A proposal to end California Green Party paralysis

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California Green party activist and recent congressional candidate Byron De Lear presents his thoughts on how to end the ongoing train wreck that is the Green Party of California, something Polizeros blogged about on May 8.

Factionalism in the GPCA and vision for reform

Our inability to successfully process conflicts in our state party apparatus in California has made state wide growth nearly impossible.

This in turn, has negatively impacted the entire Green Party nationally, as California represents the forefront of national green politics and the State with the most Green Party members in the US.

His conclusions

Fatal flaws:

1) No party leader
2) 80% voting thresholds
3) Failure to rise with rapid growth of global environmental concerns

Broad Stroke Fixes:

1) We need a chairperson and/or leader

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet I’ve seen screaming matches in GP meetings over where someone should, gasp, be in a position of authority. The real problem is, they can appoint a chair, but there’s little chance of that chair being able to govern because many Greens will simply ignore or attack them.

2) 80% Voting threshold is unrealistic; paralyzing

Currently when the state GP is voting on certain issues, it must pass by an impossibly high 80%, which simply guarantees inertia and paralysis. Rules like this allow a small minority to control things.

3) Green Party must be the political leader on environment.

The GP used to own the environmental issue. But where are they now on global warming? Issuing press releases and little else, that’s where. Ditto for the war. They could have led national protests. Instead they were absent from them. This was mostly due to internal chaos and dissension.

The problems in the California GP are structural and can be fixed. If not, the California GP – and with it the national GP – will fade to black. It’s that serious.

  • Amen. The only point that Byron misses is that we ought to auction off the position of chairman, solving the leadership and fundraising problems in one swell foop.

  • 1) No leaders are required to see the Green Party be successful, we are not hierarchically-based – past and current dysfunctional and corrupt political structures have failed due to their male-dominated hierarchical modus operandi.

    2) Division caused by voting that yields winners and losers is in part what is stymieing Green Party expansion and the winner-loser male-dominated hierarchy mechanism of giving too little time. too little patience, too little trust and practically no alignment of otherwise cross-purposes acts all acts to perpetuate the paralysis.

    The process of Consensus building and Consensus seeking is plain hard work.

    Consensus building, when successful and based on seeking commonly-held stakeholding by the different sides of the question or issue -  completely obviates any need to go to voting.

    3) If the collective Green Party is to be a venue for species survivability, our ten key values are there for people to inculcate in their personal lives, the lives around them, in the immediate community, the bioregion, and for those still intent on burning the environment for all species including homo sapiens – those who consume way beyond their carbon footprint.

    What the Green Party has come to be and conceived of is certainly not “your Father’s Party” as the so called remedies spelled out point to by recent convert (to the Green Party) Byron.

    Byron’s raw thoughts put as haiku might reveal some glaring and blatant contradictions with our ten key values as expressed by activists within the Green Party who have been for up to 30 years and beyond – organizing and raising public awareness on the overdue need for social, political, economic, ecological revolution.

  • DJ

    Jack’s prescription seems to suggest that the problem is the solution. As one of many ex-Greens, I have to say that while consensus-building is indeed hard work, no one in any of the groups I worked in was willing or able to do that kind of hard work with successful result. The process became the goal, and end goals were forgotten. That’s great for a classroom exercise, but ineffective politics. (VIBES!!) As a result, the Greens were then (and appear to remain now) a principle without application.

    As for “male-dominated hierarchical modus operandi” are not the only option. Times of chaos are opportunities for leaders to rise– and in times of chaos more than in times of stability, those leaders are more likely to be women. Without a leader, there is no one for people to follow, and they wander aimlessly. While that’s a broad generalization, it seems to fit my experience of the California GP. I don’t think the GP needs to be hierarchical or male-dominated– only that it cannot be headless to be effective.

    American culture is strongly rooted in adversarial factionalism. A truly democratic framework such as the GP suggests will work only with a group of people who are extraordinarily committed to the good of the whole over their own personal benefit. There are such groups, but they are rare. The electorate as a whole is certainly not one of them. Thus, unless GP is willing to be selective in its membership to weed out those who do not have the best interest of the party (and nation) at heart, implementation of its leaderless, consensus-based method of politics is not likly to succeed. Find a leader, become exclusivist, or remain irrelevant. I don’t see any other alternatives.

  • It is a sad commentary on internal Green Party politics that simply proposing that the GP have leaders meets with argument and protest.

    As I was leaving the GP and joining the ANSWER Coalition, I was struck by the difference. In a single day I spent 4 hours at a rancorous GP of LA County council meeting where nothing got accomplished then went to an ANSWER meeting that was 45 minutes long, agreeable, and then we went out and did stuff.

  • To respond to Jack,

    I think you’re missing the whole point of my suggested reforms, Jack.

