Sam Smith – After reading a dismissive description of the Maine Independent Green Party written by a conventional journalist, I found myself feeling freshly attached to my current political home – the first state Green Party in America. It’s a little like being attacked by Donald Trump; you figure you must be doing something right. And at least you’ve attracted his attention.
It’s true the Maine Greens haven’t won many elections, though if they all lived in the same town, it would be the second largest city in the state. They don’t, however, and so when they go to the polls, there are potentially eight times as many Democrats there too. About ten Greens hold elected positions, which is not a lot in a state as large geographically as Maine.
So why bother? Simply because if you want to identify with a political party that doesn’t embarrass you, that has been on the right side of so many more issues than the Democrats, and that has a clear idea of where we should be going, you can’t do better.
My own experience with this goes back a bit. I am one of the few people in the country who has helped to start two third parties that actually elected people. Forty-five years ago a small group of us began the DC Statehood Party in Washington which would hold office on the city council and/or school board for over two decades. At the time, the colony of DC was finally getting a non-voting delegate to Congress and soon would have its own elected mayor and council, albeit with limited powers.
It struck me at the time that, besides the righteousness of finally getting some home rule, this was an opportunity to add a political leg to the social movements that had dominated the previous decade of the Sixties. For us, it wasn’t a hard blend. After all more than a few members had been active the city’s successful anti-freeway battle and in the civil rights movement. Our leader, Julius Hobson, was probably the most underrated civil rights leader in the country.
Thus, I came to think of progressive politics as just another part of the progressive movement and a common community for those who were doing a lot of different good things. Even if we didn’t win elections, we still were together and had plenty to do.
This wasn’t the easiest idea for all to understand. On a number of occasions I would ask progressive candidates a startling question: “So, what are you going to do when you lose?” My point was not to think of an election just by its results but as one more way to organize others into continuing activism. I learned, however, that many kept politics and organizing in separate boxes.
About twenty five years later I got invited to take part in forming an alliance of state Green parties that would soon morph into the National Green Party. Having practiced Saul Alinsky’s approach to organizing – based on specific issues rather than full common ideology – and having learned politics in several quite corrupt cities, I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be a Green. Further, I hadn’t listed my values to anybody; they had to figure them out for themselves.
But no one seemed too bothered and I eventually called myself a member of the Big Mac caucus of the Green Party – someone who supported the cause even if I didn’t always play the part. It was clearly my new family.
Today, sure, I’d like the Maine Greens to win more elections. But we live in a time when the odds – legal and financial – are stacked against us. For example, back in the 19th century the Populist Party made a lot of headway with fusion politics – running candidates on the tickets of a couple of parties. But it worked so well that the elite outlawed it in most states.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean you give up. If you look at the best of what makes Maine different from and better than a lot of places and ask yourself, where will you find people who exemplify this, one of the best places to start is the Maine Independent Green Party.
Check out their platform. And, if you live in my state, begin organizing around a good cause. Chances are you are going to get to know some Maine Greens you haven’t met before.
Unfortunately, many Greens don’t fully appreciate the power of blending politics and activism. We ran into the problem this summer when a number of party members launched a Greens for Sanders website, including the winner of last year’s Maine Green of the Year award.
A controversy ensued since the party was on its way to running Jill Stein for president on its ticket again. I have never liked the Greens running for the White House, preferring a much more bottom up approach, in part because our top candidate’s low vote count does nothing to build the image of the party.
A senior party member, Benjamin Meiklejohn addressed it this way:
“Statistically speaking, if you look at the numbers, between 80 and 97 percent of our own party’s members will not vote for the Green presidential candidate in the general election. When the party purists reprimand and attack other party members who are not loyal to the party’s presidential candidate, they are essentially turning off and turning away 80 to 97-percent of our own party…”
“While we always encouraged people to support the Green candidate, we also refrained from attacking the vast majority of our members who choose not to.”
This is an example of the sort of problems third parties face. Some are the result in part of applying the institutional principles of larger parties when, in fact, the Greens should do the best they can politically but always remember that their power comes in no small part from also being a community and a family – not of saints, but of sinners trying harder.
This is especially true in a time when much activism has been sadly atomized by factors such as competition in seeking funding and the isolated niches known as organizational websites that the Internet encourages.
it is important to have groups like the Greens who can bring those in various progressive groups together in a common direction. I think the Maine Greens have done better at this then even many of them realize.
I’d love for there to be more Greens in Maine and elsewhere. But to do this we have to put forward the notion that we are a home as well as a party – a political address for our souls whatever we may do on a particularly day.
For example, when I lived in DC I kept a bunch of election forms in my desk so if there was a Democratic Party primary I wanted to take part in I could leave the Statehood Party for a few weeks and come right back. In Maine you can change your party 15 days in advance of an election and then you’re only stuck with it for three months.
I have this dream that one day some labor unions or other constituencies will march down to the clerk’s office in large numbers to become Greens and scare the hell out of the Democrats. And I tell folks, vote the way you want but at least register Green.
Meanwhile I’m going to continue to enjoy being around some of the most decent and best directed folks in the state, whether they support Jill Stein or Bernie Sanders, After all, the Greens are members of a community I’m real happy to belong to. How many Democrats or Republicans have anything close to that?