An open letter to members and friend of the GA Green Party about our present status and the tasks before us from Bruce Dixon, co-chair GA Greens.
Saturday, April 22
Members and friends of the GA Green Party,
We‘ve got a project. The project is to transform the Green Party from a marginal factor to a sustainable mass based party, able to compete with existing political parties and struggle for power over how our lives are lived and whether we have a planet to pass on to our children.
Right now the Greens are not that party. For the last 20 years the Green organizing model has depended upon donors and volunteer energies, which ebb and flow. It hasn’t worked well. Our presidential candidate raised just got one percent of the vote. She wasn’t even allowed on the ballot in Georgia and several other states. The state and national Green parties are unable to raise money for needed staff and services, and in states likie Georgia we have failed to grow our Green parties beyond a few dozen or couple hundred activists scattered around a state. And other states are in a similar place. This is the Green Party we have inherited.
Our project, our plan is to transform. We are going to build he Green Party in this state and around the country into something not seen in the US since the Socialist Party of a century ago….
- a mass based,
- internally democratic
- party of the left.
Each of those terms are important, so let’s take them one at a time.
WHY A PARTY OF THE LEFT?
Politics is how we humans conduct our collective affairs. Political parties are how we come together to make that happen.
The political terms right and left originated back during the French Revolution of the 1790s. There was a moment called the Constituent Assembly when on the right side of the room there sat the blood-stained representatives of France’s overseas slave empire in Martinique, South America and Saint Domingue, which would soon become Haiti. Alongside them was the Catholic Church which owned a great fraction of the country’s land, and France’s ancient greedy aristocracy which aimed to restore the monarchy by any means necessary. On the left side of the room sat the landless peasants, and small farmers, urban workers, small business people, traders and shopkeepers, artisans and the unemployed.
Ever since then those who stand for the rule of unearned wealth and privilege, for aristocrats, oligarchs and the one percent have been called the right while those who fight for the poor and the oppressed, for workers, for the unemployed – for the 99% have been called the left.
Remember that when people try to tell you somebody or something is or ought to be above or beyond “left and right” or that those are not real or relevant distinctions. They’re kidding you, and maybe themselves too. So we need a party of the left.
Our aim is to build a mass party in Georgia, with tens of thousands of dues paying members over the next two or three years. Can such a thing really be done? Given that the Socialists were able to achieve numbers very much like that a hundred years ago in states like Michigan, the answer seems to be yes, it’s entirely possible.
HOW DO WE MAKE A PARTY SUSTAINABLE, INTERNALLY DEMOCRATIC AND SCALABLE UP TO LEVELS WHERE IT CAN COMPETE FOR POWER WITH OTHER PARTIES AND WITH SOME OF THE NONPROFITS WHO VIRTUALLY OWN THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT?
The answer is we organize Green parties as dues based membership bodies with officers directly accountable to members, who are defined by whether they’ve paid the monthly dues. Party building experiences almost everywhere outside the US confirms the viability of this model. It’s been used to sustain mass parties of the left on five continents, just not here in the last hundred years.
Only a dues based membership assures our party’s efforts scalability, the resources to hire staff, to do mailings, to call meetings across the state and to create events and processes which engage its members in the activities, the direction and the governance of a statewide party. Georgia is not a small place. A statewide Georgia party should have events and spaces to hold them in Atlanta, Athens, Savannah, Augusta, Rome and a few other places.
Party dues provide the only sound basis for internal democracy in a left party. Paid up party dues establish membership, and only party members in good standing can serve as or elect party officers, some of whom should be elected at frequent intervals, like every six months. Without this chain of responsibility between the party’s officers and the dues paying members, our party’s leaders are in practice accountable to nobody. With it they can act as a peoples party in ways that Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, all beholden to one percenter donors cannot.
SO THE STATE COMMITTEE HAS SET THE MONTHLY DUES FLOOR AT $10 PER MONTH, AND ENCOURAGES COUNTY LOCALS TO SET THEIR OWN DUES LEVELS.
Why $10 a month?
The answer is why not? At $10 a month a base of 300 members nets an income of $3000 per month, enough to hire a part time staffer or a space where we can have frequent, even weekly events, a necessity if we are to grow into a mass party. At 500-600 members we should look for some office and event space in a second city, Savannah or Augusta or Columbus or Rome, and at a thousand dues paying members we can hire another staff person and look for event/office space in a third Georgia city.
