Seven Years in the Hot Seat

Seven Years in the Hot Seat

My reflections as Political Director for the Green Party of the United States
by Brent McMillan

Leaving the position of political director in the fall of 2010, I thought back of when I began working for the Green Party of the United States in February of 2004. The direction that the party would take for the 2004 presidential cycle was already put into motion by the time that I got to Washington, DC. I quickly learned that the best I could do was ride it out and it was going to be a bumpy ride. I was determined the national office would be ‘The Rock upon which the waves crashed’ …and did they crash!

What did I accomplish?

When I look back on what I have accomplished over the time I have been on the national staff, I must first say I didn’t do anything alone. Any success I point to involved a team of people of which I was a part. One of the most important things I did was I survived! I remember Dean Myerson, former political director, saying to me that three years was a long time in this job.

I was on a big learning curve from day one. I was reminded over and over again nothing pays big dividends like restraint of pen and tongue. It’s best to let others have the last word. If you attack those who are attacking you, it only makes them stronger. So let it go. Only make corrections of fact.

I worked to establish the elections database under party control since it was privately controlled when I became Political Director. It took about two years of negotiation to obtain some of the data we wanted, but with the help of Matt Cleveland a new database was built. We expanded the types of information that we track, such as whether a race is partisan/non-partisan, identifying campaign team members, managers and media contacts, and demographic information as such gender, ethnicity, or under 30 years of age. Media especially like to know about young people running for office. http://www.gp.org/elections/candidates/index.php

One of the things that shocked me when I first started was that there was no strategic plan for the party as a whole. The Coordinated Campaign Committee (CCC), to its credit, had created a plan for itself, but the National Committee (then known as the Coordinating Committee) had not. I take great pride in having been a part of the “National Shared Vision Survey” project, which set out to lay a foundation for strategic planning for the Party as a whole. We learned the two most important defining characteristics of the party for Greens in the U.S. are the Ten Key Values and the fact that we don’t take corporate contributions. After those two, there is no consensus.

We also learned there was a lot of support for the national party to get more involved with Ballot Access. The current Ballot Access Committee (BAC) has since become a full committee with it’s own budget line. Another lesson learned from the National Shared Vision Survey was there was a lot of support for a national office and staff, but also a vocal minority in the party, which did not support them.

The creation of the Green Senatorial Campaign Committee (GSCC), the only FEC-recognized committee of its type since the FEC was formed in 1978, started with a conversation between Brent White and myself. I suggested the possibility and White recognized the value of it. John Breshnahan, Senior Congressional Editor for Politico, the largest insider publication in Washington, D.C., later told me, more than anything else we could have done that year this committee sent the strongest message to beltway insiders that the Green Party was serious and here to stay.

When it came to candidate resources I tried to make sure no one who asked for help went away empty handed. When I ran for office in 2003, I reached out to the Coordinated Campaign Committee and put in a lot of time filling out and submitting an application, which was twice lost. In the end I received no help what so ever. Now that I was in a position to do something, I was committed to not have any other candidate go through that situation. In time the CCC developed a solid process for candidate resources, which remains a good example of what can be done. Unfortunately the CCC is currently inactive. (There is an effort underway to resurrect the committee and re-mission it.)

At one point the party was deadlocked and could not get a budget passed. We went a year without one. The lack of strategic planning by the National Committee had the party hamstrung. Working with fellow staff member Emily Citkowski, we developed a case statement and income narrative as part of the following year’s budget and were able to get past the deadlock. There is now an expense narrative, thanks to Jody Grage, as well. We still don’t know have a strategic plan though. :-()

Also Green Party members with axes to grind were attacking our large donors publicly. I put forward a Donor Bill of Rights to protect our donors that was adopted by the National Committee. The concept has continued to expand and develop within the party’s fiscal policy.

Throughout my time as political director, I worked to build relationships with greens internationally and develop a broader conversation. (Our International Committee has mostly been focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict.) You can learn more about the history of these conversations at: http://www.gp.org/staff/mcmillan/history_intl_contacts.pdf. This is especially important in regards to climate change.

In regards to party building, I was actively involved with pursing the affiliation of the Mountain Party of West Virginia as a Green Party affiliate. They joined the DC Statehood Green Party and Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts as state parties that pre-existed the Green Party and go back to the Civil Rights Movement era, and chose to affiliate with us.

By the end of the 2006 electoral cycle, I was exhausted and tried to throw in the towel in early 2007. I had submitted my resignation to the Steering Committee, but they refused to accept it. Instead they asked me to submit a list of grievances, which I did. The SC showed some genuine interest in addressing the grievances and I responded by trying to kick-start the party going into the 2008 presidential cycle.

