The Green Party: An Electoral Force to be Reckoned With?

Last year, I published a couple of articles on the Greens that appeared on Z Net: "Wo sind de Gruenen?", asking where are the Greens, and then "The Green Party:  Critique, Response and the Illinois Greens October 2007 Membership Meeting." I want to revisit the arguments and then, because I spoke most favorably about developments in Illinois, respond to results from the February 5, 2008 Illinois primary.


Although I had bemoaned the lack of public presence of the Greens in the first article, after getting responses and then attending one day of the Illinois Green’s Fall 2007 membership meeting and campaign school in Crystal Lake, IL, my reaction was much more positive in the second.  In short, I noted:  the Green Party is very serious about succeeding in the electoral arena and, at least in Illinois, they are growing and attracting more candidates who appear to be quite serious and generally strong representatives of the Party.


Specifically, I concluded that the Greens were attracting good candidates, and they recognize the value of organization, something that much of the left today seems to have lost.  These are important.


However, I was (and still am) troubled by the limits of their organizational focus.  Yes, there are some Green Party members and candidates who have a broader vision than just electoral victories, but this understanding doesn’t seem to permeate the organization.  Most of their organizational focus is on electoral efforts—and it appears to be pervasive. 


I argued that one of the priorities, as I saw it, is for the Green Party to develop leadership; their efforts to date to accept candidates on the basis of their willingness to run as a candidate in an election seemed insufficient to develop the Party.  That forces the Party to depend upon voluntarism, and I argued this wasn’t enough on which to develop the Party.  It also increases the likelihood that key activists will be limited to those highly educated and/or better off financially.


I argued that the Party must develop leadership at the grassroots level, allow that leadership to develop in ways including electoral candidacy but not be confined only to that, and to try to generate as many good leaders/organizers/popular educators/activists as possible.  Concurrently, I argued that the party needs to develop a conscious process to move supporters—using a concentric ring model—from the outside, just voting Green but who are not involved beyond voting, to becoming members of the Green Party, and then into becoming activists for the Party; i.e., moving them closer to the center of the Party.


And key to the organizational development was that of an educational process for anyone wanting to get further involved.  Implicit in my argument is that the Green Party, while entering electoral politics from an environmental perspective, cannot remain only an environmental party.  And while theoretically it is not (see 10 Green values), in many ways, it is—or at least is seen as such.  I argued that while necessary, that was not sufficient:  that an educational program need to be developed to educate all members of the Party, along hopefully with "outsiders," to see how environmental issues are inter-connected with many others.


For example, as Americans become more knowledgeable about the entire issue of climate change (AKA "global warming"), we need to also bring in the issue of "peak oil" and the forthcoming energy crisis.  Thus the need for alternative energy sources, excluding nuclear.  But we are a long way from producing an amount of alternative energy comparable—and as useable in many forms—to fossil fuels today.  That suggests quite strongly that we need to reduce consumption in general and make those things we still need as close to home as possible (ideally, based on bioregions).  This alone means that we cannot address these problems only through technological solutions:  people are going to have to make personal changes, if not sacrifices.  In turn, that is going to have gigantic cultural ramifications:  the days of buy-buy-buy are limited, if not over.  Further, we are going to need to think about how to reorganize society overall, and that includes how we are going to produce the things we need, with the least amount of environmental damage; how we are going to have to organize this production (top-down, like today, or egalitarian); and how to distribute the production most equitably.


And I would argue that these issues also tied in with the current mortgage crisis, as well as the increasing economic inequality in this country (see my "Neo-Liberal Economic Policy in the United States:  Impact on American Workers," Z Net, February 2, 2007 at www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/2139.)


However, I argue that any "solutions" advanced really have to be from a global perspective.  There is no justification that we Americans can—or should—live at a consumption like we do.  So, it is not enough to figure things out for ourselves—I suggest we need to approach this from the perspective of how can we organize our society so that if every other people in the world duplicated ours, that we could all live at a level that is environmentally and economically sustainable.


An approach like that requires a large and long-term vision.  Achievement of it won’t happen overnight.  Yet, only if we adopt this or some other far-reaching vision, then we can figure out how we can get there.  To me, part of this process includes operating in the electoral arena; we can no longer afford the "luxury" of only raising hell in the streets.  Without electoral victories, however, we cannot consolidate gains won in the streets.  Yet, at the same time, we cannot only confine ourselves to electoral politics; we must be in the streets.


But I don’t see this larger vision among most of the Green Party members I’ve met.  Most only want to work in the electoral arena:  let’s elect Greens.  Good idea—but what happens if something happens and we actually elect Greens?  What then? 


But if we are going to work in the electoral arena, we need to do it well.  And having looked at recent primary election results in Illinois, I don’t think we are doing it well, despite getting a fairly impressive group of candidates to run for offices across the state (go to www.ilgp.org).


In short, I argue—and here I’m limiting my focus to the electoral arena—that we must build an organization; it is not enough to get people to "join" the Party by on-line recruitment or by getting them to vote "Green." We must transform individuals into a group of people who are serious and willing to work together to build this Party.  And I question whether this is being done.


Is this strategy working for the Greens?  Despite Illinois being a state was would obviously go for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, so there was little doubt as to who would get that nomination in this state, and having four Green presidential candidates (Jared Ball, Howie Hawkins as a possible stand-in for a Ralph Nader candidacy, Cynthia McKinney, and Kent Mesplay) in the first Green primary in the state, according to one blogger (I couldn’t find any "official" results), there were 2,597 votes for Green candidates out of 2.8 million votes cast.  In individual ward races in Chicago itself, most aldermanic candidates got only a handful of votes at best.  It doesn’t look very promising right now.


Yet I’d suggest there is a way forward.  First of all, a snowball has a better chance in hell than a Green president has in being chosen this year.  And even if a miracle happened—and it truly would take a miracle—we couldn’t back her/him up in Congress to get anything done.  And the American people know this—as do, I suggest, most Green Party members.


However, I think where there is the best chance to win—and there are many factors—would be in Congressional races, especially if a Green can win in a district where both mainstream candidates are conservative. 


Winning a Congressional seat would increase Green exposure dramatically, especially in any state where it happened.  And it’s "high" enough in position where it would draw attention.


So, what makes the most sense to me as a way to proceed is this:  individuals who want to run can do so upon meeting the respective State party’s requirements, but they have to be dependent on their own resources.  However, where the Party should focus its members’ efforts, its resources (including financial), and its energies is where there are the largest congressional district concentrations of Greens in the state and where good candidates can be recruited to run:  and then the Party needs to organize these members to make a strong run.


In short, the Green Party is getting electoral experience—and that’s good.  But it’s not good enough.  If the Green Party wants to develop, it’s got to win—and I argue it’s got to win at a "visible" level, not just local school boards or water reclamation boards, as important as they can be, but at a "higher" level.  I think this means Federal level, and Congress person seems the most "doable."  The Green Party must take on this challenge—otherwise, I argue it’s doomed to superfluousness. 



Kim Scipes is a long-time labor activist, currently working as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, IN.  His web site is at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes.

Leave a comment