$10 a month is the floor not the ceiling. We think those who have more will choose to give more if they know that many are pitching in at the minimum level of $10 per month. Of course the party has to maintain a month-to-month list of its dues paying members, something a small committee working with the treasurer can do.
Won’t there be some people who can’t pay $10 a month? Shouldn’t Greens waive the membership dues for people of limited income, in the name of inclusivity?
I think the answer should be no. If someone cannot pay $10 a month they don’t have to be a member of this party. We still love them, but party members should have some skin in the game. That which we pay nothing for we value little or not at all. $10 a month isn’t much, poor people juggle amounts like all the time, and they choose to spend their money on what they decide matters most. If we cannot make Green Party membership worth that $10 even for people of limited means, as left parties do everywhere else in the world we are probably in the wrong business.
Critically, “including” free and discounted memberships breaks the chain of accountability between party officers and the dues paying members. It creates another class of members with no skin in the game, members for whom party membership isn’t worth a mere $10 a month. Are these the “members” we want deciding party policy and electing its officers?
Green Parties in Chicago and Baltimore have just adopted the all dues model. Colorado, Ohio and some other states are walking this way as well. Richmond California has repeatedly elected a Green mayor and several Green city council people. The core organization that does this is called the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and it has about 300 dues paying members.
Basing our party on membership dues will allow the Green Party to compete with the nonprofits for leadership in the social movement.
Right now, nonprofit organizations pretty much own the movement because they are the only ones who can throw staff hours and resources at a problem. That means that donors and officers hand picked by donors set the priorities for the movement. That can’t be right. Even the most righteous nonprofits are accustomed to enforcing an artificial barrier between what they do and “politics”, as though hunger, housing, and the rest could somehow be separate from the political.
Last year the Georgia Green Party tried to buy table space at the national conference of BDS, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the apartheid regime of Israel. Amazingly we were turned down because the Green Party is “political.” As it is, the nonprofits and churches are the only organizations which can hire staff and the only ones that have guaranteed meeting spaces. That will only change when the party has its own offices and spaces.
WHAT WE NEED TO DO BETWEEN NOW AND OUR JUNE 17 ANNUAL MEETING, AND BEYOND
We need to begin emailing to our lists at least weekly, and we need to secure some additional lists as well. This Sunday April 23 should be the first of these. Every Sunday between now and June 17 is possible.
We need to produce a variety of leaflets and handouts for use at public sites of all kinds. We need the first of these available for next weekend, April 28. This sounds like a job for the communications committee.
We’ll want local committees to be responsible for tabling, being present at events, gathering names to add to our lists, using volunteers gathered by our phone banking efforts. We should supply the individuals and teams out doing personal encounters at street festivals, concerts, outside courthouses, in public parks or other locations with leaflets and forms people can fill out on tablets or cell phones to include themselves in our mailing lists.
We’ll need another committee to work on the coordination an aggressive phone banking effort, not just of the roughly 4,000 names we have of people who took part in the Stein campaign, but of the people who give us their phone numbers in personal encounters. We need something like 12 thousand phone calls made over the next eight weeks.
We need to identify and reach out to friendly existing formations and their leaders throughout the state, to explain to them how and why we are re-imagining Georgia’s Green Party, how we intend to build it into a mass based sustainable party of the left that will soon compete for offices and struggle for power.
PHONE BANKING BUILDS OUR PARTY
We need to call every number in our database.
- Every call informs people of the annual meeting, and invite them to it.
- Every call pitches party membership at $10 per month
- We should use the calls to target counties and refer people to local formation meetings in the fifteen or so counties where we have 50 or more names, and to virtual events we do on Facebook or other devices.
- We must also use the calls to recruit more phone bankers, and more people tabling and doing personal encounters with people using our printed materials and gathering names on forms for our database. This is how we grow our lists, and eventually our membership.
- The committee should establish an estimate of how many person hours it would take to make what might be 15 thousand calls by the end of June, a not unreasonable number if we expect to contact every one in that dataset who will talk to us two or three times between now and June 17.
If we do not call and email these people, then for them the Green Party does not exist. Once we grow to a certain point, we will have to make a phonebank capability a permanent feature of our party, perhaps even a virtual one like the Stein campaign used. Meanwhile we can distribute sections of our database to callers as MS Excel spreadsheet attachments which will be sent via email, twenty names at a time, along with the script. Callers will be asked to fill out the fields after the names and numbers with appropriate data.
