One of the simplest ways to improve Green Party campaigns is to re-think conventional election cycles and instead, wage campaigns that are better-planned, well-timed and that create legitimate grassroots political movements in our local communities.
Currently, our election cycles are driven by the media. For example, the race for President of the United States is generally considered to start when the media begins announcing candidates for the office. What are we up against when we allow the media to dictate the length of the election cycle? Unfortunately, the media begins announcing Republican and Democratic Party candidates after it’s already too late for a third party candidate to begin mounting an effective run.
What type of competition do we face? Bernie Sanders announced his primary run against Democratic Party favorite Hillary Clinton in April 2015 and did not initiate campaign operations until late May of that year. This gave Sanders, a relatively unknown politician outside the radar of armchair politicos, just a bit more than a year to attempt to defeat Clinton, a former First Lady, US Senator and the preferred candidate of the party. Sanders came close to mounting the support needed to win the primary. However, he did this campaigning within the structure of the Democratic Party. Many opine Sanders was a sheepdog to herd progressives and socialists the entire time. If he was not, Sanders still realized the benefit of running as a Democrat as opposed to running as an Independent, the primary benefit being earned media exposure, of which Sanders received very little until the first Presidential debate. It must also be noted that as a career politician, Sanders had plenty of fundraising experience and a deep base of support to draw from. He used the templates from his former campaign operations, including messaging, tone and day-to-day campaign schedules. His experience enabled him to wage a much stronger contest than he would have had he been wet behind the ears in terms of campaigning. Even with all of these advantages, Sanders held over Green candidates, being a good candidate with positive messaging that voters were receptive to simply wasn’t enough for him to achieve victory, (all discussion of primary election rigging aside.)
Therefore, it is appropriate to postulate that Green candidates are at a major disadvantage when facing a duopoly candidate on several levels – fundraising capacity, fundraising ability, earned media, existing base of support, existing campaign structures or “Political Machines,” campaign experience, and general recognition by the public.
Because of such disadvantages, Green candidates must be innovative in addressing discrepancies in capacity and capability. One of the best ways we can do this is by planning effectively and managing our time wisely. When candidates are proactive and begin planning their campaigns sooner rather than later, there exists an opportunity for a qualified, charismatic candidate to conduct an insurgent activist campaign. Green candidates must become avatars for local political movements. Because of our approach toward campaign financing, the primary factor that drives the success of modern political campaigns, our next best hope is to earn political victories by understanding the amount of time needed to build a political movement and developing affordable strategies for executing campaigns within a larger time frame.
In other words, if Greens want to win races, we need to get a head start on the competition and manage our time better than our opponents.
We need to be realistic about electoral politics. A third-party candidate for office must build a name for themselves within their district, whether their constituency is a 710,000 U.S. House district or a 77,000 voter state house district. With all the disadvantages Greens face in running for office, it is foolhardy to think that we can run candidates for U.S. Congress with no machine, limited local structure, and no money and achieve victory in a mere seven months. There is simply not enough time to build the kind of political movement behind a campaign that is necessary to win such a complicated race. Devoting party resources to these types of races serves neither the interests of the Green Party nor the interests of voters.
What’s at stake? When Green Party candidates ask for support for races that are futile and they fail to deliver an election victory, our base of support will diminish. When we ask supporters to donate or spend their valuable time volunteering for Green campaigns, we should be asking them to support campaigns that are either winnable, give the party ballot access, or help the party to secure matching funds. Few political contributors or volunteers are willing to invest their money and time in a losing battle, even if they agree with our values. This is a hurdle the Green Party must overcome if it is to be competitive in substantial races.
The fact of the matter is that our party generally runs little-known candidates with few resources. We must understand that there is a substantial amount of networking and team building that needs to be done in order to win elections. We must stop playing on the clock of the duopoly parties, media, and institutions and instead, craft our own calendar for winning successful elections.
Community organizers know that two years is a reasonable amount of time to build a movement in their community that has hope for success. So why are we running six or eight-month campaigns?
Instead, let’s begin to think outside the box about what it takes to build viable local movements. Let’s make a commitment to planning campaigns early, applying tried-and-true methods of community organization to our political organization and start creating healthy movements that will support successful political campaigns. Let’s stop being herded into a calendar that doesn’t allow enough time to create movements, build networks and get the word out about our candidates.
As a political party, our ultimate mission is to elect candidates to public office that share our values. If voters are to have any faith in our candidates, we must put forth campaigns that are appropriately planned to deliver the expected result, election victories. Getting our message out there just isn’t enough. Time is the most valuable resource for any Green campaign. Let’s start using it wisely. Start planning your 2020 campaign now and start campaigning tomorrow, not a few months before elections. If we successfully manage our time, we will see stronger organizational capacity, a larger base of support and most importantly, more successful Green campaigns.
That’s an outcome that any Green Party member is bound to appreciate.
Erin Fox is a delegate to the National Committee of the Green Party of the United States and serves on the Coordinated Campaign Committee of the Green Party of the United States, representing the Green Party of Michigan.