In any political organization, there are bound to be interpersonal conflicts. Some arise over simple disagreements about strategy, and people are able to agree to disagree. Sometimes the situation can devolve into something more disruptive and vitriolic, which is a common situation that faces Green Parties all over the country.
In June 2017, a group of people submitted a grievance to the GPUS Accreditation Committee under the name of “Restore Green Values.” Since their submission, our state party has faced significant turmoil, to the point that even supporting our local chapters has been interrupted.
Therefore, the Green Party of Colorado has taken a rarely-pursued path, choosing to employ discipline to restore order to our party, where the norm has been to hope that “rising above” would solve the problem. After more than six months in attempting to create a space for healing, we see that “rising above” alone, does not restore order.
The grounds for the revocation of rights of participation were based on several situations. In one case, sexual predation was reported. In another case, unilateral, undemocratic commandeering of our state party voting and communications portal occurred. In yet another case, a member’s personal background was purposely disseminated to cause that member injury, as a retaliatory move. We felt these offenses needed strong response.
But the bulk of the individuals faced disciplinary action because of their attempt to break apart the GPCO. The rationale for these disciplinary proposals is mostly centered on the actions of a few individuals who were working toward de-accreditation of the GPCO from GPUS and removal of democratically-elected officers, in some cases in collusion with individuals from the GPUS Accreditation Committee. Their actions were counter to not only our state party bylaws, but also counter to the 10 Key Values: Decentralization, Grassroots Democracy, and Respect for Diversity.
The language used in the bulk of these disciplinary proposals is as follows:
Further, (individual’s name)’s action shows callous disregard for the Key Values of Grassroots Democracy and Decentralization, by usurping the authority of the GPCO state council, by sidestepping longstanding democratic process of submitting a proposal to the council according to established procedures, as the remedy established in the GPCO. The “grievance” also asks for GPUS to remove the democratically-elected officers of the GPCO, as a further demonstration of the disregard for the Key Value of Decentralization.
Violation of Key Value of Decentralization
The process for moving proposals within the GPCO is the following: (1) propose and pass something within one’s local; (2) local leadership present the ratified local proposal to the state council (3) the state council votes, and the proposal passes or fails.
These individuals have centered their reactions toward one of our co-chairs, who was originally elected to the position in August 2015 and re-elected in August 2017, in both instances with considerable majority votes. When an individual disagrees with a decision that a co-chair makes, the democratic avenue is to follow the process sketched above to overturn that decision. The other avenue is to present proposals for the floor of the state assembly (annual meeting). Further, if one takes issue with a chair’s leadership, recall proposals are allowed in our state party bylaws.
At no time did these individuals attempt to run a proposal to overturn any decisions of the co-chairs or to recall either co-chairs. They simply opted instead to ask for help from the national party, an “authority” that has no legal standing, either from its own bylaws or from any state statute, to execute what these individuals asked.
Violation of Key Value of Grassroots Democracy
Democratic decisions represent the voice of the majority, even within the context of consensus-based decision making. Either way, democracy needs two ingredients to work: meaningful, ethical participation and communication.
The individuals facing disciplinary proposals simply decided, without communicating their rationale with any other state council member, that they could not “win,” and instead opted to ask the national party to do the following:
- Bar three individuals from membership in the Green Party of Colorado for life, including the current co-chairs,
- Eliminate the democratically-ratified party affiliation requirement in the state party bylaws and delay the annual meeting so sympathetic members could be recruited to attend.
- Appoint a National Committee sub-committee to oversee restoration of the Green Party of Colorado (GPCO).
- De-certify the GPCO and appoint a National Committee sub-committee to oversee the restart and reformation of the GPCO, should the above action not be available, as a last resort.
Should these requests come to fruition, the right of nearly 14,000 Coloradans to affiliate as Greens would be jeopardized. Further, these requests ask the national party to overturn fully democratic decisions made in our state council, and in some cases, in our state party assemblies where rank-and-file Greens participate. We assert that this is a violation of the key value of Grassroots Democracy.
