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11/25/12

Proposal to the Florida Green Party:

We’ve beaten back the fascist onslaught, and now it’s time to move forward, to the Green New Deal. It is the bloody morning after, broadly speaking, and time to look ahead.

In fact, on November 6, there were two elections. The first, obviously, was the Obama/Romney/Stein race. While Stein got trounced, her 455,846 votes nearly tripled the Greens 2008 total, a serious resurgence from what some thought a deadly slide into oblivion. More interesting, however, was the race among left-of-center independents, and in that one the Greens kicked some serious ass:

Stein
455,846
Barr
51,675
Anderson
38,192
Alexander (SP)
3,939

In California, where Barr had the line of the venerable Peace and Freedom Party, Stein outpolled Barr 57,840 to 49,534, and in Florida a very weak Green Party still got 8,757 to the big celebrity’s 8,022 (McKinney got 2,791 there in 2008) (last figures I could get). The much-hyped Rocky Anderson was overwhelmed 11 to one, and the Socialist Party barely got on the map.

So while there were vigorous discussions over the relatively minor programmatic differences among the left independents, now that the smoke has cleared away, it is clear that for left-of-center electoral politics, the Green Party is it. But as a dying Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power goes great responsibility.”

Well, maybe not great power, but certainly tremendous potential. What I consider the central dilemma of the Green Party is the huge disparity between a political opening that you could drive an armored division through, and our party’s organizational capacity to develop it.

First, the vision

I hope to keep my central premise simple and clear: the Green Party is an electoral party, it sustains itself by running campaigns, and to meet the demands of the times, it must transform itself into a more professional campaign machine.

Below, I make a variety of what I consider practical, though not necessarily easy, suggestions. They can each be debated, and certainly improved upon. Some are more immediately pressing than others, and I mean no disparagement of the volunteers who have built us to the point where we can even contemplate this further growth. But before we delve into the gory details, we need a consensus that this transformation is necessary.

Perhaps it’s the case that we all want these things. But maybe not. As in, we would like to … but. Or that idea would be nice … but. Or maybe there is a comfort level with the current party status quo. So let us affirm — or reaffirm — that this transformation is something we both need and want. We need leadership to affirm that we need to do this now, even if through the tiniest of steps (as I am never an advocate of jumping off cliffs). We need political leadership to make the case for this. With that in hand, the “buts” fall into place and we can proceed.

Getting ready for Prime Time

There is a common refrain when the party is confronted with requests and suggestions, along the lines of “we haven’t the time, the volunteers, the staff, the money,” etc.

The unspoken assumption is that we have to start where we are, build on it incrementally, and evolve into what we WANT to be. This seemingly common-sense method guarantees paralysis. Rather, we need to work out where we NEED to be, and only then work out how to get from here to there. In other words, instead of an approach of “build it incrementally,” it would entail transformation.

I have heard that to take on new tasks, we need to get new volunteers to perform them, since current members are stretched to their limits. No. A transformational approach would be for new blood to take on the work of current members, while current members learn and engage new tasks. If only so much can be done, then the party needs to be doing different things with its “so much.”

To be more specific . . .

The state organization is effectively constituted as a clearinghouse for the county organizations. This too is a prescription for paralysis. Yes, there are state committees, but if the overall operation is as a clearinghouse, then these committees will not be able to provide active leadership in their various domains. We have to develop a functioning state apparatus around tasks that must be, or can most efficiently be, performed at the state level. And a precondition for achieving that is for the state organization to be capable of that kind of decision-making at that level.

This all may sound very lofty, but the mechanics would not be that complex were there the political and organizational understanding of the necessity of doing so. And in a sense, that is what I am campaigning for. But let me try to develop a methodology for this starting with some very simple pieces of work.

Poll watching — what I did:

I tried to work the poll for Precinct 13 in Pasco County. I was going to pass out Stein/Honkala fliers there. But the site had signs up designating the 100-foot limit within which electioneering was forbidden, and the parking lot that everyone used was within that 100 feet, so there was almost nothing I could do. So I came back at 6:45, went in, introduced myself as from the Stein campaign, said I wanted to check out the vote totals, had to wait outside till 7:00, was allowed to sit inside then, was told the results were being posted on the door at 7:40, went out, chatted with a couple poll workers, and took down the totals for the independents for president.

