Currently, the Green Party of Michigan has the foremost, best-developed political ideas of any party in the entire state. Our party has a comprehensive platform to stand upon; our values uniquely identified through the Four Pillars and Ten Key Values; our shared vision providing a firm footing for our policy positions and unifying us, both in principle and in political spirit. Without a doubt, the GP-MI has made great advancements in the past year and there are positive signals that this trend of progress will continue.
Despite our successes, we still have much work to do. In order for an organization to become effective and competitive in serious campaigns, it must have power behind its actions. The clear reality is that we do not have an appropriate amount of power behind our actions at this time. Until we build such power, we are unlikely to experience substantial changes in the results of our elections.
Voters who are already participating in our electoral system know this. We have all heard the “You can’t win,” “You’re a spoiler,” etc., type of arguments against our campaigns. The media also realizes we do not have a sufficient base, which is why earned media is so difficult to win for our candidates. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that as members of the party, we all realize that the lack of power behind our actions is a critical issue.
Many members have remained resolute in their participation in the party for a considerable period, building the foundation that exists today. Certainly, our party contains some of the most deeply committed political activists in the state of Michigan. This is a good thing and we must exalt those who have held steadfast in representing the values we stand for as Green Party members. Looking forward, we can see that the time has come for the Green Party to emerge from obscurity. The recent period of growth, propelled by the #DemExit movement, has energized the party. Now, it’s time that we focus our collective energy on putting power behind our message and take the next step toward making positive political changes a reality.
What can we do to get power behind our values and positions? The solution is to focus our limited volunteer and financial resources on base-building. It’s time that we engage in an effort to build strength for the party and demonstrate to residents that the GP-MI is not simply committed to running candidates in campaigns for office, but that we fully intend to win these races.
Base-building begins at the grassroots and there is no more effective grassroots campaign tactic than door-to-door canvassing. Any organization can use targeted canvassing to build a base of support in a community or neighborhood. Employing a systematic approach to base-building will allow Green Party locals to track results and measure performance.
An intensive base-building program would allow us to identify leaders at the precinct level throughout the state and set a course for sustained growth and progress for the GP-MI. Forming a comprehensive action plan for base-building on a state-wide basis would dramatically increase the membership of GP-MI. It would also give us a larger pool to draw upon for fund-raising, which is a second critical issue that must be addressed. Having said that, fund raising concerns will not be abated unless we embrace the idea that the party’s focus must remain on building its base.
Why should base-building be our greatest priority in 2017? Currently, there is a substantial desire for a third party. The Green Party has a golden opportunity to reach those individuals who desire such change. Many of them are non-voters, who have chosen to eschew the two “major” parties and for that matter, politics in general. By placing a strong focus on active recruitment, we can set the stage for larger victories in 2018. Once we have secured the attention of Michigan voters, we must ensure that the party practices effective organizing techniques, builds strong relationships with members and adopts an overall mindset of community organizing to ensure continued growth and greater potential for success in future elections.
Who should we target with such a campaign? This is an important question that deserves to be addressed. The fact of the matter is that most Democrats and even Berniecrats are not going to throw their full, committed support behind the GP-MI and its candidates until we ease concerns about the Green Party’s chances of winning serious elections.
Our election results showed promise in 2016. Tom Mair’s victory in Grand Traverse County shows that we can elect candidates at a county level under the right conditions. However, many of our 2018 candidates will not have had the experience of campaigning for their seat for years. Therefore, we must become more effective in our overall strategy to win in 2018.
We know what needs to be done, but how can we go about doing it? How can we base-build more effectively? We can do so by using better organizing techniques that address the relationships between the GP-MI and the voters. We can do so by forming our messaging properly and using that messaging to activate new members. It is also very important that we bring individuals into the organization in a way that causes them to remain engaged and active during periods of sustained campaigning.
Efforts to win over Democrats will continue to be unsuccessful until we develop more power as an organization. Period. We are not going to win the support of rank and file-type progressive Dems until we can show the strength necessary to campaign effectively and win elections. How do we get enough power to change the minds of progressive Democrats who are leery of aligning with us?
I submit that the most important population to be targeted with a base-building campaign is the disaffected, disenfranchised 45% of registered voters who do not even participate in the process, year after year. These voters aren’t participating with good reason. They don’t believe that they can make a difference within the political system because the system is not working for them. We can win the support of many of these voters if we are able to show them that we provide a viable alternative to the established political duopoly. Recent reports indicate that 75% of those who do not participate in elections are in poverty, many of these voters being working poor. Think carefully about this. What populations would best be served by our policies and position? This demographic that will be most receptive to recruitment. Therefore, I submit that the GP-MI ought to place a strong focus on this population in particular as the targets for recruitment.
Consider how many people this demographic encompasses—about 35% of registered voters. If we can win the support of 15-20% of this demographic of voters, we will be able to show enough organizational power to dramatically increase our credibility as a political party, garner more frequent media coverage, and most importantly, convince progressive Democrats that we have enough support to win elections.
We can develop recruitment plans at the local level that use the approach of community organizing in order to meet our goals for recruitment and go directly into our neighborhoods and speak to residents at the precinct level until we have enough volunteer power to organize precinct-by-precinct. This is a style of organizing that I have come to love. Cesar Chavez said “…first you talk to one person, then you talk to another.” Our attitude toward recruitment and organizing should reflect his attitude. I have long maintained that door-to-door canvassing is not simply the most effective manner in which to spread a political message, it is also the most cost-effective.
Because of our size, our base for fund raising is very small and our state party budget is negligible at best. That fact will not change until we build up our base. Knocking on doors and talking with people is free of charge, we simply need volunteers to converge on an area.
We have the people power to do this already, if we think outside of the box. This including locals organizing “away” activities to assist their fellow locals canvass in their neighborhoods during coordinated events. We don’t have to leave our literature with voters, we simply have to go over it with them and sign them all up on a single sheet on our clipboards. Once voters sign up for memberships, we can follow up and ensure they can find info about our activities and meetings on the web. Some might say that not everyone has access to the Internet, but 80% of Americans are on Facebook. The key is follow-up and engagement post intake. Canvassing is attractive as it is a very low cost method that is very effective when using proper targeting. There’s no good reason we can’t do this right now. It’s the hard work that must be done if we are to become competitive with Democrats and Republicans.
Our recruitment efforts should be active and not passive. Tabling has its place as a visibility tactic, but is a passive type of campaigning that produces much less recruitment results than a more active style/form of campaigning.
As they say, the porch (or stoop) is where politics happens. That’s where voters are most influenced by a political message and that’s the place we must build relationships. There are other opportunities to effectively recruit, such as teams moving through crowds with clipboard sign up sheets. Having said that, there is no more effective manner in which to spread a political message than systematic door to door canvassing and I submit that the bulk of our organizing plan for the remainder of the year be based upon this activity.
Because of this, I call upon membership to adopt a comprehensive, statewide base-building plan that will last for the duration of 2017, in preparation for the 2018 elections based upon the principles and ideas I have outlined and explained above.
If the GP-MI is to become successful in bringing the principles espoused in the Four Pillars/Ten Key Values into prominence in Michigan politics, such an endeavor is not only recommended, it is required. In doing so, we will guarantee the continued growth and future success of our combined efforts.