Friday, March 17, 2017

Party or Not: What's a Green to Do?

by Zvi Baranoff

Now is not the time to build a national political party. Time is too short and there is too much critical work at hand to waste energy on a process that will not work. Circumstances may vary on a local or state level but "alternative" national level
political campaigns are counter-productive to a true Green agenda.

An Arizona statewide Green conference in Cottonwood
 in the 1980's with this writer in the middle of it all. 

There are deep structural impediments to creating a viable national "third" party. Unlike newer democracies, we do not have proportional representation. Electoral reform can be brought about to some degree on local and state levels through referendum or legislative decisions of existing governmental bodies (mostly controlled by Republicans and Democrats although some local city councils and such are nonpartisan). Maine passed a change to an electoral system of "preferential voting" which would open up a rational for organizing as a "third" party on the state level. Electoral reform to our national elections would require a Constitutional Amendment which takes years to bring about and broad popular and political support. Note that the Equal Rights Amendment never become law.

Without electoral reform first, the best result that a "third" party can hope for is to be the "spoiler". Because of our weirdly structured electoral system, it does not require a lot of votes to be the spoiler. In the most recent presidential election, Trump won six states by around 1% of the vote. He won the Presidency although he received millions of votes less than another candidate. None of the Above voters and non-voters in six states clearly tipped the scales. A 1% difference in two states would have resulted in a different outcome. That is math and physics.

In the 1980's Bernie Sanders was elected Mayor of Burlington, VT as a Socialist. At the time he was an example of the possibility of a "third party" success. His success has proved to be an anomaly.

As an Independent Congressman and then an Independent Senator, Sanders chose to caucus with the Democrats. He chose to run for President in the Democratic Party primary and did a hell of a job. Folks working with him also did a hell of a job influencing the rewriting of Democratic Party rules and writing a very good platform for 2016. The sections on criminal justice, drug reform and cannabis bordered on perfection. Environmental policy was fairly well presented as well.

The reason that Bernie Sanders, an Independent, chooses to caucus and work with the Democratic Party is that it is an effective strategy for now. If circumstances change, his options are open...and so are mine.

In reality, America does not have a two partys or a two party system. America has two large and somewhat shifting coalitions that are known as the Republicans and the Democrats. Only a broad coalition can form a government and one can pretty much only effect policy if one is part of the ruling coalition. That's the way it works.

Like the Greens in Europe, I choose to work, on the electoral level, within a coalition. Our electoral system, however, is structured very differently from most European democracies. Structure determines strategy. Form of organization needs to be based on what can be accomplished. The stakes are serious and the options are narrow. Hopefully we each make wise choices.