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Synthesis/Regeneration 32   (Fall 2003)

No Shortcut to Power

by Henry Robertson, Green Party of St. Louis

The Green Party, if I may use that term in the singular, is the best hope for change through the ballot box. The call is urgent. The country’s on an imperialist rampage, civil liberties are under attack, the electoral process is corrupt from top to bottom, the economic system is unjust and unsustainable, and public values have been reduced to a grotesque parody of “freedom.” Greens want a share of political power and we want it now.

You can’t always get what you want. All signs are that the rest of the country isn’t ready for us. Power, to be democratized, must be decentralized; our political and institution-building focus should be local. Running for higher office is a distraction from that work.

Collecting tens of thousands of signatures to get on the ballot takes thousands of hours of work and is not a good way to organize; you have to minimize the time spent with each voter in order to maximize the number of signatures. Campaign slogans are designed to win votes, not communicate a message of fundamental transformation. Democracy is an idea whose application needs to be worked out for every unit of government starting locally (public utility board, school board, city council, state legislative district, etc.). If we are not ready to implement it once we get in office, then we do not deserve to be elected.

Every state is different. In some states Greens are numerous and their candidates electable, but for every California, New Mexico or Maine there must be five like my home state of Missouri where, despite two presidential campaigns, the Holy Grail of statewide ballot status has eluded us.

Power, to be democratized, must be decentralized; our political and institution-building focus should be local.

In 2004 Ralph Nader may be the Greens’ presidential candidate for the third time. He has never joined the Party. In Missouri in 2000, he endorsed the Democrat for US Senate, snubbing our own candidate.

I don’t want to knock Nader. I worked to put him on the ballot and I voted for him. The alternative to a high-profile figurehead is a homegrown Green rising from the roots. Whoever that person might be, he or she would not have Nader’s name recognition. The result in Missouri is predictable—no ballot status. But even if the Nader strategy works like a charm, drawing people to the Greens in droves, it still takes organized locals to catch and hold the new recruits.

I have no doubt that Nader would have got us ballot status in 2000 if it had not been for the extraordinarily close race between Bush and Gore. But getting ballot status is relatively easy. All it takes is 2% of the vote for president or any of six statewide offices. If we get it Missouri law requires us to set up a network of party committees at every level from county (and Missouri has 114 counties) on up, including committees for every state and federal legislative district and judicial circuits in those parts of the state where judges are elected.

We can’t do it. The Greens have virtually no organized presence outside the two metropolitan areas and the university town of Columbia. Kansas City is GPUS while St. Louis is GPUSA and Columbia is split. Who are we kidding? Only ourselves if we think we can exploit state ballot status.

The counsel of despair, I hear you say. So here’s our little secret—the Greens do have ballot status in Missouri. In local races, especially two-way races, we can win votes—percentages as high as 29.4 for a St. Louis aldermanic seat, 15 for citywide office in St. Louis, 12.6 for state House and 5.7 for state Senate. Missouri Green candidates have won ballot status in four House districts, one Senate district, the City of St. Louis, Boone County (Columbia) and one of seven St. Louis County Council districts. In the 1990s Greens had ballot status in a Congressional district and won two or three nonpartisan elections in Columbia.

So forget the presidency. Forget state ballot status unless you’re prepared to do something with it. A house is built from the ground up. Impatience is understandable but it doesn’t win elections.

[6 sep 03]

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