Once in a while, I get a message from some would-be Green that makes me want to recap
what I’ve ranted about before. Just trying a different approach, another format here, to see if this comes across any better.
Recent message I received:
I attended a GPOC meeting quite a while ago and while it
seemed informative it didn’t seem to be a viable alternative
to being registered as a Democrat.
It’s quite possible to remain registered as a Dem and still participate in some things with the Greens, but I’m guessing that the writer didn’t really mean to say there was a contradiction between going to our meetings and one’s registration.
I treated the reasons for being registered with a party here:
a couple of years ago.
Since then, one thing has changed, very much in favor of registering Green: Since Prop 14 passed, there are no longer any actual primaries for most offices in California. For everything except U.S. President and elected party officials, anyone can vote on any candidate in any election, regardless of party registration. Prop 14 is a disaster in other ways, for “third” parties and all voters, but that’s another story.
If you’re really REALLY attached to the idea of voting for a Dem candidate in the presidential primary, there’s not much I can say, except: I guarantee that your one vote out of tens of millions won’t be noticed.
Continuing with that message:
Even after the Bush years of disaster and the frustrations
around the Obama “Hope” for “Change” version of Carter’s
“Trust Me” and Clinton’s “Feeling” our “Pain”, it still doesn’t
seem like the Greens are a viable alternative to the
Democrats! Why is that?
How many registered Greens are there?
I am not trying to denigrate GPOC and your efforts,
but I didn’t get a sense of urgency for organizing or a
plan to attract large numbers of “independents” or
frustrated “liberal/progressive” Democrats when I
attended before and I guess that’s why I did not
become more involved.
I got a similar sense when I visited the P****** H****
D********* Club in Santa Ana a while back also.
A bit clubby, but not strategic. If you know what I mean.
The old paradox of the chicken or the egg plagues many organizations of all kinds. You know: people don’t see it as a functioning organization, hence they don’t join, hence you
don’t have enough people to get the work done to make it a functioning organization. For my analogy, I’ll call new recruits the “eggs” and the organization the “chicken”.
In a world where the Koch brothers can crank out a hundred astroturf “organi- zations” just by writing a check to a PR firm, people seem to expect everything to be cut & dried before they ever show up to a meeting, and assume that someone else is handling all the event planning, financial reporting, composing & printing, web site maintenance, strategic planning, paraphernalia design, etc.
The Green Party is not like that. It’s up to us, as ordinary members, to do all that.
There are no hired professionals. There might be two or three part-time employees in
all the Green Parties in the U.S. put together. They’re working for laughable pay, compared to the hours they put in and the skills required. I wrote about the work involved in just keeping the Party in existence here a year and a half ago. Many of our most active members have their hands full just maintaining the shell of an organization. To a visitor, it might look like an empty shell sometimes. That can be both a good and a bad thing, as I’ll try to explain below. (Ask any hermit crab what are the uses for an empty shell. Hmm… “hermit crab”… Look around at some of our members….but I digress.)
The biggest jumps in membership we’ve had, historically, happened from 2000 to 2004, and probably came from three things that were going on in the wider world at the time:
(1) The Nader 2000 campaign drew a lot of attention. Nader himself never registered Green, and turned out to be less interested in building a party than we hoped, but just having him on the Party’s ballot line was considerable
advertising for us. I wrote some comments on the mess that followed
from that here.
Contrary to what some people might expect, we did NOT suffer any drop in registration after the Dems blamed Gore’s loss of Florida on Nader. They accomplished some obfuscation with that line of propaganda, but not any drop in interest in the GP.
(2) The Camejo 2003 campaign, in which Camejo actually got on a prime time tv debate with a handful of other candidates, put the Party’s name out in front of people much more than before in California.
(3) In the drumbeat leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the leading Dems in Congress seemed to be a solid pro-war block. Low-level Dem Party groups were much slower to join the antiwar movement than “third” parties.
These were all big events over which local Greens had very little influence. There ARE ways of boosting our registration and participation with small, local groups, but that’s for another discussion.
Eggs that stay away
Let’s try to run through some reasons people give for not participating,
whether that means registration, volunteering, donating, or whatever.
These are not quotes from anyone in particular, but my own straw men,
based on what I’ve heard over the years.
I. “I just don’t see the Green Party growing, like it has a chance to get many …..people elected.”
This is of course the self-fulfilling prophecy, the chicken-or-egg dilemma, restated. Are you afraid of failure if you do some work for the Party? Have you never played chess, volleyball, monopoly, or video games for fear of losing? There are many ways to waste time, and many ways to enjoy yourself, or not. How is politics worse than any other? (I perso- nally might not look like a good example to follow right now, since I put in a few years and got tired of it. So do it until you get tired of it. How many of you have never worked for the GP at all?)
But as I’ve stated elsewhere (toward the end of my Baroque Obama rant), we need stories of failure. They can make a good narrative to show how corrupt the régime is.
