The Green Party of Virginia

An Organizing Proposal

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. New strategies are constantly needed to keep up with shifting conditions and circumstances. Particularly, 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.

The Proposals

  1. Cultivation of candidates to engage in electoral politics.
  2. State-wide campaigns of locally-based study circles/educational coalitions and outreach for proportional representation, instant runoff voting and other related electoral reforms, including the redistricting process, as an initial step toward local ballot measures.
  3. Fund-raising, Fund-raising, Fund-raising.
  4. Voter registration, in those local areas where it is needed.
  5. "Five year plans" for each county regarding how they will implement 1 through 4 above.

Specifics of the Proposals

  1. CULTIVATION OF CANDIDATES TO ENGAGE IN ELECTORAL POLITICS. The key word here is "cultivation." 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 that ought to be supported by the Green Party. Proposed criteria:

    1. A Green candidate will have been a committed activist in their local area for a minimum of two years prior to their candidacy. A sign of their commitment will be that they attend city council meetings, commission meetings, and many other community fora on a regular basis. They will be well-known, highly visible, and respected in their community for their integrity and activism. Not only will they have attended these kind of meetings, but ideally they will have served as an appointee on a commission or two, and/or have been on the board of a neighborhood organization or other local civic organization, and/or have been involved in local electoral campaigns. Green candidates will know, by first-name and face, the "players" of the local political scene, and will be known to them, including people like the mayor, city council people, commissioners, etc.

    2. In addition, the ideal Green candidate will be known and respected by the local media, and will have written many letters to the editor, op-eds, etc. in the local daily and weekly newspapers, and on local radio. The candidate will be known as a thoughtful and articulate commentator on the local scene. They will have demonstrated expertise and/or thoughtfulness in *policy-making. * The candidate will avoid jargon and Green "language," but instead will be adept at framing issues and policies in a Green way while using common and local language.

    3. The ideal Green candidate will have volunteered for several local electoral campaigns and will have logistical knowledge of what a campaign entails, and what it takes to get elected in terms of amount of money to be raised, numbers of volunteers required, etc.

    4. The ideal Green candidate will be well-versed in local, state and national issues, and able to eloquently articulate and elaborate Green positions on these issues. They will be committed to proportional representation as *the single most important political reform* for the future electoral success of the Green Party, even more important than campaign finance reform (see below for more on this).

    5. Also, the ideal candidate will try to be elected to an office that is within their reach and expertise, perhaps school board rather than city council, initially. Candidates will "climb the ladder," so to speak, building up name-recognition, familiarity and a constituency base.

    6. The Green Party and its candidates will be unafraid of being tagged a " spoiler," particularly whenever a Democrat loses to a Republican with a Green in the race (as occurred in New Mexico when Green Party candidate Carol Miller won 17 percent of the vote, and a conservative Republican beat the Democrat in a traditionally Democratic district). Green candidates will point out that political parties have a right-indeed, a responsibility-to run candidates and espouse policies that offer the voters electoral choices. If the results become distorted, that is the fault of the voting system being used, not of the minority party for running candidates. Great Britain, the great-grandmother of "winner take all" elections, is on the verge of changing its voting system precisely *because* minor parties like the Liberal Democrats have spoiled the major parties for years (Britain has not had a government win a popular majority since the 1930's, including the recent Labour Party victory). As minor parties like the Green Party and Reform Party compete for seats, we will see more minority governments in the U.S. (little known factoid: despite enjoying a comfortable majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party did not win a majority of the popular vote in 1996). And soon, like in Great Britain, U.S. voters will realize they are being ripped off by the voting system because Green candidates will point it out.

    What the Green Party should avoid, at all costs, are flaky, fly-by-night candidacies by 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 minutes 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.

