charter to allow state representation on the Green Council.

The "elections-only" wing did not accept the consequences of the vote. Some withdrew from the GPUSA and began a campaign of criticizing it which would last through 1997. They resigned from the GPUSA and urged other Greens to stop paying dues. This led to others becoming disgusted with the infighting and refusing to work with either group. When loss of membership exacerbated other financial hardships hitting the GPUSA, the moderates attacked it for not being able to pay its bills. Over the years, the GPUSA repeatedly invited them to join. A few did, but the most extreme set up the "Green Politics Network" (GPN), which quickly gained a reputation for divisiveness and shutting the door on those who did not agree with it.

In 1996, after the Green Party of California nominated Ralph Nader for President, the GPN set up its own "Nader Clearinghouse" to compete with the GPUSA Clearinghouse. The GPUSA again attempted to unify both sides by setting up a "Roundtable" for political discussion during 1996. Not content with boycotting the roundtable, the GPN made good use of the newly popular e-mail to urge State Green Parties to abstain from any efforts at cooperation.

The GPN began an intense effort to convince Greens that State Parties should be the only basis of a national structure which would deny direct representation to locals. The idea was profoundly alien to US Green tradition for two reasons: first, it denied the importance of groups who work together on a daily basis; and second, it strove to use the State Party structure as a strait jacket that would be fitted on Greens whether they wished it or not.

A proposal to remove power from the Green Congress which was made at the 1996 Gathering in Los Angeles generated intense debate. Had the proposal passed, it would have transferred all decision-making power to a State Party-based Green Council, thereby depriving locals of any direct representation. The bare majority (52.4%) which voted for it was far short of the three-quarters needed to change the charter. When the Green Congress refused to vote to abolish its own power, those proposing it stormed out.

As the calendar moved from the August Gathering to the November, 1996 election, it became clear that the GPN was using the divisiveness it had engendered to create a rival organization to split US Greens. As other Greens worked on their local elections and the Nader campaign, the GPN planned a founding meeting of the "Association of State Green Parties" (ASGP) for November. Using the contacts it had obtained from the "Nader Clearinghouse," the GPN encouraged attendance by many Greens who had little or no knowledge of the history of differences.

Its "unity" was established by excluding voices of divergence.

Those who hoped that the Association would be more than a front group for the GPN were sorely disappointed. The meeting began by refusing to admit those the GPN deemed troublemakers. Its "unity" was established by excluding voices of divergence.

Those sympathetic to the GPN/ASGP began to expand their attack on the GPUSA's dues structure. First, they claimed that it was "illegal" for a State Party to charge dues (which implied that State Parties could not join the GPUSA). This was soon found to be without base and fly in the face of US court decisions. Then, ASGP supporters claimed that dues were "undemocratic" because members would have to pay a "poll tax."

They fear that the attempt to undermine dues could well put an organization in the position of needing to consider whether it would accept corporate dollars.

Again, the charges generated hostility. Those who left the GPUSA after the Elkins Gathering tended to have more money than those who remained. The GPUSA clearly depends on dues money of members for its operation. Many saw the proposal to eliminate dues as a thinly disguised attempt to destroy the GPUSA financially. Others perceived the GPN leadership as politically similar to those who have orchestrated "Corporate Earth Days" around the US since 1990. They fear that the attempt to undermine dues could well put an organization in the position of needing to consider whether it would accept corporate dollars.


The above are just a small sampling of issues which have divided US Greens during the years preceding the 1997 Gathering. As is often the case, conflicts began during the discussion of the Congress agenda. The big agenda issue for 1997 was be how much time would be devoted to structure. The Gateway Green Alliance (GGA) from St. Louis had proposed a quasi "moratorium" on structure discussions which would require a pre-vote for proposals changing the by-laws to get to the floor. Amazingly, some had argued on e-mail that it was "undemocratic" for a Congress to decide what it would spend its time on.

Needless to say, those who argued for more time on structure tended to be those who had written long structure proposals. But the Agenda Committee accepted the spirit of the GGA proposal, if not its letter. After suggestions and counter-suggestions, the Committee decided to recommend that the Congress select between two alternative agendas: one would devote 25% of Congress time to structure discussions and the other would devote 45%. This affirmed that the Congress itself would decide how it would spend its time, thus paving the way for withdrawing the GGA moratorium proposal.

The 45% figure won and almost half of Congress time was devoted to what could have been resolved in far less time.

After reports from state and regions and discussions of drug policy and ballot access, the Congress took up proposal from Holle Brian and Lowell Nelson to change the by-laws so that by-law amendments would require a two-thirds (rather than a three-quarters) vote of Congress to pass. The 52 to 30 vote failed to have the three-quarters needed to pass. It illustrated the suspicions that permeated the delegates. In the early 1990s, some of the strongest support for large majorities came from those now in the GPN/ASGP. Those who were friendliest to them were now supporting lowering the required majority. Moreover, an author of the proposal accepted as a friendly amendment that it would go into effect during the current Congress. Consequently, many delegates were suspicious that the proposal was not based on a genuine interest in lowering large majorities; but was only intended for structural change at a single Congress. Had the proposal only applied to future Congresses (the normal way for change to occur), there is little doubt that it would have passed.