    I appreciate you ideal state of politcal evolution that you’ve articulated, but it is NOT ENOUGH to just have an ideal.

    The ideals also have to be put into PRACTICE.

    We have FAILED at breaking the factional impasse, and I really don’t think many who have been witness to would disagree that the party’s ability to move forward IS BROKEN.

    And here’s where my suggested reforms come into play — I’m not saying abandon 10 Key Values of the Green Party, I’m not saying throw away decentraliztion, I’m not saying a dominant “white male leader” — no, Jack I’m not saying any of those things.

    In fact, the example of party leader that I cited the most was Elizabeth May from Canada.

    What I AM SAYING is that if we can’t put our IDEALS into PRACTICE, then we are failing to compete successfully in electoral politics, ironically enough, what a political party tries to be good at.

    I don’t see our party really trying to be succesfully competitive in the politcal arena when we persist in holding onto political structures THAT HAVE FAILED US.

    Keep the ideals, and let’s put in some reforms THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES already have, that are succeeding with, and then we will have opened our eyes to the kinds of practical perspective that will win seats, and make are ideals a REALITY.

    I see the necessity of BALANCING our ideology with RESULTS oriented analysis of what is moving our politics forward or not.

    Being a politcal party means being a body of political ACTION and MOVEMENT.

    Of course we can codify the most brilliant ideals and concepts in the word and in our heads — but if we can’t MOVE FORWARD because our party structure in too IDEALISTIC and not based in the real world of politics (ie where we are now), then our IDEALISTIC Party becomes like a cool old book getting dusty and brittle in some mom & pop bookstore.

    A romantic notion to be sure, but unworkable in regard to electoral success.

    Our political aspirations clearly suggest that we don’t want to be shoved off to the side on the fringe to be forgotten, rather, our aspirations would like us to win offices, to become the political force that changes our cultural landscape guided by our ten key values.

    You still haven’t answered why you reject out-of-hand MANY political party structures that REALLY WORK as “un-Green”,

    Does that mean to you that being “Green” is to persist, with no end in sight, with a strategy that’s not working?

    That sounds like Iraq.

  • DJ

    “I really don’t think many who have been witness to would disagree that the party’s ability to move forward IS BROKEN.”
    “Being a politcal party means being a body of political ACTION and MOVEMENT.”

    Amen. Thanks, Byron. If the GP was a serious political party, many including myself would likely return to it.

  • joni

    from a book i’m reading: Earth Democracy by Vandana Shiva
    “The universal cannot be a globally imposed local interest. It is the emergent quality of all people living by the universal principles of nonviolence-the ecological sustainability of nonviolence to non-human life and the social and economic justice of nonviolence to human life.

    The universal is the unfolding of the potential of diverse and multiple locals, acting in self-organized ways but guided by the common principles of love and reverence for life.

    Tolstoy wrote from his deathbed”:

    “Understanding that welfare for human beings lies only in their unity, and that unity cannot be attained by violence. Unity can only be reached when each person, not thinking about unity, thinks only about fulfilling the laws of life. Only this supreme law of love, alike for all humans, unifies humanity.”

    I guess what i’m saying here by quoting this is that the GPUS has a basic framework that’s needed for change on many realms.
    I don’t think one can view it without a paradigm shift and a shift from mechanistic views to a plank scale view.
    Change occurs, good people everywhere are trying to affect real change…not within a limited scope of results orientation and being a cog in the wheel that gets us there but coming from a state of grace which recognizes the connection that exists and that focusing on what’s in front of you with mindful intent and positive purpose engages the world you find yourself in on many levels.
    GPUS is an organic structure on some fundamental principles that beg the best of each of us, when we strive for ego or an ends we limit ourselves.
    Does that mean we don’t take direct action? No, of course not, but we do it because we’re compelled by conscience to do so.
    I think a great deal of Byron but i disagree that we need a leader/chairperson… what we need is for each of us to take action, take responsiblities for our actions and continue to do Direct Action, something i know Byron is good at.
    We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
    An 80% threshold does sound like a lot, not nearly the 100% attempted through consensus…, but the point of consensus is to communicate untill you do reach it. Blocking concerns carries with it the responsibilities of the blockers to come up with an alternate approach to also try to reach consensus.
    These are my thoughts on this thread…

  • Joe Hartley

    80% vote to approve anything? It’s totally bizarre to see the Green Party adopting the political-organizing principles of that old slaver, John Calhoun!

  • DJ

    While I agree with Joni’s sentiment, one of the great awakenings I had as a peaceworker is that peace is a process– and not only a global process, but an individual one.

    Each of us is born unawakened, if you will, and at some point begins to seek that awakening. Thus, at any given time, there are people who achieve “a state of grace which recognizes the connection that exists and that focusing on what’s in front of you with mindful intent and positive purpose,” and it may be that at some point in their lives every person reaches that state. But at no time is everyone in that state at the same time.