  2. A STATE-WIDE CAMPAIGN OF LOCALLY-BASED STUDY CIRCLES/EDUCATIONAL COALITIONS AND OUTREACH FOR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION, INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING, AND OTHER RELATED ELECTORAL REFORMS, INCLUDING THE REDISTRICTING PROCESS, AS A BEGINNING 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, and fusion. Minor parties don't lose because we don't have enough money or because our political opponents have too much money. We lose because we are a *minority viewpoint within a majoritarian system.* The decennial redistricting process, whereby 80 percent of congressional districts are gerrymandered by the incumbents and the two major parties to decide which party will win and lose a particular district, in many cases has more to do with who gets elected than the amount of money spent (for more information about this, see the recent report Monopoly Politics issued by the Center for Voting and Democracy at http://www.fairvote.org/.

    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 percent of a society, not the "majority" some wish it to be-to win representation consistently. If we have 10 percent of the popular vote, we will win ten percent of the legislative seats. Campaign finance reform cannot promise that.

    As significant and fundamental a reform proportional representation is 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 will 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, MALDEF, 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 that will book 15 minutes speaking gigs at other organizations in their local area,

    3. periodically organize educational forum 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 for placing a ballot measure for proportional representation or instant runoff voting on the local ballot, either by voter initiative, establishing an electoral task force or charter commission, or lobbying the city council to do it.

  3. FUND-RAISING, FUND-RAISING, FUND-RAISING. 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 two to three staff /field organizers who can assist local and state Green chapters in their organizing efforts. Fund-raising will be the task of a committee, and must always be accountable to the governing bodies of the Green Party. There are many fund-raising projects to pursue, more than is worth going into in this proposal. But one 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 fund-raising should be conducted by each local Green chapter in conjunction with their states, with a fund-raising goal established.

  4. VOTER REGISTRATION, IN THOSE LOCAL AREAS WHERE IT IS NEEDED. The various stated Green Parties need to continue voter registration as a way to maintain ballot status. Some states will need more help with this than others. Voter registration is an excellent way to create visibility for the Green Party and increase Green "evangelicalism," particularly in those counties and states where the Green Party has not been very active and doesn' t have a lot of registered Greens. New registrants can be recruited into party activities, asked to donate time, energy, money and physical resources like computers, etc. 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 the other three priorities listed above, particularly if the Green Party does not have the financial and physical wherewithal to activate, communicate with and outreach to the newly registered Greens. The balance should be worked out through careful dialogue and strategic planning.

  5. "FIVE YEAR PLANS" FOR EACH LOCAL, COUNTY AND STATE REGARDING HOW THEY WILL IMPLEMENT 1 THROUGH 4 ABOVE. Each local, county and state will work in coordination to come up with an integrated plan about how to implement these proposals. These plans will include time lines, 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 locals, county and state organizations of the Green Party to activate and initiate that 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. Our efforts are commendably broad and ambitious, yet frustratingly shallow in our completion. This has a tendency to make the Green Party look flaky and incapable of presenting an organized and effective organization. We undermine our own efforts when we can't work together to implement a plan. Every county has different levels of expertise in organizing. The process of arriving at a five year plan, in conjunction with experienced Green Party organizers, will be a tremendous educational process that will achieve concrete goals and strategies that will lead to greater accountability and effectiveness within our organizations. 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, and help the local activists to improve their skills and knowledge, and become leaders, so as to create a grassroots and constituency- based organization capable of effective activity.

    What is leadership? Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, defines leadership as the following: "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: Electoral and Movement Politics: Some Greens will no doubt observe that this proposal is greatly focused on electoral politics, and much less on "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. We neglect the electoral arena at the peril of all of the latter, and at the peril of our movement politics. Greens seem to do the movement politics fairly well, but the electoral arena is often pretty lagging. So this proposal is designed to shore up the latter. It takes *both* wings of the airplane to fly.

    Also, please consider that 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. Movement politics has the ability to help build coalitions and to broaden our constituency base. But our explicit priority will be the activation of this proposal, which is centered on our unique contribution of electoral 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.

This article was written by a group of Greens from California in the 1990's. Comments and respectful dialogue of this plan in relation to the GPVA are gratefully accepted and encouraged.



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The Green Party of Virginia
Last Update: January 23, 2001

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