In 1991, I traveled around the Northern Rockies helping organize Green chapters, having been a member of the Missoula Greens since helping found it in 1989. In 1996, I serve on the Missoula City Council, having run in the Democratic primary with an endorsement by the New Party, and have joined a new progressive majority on the Council. The president of the City Council and the Chairs of 3 of our 5 committees are New Party members; we work with a 6, 7, or 8 vote majority on a 12-person council.
I push as fast and as hard as I can for housing issues and other justice concerns; we're calling for a living wage locally, a pesticide ban, traffic calming measures etc. The list goes on. I'm having a blast. For the first time in my political life, we are faced with a unique challenge: being in power.
We see a huge opportunity for a mass, democratic movement developing over the next four years in America.
How did this change come to pass? Why would I, an ardent Green, join the New Party, and how did we succeed in capturing local government? My personal story is tied to our peculiar local conditions, which is another important message. The Missoula Greens essentially faded away in 1992. For whatever reasons, we had not successfully attracted some of the constituencies Greens elsewhere had. What attracted me to the New Party a year or so later is simple: when I walked into the room and looked around, I said to myself, these are people who are going to get something done. Not only did the room contain activists who had been involved in the Greens, but it contained enough of the other important progressives who had not; equally key was the quality of the folks involved-they were largely the folks who had been making progressive politics happen in Missoula for years. Finally, we were all working on the same project.
The other important attraction for me was equally pragmatic. The New Party's approach to many of the issues that have divided the Greens (such as are we a party or a movement, should we be a third party or should we work with the Democrats) is different. We bracket those discussions off-we say to ourselves, yes, these are important matters to discuss, argue about, disagree and finally come to consensus on, but let's not wait to act until we resolve them. The time is coming for our local chapter to address, for example, the third party question, but we have been more successful by building our support base first.
While my circumstance may be localized, it fits well within the framework of the New Party. The NP is not particularly different from most groups on the alternative left, ideologically, structurally or in our view of the current political landscape. We see a huge opportunity for a mass, democratic movement developing over the next four years in America. With the continued decline for most Americans, and the lack of any coherent government response, the demand for a politics that imposes values (other than just profit) over the economy and pushes for real democratic reform will only grow. We see the New Party as being at the center of such a movement, building political power for low and moderate income and people of color, and developing as the "political arm" of an invigorated progressive movement in America.
The New Party believes the right place to start is at the local level. . .
Nationally, some 100 office holders, mostly at the local level, are New Party members. The New Party believes that the right place to start is at the local level -- school boards, city councils, county boards, state legislatures, and the like. These are the races with the lowest barriers to entry, the ones where given our resources we are most likely to win, and where people are organized densely enough, and districts are small enough, that we can hold candidates accountable post-election. As our party(ies) grow, and build a strong base of support, we should move up in electoral space to higher level offices. (Personally, local is the only level of work I'm interested in. I am skeptical about our ability to effectively change higher levels of government.) Central to our alternative approach is accountability. Chapters vary slightly in how they endorse candidates. Chapters will set up a screening process, either through the steering committee or a special elections committee, and forward recommendations to the membership, which would then vote on endorsements. Chapters generally require endorsed candidates to sign a contract, with requirements that they be NP members, identify as such, support the NP principles and program, and work to build NP chapters.
Chapters generally require endorsed candidates to sign a contract, with requirements that they be NP members, identify as such, support the NP principles and program, and work to build NP chapters.
The NP believes that, over time, the minor progressive parties need to come together, not only with themselves but with other major progressive organizations in one progressive, electoral force (party, organization, whatever). We certainly hope not to see progressive parties running competing candidates against each other. Parties should use their judgment about which races to run in and which not to. As the tactic "fusion" becomes legal and widely available over the next few years, there will be increased opportunity for minor parties to cooperate electorally-by fusing around joint candidates and campaigns. For example, the NP actively backed a Green Party State Assembly candidate in Minnesota -- Cam Gordon -- in this election. Gordon received 25% of the vote, 2% more than the Republican in the district, but alas, 26% less than the incumbent, an 18-yr Demo who has been bad on health care reform. It was the first Green Party race in the state, and the results match their expectations. They are excited about future races, and we will talk to them soon about our city council races next year. For the New Party, whether progressives should run as Democrats is a tactical, not ideological, question.
There are two extremes we oppose:
1. that we should always work with the Democrats regardless of their values.
2. that we should never work with the Democrats regardless of their values.
For the New Party, whether progressives should run as Democrats is a tactical, not ideological, question.
We rely on the good judgment of our local organizers and leadership to determine whether candidates should run as independents or inside Democratic primaries, or as fusion challengers. Regardless of whether our candidates run as "non-partisan" (in fact, the vast majority of our candidates, as we're generally running in local elections which are usually non-partisan), "New Party Democrats" (inside Dem Primaries), or independents, they all are New Party members, identify as such, and work to help build local independent political power.
If we wish government to help us with the real work, we must be in office.
Let's not forget what the real work is. For me, the real work is empowering the citizens (particularly those least powerful, such as low-income and minorities), creating the framework for people to have significant control over their lives and communities, and the ability to create a sustainable society. If we wish government to help us with the real work, we must be in office. The formula for getting into office will vary from community to community, and we need to be flexible rather than dogmatic in our tactics.