    To achieve real results in the world around us, that individual growth process must be recognized. Politics does not and cannot encompass only those in a state of grace. While it may (and ideally should) encourage people to seek such a state, politics must also accomodate the fact that many (and in this country most) people do not yet have the interest of the whole foremost– and yet those people want to and are needed to participate.

    I think pure democracy by consensus is an excellent ideal. But the imperfection of real world requires some accomodation.

  • Folks,

    My suggested reforms are not a philosophical argument about what’s “Green”/evolved and what’s “not Green”/cro-magnon — my suggested triage reforms are focused on stopping the hemorrhaging political paralysis that WE ARE EXPERIENCING in the GPCA now and also to mitigate damage spilling over into the GPUS.

    FACT: The reforms I’ve suggested ARE “GREEN”

    The reforms I’ve suggested are “GREEN” because they are used by larger Green Parties around the world that wield considerably more political power and influence, and also maintain budgets and legislative action that DWARF our United States version of Green politics.

    We’re taking on some of the worst unilateral characteristics of Americans saying that “ours is the only way” —

    Let’s not be SO xenophobic, please.

    Should we be BLIND to the structural mechanisms sported by other Green Parties that succeed?


    We’re like the clichéd dude in a car headed nowhere who refuses to ask for directions, much to the chagrin of his “imprisoned” female co-pilot.

    The GPCA is lost — we should ask for directions.

    The only good reason to ignore extra-American Green successes born from differing party structures is that we’re maintaining some sort of political lab experiment that never was intended to see the light of day with statewide or national electoral success.

    As a candidate, I wouldn’t want to be a part of an experiment, unless we were experimenting with finding a unique approach that hastens electoral victory and moves party business forward.

    If this is the case, the experiment has failed.

    The answer to our party’s dilemma is not to persist with what hasn’t been working — “consense more we need to consense more, then we won’t have to take any votes” — the answer lies with putting down our preconceived notions of how things SHOULD work, and opening our hearts and minds to what REALLY works.

    The utopian expectations of how our hundreds of thousands strong Green Party will successfully compete the way a familial commune operates is not based on the reality of WHAT WE HAVE SEEN for over three years now in unending factionalism making our collective efforts easily dismissed as laughable by many activists and politicos looking in from the outside.

    These expectations have only become our plans for disappointment.

    Like I’ve said before, and I’m sure many of us realize, from a short distance away, all the fighting — in the midst of paralysis — just seems crazy.

    We should try to emulate some of the structures that work in other Green Parties, cause our system of getting things done is totally broken.

    Is there another example of a modern political party operating with significant success in a democracy that does not have a party leader, and only moves forward with 80% votes?

    Byron De Lear

  • DJ

    Byron, I think most of us (reading this blog) are on the same page with you. It is a divergence between theory and reality, and in such a case, reality always wins. Thanks for your efforts.

  • Byron missed consensus seeking and consensus building all-together but does show concern about the degraded status of the Green Party.

    To gain an overall picture of the process, facilitation takes clarifying concerns and blocking concerns – all required before going to a vote – consensus cannot be achieved. Again consensus does not mean everyone agrees 100% with everyone else.

    In the ten key values voting is not the first resort as in the male-dominated hierarchical parties of wealth and power, voting in the Green Party is the last resort.

    The bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit likewise the bridge between theory (academic) (advanced degrees) and practice (school of hard knocks) (reality) is applying theory to reality, stepping back, making observations of the goodness of fit, then adjusting realities and theories in a heuristic manner. Immanuel Kant’s world’s view was one of a priori versus the empirical.

    Consensus seeking provides that bridge. It’s that important. Of prime importance. Without the bridge, any suggested reform in the ‘comments’ fail.

  • Sharon Peterson

    I’d like to add a couple of flaws to Byron’s list:

    4. No Mission Statement — There is no consensus among Greens about what being a political party means. Our lack of a specific function means that we cannot come to the table with a shared goal. The best process in the world cannot result in consensus where there’s no common ground. (SUGGESTED FIX: A virtual Constitutional Convention where, after a month or two of discussion among as many Greens as can be mustered, we finally decide who we are, and put that statement into the Bylaws.)

    5. No Way to Resolve Conflicts — Covering conflicts up and “making nice” does not work in the long run. Okay, it doesn’t work in the short run, either. Except to add ever-increasing layers of history and drama to every decision. (SUGGESTED FIX: Establish a Mediation Committee and a Code of Ethics, with consequences. Budget for outside mediation where needed.)