Conversely, every single one of these proposals (as well as all other proposals) have gone through an exhaustive, democratic process. Those facing disciplinary proposals have had full rights of due process as called for in our bylaws. They have had unfettered access to every other state council delegate and could have lobbied on their own behalf at any point. They were allotted extra time to “amend” these proposals by rescinding their support for the grievance or even by accepting repeated offers to enter into a restorative justice process. None of these individuals indicated interest in reconciliation with the majority of our state council. Instead, they redoubled their false accusations and filled our state council discussions and even social media with vitriol and verbal abuse.
There are additional claims that these disciplinary actions are a unilateral move made by a single co-chair of the state party. But proof of the opposite is in the outcome of the democratic vote by the state council. Over 76 percent of the state council (many of them being longtime Green Party of Colorado members and activists) voted to remove these members that have tried to circumvent established democratic conflict resolution.
Violation of Key Value of Respect for Diversity
When considering the undemocratic actions of these longstanding Greens, the question arises: why?
What we know is that these individuals expressed commentary to object to anti-oppression bylaws that were submitted as part of the application to recognize the Longmont Green Party, in February 2017. The two clauses that caused uproar are:
2.2. The Longmont Green Party’s expression of the 7th and 8th Key Values, as well as of the Third Pillar of the Green Party (Social Justice) causes it to declare that we are an anti-oppression party, actively dedicated to the work of challenging white supremacy, cissexism and heteropatriarchy. As such, expressions of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressive behaviors are not in keeping with the values of this party.
2.2.1. Further, the Longmont Green Party explicitly rejects the false ideas that are used to derail social justice movements, such as reverse racism and misandry. While prejudice may exist against white people, against men, against cisgender people, against heterosexual people (or any other privileged group), this prejudice is not oppression because there are no institutional power structures designed to disenfranchise these privileged groups.
Commentary that the Longmont party received on this section of their bylaws ran along the line of the following, voiced by one member that faced disciplinary action.
“Paragraph 2.2 comes across as divisive and negative. It sets a racist tone against whites. The Green Party is about positive messages and unity. A much better approach is to be a positive and welcoming force, such as a statement in favor of equal opportunity, economic system reform, and unity. Using the latest controversial buzzwords seems, in addition, to inflame and divide. Paragraph 2.2.1 takes one opinion on a hot and contested topic in the Green Party and locks it into the bylaws. The result is to exclude anyone who disagrees. Another opinion is that this is also, and even more so, divisive, negative, and racist. The concept that only whites can be racist is a narrow view that is not commonly accepted. It insults, belittles, and excludes those whites who are not advantaged, who are struggling, and who do not hold positions of power. It is the opposite of developing unity. Attempts to redefine racism with the result of immunizing whole groups from being able to be labeled racist seem disingenuous.”
There have been accusations made that these actions are the consequence for dissent. It needs to be stated, however, that not everyone who has dissented has faced a disciplinary proposal; rather, only those people who have signed the “grievance” have faced such proposals. There is still plenty of robust objection to these proposals on our state council, which is completely acceptable within the scope of democracy.
The good news is that even though we have sustained significant turmoil, we are still experiencing significant growth and electoral success. Two of four candidates were just elected to public office. Two of our local chairs have been appointed to arts commissions in their cities. Our Green voter registrations have shown modest growth, and great candidates are stepping forward to proudly run as Greens.
When contemplating actions such as these, there is always trepidation to proceed, especially when dealing with longstanding members of the party. We considered this deeply, and the objective truth is that these particular members have not demonstrated tangible support for the party’s growth. They do not grow their locals. They do not donate to the local, state or national party. They do not contribute to the support of candidates nor recruit anyone for the ballot. In one local’s case, they cannot even fill empty seats on the state council, because there are not enough members in their local. This inertia is of great concern, and the additional dynamic of attempting to break up our state party was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
At the end of the day, the work of the Green Party of Colorado is simply to connect with grassroots movements and to serve as their electoral tool when they’re ready to use it. We must focus on building our state and local parties into effective and engaging teams who understand the role of democracy in organizing. Our communities are hurting, and the Green Party has the solutions to fix what ails them…if we have the courage and discipline to set our house in order.