Does the US Green Party Have a Future?

I have been an active member of the Green Party for 18 years, mainly on a local level for the last dozen years. Before that I had been working with it for about a decade. I remember the beginnings of Green Party organizing efforts in the early 80’s, about the same time as the historic first Jesse Jackson for President/Rainbow Coalition campaign in 1984.

Some Greens look upon me as a kind-of traitor because, in 2016, I was very critical of the kind of campaign Jill Stein was running. I was particularly critical of her repeated refrain that Trump and Clinton were “equally terrible,” and her bewildering statements to the effect that she had a chance of winning the Presidency. By the end of October, between my problems with her campaign and the closeness of the race between Trump and Clinton, I ending up writing a column, “Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton,” and then did so on election day.

Unfortunately, I was right and Stein was wrong. Trump is off-the-charts terrible. Clinton would have been OK-to-problematic-to-bad, but nothing like the lying, pathological, narcissistic, sexist, racist poor-excuse-for-a-human-being currently in the White House.

However, I have continued to stay active with my local GP group in Essex County, NJ. For a long time our main focus was education and activism to combat the climate crisis. Some of us are still doing that, but for a number of the newer and younger members who joined in 2016 or 2017, running in elections is what they want to do.

The position I’ve taken within this group, one shared by a number of others, is that our focus should be on running people for school boards or city councils, local races where there is a real chance of winning or doing well through hard work and smart organizing. We should not be running candidates for Congress who have zero chance of winning and little chance of getting more than a few percentage point share of the vote. Campaigns like that show weakness, not growing strength.

On a national level it is these local races where Green Party members have had some success. At one point, back in 2004, there were about 220 members in local offices, almost all of them offices filled via the non-partisan election route. However, those numbers have fallen pretty dramatically. I remember seeing an email from the national office of the Green Party in 2016 saying that there were then about 140 members in office. That’s a big drop.

This situation, and Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka’s 1% of the vote in 2016, are not positive developments. The fact is, though, that election laws, the super-dominance of big money, mass media non-coverage or dishonest coverage, and a winner-take-all system, not to mention the historic two-party tradition in the US, combine to make it very difficult for any third party to take hold and grow.

It is also the case that, worldwide, the constituency for Green Party politics is limited. Even where parties have had electoral success, often because of proportional representation voting systems, there are few that have obtained more than 15% of the vote. In Germany, the country which has had the most electoral successes for the longest time, the GP vote in national elections is in the middle-to-high single digits, percentage-wise.

The US Green Party needs a strategic turn. It needs to consciously reject the losing strategy of running someone for President every four years. It needs to take a much more critical look at other-than-local campaigns unless there has been an organized base built and resources are available in the state or district a candidate might run in. It should concentrate virtually all of its resources on magnifying the number and improving the quality of the kind of local campaigns that are run, leading to a growing number of winners, more members, a stronger organization and better relations with the broad progressive movement.

Is this possible? I think the odds are against it. I think the greater likelihood is that the US Green Party will continue along as it has been for many years, following a losing strategy that just doesn’t cut it.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.


  1. avatar
    Brian Tokar February 23, 2018 3:03 pm 

    I agree with Ted’s conclusion here, and for some of us who were part of the ’80s generation of US Green activists this is all sadly reminiscent of debates we engaged in long ago.

    In the early 1990s, there were even more local Green officeholders than Ted describes in 2004, and also an active network of Green locals in the forefront of local issues across the country, from fighting incinerators to declaring Nuclear Free Zones and beyond. When a faction whose central aspiration was a role in conventional party politics rose to prominence (discarding an earlier, resolutely grassroots-democratic national organization for a far more conventional one), the network of locals was discarded and the influence of the Greens rapidly began to wane. Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns in ’96 and ’00 brought lots of new people into the Greens, but by then it was a pale substitute for the vital activist network with strong legs both inside and outside of the political process that we once aspired to.

    When Jill Stein came to Vermont in the summer of 2016 I spoke on a panel introducing her and gave her 2012 campaign credit for starting to reinvigorate the grassroots dimension of the US Greens that had been virtually abandoned 20 years earlier. I expressed confidence that the ’16 campaign would reinforce that forward motion. By November, I no longer believed that at all. While I voted for Jill (a safe thing to do in VT, where Trump’s share of the popular vote was less than in any other state, if I remember correctly), I was no longer so optimistic about the future of the Greens. I hope folks have learned from that experience and are open to the ‘strategic turn’ that Ted has proposed here.

    For more background, check out my various articles on the evolution of the Greens in ZMag from the late ’80s through 1996, and my summary article from 2006 (not sure if this is online or not), “The Greens as a Social Movement: Values and Conflicts” in Zelko F. and Brinkmann C. eds, Green Parties: Reflections on the First Three Decades. Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, Washington, DC.

  2. Mary-Lee Lutz February 22, 2018 4:09 pm 

    Which unique Green Party positions are relevant to city councils or school boards? What insights could a Green Party candidate bring to these elections? I ask because if a Green candidate is different from the Republican or Democratic candidate or has a better idea to offer, people will be attracted to vote for him or her. If not, people will do what they always have done.

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