I had several earlier meetings with then-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in late 2006. Near the end of her last congressional term she offered to work with us on introducing three bills into congress. One was H.R. 1106, the articles of impeachment of George Bush, introduced in December of 2006. Another, H.R. 6381, challenged the Military Commissions Act, which undermines Habeus Corpus.

Going into the 2008 presidential campaign I could see how sluggish the party was and I figured anyone, who tried to bring the party out of it, would be a target for a lot of shenanigans, and was I ever right! For example, there were those that did not want the party to nominate a presidential candidate and they saw me in the way of their agenda. They wanted the party to endorse Ralph Nader instead. So I became a target. If they could take me down, then perhaps they could weaken the party to the point where it would consider endorsing Ralph Nader instead.

Using my own funds I traveled to California for the Strategic Planning Retreat. Cynthia McKinney came to the retreat and I had the honor of introducing her. From there I went north to Seattle and then on to the San Juan Islands where I learned about current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ involvement in an election spyware scam in Washington State. An area county councilman gave me information I took back to Washington, DC. I met with Sam Smith, who broke the story. I would later present this information to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly Election Seminar in September of 2008. Joao Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was so impressed with the presentation I was invited back to be the keynote speaker the Friday night before the November 2008 election. This time I spoke about high-level Republican operative Michael Connell’s role in the vote theft in Ohio in 2004. (That weekend a federal judge would depose Michael Connell. Did my talk have an impact? I’ll probably never know.)

The early greens put out a Green Organizing Kit in 1991-92. I had purchased a copy of it at the time and held onto it. Through the Fundraising Committee, and with the help of David Doonan and Karen Young, we developed an updated, online digital version of it – available for free to anyone with Internet access. I hope to see this maintained and updated to reflect additional experience. http://www.gp.org/organize/organize-kit/index.php

I expanded access to the virtual aspects of the party by providing limited ftp access to committee representatives who were authorized to update their respective committee pages at gp.org. I also worked to achieve greater transparency of the donor database. Work is finally underway to move it to DIA/Salsa.

Upon being promoted to Executive Director I made the effort to create an archive system for storing the information related to my job – the organization of my weekly work reports, my email account, short term storage of hard copy information and long term archival storage. As Executive Director I worked to develop coherent dialogue and accountability between staff members. Instead of maintaining separate little fiefdoms, now communication among staff members is the norm.

I helped build our presence in Washington, D.C. by serving on the Board of Advisers to the Transpartisan Alliance. I took part in several retreats including the American Citizen’s Summit in Denver, Colorado. “Transpartisan” means more than “bipartisan” and may soon represent the outlook of the majority of Americans. We worked on creating a safe space for a dialogue for people all across the political spectrum willing to participate. To learn more: http://network.transpartisan.net/

For spreading the word about the Green Party, I made several presentations at colleges, including, for seven years in a row, to a George Washington University masters level Political Management class, and was considered one of the most popular speakers by the students. I also attended several presentations at The Center for American Progress. This gave me the opportunity to meet several notable individuals. One of the more memorable is the Nobel Prized winning economist Paul Krugman. I also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Joschka Fisher, former German foreign minister and Vice Chancellor.

What did I learn about GPUS?

We can’t rest on our laurels. What is getting done today? People quickly forget what has been accomplished. No matter what is done, it will be wrong in somebody’s eyes. Perfectionism is a form of sloth. It leads to thinking like, “If I can’t do it perfectly than I won’t do it.” You can’t outwork the problem. Can you live with this and do your work? If the answer is yes, than you might want to consider leadership at the national level.

I was on a big learning curve from day one. I was reminded over and over again nothing pays big dividends like restraint of pen and tongue. It’s best to let others have the last word. If you attack those who are attacking you, it only makes them stronger. So let it go. Only make corrections of fact.

I have been amazed at how vulnerable we are to bullies, destructive critics (trolls), power-politickers and the like. The amount of damage they can do is staggering. I have also been amazed how many people put personalities before principles. For a serious political party we need to put principles before personalities.

GPUS is a target – I have learned: the FBI, State Police Departments, Fusion Centers, numerous Corporations (such as Monsanto), organizations like the NRA, as well as, organizations further to the left have all tried to bring down the Green Party. We need to get more sophisticated in how to deal with this. I have worked with people knowledgeable about this kind of targetting and have learned a lot. We need to develop better security. I now use a shredder both at home and at work. We need to learn about and to put into place encryption technology. Also we need to have an education campaign within the party leadership about how to deal effectively with both corporate and government infiltration and espionage. Are they one and the same?

