My Adventure in Joining the Green Party
© 2015 Alan F. Zundel
I want nothing to do with the anger and personal attacks that poison our political life. But I do want to be involved. You know the litany of big problems we face:
• the gradual impoverishment of the middle class
• endless wars
• climate change and mass species extinction
• the erosion of individual privacy and growth of a police state
There is certainly enough to warrant anger, but in my opinion anger and negativity are just making things worse. They cause polarization, stalemate and hopelessness.
Politics doesn’t have to be a party, but engaging in it should make you feel better, not worse.
We All Need a Good Party
Every so often I step back from political activity to review the lessons I’ve learned.
Here’s one lesson: You can do more working with other people than by yourself.
Here’s another: Working on individual issues fragments the efforts of people who have similar concerns.
Here’s a conclusion from those lessons: Political parties are important. Parties bring together many people working on a diverse set of issues.
So yeah, politics doesn’t have to be a party, but we all need a good party to get anything done.
Looking for a Party
In my early adulthood I spent a lot of time looking for a party. That is, a political party I could vote for. Occasionally I voted for a minor party candidate, but soon learned about the “wasted vote” problem: the deck is stacked against minor parties so you better choose between the big boys if you want your vote to count.
Despite my frequent reservations I affiliated with the Democrats for a long time, as the Republicans’ goal seems to be returning to the 19th century. And I watched as money came to play an increasing role in elections and the Democratic Party shifted emphasis away from relying on people power toward raising big money. Corporate and private financial interests, which were always important, became even more dominant in their policies.
So back to the minor league.
As a political scientist I learned there were ways to eliminate the wasted vote problem and make the electoral system fairer for minor parties. After I left academia I worked with others to try to make this happen, both in California for a couple years and now here in Oregon. My best allies in the cause came from the Pacific Green Party.
Where’s the Party?
I joined the Greens in California but the party was still riven over the question of whether Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential run had caused George W. Bush to win by taking away votes from Al Gore. When my wife and I moved to Oregon in 2006 I registered as an “unaffiliated” voter, Oregon’s term for independents because some clever fellow registered an Independent Party.
Once again I got involved in working to establish electoral reform and once again was impressed by some of the Greens I met. The reform effort foundered with the economic crash of 2008 and state politics became completely focused on the economy and the budget, so I sat things out and waited.
Recently I saw signs that the time was ripe for a new effort, so I decided to join the Green Party to work with others on the issue of electoral reform again. (I agree with most of their platform anyway.)
It wasn’t as easy to join as I thought it would be. Sure, changing my voter registration was easy. I did it online. But I wanted to get involved in the party so I checked their website for the day of the regular county meeting and showed up.
No one was there. I waited five minutes past starting time. No one showed up.
So I left. When I got home I rechecked the website and found two different times listed in different places. The other place said the meeting was the next day, so I emailed the contact address and asked what the time of the meeting was and if that was the right day.
I waited all day for a reply then called the phone number on the website. I got an answering machine. Not too welcoming so far.
Is the Party Over?
Finally someone called back from the office and gave me the phone number of the local contact person, Pat Driscoll. I called and asked when the monthly meeting was.
He said something to the effect of, “Uh, we haven’t had a meeting in a while.” We chatted for a bit and agree to meet at a coffee shop the next week and talk.
Pat is a tall guy in his sixties like me, only with a full head of hair. He is also a naval veteran and the Treasurer of the state Pacific Green Party. We had a pleasant conversation and found we shared a lot of common views, particularly that we’d had enough of political action that drained you instead of inspiring you. He said the local meetings had stopped because whoever had been organizing them pulled out and no one stepped in.
And he told me something worrisome. Oregon has just passed a motor voter bill, which mandates that every adult who registers for a driver’s license will automatically be registered to vote. Sounds pretty good, right? The Greens favor more democracy.
Except that the Greens have to register a certain percentage of all registered voters in order to maintain their official party status and be automatically listed on voter ballots. If the pool of registered voters suddenly grows and thus the Green Party’s percentage of them falls below that threshold, it could be the death knell of the party. Getting a Green on the ballot would require a massive effort to get voters to sign a petition, which is a diversion from actually running a campaign.
Just like me to join a party when it’s almost over.
The Life of the Party
But the life of a party is in relationships, and Pat and I were forming a good relationship. I also contacted a Green activist in the state capitol who I knew from our last electoral reform effort, and he informed me that a state legislator was enthusiastic about our goal. (That goal being ranked choice voting, also called instant runoff voting.) More relationships.
Pat and I decided to start up the regular county meetings again, even if it’s just the two of us. Blair up in Salem is involved in starting another ranked choice voting campaign for his county and I will start up a website for a state-wide campaign.
And I feel good about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. No anger and no attacks on anyone. Politics as it should be and could be.
I’ll keep you informed of my further adventures as things develop. The party’s not over yet.
So party on. (Okay, that’s one too much. Sorry.)