We should have two or three online checkins available for those having problems on the calls. These can occur on the party’s ZOOM account, the meeting and phone numbers for which will be posted on the web site and included in the phone bankers’ email with the script and list segments.
I can have phone scripts ready late Sunday of April 23.
LIST BUILDING IS VITAL TO THE GROWTH OF OUR PARTY
We’re not marketers, we’re a political party. Our approach to and use of these corporate social media platforms, which are really marketing platforms, must be a bit different from the approach of marketers. We’re seeking a very different sort of engagement than the marketer, who only has to convey the essence of her proposition in 140 characters.
We have to tell some of the news. We can’tn always tell all people need to know about Medicare For All in 140 characters. We have to do quite a bit of what most marketers claim is impossible, to get folks to read, not merely to scan, to engage living breathing people to take part in their own liberation instead of just clicking an online petition. We’ll be trying to get people into meetings and encounters both in cyberspace and in their own cities and towns, and to build sustainable Green Party locals there.
It’s critical that we build our current email list of 6,700 up to 20,000, to 60,000 or 100,000 or more. No list like that as ever been amassed by any state Green party, but it’s NOT impossible and it IS necessary. At 6,700 names our list only reaches one tenth of one percent of Georgia voters. A list of 60,000 hits only one percent of Georgia voters. Can we get our mailing list up to 20 or 30 thousand by this fall?
Capitalist media oligopolies virtually ban our party’s messages from the air. Green candidates are rarely allowed in debates, and often denied ballot access. So email, social media, in-person encounters and the phone are what we have to build our Party’s reach right now. .
EFFECTIVE TABLING, LEAFLETTING, CIRCULATING AT OTHER PEOPLE’S EVENTS
EVERY LEAFLET MUST BE A LIST BUILDER
Let’s say you hand somebody a leaflet about the Green Party, and they glance at it. The person says sure, I’ll read it later and if I am interested I will join your email list. To facilitate that every leaflet should have a URL or SMS where they can do that.
We should – we MUST have MANY DIFFERENT Green party leaflets. Some on environmental issues, some on gentrification, some on mass incarceration, some on foreign policy issues, you name it. Folks who want to work on communications should be all over this.
EVERY CELL PHONE MUST BE A LIST BUILDER
Everybody’s got a cell phone. We must provide online forms accessible via cell phone so that a Green at a table or event can hand her cell phone to some interested person and have the person enter their own email address and digits on our list enrollment form directly. This is better than a printed page because inputting written entries takes time and some entries are list because writing cannot be deciphered.
EVERY EVENT OUR PEOPLE ATTEND SHOULD BE EXAMINED FOR EFFECTIVENESS, FOR HOW MANY LIST ADDITIONS IT GENERATES
Suppose we buy a table in downtown Marietta, for one of their Saturday morning things, or somewhere in Gwinnett or Dekalb or Atlanta or Savannah. This is what being a dues supported organization lets us do. I’ve been threatened with arrest for circulating a Jill Stein petition on a Saturday morning in Marietta because our party did not buy a table. Suppose stock it with leaflets and a couple people. We should examine how many list additions this kind of event gets us, so that we understand what kinds of events are most productive, and what kinds of approaches to people yield the best results.
Between now and the end of the summer we should aim to conduct some vitual events, most likely Facebook video, though there may be other options along the line of briefings on key issues, like the end of the state legislative session and what atrocities have been committed there, reports on mass incarceration, and related issues, and others.
WHAT ABOUT RUNNING FOR OFFICE THIS NOVEMBER?
November of odd numbered years is election time for many cities and towns. Most of the offices up for grabs in an odd numbered November are so-called “non-paritsan” contests. Greens might consider backing some candidates for local office, but November 2017 is mighty close. We have to build a party before we can do effective campaigns – we have already tried to do campaigns without much of a party to back them or be accountable to.
Focusing mainly upon the building of a scalable, dues based mass party in in 2017 will put us in good position to consider originating competitive campaigns for office in 2018.
There’s a lot to do, enough for everyone who wants to build a party in this state to take hold of and play a part in. Thanks for all that many of you have contributed up to this time. We should look forward to finding ways to work with each other on the project of re-imagining and building the Green Party in the weeks and months to come.
Bruce A. Dixon
co-chair, GA Green Party