A time for us?
Strategic planning takes action
By Karen Young, Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States
It’s hard not to just turn off the news these days and keep believing we still have a chance to turn this world around. On my bad days, I fall back on a theory espoused recently by the great labor organizer and writer Steve Lerner. If faced with the apocalypse he said he could become a survivalist or “double down on the crazy, improbable notion that the very things threatening the world create the opportunity to save it. This may be the time … to win transformational change precisely because the economic, environmental and political systems are unsustainable.”
People are warming to the idea of real political change. Nearly three quarters of Americans in an October poll from the Pew Center said they’d like to replace “most” members of Congress. Many say they’d support a “viable third party.” While becoming “viable” in Americans’ minds is a tall order for any “third party,” the present moment is still a giant opportunity for the Green Party.
We need to get way beyond where we are to take advantage of that opportunity. I believe if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I’ve done strategic planning at several organizations where I served as a board member. When I was elected to the Steering Committee of the Party in the summer of 2012, I began looking around for support for this endeavor. We created a Strategic Planning Working Group and started our journey in January 2013.
Building A Plan That Works
The Green Party is a decentralized organization with a great commitment to democracy, which often means that decisions take a long time, and actions even longer. We’ve made several unsuccessful attempts at strategic planning at the national level over the years. We needed to do things differently this time, to design and carry through a process that builds unity and excitement about the possibilities, and gets people to act. We are proud of both the process and the product that we’ve generated so far, and we believe that ultimately it will work—if party members commit themselves to working together toward our common goals.
The Strategic Planning Working Group
We began by gathering a diverse group of 22 committee members and advisors. They came from 16 states and every region of the country; 6 were persons of color. Most had some experience with strategic planning. I am a co-chair of the committee, along with two remarkable women who have also put many, hours into this effort: Hillary Kane of Pennsylvania, and Starlene Rankin of California.
The Process: Gathering Data
We began with a couple of stakeholder surveys. 729 Green Party members and supporters from all over the country took our general survey, and 85 state party leaders took our state party leader survey. We also interviewed representatives from seven international Green Parties, as well as the U.S. Libertarian party, to learn how their experiences and structures compared to ours.
It made us hopeful to learn that back in 2004, the Green Party of Canada was not much bigger than GPUS is now. Even though they also are hobbled by a “winner take all” system, they have elected a Member of Parliament and play a much bigger role now in the country’s politics.
The Process: Analysis
After looking at all the data, we discovered some points of unity among our members, including what they found most valuable about GPUS. We then wrote a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). We thought deeply about how to use our existing strengths to exploit opportunities, and how we might attack our weaknesses and the external threats we face.
The Picture Develops
We presented a draft plan to members in July 2013, in advance of our National Meeting.
In addition to a narrative containing our analysis, and a plan containing our goals, objectives and action items, we presented a mission and vision statement. We attempted to capture the key themes that survey takers expressed about what they felt the party’s mission was or should be, and why they were supporters.
We presented the plan at our Annual National Meeting in Iowa City in July. We had both breakout and large group sessions to discuss members’ reactions to the plan, and received a great deal of good feedback and further ideas about how we could reach our goals.
We continue the process of refining the plan and getting it approved. Once that’s done, we get to the really hard part: implementation.
The Plan: Five Key Goals
While details of the objectives and action plans remain to be worked out, we’ve identified these five key goals.
- Increasing Membership and Diversity
- Running and Electing More Candidates
- Achieving More Positive Awareness of the Party
- Closer Ties with Movements / Stronger Issue Advocacy
- Structure More Aligned with Our Goals
Here’s some of the action items we’ve suggested to achieve those goals.
Increasing Membership and Diversity
To help recruit and retain diverse members, we plan to train and encourage people of color and youth to hold leadership positions. We plan to offer more support for diverse members to attend our national meeting. We want to have more social and cultural events, and celebrate the good work our members are doing.
Running and Electing More Candidates
We’ll develop a national electoral strategy, and build capacity to give significant support to those candidates and races that can help us grow the most. It’s also critical to put more effort into addressing the structural obstacles to success as a “third party,” both to improve our chances of winning elections, and to gain more credibility with and support from voters who only know the two-party system. We plan to develop a national strategy to support electoral reforms like Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and public financing, and include legislative and judicial approaches to improving ballot access.
Creating More Positive Awareness
We’ll promote success stories from our officeholders and candidates so people can see the Green Party is more than an idea —we’re actively engaged in government. We’ve begun fundraising for a rebranding campaign, to develop a new visual identity. In 2014, we expect to be working on several fronts to greatly improve our web presence.
Closer Ties to Movements
There are so many issues where Greens and the general public agree on what’s needed—like national health care—but government refuses to even consider our ideas.
We need to be more effective at issue advocacy and policy development. These are labor-intensive activities that are a real stretch for us, at both the local and national levels. But we must do more to develop and promote our own policy ideas, in concert with the people who are most left out of the current political process. And we need to find ways to work with other movement groups in coalitions on key issues.
Structure Aligned With Our Goals
We depend heavily on volunteers to organize and carry out much of the national party’s work. We want to offer leadership training in areas like meeting facilitation and project management for our committee chairs. We plan to add a Nominating Committee to help recruit Steering Committee leaders from more diverse communities, and with a broader range of skills and experience.
Can We Do It?
Greens are accustomed to doing more with less. We’ve put a good scare into numerous election opponents working with almost nothing. We’ve shown we can win elections, if we’re only outspent 10 to 1. The stubbornness that has kept our core members on board, despite being ignored or laughed at, will serve us well as we get the plan off the ground. We’re not naïve about the great challenges we face as a “third party.” But as Greens, we’ve made a commitment to work for real political change. Other Green Parties around the world, even in countries with “winner take all” systems, have made a real impact. With a plan, we have a better chance of doing the same in this country.