Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Call from the Green Party

Michael Borenstein called me today. Michael, when I first met him, was the male co-chair of the Green Party of California. Most Green Party committees have two chairpeople, which divides the work load and, more importantly, the power one gets from administrating party work. Almost always one chair is male and the other female, demonstrating the party's commitment to gender equality.

Michael wanted to know if I might volunteer to work on revising the formal structure of the California party. We had not talked to each other in over a year, so the discussion of this proposition became a broad-ranging talk about the Green Party.

The Green Party is far weaker today than it was when I joined it in 2001. Largely that can be attributed to the usual problems of third parties trying to emerge in a system that legally favors only two corrupt, entrenched parties. Of course during the eight years of the George Bush administration the Democratic Party chorus both blamed the election of President Bush on the Green Party, and said that change could only come by dismantling the Green Party and adding our paltry few hundred thousand votes in national elections to the Democratic Party candidate's total.

We can't do much about the Democrats acting like two-party fascists (in many states the Green Party is, for all practical purposes illegal. They - the Democrats and Republicans - won't arrest you for saying you are in the Green Party. They just won't let your candidates on the ballot, or allow you to register voters into the Green Party).

But we should be able to do something about our own internal Green Party failings. Which are myriad. In some cases even our strengths are our weaknesses.

For instance, individual Green Party members tend to be uncompromising. Green Party leaders tend to be even more uncompromising. They are often experienced in leading non-profit environmental and social justice groups that need to scream their heads off just to be heard at all within a political system designed to placate corporate interests. The problem is, this tends to become a personality trait, if it did not begin as one. So when these experienced activists try to make a decision together within our party, they refuse to compromise over what anyone outside the party would see as extremely minor differences.

Add the usual personality disorders and a system that tries to work by consensus rather than majority rule, and you often end up with gridlock. Given enough gridlock, sensible Greens start spending their time doing something else (say working at the local level if the gridlock is at the state level, or vice-versa). The uncompromising lock horns and the sane either take sides or drift away.

It is not always bad. I have seen a lot get done. Certainly, if it has done nothing else, the Green Party has forced the Democratic Party to at least pretend to be environmentally friendly at times. This is especially true in localities where the Green Party has a significant number of members.

Green Party members have been most effective when they have actually been elected to office. Sometimes having one Green on a body filled with Dems and Republicans can force everyone to go into good governance mode. I believe if we could get 5 Green Party members elected to the California State Assembly in 2010, we could put the state's affairs in order pretty quickly.

Our agenda is good. We work for the long term benefit of all people by working for sustainable economics within a sustainable global ecosystem. We disagree about the details, and we should, because we have not had much opportunity to put our dreams into practice yet. With practice we should get feedback, a more objective view, and improvement in the details.

We need fresh people to be active in the Green Party. We need people who have not been professional politicians who are willing to run for office. We need people to work on their campaigns. And we need people to work in the party organization at all levels, local, state, national, and global.

Oh, and did I mention, Peace? With President Obama escalating the war in Afghanistan just like John F. Kennedy escalated the war in Vietnam, now more than even we need a party that really truly understands that the U.S. military is the disease, not the cure.

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