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Synthesis/Regeneration 16   (Summer 1998)

Green Party of Seattle's Sensational Start

by Scott Denburg and Curt Firestone, Green Party of Seattle

Recent election successes have left Green Party of Seattle (GPoS) activists wondering how we came so far so fast. During its first year as a political party, GPoS saw two members and one other endorsed candidate elected to the Seattle City Council.

The election was a big step for the Seattle Greens coming into our own in the "Emerald City." The election gained us visibility in the progressive community and attention from local independent media. In addition, involvement in the campaigns gave us experience in electoral politics, in order to better fill our niche in the community: running candidates for office. Now we have power from inside the government, not just as an outside pressure group.

When the campaign started, Seattle Greens decided to selectively interview and endorse only those candidates who demonstrated support for the Ten Key Values, agreed with us on key city issues, and promised to meet with Greens on a quarterly basis after being elected. We were pleasantly surprised to find several good candidates running (unfortunately, sometimes for the same seat). Following the interviews, the membership decided to endorse three candidates for city council (out of a total of five races) and one for Seattle Port Commissioner. This allowed Greens to concentrate our energies on four elections while ignoring the others where green-minded candidates were not available. GPoS also recognized that we did not have to wait for existing members to run for office in order to gain electoral experience and legitimacy in the community.

The Candidates Turn Green

During the course of the election campaign, two candidates, -- Peter Steinbrueck (endorsed) and Nick Licata (a non-endorsed activist), decided to join the Green Party of Seattle. Licata continued to be a member of the Democratic Party and Steinbrueck courted Democrats while being a Green. (Washington state voters do not declare party affiliation when they register, thus allowing membership in more than one party; Seattle City Council races are non- partisan.) Both won their seats (Steinbrueck with over 70% of the vote) as did another Green-endorsed candidate, Richard Conlin, former publisher of a Green-tinted magazine called Yes!, who has been very supportive of Green values. The Greens had started with endorsing non-members and ended with two Green Party members in office. This was the result of hard work and the power of the Green message.

The Greens had started with endorsing non-members and ended with two Green Party members in office.

Greens were involved at many levels of each endorsed campaign. Strategy, creation of press releases and literature, yard sign coordination, scheduling, fund raising, doorbelling, and all the other aspects of campaigning occupied most of the Greens' time last election season as other projects were put on the back burner.

Since our cadidates were sworn into office, the change in City Hall has been significant. Progressive and responsive politics is returning to Seattle. Issues of environmental protection, human rights, free speech, affordable housing, and transportation are in the forefront. And, now we have access to the decision-makers to promote our values and policies, rather than just being an opposition group.

Gaining Credibility via Coalition Efforts

Prior to the local elections, during our first year, the Seattle Greens had organized around public policy issues. The first major effort was involvement in a coalition against allowing advertising in Seattle public schools. This coalition successfully lobbied to overturn the school board's corporate-initiated policy.

A key decision made in those early months was to operate within our local scope.

As that campaign concluded, another issue presented itself. Billionaire Paul Allen paid for a special state-wide referendum to tear down the Kingdome and build a new football stadium at taxpayer expense. Once again, GPoS joined a coalition cementing new relationships and learning the ropes of electoral politics. Although Greens were on the losing end of an election in which Allen spent several million dollars, our newly elected city council members are continuing the fight to protect the city treasury from professional sports robbery.

A key decision made in those early months was to operate within our local scope. The Green Party could not represent all of Washington or even the Puget Sound area without first having more than one local chapter. We would assist new local chapters in developing if requested, but we needed to not overextend ourselves.

A second lesson learned early on was to be flexible and not sweat the small detail items. For example, it took us a while to develop a structure which worked. Rather than regularly changing our bylaws, we created a vague set of bylaws and just did what worked well, modifying and developing the structure organically as we saw fit.

A third key decision was to build coalitions with other progressive organizations. By working on existing efforts in alignment with Green values, we could assist and learn without having to start from scratch. It also made us visible in the progressive community.

Finally, it was important to make ties with the independent media community. We took a low-key approach, yet made a solid effort to learn how to do press releases and establish a friendly rapport with the weekly alternative press. Once they realized what the Greens were about, the coverage we received has been steady. It has thus allowed us to get our voice heard, to gain legitimacy, and to gain new members.

Next Steps in the Emerald City

Currently, the Seattle Greens are working on local watershed protection, transportation, animal rights, affordable housing issues, and the development of a local currency. Proactive involvement in protecting our watershed from logging has, in particular, kept the Greens visible in the community. We played a leading role in getting a no-logging option considered by the City. Meanwhile, we have also begun plotting our electoral strategy, determining in which races we want to run Green candidates.

In addition to pursuing issues and crafting an electoral strategy, GPoS has found a need to focus on internal structural issues. We have working groups tackling outreach to recruit new members and to strengthen relationships with other local progressive organizations. We are also eager to assist in the creation of other local chapters in Washington state.

The Greens have arrived in Seattle and the future looks bright.

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