I have learned about our relationship with other Green Parties worldwide. There have been some surprises. We are the largest Green Party in the World! But because we have a winner take all system you wouldn’t know it. We, especially the staff, are more sophisticated when it comes to fundraising than we think. Most Green parties rely on subsides.

The Green Party in the U.S. has a lot of un-actualized potential. We are so close to a major breakthrough. Yet, up until now, we can’t seem to allow ourselves to do so. Yes, that’s right, I believe that this is an inside job. We are the ones holding ourselves back. Why are we afraid of succeeding?

In 2006 there wasn’t a week that went by I didn’t work at least 50 hours. As I mentioned before, you can’t out-work the situation. At the end of the year, when I looked in the mirror, it wasn’t my father’s face that I saw; it was my grandfather’s. I damned near worked myself to death. I have not worked that hard since. No matter how hard I work there are others who will work just as hard to undermine or block that work. I have learned to relax and not take things so seriously. I still do the work, but as an expression of who I am and what I value. To argue about process, is to lose. We need a better sense of priorities.

Where do I think we should be headed?

We need to develop our story. In many cases it has been the losers in our internal political conflicts that have been spinning our story. It’s a story that is neither flattering nor honest.

I have some ambivalence about the national level. For all intents and purpose we really no longer have a federal government. One way I have heard it put, we are a country pretending to be another country. Most of our needs are met at the local, state or regional levels. We need to do more organizing at those levels.

But keep a national office and at least one full time staff person, preferably three or four. In order to be taken seriously, we need that presence in Washington, DC. We need it for several other reasons as well. See the Case Statement in the Budget. http://www.gp.org/documents/budget/2011/2011-Case-Statement-Final.pdf. The Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision has made the Federal level even more out of reach. There needs to be more critical analysis about which higher-level races are worth contesting. Our tickets are top heavy. We need to encourage more Greens to run for local level offices, including for state legislature.

The United States of America was a tool of the empire builders. Those empires are now so large that they really don’t need the construct anymore. In many ways that Federal level has grown irrelevant to people’s lives. Corporations are busy dismantling anything meaningful left at that level. When it comes to consumer protection and environmental issues, the state level is becoming more and more relevant. However some bigger races are relevant to attaining Ballot Access.

The State Committee and National Committee will have to take more responsibility for fundraising. What other national board of any kind takes so little interest in fundraising? You can’t find one.

Moving to a serious effort to build a political party is a cultural question not one of better bylaws, policies and procedures. It is about building relationships with people. We need to build both from within and without. How can we attract good people? There is a major need for skill building.

We need to learn how to discern the difference between dissent and sabotage. We need better security in general. We need better communications skills, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills.

There is a need for delegates to show greater strength of character by acting on principles, rather than reacting to personalities – to judge proposals based on their merits, rather than their authors. How can we build a civil society otherwise? How can we build a party that attracts folks with the skills and character to provide leadership? And yes, leadership is not a dirty word. For us it’s different, but we need to define how it’s different. Leadership by example.

With multiple crises facing the country, we need to show the Green Party has relevant solutions. As we move from a monetary based economy to a resource-based economy, from an extractive economy to a reconstructive/regenerative one, how will we function differently? To whom should we be reaching out? In my prospecting work I have reached out to folks involved in the Transition Town Movement, the Permaculture Movement (one of my more successful prospect mailings was to the Permaculture Activist, which brought in 40 new donors off that one small mailing) and small business people in general (neither titanic party represents them). I think the country is headed toward a network of independent freeholds and municipalities that will be relevant to how we meet our future needs. Let’s position ourselves accordingly.

Regrettably, I don’t know how to sugar coat this one other than just come right out and say it: The Steering Committees have been appallingly dysfunctional! We do attract some good people, but listen to some of the steering committee calls. What is going on here? Structurally, what is wrong? Culturally, what is wrong? This is not working. The system needs to be revisited and changed. There is little to no competition in our Steering Committee elections. Basically, whoever shows up gets elected. There is almost no discussion of ideas about the way the party should run during the elections. How can we encourage a better pool of candidates?

Also National Committee delegates are amazingly disconnected. They see GPUS as something separate from themselves. Why? What can be done about it? National Committee delegates need to address this for themselves. Who else is going to do it? The Officeholders Network needs development. Currently there is a Green Officeholders listserv, but that’s it. There needs to be more communication between our officeholders and the National Committee, with the NC doing most of the listening.

As part of this, we need to develop the educational wing of the party to train delegates, officeholders and others taking leadership roles. I have often thought about creating a ‘Green Leadership Institute’, a 501C3 or 501C4. There has been some institutional development around the party, but overall support for our officeholders is still largely non-existent.

