Does anyone take the Green Party seriously?
Their Cincinnati City Council candidate finished last among 27 candidates in 2001. They have $56.14 in their bank account, and their Web site hasn't been updated in more than a year.
Ten people attended the party's Jan. 7 meeting in the basement of a Hartwell apartment building. That's a major growth spurt since November — two more people.
"Wow," says Gwen Marshall, the group's treasurer and quasi-leader. "This is really cool. We haven't had this many people come since we moved into my basement."
Welcome to the roots of grassroots politics — the 18-month-old Southwest Ohio Green Party (SWOHGP), which is struggling to become more than a tiny club for devoted progressives. Tonight those devotees are a couple of University of Cincinnati graduate students, a handful of teachers and a few older citizens.
Nationally, the Green Party is slowly growing. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and running mate Winona LaDuke got 2.74 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential race, which certainly brought some new faces to the party. That same year 274 Greens ran in 34 states. Thirty-five won, including 16 in city council races, mostly in smaller California cities, according to Green Pages, a national party publication.
But it takes more than good intentions to overcome lack of money and name recognition, as Green candidate Wes Flinn discovered during the Cincinnati City Council race. A graduate student at the College-Conservatory of Music, Flinn went to church festivals, held a fundraiser at a Northside bar and used his trombone as a prop — the "horn for change." Both daily papers mentioned or profiled him, but the coverage didn't translate into votes.
At the Jan. 7 meeting, Marshall and Donna Liest, the meeting's facilitator, sit at a small table, surrounded by bicycles, coin-operated washers and bare-bulb lighting. Marshall transcribes comments into a decade-old Apple laptop while members efficiently cut through the night's agenda.
One participant promises to get help updating the Web page, which still encourages visitors to vote for Nader in 2000. They decide to endorse non-Green candidates case-by-case. They debate a contentious issue for Green Party chapters across the country: Should the party concentrate on politics or on educating the public through issue-oriented activism?
That question caused a division into two Green camps in 1996, when Nader first ran for President. The Green Party of the United States comes from Nader supporters who wanted to create change by winning political offices. The other faction, the Green Party of the United States of America (GPUSA) instead wanted to educate the general public via forums and activism.
Eric Wise, one of the teachers at the Jan. 7 meeting, issues a reality check at the meeting: The SWOHGP probably isn't going to have a winning candidate for years, if not decades.
Therefore, he says, why not focus more on getting the party's message out through position papers or other forums on specific issues, such as alternative energy? The party should still run candidates, Wise says, trying to broaden political debates and educate people rather than win elections.
"That might have some resonance with individuals," he says.
The others seem to agree.
The Green Party continues to grow in more progressive states, such as California. But it's still a struggle here. Flinn is in the middle of a nationwide job search. If he leaves, so does the SWOHGP's only experienced candidate.
Nader is scheduled to speak at Xavier University in March — not as a candidate, but in his previous role as a consumer advocate. Marshall hopes Nader's appearance translates into greater local awareness of the party. About 170 people subscribe to the SWOHGP's regular e-mail announcements.
Despite his dismal finish, Flinn still holds hope for local Green politicians. He learned a lot during his campaign.
"There is a progressive community in Cincinnati, and if we are able to get them on the same page, we really can change things," he says.
For more information about the SWOHGP, e-mail [email protected], call 513-761-6978 or write SWOHGP, 243 Parkway Ave. #3, Cincinnati, OH 45216.