Thus I created at least a minor presence, wrote down Stein’s 2 votes, and took in the scene. Good.

Poll watching — what I didn’t do

• I didn’t learn the rules in advance.

• I didn’t get myself designated chair of the Pasco County Executive Committee, which would have allowed me to submit the proper form to the Board of Elections 2 weeks before the election, and gotten myself an official poll watcher ID.

• This would have allowed me inside the polling place all day, and allowed me to take information if there were irregularities, and to observe the info being taken from the scanning machines.

So the party lacked …

• poll watching info on its website

• info on becoming county chair on its website

• me lining up other poll watchers in advance

• a posted number to all in case of irregularities on election day

Most of the above is not a whole lot of work, if there were more of a state organization in place. As for poll watchers themselves, what it would mean is that those who were going to do electioneering ANYWAY would have to be designated in advance, wear their ID’s, and do a little more at a place they were ALREADY planning to be.

The bigger pieces — county chairs, ACTIVE website, legal team — are all stuff that the party should have in any event, quite apart from the matter of poll watching.

Phone calls — what I did

I used James Jones’ tool to get the state list of registered Greens, sorted out the 170 Pasco registrants, took the 50 with phone numbers, wrote up a rap for those I reached, and a shorter version for message machines, and I called them to get out the vote and see if they’d put up Stein yard signs (one did). Half the 50 numbers were wrong numbers or not in service. I updated my list accordingly.

So here’s the problem. I have this list for Pasco County that’s gotten rid of bad numbers. But I also sent county lists to others for the sample ballot work. If they also make calls off those lists, and correct them, then their lists will be different from mine. But wait! as they say in the infomercials. It gets worse. If we refresh our lists from the state lists, ALL those will bad numbers will return.

The upshot is that we need someone with better skills than mine to organize and maintain it. For that registrants list is a fundamental tool for all sorts of work — calls, mailings, activists and contacts.

My point is NOT the ins and outs of poll watching or phone work, but how these small activities, when connected and coordinated, can form in part the bones of a statewide structure. And certain statewide structures, in these cases examples of website, database and legal/tech support, are needed to professionalize our local work, and relieve county organizations of needless duplication (thus potentially FREEING resources).

So here is a rather banal layout of what a Green campaign organization would look like.

Website: In today’s world, the website is an organization’s public face. Personally, I look to the website to see if any given organization is alive or merely exists “on paper.” Our site isn’t bad, but much remains to be done.

It needs to become a relevant repository for organizational info such as party structure (current info doesn’t make clear how things actually work), how things are decided, campaign tools like lists of county boards of elections, poll-watching rules, how to set up phone calls, etc. I go to Morian’s website today, nearly 3 weeks after the election, and there is not a word on how many votes she got. I go to the Florida Green site, and all I learn is who is running. It is obscene that I had to search all over the internet to find out how many votes Stein/Honkala and Morian got after the election.

There needs to be an open method for members to set up blogs. Needs to be a party blog which would include posts on upcoming party issues and proposals. I’m told there are places where members have discussions. That’s nice. But people should be able to participate without having to figure it out or make inquiries (and who would they inquire to?). This would require some monitoring, indeed more work and who would do it? But necessary for at a minimum the party to not appear insular and closed.

Database: This is indeed a big one. Needs to be as accurate as possible, should include ALL registrants, should be up-to-date. It needs professional skills. There is work afoot for organizing county contacts, and that can be built on.

Campaign Central: What seats are up for grabs in 2013, 2014, rules for filing, qualifications. State legislative, congressional info should be on party website, county and city info can be built up piece by piece. But every county with a functioning party should have a committee — even if it’s only a committee of one and that person is also the county chair and wearing a dozen other hats — devoted to this.

Fundraising: Needs to be a priority, working off the lists of registered voters and county contacts. There should be a statewide mailing, and also mailings to county lists both fundraising and recruiting. This would be most effective if coupled with a telemarketing operation, at whatever scale is possible. Again, at this stage, it’s less the size of the activity but rather the quality of the activity.