    Byron’s Right On about the 80% Voting Threshold. Lowering the threshold does not, by itself, eliminate the traditional step of seeking consensus before falling back to a vote. But it can make decisions possible — unlike now, where Plenary proposals routinely fail after achieving over 70% of the delegate vote.

    I also agree on the absolute need to reestablish The Party’s role as a leader in environmental concerns. Perhaps it’s the old public confusion of “Green Party” with “Greenpeace,” plus our need as a political party to expand into other progressive issues that caused us to slide too far away. If Greens can get it together, it’s not too late. I hope.

    But … I confess I’m an agnostic about the idea of a single chair. Some of that stems from a nagging doubt about our ability to decide on a process for selecting a chair. Are we willing to establish criteria for eligible candidates?

    What powers will this person have? Are we willing to give them enough authority to do their job? Conversely, will we slip into playing follow-the-leader and lazily say “just let the Chair decide, oh, everything” without providing sufficient grassroots input?

    Most important, are we willing to make a major change in our Party’s culture, and hold ALL of our leaders holding positions in our Counties, Regions and State-level committees, and all of our officeholders, -accountable- to their constituencies? Can we agree to require that they adhere to the higher level of ethics — including a sound work ethic — that an enlightened brand of politics demands?

  • DJ

    Bravo– If people had been talking this way six years ago, I’d still be a Green!

  • Jack said, “Byron missed consensus seeking and consensus building all-together.”

    Substitute “GPCA” for “Byron” in the above quote.

    Which emphasizes my point here guys:

    We cannot completely control how people think inside their heads and behave — this would be a domination-type reform, to control how people choose to act and behave in our Green Party.

    What we CAN DO, is enact some simple straightforward reforms THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE that is, 1) a lower and more realistic voting threshold THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE and 2) a party chairperson position THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE.

    To deny the fact that we are out on a limb in comparison to the vast majority of other more effective political parties and movements, is to perpetuate the problems, not fix them.

    Now if we would like to just be a party that constantly navel gazes and protects our little insular idealistic philosophy society — that’s fine, but we should admit it and admit that our goal is NOT to be politically effective nor competitive through winning elections.

    We will attract more viable candidates to run on the Green Party ticket if we are seen to be more effective in moving party business forward and succeed at breaking the factionalism.

    A candidate is only like 10% of the equation, the rest of the successful electoral picture is the political machine that supports the candidate — 90%.

    Please read again my suggestions and the reasons for them — from not a knee-jerk defensive standpoint — but from the standpoint that we need to significantly change the way we conduct party business, so as to break the impasse.

  • Good points, Sharon and thanks for your service to GPCA.

    As to shared goals, I thought a political party works to get people elected that advance its platform, simple, eh?! But nothing is ever simple with Greens. (grin)

    I have been active in the Los Angeles City Greens and the GPCA for 7 years. My observation is that the factions have no ideological basis; they are personality driven, which makes it all the more maddening. Heck, if we were tearing ourselves apart over an ideological battle, like the German Greens did (realio vs. fundi), then so be it. This is nothing new to Greens by the way, the Left in America has been eating its young for decades.

    Certain players have the resources and name to disguise/distort personal attacks as ideological. The GPCA is mirroring the obfuscation and distortion that exists in the larger society, the trivialization of issues and amplification of others as exists in our corporate media.

  • Great words from Lisa, Sharon and Byron. I’ve only been involved with the Green party for 2 years but already I see how disorganized it is. Don’t get me wrong, the ideas are wonderful and the intent is there but we need a plan of action to mobilize ourselves. I’m actually not that afraid of electing a chair/leader because I see the benefits of it outweighing the potential downfalls.

    I also think that looking outside of ourselves to other successful Greens, ones in other countries maybe who are winning offices for some help and models to follow.

    We can’t put blame on other people, saying that it’s this person or that because if we intend to grow then there will ALWAYS be a this person or that. People come with dysfunction and personalities, with their own ideas of how things should get done and we need systems in place that will keep progress moving forward.

    Thank you to everyone who is doing the good work!

  • What Byron seems to volunteering to do is to cite cases of straightforward reforms THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE that is, 1) a lower and more realistic voting threshold THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE and 2) a party chairperson position THAT MOST GREEN PARTIES UTILIZE.

    This can accomplished and effectively conveyed without needless repetition and locking your caps key.

  • DJ

    Well, I dunno. It didn’t seem to get through to everyone on the first, second, or third try, so it seems the Cap key was not in this case a use of excessive force.

  • I think the root problem may be that in order for a leader to function, others would have to agree to let him do so. And to follow.

  • Sharon Peterson

    Well and succinctly put, Bob.

    And while following, the grassroots will still need to provide oversight to make sure the leader sticks with the agreement and does not promote her/himself to monarch.

  • Byron received replies from Ireland and Canadian Green Parties about his inquiry/proposal.

    Read them here:

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