With its numbers down and its stars leaving, a progressive party contemplates its prospects
But many loyal Greens dispute the assertion that their party is on the rocks. "I think the party is going pretty well. It's always an uphill battle building an alternative party," said Erika McDonald, spokesperson for the Green Party of San Francisco, noting that the party plans to put the money it saved on its former Howard Street headquarters space into more organizing and outreach. "The biggest problem is money."
Green Party activist Eric Brooks agrees. "We held onto that office for year and year and didn't spend the money on party building, like we should have done a long time ago," he said. "That's the plan now, to do some crucial party organizing."
Mirkarimi recalls the early party-building days when he and other "Ironing Board Cowboys" would canvas the city on Muni with voter registration forms and ironing boards to recruit new members, activities that fell away as the party achieved electoral successes and got involved with policy work.
"It distracted us from the basics," Mirkarimi said. Now the Green Party has to again show that it's capable of that kind of field work in support of a broad array of campaigns and candidates: "If I want to grow, there has to be a companion strategy that will lift all boats. All of those who have left the Green Party say they still support its values and wish it future success. And the feeling is mostly mutual, although some Greens grumble about how their party is now being hurt by the departure of its biggest names.
"I don't begrudge an ambitious politician leaving the Green Party," said Dave Snyder, a member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District Board of Directors, and one of the few remaining Greens in local government.
But Snyder said he won't abandon the Green Party, which he said best represents his political values. "To join a party means you subscribe to its ideals. But you can't separate its ideals from its actions. Based on its actions, there's no way I could be a member of the Democratic Party," Snyder said.
Current Greens say many of President Obama's actions — particularly his support for Wall Street, a health reform effort that leaves insurance companies in control, and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan — vindicate their position and illustrate why the Green Party is still relevant.
"The disillusionment with Obama is a very good opportunity for us," McDonald said, voicing hope they Green can begin to capture more DTS voters and perhaps even a few Democrats. And Brooks said, "The Obama wake-up call should tell Greens that they should stick with the party."
Snyder also said now is the time for Greens to more assertively make the case for progressive organizing: "The Democrats can't live up to the hopes that people put on them."
Even Peskin agrees that Obama's candidacy was one of several factors that hurt the Green Party. "The liberal to progressive support for the Obama presidency deflated the Greens locally and beyond. In terms of organizing, they didn't have the organizational support and a handful of folks alienated newcomers."
In fact, when Mirkarmi and the other Green pioneers were trying to get the party qualified as a legal political party in California — no small task — Democratic Party leaders acted as if the Greens were the end of the world, or at least the end of Democratic control of the state Legislature and the California Congressional delegation. They went to great lengths to block the young party's efforts.
It turns out that the Greens haven't harmed the Democrats much at all; Democrats have even larger majorities at every legislative level today.
What has happened is that the Obama campaign, and the progressive inroads into the local party, have made the Greens less relevant. In a sense, it's a reflection of exactly what Green leaders said years ago: if the Democrats were more progressive, there would be less need for a third party.