If it’s important to you to win, and a Dem or Rep has a chance of winning, two points about that:
(1) Nothing about being a Green precludes you working or voting for a candidate of another party if you want to (from our side anyway, see V. below). The only contradiction comes if there is a Green running against that candidate, and your favored candidate actually has a chance of winning. This only happens once in a while, very rarely in Orange County.
(2) Think about what you actually win. Let’s take a best case scenario: you actually have some influence in getting the best possible kind of Dem elected: a Kucinich, Feingold,
Wellstone, or Franken. While such people often bring up some very important issues, they have already performed the “failure story” function again and again. Great spokespeople sometimes, but always in a small minority. They’ll never win an important vote that might
actually change something. If Greens hadn’t seen this scripted failure over the years, we wouldn’t have moved on to a “third” party long ago. Do you imagine that there will ever be a majority of Kucinich-like congresscritters? Dream on. See item #1 under IV. below.
II. “There is a platform item or two with which I disagree.”
Two things about that:
(1) You will find that same thing with any party, guaranteed.
(2) The GP, being much more desperate for volunteers than the big parties, gives you far more influence if you want to CHANGE an item in the platform.
In a way, the GP is a shell with which you can do whatever you like. This is both good and bad, of course. Some candidates with little to recommend them have sometimes used our ballot access. But at this stage of our development it doesn’t matter much, since hardly anyone hears of our candidates. Just the party name on the ballot, and the number of votes for it, sends a message. The message is: “We are not cooperating with your ‘two-party’ game of good cop/bad cop.”
The good thing about an “empty shell”, for any influx of new members that might come along, is that they have a chance to change things, due to the low numbers currently with the party.
III. “I was unimpressed by this candidate who was on the ballot as a Green.”
See above about the symbolic act. Very few Green candidates, in very specific situations,
have any chance of getting elected, and a well-behaved dog would perform better in office than most Dem or Rep candidates.
IV. “I don’t think politics is really my thing. I haven’t had a civics course …….since high school, and don’t feel qualified to explain everything about …….the Party and its positions to the public, or draw up detailed policy …….pronouncements.
(1) The Green Party is meant to be the electoral expression of a movement, not the movement itself. We recognize that any “movement” that tries to make change solely through elections is doomed to failure. By all means, try other ways of making some
improvements in society. Some of the people doing good work locally are mentioned in my local links: http://kitchenmudge.wordpress.com/local-links/ and I’m always
looking for more to which we can refer people.
All the Party necessarily demands is that you register and vote with us, and talk to us once in a while, so we can maybe help each other when the opportunities arise.
(2) We learn, slowly, along the way. Even those of us with degrees in poli sci have to learn a lot when we start actually doing the work. There are quite a few low-skill activities for people with time to spare. Meanwhile, read the platforms and bylaws, and Google the subject matter. Read the news and commentary in my “Link Collection” here. Don’t expect a lot of yourself when you begin any new activity.
(3) To function well as an organization, we do have to specialize some. Each of us needs to find a niche, determined by our tastes and skills. See my “Life without life” rant about limiting your involvement.
V. If I tell people I’m a Green, the Dems (or Reps) won’t play with me.
Haven’t we all enjoyed lectures from the big blowhard roosters about how “obvious” it is that we need to get more Dems elected?
Welcome to the real world of prejudice and discrimination. One thing that Dems and Reps nearly always agree on is to preserve their monopoly. The dirtiest of tricks are sometimes
brought into play to keep a “third” party candidate off the ballot or out of the media. This influence can extend to any orgs over which they have influence, if a Green is asking one for help or endorsement. Sometimes it can be overcome, sometimes not.
The “mainstream” parties also have a way of hijacking any possibly real grassroots movement for their own purposes. The Tea Party might have started as a quite sincere Libertarian thing, for about two seconds before it was hijacked by fascists. The antiwar movement was hijacked by MoveOn and the Kerry and Obama campaigns, once public opinion turned against the prolonged disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So how do we counter this? I can’t offer any magic solution, except that we need more eggs refusing to accept their narrative. They’ll still find ways to stop us, and those failure stories will gather more eggs (or so we can hope).
VI. I don’t enjoy the behavior of the people I see in Green meetings.
See #1 under II. and #2 under IV. We’re all in a learning process. Yes, there are some personalities that we could do without. Have you never seen this in a workplace, or among your own relatives? There’s a job to be done, so you bite the bullet and do it, right?
We’ve lost a lot of skills for dealing with this ever since the printing press came about, and with every improvement in communication since. Entertainment no longer requires the presence of people, so our idea of “fun” doesn’t usually include having to tolerate personalities we don’t like.
For questionable personalities, and dealing with them, see my earlier rant:
…but I’m not really the one to talk about this much, since people skills are probably my own short suit. Comments from eggs and hatchlings on this are especially welcome.
Note: The oldest of Greens probably feels like a hatchling.