Reflections of a grumpy Green

Sam Smith – Although I was among those who got the national Green Party going in the 1990s, enthusiastic as I was about its goals, I was never fully pleased with some of its strategies. Even back then, fellow founder Lunda Martin called me a curmudgeon.

I felt at times as though I had joined a church rather than a political party. While, for example, I strongly agreed with the values it prominently pushed, I didn’t think talking about them should take precedent over issues that would attract new voters to our cause. A child of the Saul Alinsky era and an existentialist in philosophy, I didn’t care so much about stated faith as I did about actual action.

One problem with faith based policy is that is that politics isn’t as much about virtue as it is about pragmatic policy. Your own virtue is at best tertiary to what it is you can get others to do. As I wrote a few years ago in Green Horizon, “Judging the right tactics at the right time, as opposed to planning moves strictly on the basis of their presumed virtue, would seem to be the wisest course. To slow down traffic I might be morally justified in stepping into the Interstate, spreading my arms, and shouting, “stop,” but it is probably not the most useful thing I could do for the cause. Besides, like some third party presidential candidates, I might not have another opportunity. My initial virtue might turn out to have been terminal.”

I have, however, generally been a good boy and tried not to cause too much trouble, but given the current situation we’re all in and the bad media Greens have gotten for some of their approaches, this grumpy Green would like to make a few suggestions:

Stop running people for president: The most votes a Green presidential candidate has gotten has been 2.7% – achieved by Ralph Nader in 1996 who was then honored by being blamed for Al Gore’s loss. The latest Green candidate, Jill Stein got only 1.1% and she has been accused of contributing to Hillary Clinton’s loss and being manipulated by the Russians. The problem is not whether the accusations were true but that they clearly carried weight and haven’t helped the Green’s overall cause.

Think and act local – Greens have done of the best job in places where they have developed local strength. Maine is one of those places. As Wikipedia recounts:

According to the Green Party of the United States, Portland holds the longest streak of elected Green officeholders, having Greens in office continuously since 2001.

The [Portland] School Committee was once the second “Greenest” governing body in the United States

The Board of Trustees of the Portland Water District became the next governing body in Portland to have Green members…

In 2006, Portland elected two under-30 Green councilors .. In 2007, John Anton was elected at-large, which brought the number of Greens on the Portland City Council to three.

June to December 2009 marked a period when the most number of elected Greens in Portland (9) were serving simultaneously with overlapping terms, after Portland Charter Commission members were elected.

Maine Greens are not an oddity, but a part of the story. And it is a local story. For example, in 2006 Pat LaMarche got 9.6% in her race for governor while two years later, the national Green presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, got only 0.4% in Maine. By 2017, the party represented 4.7% of the state’s voters.

Work on issues not values: Again the Maine Green Party offers an example having been important in both legalizing marijuana and ranked choice voting, where Maine is one the national leaders.

Use semi-fusion politics: Under fusion politics, a candidate can run on two tickets at the same time. In the late 19th century state legislatures began taking action against fusion because, presumably, they thought it was working. And it can be argued that the moves against fusion were part of a broader counter-revolution that included the end of Reconstruction and giving corporations rights of the individual. In any case, today forty states and DC ban fusion.

Where it still exists it can be powerful. Some highly successful third parties never ran anyone for president except in fusion with one of the major parties. The Liberal Party of New York remains the longest lived third party next to the Socialists. It supported Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and claims credit for giving Kennedy enough votes for his presidential victory. Other nominees of the party have included Averill Harriman, Mario Cuomo, Jacob Javits, Robert Kennedy, Fiorello LaGuardia and John Lindsey. Swinging the gate of New York politics made it exceptionally important.

But there is a way around the ban on fusion. Nothing prevents the Green Party from, say, endorsing a Democratic candidate and not running its own. It could do so after negotiating with the Democratic candidate on conditions of support and, should the candidate win, might find itself getting credit for its role in the victory rather than being ignored or frowned upon for the small Green Party vote.

Make the Green Party a part of a counterculture: One way to do this is to promote Green registration with the slogan, “Vote the way you want, but register Green.” What if labor or black voters used Green Party registration as a threat against the Democrats? I enjoy being a Green for cultural as well as political reasons. It is part of my identity. But for years, living in DC, I kept a bunch of voter registration forms in my desk so if there was an important Democratic primary, I would join the Democrats for a few months and then switch back to the Greens.

Become more ecumenical: A good role model is the Socialist Party. ‘From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of “reform vs. revolution,” the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making “immediate demands” of a reformist nature

By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and local officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the last century.


In short, the job for the Green Party is stop worrying so much about its righteousness and start being more clever. It has the right beliefs; it just has to figure out how to get them across better than in the past.

This article includes a number of excerpts from a piece I wrote some time ago for Green Horizon magazine

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