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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

An Organizing Proposal for Green Parties of the US

by Steve Hill & the Electoral Reform Working Group of the Green Party of California

[The following proposal was originally drafted by the Electoral Reform Working Group of the Green Party of California. This proposal has been discussed and refined somewhat through several drafts by Green Party activists, and at the request of Don Fitz is now being respectfully submitted to the larger Green Party community as a way to stimulate debate and discussion about goals and strategies of the various Green Parties throughout the United States.]

Right now is a critical time, not only for the future growth and development of the Green Party, but for progressive politics in the United States. Certain strategies and priorities will mark the Green Party as a serious contender on the national, state, and local levels, in both electoral and movement/issue-based politics, while other strategies and priorities will mark the Green Party as merely an occasional gadfly, not to be taken seriously by the "powers that be" or by the public and voters to whom we wish to offer an alternative.

Cultivation of Candidates

Green candidates must be effective, articulate, talented, and well-versed on the issues. Green candidacies should be well thought out, carefully considered decisions, and made from a position of experience and familiarity with the local terrain. Accordingly, there ought to be internal party criteria developed for the qualifications of a Green Party candidate, and for what constitutes a Green candidate who should be supported by the Green Party.

...there ought to be internal party criteria developed for the qualifications of a Green Party candidate...

Proposed criteria:

What the Green Party should avoid is flaky, fly-by-night candidates who are largely unknown in their communities, who don't have a firm grasp of local issues and the local "players," who decide at the last minute to run for office for "the heck of it" or merely to "present an alternative to the two parties," who don't understand the primary importance of proportional representation, and who shoot from the hip with policy positions that are divorced from local conditions and issues as commonly understood in their area.

The Green Party will take the task of development and cultivation of our candidates seriously, and it will be the job of assigned committees to develop this work of the Green Party in conjunction with local, county and state Green chapters.

A State-Wide Campaign of Locally-Based Study Circles/Educational Coalitions and Outreach for Proportional Representation and Related Electoral Reform as a Step Toward Local Ballot Measures

Proportional representation is the life-blood of the Green Party. If Greens ever hope to win elections on a regular basis at local, state, and national levels, like Green Parties do in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere, then proportional representation is the single most important reform. It is more important than campaign finance reform, NOTA ("None of the Above" ballot option), and fusion.

Proportional representation is the life-blood of the Green Party.

Minor parties don't lose because they don't have enough money or because their political opponents have too much money. They lose because they are a minority viewpoint within a majoritarian system. Proportional representation will break up "winner take all" single seat districts and make gerrymandering obsolete. Proportional representation will allow the progressive viewpoint-which European democracies using proportional systems reveal to represent only about 10 to 20% of a society, not the "majority" some wish it to be-to win representation consistently. If we have 10% of the popular vote, we will win 10% of the legislative seats. Campaign finance reform cannot promise that.

While proportional representation is a significant and fundamental reform for the Green Party, we must recognize that most Americans have not heard of it. We have a tremendous educational task ahead of us. The Green Party must work with other organizations like the Center for Voting and Democracy, Citizens for Proportional Representation, Independent Politics Network, Common Cause, the various PIRGs, NOW, NAACP, labor unions, and other ballot-qualified third parties to foster study circles/educational coalitions and outreach at the local level. These study circles/educational coalitions will (1) educate fellow Greens and the public, using the educational packets on proportional representation available via the Center for Voting and Democracy, (2) create a local speakers bureau,( 3) periodically organize educational fora about proportional representation and related reforms, and (4) participate in "speaking tours" of prominent speakers about election reform.

After an educational period of six months to one year, the local organization/coalition will analyze the possibility of placing a measure for proportional representation on the ballot.

Fundraising, Fundraising, Fundraising

Someone once said, "money is the mother's milk of politics." Such a viewpoint, taken to its extreme, is anathema to the goals and principles of the Green Party. Conversely, the Green Party badly needs a minimum level of funding to provide such crucial organizing tools as newsletters, staffed clearinghouses or a national network of people/offices doing clearinghouse functions, and 2 to 4 staff /field organizers who can assist local and state Green chapters in their organizing efforts.

"Leaders are the ones who do the work."

Fundraising will be the task of a committee, and must always be accountable to the governing bodies of the Green Party. One funding source that ought to be considered is a phone-banking of registered Greens, asking them to support their party with a donation, or to pay for a yearly subscription to a newsletter. This fundraising should be conducted by each local Green chapter in conjunction with their state party, with a fundraising goal established. Often in the Green Party, proposals are agreed to but never enacted.

Voter Registration in Areas Where It Is Needed

The various state Green Parties need to continue voter registration as a way to maintain ballot status. However, the Green Party does not have a very good track record at enlisting Green registrants into party-building activity. Most registered Greens have never heard from the Green Party once they registered. We have to be careful about setting higher and higher goals for registering Greens, at the expense of other priorities, particularly if the Green Party does not have the financial and physical ability to communicate with those who are newly registered.

"Five Year Plans" for Each Local, County and State

Each local, county, and state organization will develop an integrated plan to implement these proposals. These plans will include timelines, assignment of tasks, and general strategy. The rationale behind this proposal is summed up in one word: accountability. That is to say, if these proposals achieve consensus of the various Green Parties, then it is incumbent upon the local, county, and state organizations of the Green Party to initiate the activities which they themselves via their representatives/delegates have agreed to do. Often in the Green Party, proposals are agreed to but never enacted. There is little follow-through. This has a tendency to make the Green Party look flaky and ineffective.

There are other environmental and social justice organizations that are doing green movement politics. The unique contribution of the Green Party is electoral politics...

Every county has different levels of expertise in organizing. The Green Party has many good activists, but not a lot of experienced organizers. Here's the difference: Organizers organize other activists; organizers create leadership; organizers clone themselves. What is leadership? Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, say: "Leaders are the ones who do the work." That is a definition of leadership that should work for an organization like the Greens, who value non-hierarchical structures.

Striking a Balance between Electoral and Movement Politics

Some Greens will observe that this proposal is focused on electoral politics, and has much less to say about "movement" politics. One of the assumptions of this proposal is that the Green Party is the electoral arm of the green movement. That is our unique contribution to our society, our movement, and our planet.

The Green Party does not have the institutional, financial, or human resources to be "everything to everybody." There are other environmental and social justice organizations that are doing green movement politics. The unique contribution of the Green Party is electoral politics: grooming our candidates, presenting a viable electoral alternative, and changing the rules of the game of this "winner take all" democracy to proportional representation. These, in a nutshell, ought to be the unique priorities of Green Parties in the United States.

This is not to say that the various Green Parties will not continue to engage in movement politics. Any movement politics engaged in by the Green Party should be examined for the degree that it can contribute to the realization of the goals of this proposal, and for how it fits within the strategies of this proposal.

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