We need to resurrect the Coordinated Campaign Committee and re-mission it with a real budget. It can be an effective tool for recruiting and helping candidates to run for local level office, including state legislature. Campaign Schools are important. Historically the CCC did a great job of creating online resources.

We need to continue to develop a strong independent party. We need to learn how to maintain our political identity, but reach out effectively to like-minded folks. Isolationism will get us nowhere.

There is currently no labor advisory board/leadership council to speak of. We need more outreach to labor unions and organizations in general. Who was involved in the Labor Party? We should actively reach out to them. I have had some good meetings in Washington, D.C. with labor leaders, but it needs to go beyond that to the local and state levels. I have also heard some appalling stories from labor leaders about interactions with state level Green Party leadership. Awareness needs to be a raised about how to successfully communicate and interact.

There also needs to be more outreach to environmental groups. Some have reached out to us. I kept ongoing conversations with some in Washington, D.C., including GreenPeace, which also faces the same security issues that we do.

The Green Party needs to learn to increase our communications in general: we have a need for more open discussion on development, better tools, etc. We need regular outreach, perhaps regularly scheduled online shows and discussions. Overall we need a lot of technical development at the state and local level. Who knows how to do online broadcasts? Who has the equipment to be able to do so? We are in our infancy in this regard.

Final thoughts

I walk away knowing that I gave what I had to give. I needed a good challenge and I got it. I drew from a wealth of life experience and the job demanded access to every bit of it. John Breshnahan, Senior Congressional Editor for Politico once confided in me that he thought that I had one of the most amazing skill sets that he have ever seen within anyone inside the beltway. That was high praise indeed.

I was a lightening rod. There are critics that would try to convince you I was the scum of the earth. There was a lot of projecting and shadowing going on. I experienced everything from assault and battery to libel and slander. I think there are those that want the title, the recognition but without the work. Bullies tend to go after the most competent. They see them as the highest threat. For that I suppose I should be flattered. No doubt there was also some real sabotage going on. It’s clear to me the party, as a whole became a target for both corporate and government espionage following the Ohio Recount in 2005. After Greens/Libertarians and other election integrity activists turned over massive amounts of evidence to the U.S. Justice Department of election fraud, we became the target, instead of those undermining our democracy.

We also faced a lot of disruption from competing forces. Without going into detail here, those that did not want the Green Party to nominate a presidential candidate went to great lengths to disrupt us and they came from many camps. There needs to be a larger arena of allies within the Green Party. The national committee as a whole has yet to take up it’s role in furthering the development of the Green Party. There are individuals that do.

I am now taking the opportunity to step back, to try to integrate what I have learned over the last seven years and to figure out how to put this into practice. I will not be doing that alone. I encourage others who have been around awhile to step back with me. Let’s give some of the younger folks in the party the opportunity to focus on the day-to-day activities. We need to do some major re-visioning and to figure out how to tell our story. Let’s not let those, who do not want us to be successful, who have a less than generous opinion, be the ones to tell our story. I think that it’s too important.

5 thoughts on “Seven Years in the Hot Seat

  1. YOu have created a personal and political memoir a study of a period in American political history that is invaluable and surely will be the foundation of a discussion about the Green Party because you are the first to relate about what it means and the responsed from established political forces about the Green movement and the largest in the world as you stated,Bravo,Brent,Bravo.

  2. Thank you for your contributions and insight. I’ve been involved for nearly 20 years and understand how hard a GP leadership position can be.

    Peace and good luck with whatever comes next.

    Brian
    Portland, Oregon

  3. I was a delegate from Montana to the 2004 nominating convention, and later (after several years of bickering over the Montana Green Party’s accrediting), on the National Committee for several years until 2009. I must say, I wasn’t one of Brent’s big supporters, and never could figure out why he had these positions. His post above fills in most of those gaps.
    He’s right about factions within the party trying to undermine his work, and that of other leaders like David Cobb, Pat LaMarche, and others. From 2002 to 2009, I spent about 30 hrs/week preparing and publishing the Montana Green Bulletin, which many of you will remember, and made a lot of friends all over the country, many of whom I still interact with on a daily basis – Green Change, Liberty Tree, Action Greens, and other lists which I still participate in.
    For all my work here in Montana, I had a similar experience to Brent’s – it ruined my life, blacklisted me, many Democrat friends no longer speak to me, etc. And worst of all, I never managed to “convert” or attract more than a handful of people to become Greens, and even those few (maybe 5 or less) never joined either the state or national party. They would read what I sent them, and occasionally respond, and now I’m Facebook friends with many of them, but we have no interest in participating in a state or national Green Party as such. It just wasn’t worth it. Whatever we do to change, it will be under some other banner.

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