Part of my admitted political laziness in the past has been failing to vote for a presidential candidate. However, this year I registered with the Green Party and voted for Jill Stein. Now because I live in a state that is profoundly loyal to the Democratic party, I knew my vote had absolutely no chance of changing the outcome. I could have voted for Trump, myself, Stein or written in Sanders and the result would have been the same: Hillary Clinton would get my state’s electoral college support. This in turn was and is rather meaningless because I do not live in a swing state and my electoral college votes are a foregone conclusion, safely counted for the Democrats years in advance. While much of my remaining posts in this series will criticize Democrats and Republicans, I must own the fact that my vote for the Green Party did not even come close to challenging either the Proto-Fascism of Trump or the Neoliberal Imperialism of Clinton; I knew this, and voted for the Green Party anyway.
The Green Party’s continued lack of relevance in 2016 should be instructive for my party and I think there is a lot we can learn from the results of this election (and past elections). We need to consider what changes we need to make in the future or we will remain irrelevant in 2018, 2020 and beyond.
The Party That Cannot Win The Presidency
In the last several years the Democrats have lost countless political races, surrendering an alarming amount of political territory and power to the Republicans. Clinton’s loss to the least favorable candidate in history was just the tip of the iceberg to a streak of losses across the nation in the last eight years. However, if Democrats are the party that cannot hold onto what they won, the Green Party is a party that cannot win.
I love Stein for many reasons, but Stein did not win the election. Stein did not even come close to winning but the second least favorable candidate in history, Clinton, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. While votes for the Green Party’s Presidential candidate have been steadily increasing since 2004, the 2016 turnout was nowhere near 2000’s results.
The context of this election was one of historic, perhaps unique, opportunity for the Green Party. After years of war and economic stagnation and misery the public was ripe for an anti-establishment candidate. Millions of people that shared most or all of our values were open to voting for someone that wasn’t a Democratic insider and were even pushed away from the Democratic party by revelations about its corruption. We should have won over many that ultimately voted for Trump and Clinton, especially the 20% of voters that thought neither candidate was trustworthy and the 39% of voters that wanted change more than anything. The Libertarian party out-performed us on all fronts as well, and saw historic highs in their voting turnout. Given this outcome we must ask ourselves why they did not consider the Green Party an option and this underscores the need for us to own and consider our abysmal number of votes.
The Party That Cannot Win Local Elections
Our fate in state and local elections is not different.Considering our congressional campaigns, our candidates also get less than 1% of the vote, and have earned about the same on a routine basis. As of October 2016 we only had 86 office holder and still have no candidates who have won a federal election.
When it came time to support my party I was ready to vote for Green Party members down the ballot, but to my dismay there was no Green candidate for my area. We had conceded the vote to the Democrats with no challenger.
The one local candidate I found that was running in my general area was nothing to get excited about. I’m sure they are a great person that values many of the same things I do, but they appeared anemic, disconnected and unconcerned with the dire situation around us. Perhaps this is because they appeared to be a wealthy white liberal living in a wealthy white area and they were clearly going to be okay regardless of who won the election. Even if this was case, that doesn’t prevent someone from acknowledging and communicating the dire stakes in the current political climate. The candidate did not do this effectively in my estimation and I was left with the impression that they did not really have any fire in their belly and may not have even been that interested in running or winning or serving.
These Dots Are Connected
Our inability to win the Presidency is tied to our inability to win State and Local elections. We have not built sufficient political power at the lower levels of government. Because we have not built political power from the bottom up we have produced no evidence that we can consistently win difficult campaigns, let alone push through legislation we support and govern effectively. While I think the Democratic party is deplorable (and I’ll explore that more in a later post) it cannot be denied that just about any progressive legislation or reform that made it into law was pushed by Democrats in power, not a Green in power. Green’s are not even close to having tangible political power with the exception of a handful of towns where the Green Party has the majority in the local city council. So why would anyone trust the Presidency to the Green Party without this? Even if Stein had won due to some fluke in 2016 she would have no Congressional support to get anything done.
The popularity of Sanders demonstrated that left-leaning citizens are willing to back a candidate that is not within the strict boundaries of their party, or even a long-time member. However, it appears clear they want to back someone who can win and someone who can deliver, and someone with experience with elected office. Operating as an Independent Sanders has won numerous campaigns and has passed legislation over many years, something we have not done. It should be no surprise that many who supported Sanders turned to Clinton and not Stein as their backup, regardless of what they thought of Clinton.
The Basic Roadmap for the Green Party
Considering the results of the 2016 election, and our past efforts, I think the way forward for the Green Party is relatively easy to see if we are willing to change tactics and accept the simple fact that the current strategy is not working.
First, we should stop running these pointless presidential campaigns until we have built power at the State and Local level. I understand the reasons we have run these campaigns (as essentially a PR vehicle for our Party, and to get the magical 5% of the national vote to be on the ballot in all states) but by running these presidential campaigns we are trying to build power from the top down, not the bottom up, which is contradictory to our grassroots identity. It is also not working. We have not seen the Green Party significantly grow in exposure or numbers since running these campaigns.
Second, we should focus all our money and effort in Democratic and liberal states with many political seats or those with weak Democratic candidates. These are states where we are most likely to find a voter base aligned with our values that we can win over to Green Party candidates. We need to recruit members to run against every Democratic candidate in these states and at the city and state levels of government.We also need to run candidates who want to win, who are committed to our values, and who can work effectively in government.
Third, while Democrats are our main opponents in State and Local elections (as we are vying for the same voter base), after winning elections we need to actually work closely with Democrats. This will be a hard tightrope to walk but even if the Green Party eventually wins a number of Congressional seats we will need to work with Democrats (and even Republicans) to support effective legislation and prove we can govern. In many ways we need to turn the Congress into a more parliamentary system where we form a coalition with Democrats and support each other on issues where we are in agreement even as we maintain our differences and continue to compete in Congressional and Local elections.
Fourth, after, and only after, winning and growing State and Local power and years of proving our ability to govern, should we return to the Presidential race.
This Will Be Simple But Not Easy
While this may be a relatively straightforward overall strategy it will be incredibly difficult to pull off. Even with excellent candidates many of these races will be difficult and will require a lot of organizing, excellent messaging, and an excellent campaign strategy. All of this must be executed without corporate money as we face opponents who are flush with cash from the various industries bank-rolling them. While it will not be a walk in the park, I honestly don’t see any way forward for the Green Party without adopting an overall strategy similar to this. If we want to stay irrelevant we can stay the same, but if we are serious about building a viable Third Party option we need to do something different.