Similarly, the ensuing proposal to change the Congress from an annual event to an biennal event stirred up enough distrust to convince over two-thirds of delegate to vote against it (21 to 48). Many suspected that this was an attempt to reduce the importance of the Congress and increase the relative power of the Council. It seemed a watered down version of what had been defeated the previous year.

The Congress proposal that won consensus was that from the GGA to continue the Congress every year but have Conferences every other year. The original proposal would have left it up to the Council to determine if there was a Conference on off-years. Kwazi Nkrumah had raised the call for more regional events. Howie Hawkins echoed this sentiment in a friendly amendment which encouraged regional conferences in years during which there was no national conference. A possible reason for the strong 64 to 9 vote for the proposal was that, since the GGA has offered it repeatedly, it was clearly not a power play and was a genuine effort to cope with the difficulty of a 5 or 6 day annual event.

No financial report

Despite intense feelings concerning directions for Greens, most Congress delegates strove to overcome the rudeness which has characterized so many national events. After Clearinghouse Coordinator Betty Wood presented a financial report, delegates requested a budgetary report of the 1996 Gathering in Los Angeles. Planning for that Gathering had been so contentious that the Green Council required Mike Feinstein to agree to a page of written stipulations before allowing him to continue preparing the event. One of those requirements was that Mike would reduce his $150,000 budget to $50,000, which he promised to do.

He announced that he ...had no responsibility or intention of providing any financial documentation.

When delegates requested written documentation of income and expenses, Mike's response was perhaps the most arrogant and insulting speech of the Lawrence event. He announced that he had put the '96 Gathering together himself because the GPUSA was too incompetent to organize its own event and that he had no responsibility or intention of providing any financial documentation.

During the previous year, there had been intense hostility directed at the GPUSA Clearinghouse for not providing financial documentation as quickly as many would like. Despite personal attacks, the Clearinghouse Coordinator repeatedly apologized for delays, affirmed the right of members to receive financial information, and promised a report as soon as she could prepare it. At no time did the Clearinghouse Coordinator deny the right of Greens to a complete financial report. In stark contrast, Mike Feinstein insisted that he had no obligation to show any financial accountability. It will be very interesting to find out if those who have hounded Betty will now criticize Mike for violation of Grassroots Accountability. Or will his faction split a hair and try to justify his refusal to prepare a financial report?

Selecting a Proposal

Prior to the Gathering, restructuring proposals swirled through the minds of Greens and the pages of Green Tidings. At the Gathering, caucusing, arguing and compromising led to proposals being rewritten, merged, withdrawn and divided. Since there were concerns with the fact that proportional representation (PR) can yield different results based on the order of ballot counting, Howie suggested a very simple and clear way to use PR to choose between multiple proposals. The author of each proposal stood in a different part of the room and delegates who were in agreement with it went to stand by the author. The facilitator would see which proposal had the lowest vote count and ask those delegates to go to other groups. This would be repeated until only two groups were left and the proposal with the higher delegate vote would be the proposal subject to modification by amendment.

The following proposals remained for the critical vote on Saturday:

When delegates stood by their favorite proposal, it was clear that there was little support for the last three. Supporters of the Nkrumah proposal split among the Chichester Compromise, the Solnit proposal, and the Hawkins proposal. Then, most Hawkins supporters walked over to the Chichester group, giving it a majority of votes.

The New Green Structure

The vote on structure illustrated the importance of using mandated delegates (giving them instructions on how to vote). Though Gene Rodriguez would have preferred an alternative which preserved dues for all members, his Boulder Green Alliance had mandated him to vote for the Solnit proposal, which he did throughout the tabulation. On the other hand, the Gateway Green Alliance delegates had been mandated to vote to preserve the right of locals to direct representation and to preserve dues as a basis of representation, which would have prevented GGA delegates from supporting the Chichester Compromise until he made those provisions explicit.

The Chichester Compromise which passed is as follows:

The political committee of the GPUSA will be based on State Green Parties or State Green Confederations which are accountable to Greens organized in active grassroots groups in their states. The Green National Council (GNC) of the GPUSA will be based on State Green Parties. When no State Green Party exists, two or more locals can form a Confederation. State Green Parties and State Green Confederations may combine to form Green Regions for representation. The Green Congress of the GPUSA will be based on State Green Parties. GPUSA members will also have the option of being represented by locals. Delegates to the Green Congress will be elected by GPUSA members by any voting method which ensures proportional representation of minority viewpoints. There will be 1 delegate vote for each 10 members as follows: 1 vote for 5 to 14 members; 2 votes for 15 to 24 members; and so on. Members will be included in only one election process.

