Green Party of Virginia Summit Summary
We had a very productive and agreeable meeting on Sunday, and I wanted to give you a quick summary of what was achieved.
First, many people requested a link to the video that we began with, on wealth inequality in America. This can be found here:
As you know, the Summit was not a business meeting. This was a meeting of the general membership to consider and discuss the focus, goals, and image of the Green Party of Virginia in the future. The outcomes achieved are meant to inform the decisions and actions of the state party officers and the leadership of the locals, but are not in any sense binding resolutions.
Sid began the meeting by playing the "Wealth Inequality in America" video as a way of setting the stage for considering our role as a political party. He briefly summarized many of our most significant challenges both globally and nationally, reminding everyone that the ecological and political emergencies we face are extremely urgent.
The meeting was then opened to a general discussion, and members were invited to speak on the question of what the focus of the party should be, both with respect to the issues we should be addressing in our campaigns and other activities, and with respect to which kinds of activities we should be doing at the state level. Sid also summarized for those present the results of the questionnaire that about 40 state members had filled out in preparation for the Summit.
After a break for lunch, the present candidates for House of Delegates took it in turn to speak to the members about which issues were most important for their campaigns, and about how the state party could be doing a better job of supporting them in their campaigns.
We then invited our Press Secretary, Tim Cotton, who has the most extensive political experience of any of our members, to speak on his perceptions about how we could be more successful as a party, especially in our campaigns for public office.
There was then general agreement about issues and focus for the state party, and we finished with discussion about the party's image, and how to "sell the product" to the public.
What follows is a bullet-point version of the outcomes. This is, however, my own perception of the outcomes, and not definitive. I invite other participants to offer their own outlooks, including any corrections of my report that are wanted, and/or filling in any omissions.
Although there are many issues, some only timely, some enduring, that the party should speak to, there were a handful that most participants agreed deserve our foremost consideration at the state level:
- The personal financial security of our citizens in the commonwealth, especially with respect to jobs, wages, and healthcare, is an urgent concern, one that all potential voters are most concerned about.
- The availability and affordability of a quality education for every child and every adult citizen, in a safe environment, is also a foremost concern of our constituents.
- Governmental and public corruption, including gerrymandering, is a top issue.
- Renewable energy: moving away from fossil fuels, stopping the pipelines, and providing the prosperity and enhanced well-being that a robust effort at renewable infrastructure would bring.
- Supporting healthy local economies, including small business and agriculture.
It was emphasized that these are the top issues for statewide focus; each local and each candidate has issues that may be unique or uniquely important in their area. For instance, for Montigue a top issue in the 69th district is repairing or rebuilding crumbling schools, minimum wage, and felony disenfranchisement. For Gerald in the 88th congestion and teacher pay are big, and so on.
Of the first concern is our balance between activism such as rallies, protests, and events, on the one hand, and political action such as campaigning for office and lobbying for legislation on the other. There was a general agreement, indeed apparently outright consensus, that both of these are important activities for the GPVA, but that our political activities are of the first importance and deserve the principle focus of the state party. A natural consequence is that the GPVA should make supporting our locals in _their_ political activities its foremost responsibility. Summarizing, the most important activities of the GPVA are:
- Recruiting, running, and supporting candidates for local and state office.
- Supporting local parties with data, training, and logistics.
- Holding or sponsoring events for public outreach and education.
- Marketing the GPVA to the public.
Again the emphasis here is on the state party; locals will set their own priorities consistent with the goals and interests of their members.
There is a great deal of concern among the membership that to the extent the Green Party is visible to our citizens, its image is being defined by our opposition (especially in the mainstream media) and by our least palatable self-appointed spokespeople on social media. We are seen as too flaky, too "left", and too divisive to be taken seriously as a political force. The national party is riven by conflicts over identity politics and such controversial elements as Antifa and old-school Socialists, putting our candidates in the position of having to downplay their Green Party affiliation at times just to get their foot in the door, or conversations started.
Consequently, some rebranding is very much a priority. We need to define the "Green Party of Virginia" as a political movement that can have broad appeal. We will not in any way compromise our core principles, but we must translate those principles into solutions for our constituents that they can understand and support. We should appeal not just to people on the left but to traditional conservatives as well, many of whose values we can speak to. Our solutions should cut across the rural/urban, white/non-white, old/young, liberal/conservative divides with proposals that are visibly beneficial to all citizens in the commonwealth. (We're never gonna appeal to the rich. We're okay with that.)
Some slogans/hashtags/taglines that were floated to general approval include:
- The Common Sense Party
- The Party of Fresh Ideas
- Your Local Party
- The Rational Alternative
The GPVA must make consistent marketing of a consistent public image an ongoing priority.
The one topic on which there was a visible absence of consensus was on how to raise the money needed to achieve our goals.
Many asserted that we need both dues and a strong fundraising program. Others were skeptical that this could be successful.
Some members, including candidate Will King, were matter-of-fact about having to accept donations from small businesses, unions, or other non-individual sources to have any hope of competing in the political arena.
Tim Cotton was plain about the money realistically required to compete in a contested race: for House of Delegates, $200,000. For governor or federal office, many $millions. Of course we mean to change all that with public financing of campaigns once we change the laws. But we can't do that until we get into office. Until then, we can only win by winning in the game that's being played.
Sid quoted Molly Ivins' quip that if you're a politician, once you are in office you "got to dance with them that brung you." That is, if getting into office is only possible for you by pleasing wealthy donors, you can't stop pleasing them once you are elected.
Some members were greatly concerned that we shouldn't abandon our historical and principled opposition to taking money from vested interests, because it is a slippery slope and inevitably we would be forced to compromise our core principles.
It is clear that a resolution on this question is perhaps our most urgent need, internally. We want to go to the dance, and we want to be beholden only to our citizen-constituents once there. Discussion will continue, proposals will be made. We'll figure it out.
This was a very productive enterprise. Everyone came away with a much clearer idea of our common goals and responsibilities, and with renewed resolve to carry the mission forward.
I want to personally thank everyone who took the time, drove the miles, and had the patience and goodwill to make this a successful Summit.
B. Sidney Smith