We have to move beyond the requirement that all funds raised to go the state party. If legally required, there should be an arrangement IN PLACE that a percentage of funds (50%) are automatically sent back to the county organization. Otherwise, there is no incentive for county organizations to fundraise.

This raises the possibility and necessity of . . .

Staff: Absolutely necessary. Even one person part-time would ensure some stability, until fundraising makes more possible. Some of the tasks I’m delineating do require this. But of course, we have to move beyond valorizing amateurism.

Getting off the dime . . .

If the above were to happen, Florida Green would become a strong, self-sustaining, growing party in tune with the historic moment. But how do we get off the dime? I’ve had experience with paper empires and empty committees, I’m leery, as I’m sure many Greens are. So what is the basis of my personal leap of faith that this is possible?

Concretely, there is the fact that the Stein campaign nearly tripled its 2008 national tally, and in particular tripled its total in Florida from 2,791 to 8,751 over 2008.

Beyond that, I believe the Green vision and the Green New Deal is in synch with the historic moment. Thus my working slogan off the 2012 election, “We’ve beaten back the fascist onslaught, and now it’s time to move forward, to the Green New Deal,” is no joke.

The vote for Obama this round was at least as much a fear of Romney as a love for Obama. Obama’s betrayal(s) of progressives in the past 4 years is not forgotten, as Obama has transformed from a beacon of hope to a lesser evil. I believe that if we can get our message out, it will resonate like thunder, people will be drawn to us, funds can be raised, and the above organizational plan can become reality, will become quite modest in retrospect. But the immediate problem is our lack of ability to consolidate this potential growth, and then mobilize it.

Immediately, work is already in motion to organize our membership/registrant rolls. Some of the suggestions for the website are easily implemented. I’ve had enough experience with websites to know that they can get enormously complicated (beyond my meager skills) when you start getting onto interactivity. But most of what I call for only requires flat text pages and simple links.

The missing link . . .

As I stated above, the critical piece starting yesterday is the political will to campaign for this vision within the party itself. If the will is lacking, no clever plan can overcome that (and that is why I have not tried to be clever). If the will is there, the rest becomes details.

Step one: upgrade the website. Then . . .

When I was working with Commoner’s Citizens Party out in California, someone contemplating plunging into electoral politics asked me what the party would do between elections. Answer: no such thing as “between elections!” As soon as the polls close, start gearing up for the next election. That’s what parties do.

Tactically, I would suggest we start preparing for the 2014 (yes, 2014!) congressional elections. It may be the case that there are not a lot of local seats up in 2013, in which case we need to work out ways to push our issues to set up 2014, like creating a presence at congressional town meetings, attending local board of education sessions, etc. The party’s strength is our national presence, and the solutions we offer through the Green New Deal, rather than our superior skill at catching dogs if, for instance, we’re running for dogcatcher. With this end in view, we should be deciding within each active county not WHETHER to run in local races, but rather which races we would run, even if only one. Run to win, run to make a point, run with the sole goal of being there, as appropriate. Campaigns are great for recruiting and raising money, a legal, structured, legitimate activity.

Redefining “winning”

One big word of caution, though. While a campaign should exude optimism, fetishizing winning races, at this stage in our development, is the deadliest of traps. With winning the bottom line, there arises situation after situation where this or that compromise will net a few more votes, or a push to burn out the troops in a desperate quest for victory. The result is all too often loss of credibility and demoralization. In any given race, we need to ruthlessly assess what can and cannot be accomplished.

Would Karen Morian have not run if she had known she would lose? Do we deign her campaign a failure? Of course not. Stein’s 424,789 votes was a major victory, despite the fact that she is not setting up Green HQ in the White House, because it brought us to the point where we can now make the moves contemplated above.

No, at this point, we have to master the art of losing well. That’s the art of defining the game on our terms, not theirs, and it drives them crazy.

On planks . . .

An old colleague once described the process of social change as sailing a wooden ship – its timbers hopelessly rotted — across a stormy sea. And replacing the rotten timbers with strong ones, not all at once (which would sink the ship), but plank by plank.

 

Those we would follow won’t lead,
those who might lead we won’t follow.