Implicit in the language is that State Parties will retain the votes of members-at-large if a local exercises its right to "secede" and have direct representation at the Congress. Thus, the Chichester Compromise actually gave those promoting a State Party structure more than they asked for.

...the Chichester Compromise...gave those promoting a State Party structure more than they asked for...Yet it did so without stripping locals of their right to representation and without abolishing dues.

The Compromise accomplished what the ASGP's Jim Nicita called for in the Fall, 1997 Synthesis/Regeneration (p. 13): "For GPUSA, structurally it must at a minimum vote in Lawrence to establish a pre-eminent role for state parties." Yet it did so without stripping locals of their right to representation and without abolishing dues. Perhaps the reason for its overwhelming support was that the Chichester Compromise accomplished its unity goal in simple and straightforward language which contrasted to other proposals whose wording appeared too lengthy and contorted. When the final vote came on the closing day, the Chichester Compromise passed with 90% approval (71 to 8).

The last order of business was considering an amendment by Howie which would divide Congress delegates between State Parties and Green Locals. The proposal left unanswered whether or not State Parties would pay dues. It directed the Green Council to develop a system of dividing State Party delegates to be submitted to the 1998 Congress. There was worry that Howie's amendment would only reopen the wounds of the past in 1998 and continue the unending squabble over structure. Nevertheless, the spirit of compromise was strong and it passed, 56 to 20.

Unity and Action

Just before approval of the Chichester Compromise, the Congress discussed the Unity Proposal of the Gateway Green Alliance: "In order to be as inclusive as possible, Unity Conferences should occur at the same location and proximal date as other national meetings of the participating groups. These events could be board meetings, national membership meetings, conferences or gatherings."

By having the Unity meeting at the same time as other national meetings...members might even discover that they had a great deal in common with members of the "rival" organization.

By having the Unity meeting at the same time as other national meetings of the GPUSA and ASGP, it would prevent Greens from having to spend too much money on redundant airplane fares. Members of each organization could go to the meetings of the other organization to see exactly how it functioned. This would avoid the charge that leaders were manipulating members by discouraging them from knowing other Green groups. Members might even discover that they had a great deal in common with members of the "rival" organization.

A major reason for the GGA proposal was concern that a unity "deal" could be negotiated by a self-appointed committee or even by elected representatives and then members would be told that they had to ratify it or be branded as obstructionist. By meeting at the same time in the same city, all Greens would be part of the process of drafting unity. Given the history of exclusion by the GPN and ASGP, delegates agreed that the unity process must be open if it is to be successful. The proposal passed unanimously.

Green Council

The Green Council met the evening of Sunday, August 31 and the morning of Monday, September 1. Four years previously, the GGA won approval for a change in the Charter prohibiting members from being national officers for more than 4 of any 6 continuous years. This was the first Council meeting where several were ineligible to continue their seat on the Green Council. (They will be eligible again in Summer, 1999.)

The Council elected a Coordinating Committee (CC) of Howie Hawkins, Barbara Chicherio, and Lionel Trepanier. Alternates are Kwazi Nkrumah, Carol Bellin, Eugene Rodriguez and Jana Cutlip. Alternates will receive all mail sent to full CC members and will be available to take their place on conference calls on an as-needed basis.

The Council set its next meeting for December in Los Angeles and heard suggestions that the 1998 Gathering be in Los Angeles, St. Louis, or Atlanta. By a 52 to 5.5 vote, officers were elected for one year: Barbara Chicherio (President), Howie Hawkins (Vice-President), Lionel Trepanier (Secretary) and Kwazi Nkrumah (Treasurer).


Throughout Congress, many topics of substance receive insufficient or no time: establishing a speakers' bureau, reforming drug laws, Peace Conversion, creating a national campaign to reduce the work week, establishing Zero Waste Councils. These are just a few of the themes that begged for Congress to go beyond passing a resolution and actually coordinate a national Green Campaign. The Greens are the unique organization which should be combining direct action work with forging a legislative agenda and preparing candidates to speak on a progressive platform.

With the Cassini launch scheduled for a couple of months after the Green Congress, why did it fail to mount a national campaign to protest, propose legislation and train candidates to speak on abolishing nuclear weapons and shutting down nukes? With the Multilateral Agreement on Investments waiting for its fast track, why did the Green Congress fail to develop a national campaign to fight the loss of our rights and our environment to corporate imperialism? With our streets being wasted by government-sponsored drug addiction, why did the Green Congress fail to create a campaign explaining drugs are being pushed by hypocrites who claim to oppose them?

When Greens get together in Summer, 1998, one question will tower above others: will we again allow the structure debaters to absorb half the Congress time squabbling over the same issues they are never able to resolve? Or, will we take control of our own organization and use it to forge a Green initiative which will lay the basis for creating a new society?

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