Building the Green Party of Canada: Issues based communities.

Within the pages of this Blog, I have deliberately kept away from discussing policy, or specific issues. There are some sound reasons for this which I’ll enumerate here:

There are numerous venues extant for discussing, and disseminating green, and Green Party policies and issues. While I may flatter myself that I can add something to that particular discussion, the fact is that there is not much more to be said. I don’t really long to be one of the walls in an echo chamber.
There are almost NO sites dedicated to the dark science of electoral politics. (No, it’s not an art).

Political Science, or Art?

Political Science, or Art?

Especially rare is any serious discussion amongst and between GPC organizers, and campaigners. In my opinion, the lack of such skills has been the single biggest reason that no Greens have been elected to Parliament to date.
If I were to advocate various policy proscriptions, then it will lead many people to pigeonhole me, and not take my advice as seriously as it may merit. ‘Oh yeah, of course bluegreenblogger would say that, after all, he’s a …….(Insert Policy Here), advocate.’
For these reasons, and more, I have focused on the mechanics of electoral politics.

In one or two important respects, this issue free approach is misdirecting my intended audience. The underlying motivation that drives people to vote for, join, donate, or go the whole way and become an activist is probably a sincere, and probably deeply held belief, or ideal.

‘What the blazes’, you are probably thinking. ‘Has bluegreenblogger come over all metaphysical on me?’ I’ll get to the point then. I recently posted a comment on the new Green Spaces forum about a very effective means of building contact lists for the Green Party. That is to collect a petition on a green friendly issue. It is a good idea, and I have seen thousands of names collected by a relatively small group of GPO volunteers in a single weekend. Over the past week or so, I have seen repeated examples of the rather attractive BC STV button, where this single issue is bringing together thousands of activists, volunteers, and donors. Today, I gave some (unsolicited) advice about winning support in a key group of polls within a riding. My advice was all about finding the local issue that really matters and motivates people living in that spot. Then it all kind of came together. Nothing revolutionary, just a very simple means of dramatically growing the ranks of our party membership, activists, donors, and voters.

What motivates YOU?

What motivates YOU?

That is to run a different kind of campaign when the election isn’t there to galvanize the public. That is to focus on issues that can really motivate some people. Electoral reform is one of those issues, as has been demonstrated by the outpouring of support for STV activists in BC. Why is it that we cannot galvanise these people within our Party, instead of in an independant organization? What if we were to empower people to work on the issues that really really matter to them, WITHIN the ranks of the Green Party? I’m talking about the basic tools of modern communications. Forums, email, blogs, and the traditional media. Trippi showed how these tools can be mutually re-inforcing. Trippi also showed how to harness an online community, and mobilise it in the field.  What Trippi didn’t have was a long term commitment from the Dean for America community. When the campaign was over, the whole thing crumbled away.

As a political Party, the Green Party can offer continuity. We can grow, and build on that growth over as long a time as it takes to win power. I will use the STV campaign as an example. It could be almost anything, from stamp collecting, to bird watching, but STV is a great topical, and current example. The Green Party could have created a website focused on Proportional Representation reform in Canada, and presented a compelling policy stance on the issue. There would need to be a Forum associated with the topic, so that those people with a passionate interest in electoral reform could communicate with each other. In addition to that, there should be a blog roll, with the tools in place to allow people to create their own affiliated blogs. Additional social networking capabilities would need to be created, in part to foster the sense of community, and also to enable the community to mobilise for action. Naturally, signup forms, petitions, mailing lists, and calls to action would be needed to ensure that the communities future growth is fostered. Nice pretty links could be created to help fellow travellers to drive interested people to the petitions, and issue websites.

Had we spent some effort in creating such an organization to campaign for the STV in BC, then we might have found a great many supporters joining us of their own accord. By arming them with lots of Green Party STV literature, and mobilising them to ID the vote for STV as well as for the Greens, a significant ground campaign could have been organised. When the campaign was over, win or lose, we would have been left with a motivated group of people prepared to campaign for PR on a national level as well. Not to mention the large lists of petition signers, and people who joined maillists, and the discussion forums during the campaign. This kind of community would simply not stop growing. With a network of blogs, and motivated donors and activists, it would eventually grow into an important issues based site on the web, and should have new adherents on a daily basis.

If you doubt the efficacy of what I am writing about, you need look for proof no further than the Conservative Party of Canada. When Stockwell Day ran for leader, he systematically recruited supporters, and raised money by recruiting Pro-Lifers, creationists, and other communities of highly motivated people. Believe me that the money, and volunteer hours flowed freely from people who believed that their political activism was furthering ‘gods work’. To this day, the most effective tool that the Conservatives employ is issues based fundraising. They know what motivates each and every one of their followers, because they carefully track who responds to which issues when they pitch their donors lists based upon specific issues. When they ask for money, it’s not to pay the salaries of Party functionaries. It’s to stop the dastardly Liberals from doing whatever it is that will motivate that particular mailing list the most.

I had ambitions to make a much more detailed post here. I was going to move on to suggest specific actions, and see if we couldn’t just make it happen without reference to the often sclerotic Green Party of Canada officialdom. The post is already long enough though, so I’ll have to leave my readers in suspense as to how we might be able to do this quickly and cheaply. If you really want to know, then you can go and pick up a copy of ‘The Revolution will not be televised’, by Joe Trippi, and then read it with a view to how this could work to build permanent online communities that were empowered to take their issues offline, and change the world.

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2 Responses

  1. Good and timely piece Bluegreenblogger. The sentiment of frustration that comes through is one that many people in the GPC from staff to candidates to members, including myself, feel.

    While I meddle in policy, I have also written quite a bit about strategy for the GPC, and have spent quite a long time studying communications and campaign strategies over the past couple of months. However, you cannot conduct a rational, reasonable communications/campaign strategy if the leaders of a party don’t want it or feel threatened by it.

    Greg Morrow, the campaign chair of the GPC was working on just that, but left, in large part because of roadblocks to progress. The GPC has lost Mike Nagy, it’s best candidate when measured by who was closest to winning a seat in the last election who resigned not as a candidate, but from the strategic arm of the party. Research Co-ordinator Michael Mcdonald left. Now the communications director, John Bennett is also gone. I have worked for 16 months for the GPC and on 3 campaigns (Vancouver Quadra, Guelph and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock) and as the assistant to the recently campaign manager in the general election and had my employment there terminated as well. Two candidates in the London area, where Elizabeth May ran in a by-election and won 26% have moved to the Liberals since the federal election.

    The way I see it is that the GPC’s strategy in communications is quite simply a media-alone strategy. It’s about pumping out press releases, getting interviews and putting Elizabeth May in situations to get media hits. It involves book tours around the country because they get media attention. While, given Elizabeth May’s strengths in communicating and working with the media, there are two fundamental problems that need to be fleshed out or addressed before the next election, in my opinion.

    1. There needs to be a broadening of the communications strategy. There are essentially no viral campaigns, the website is generally poor quality for users, there are no radio spots or even posters for the GPC. There’s no thinking outside of the box, there’s no shaping of a message to an audience or use of focus groups. So narrow is the strategy that when Canadians are legitimately concerned about the economy, instead of talking about Green jobs or the green economy, the GPC talks about the National Waters Protection Act, something that isn’t, hasn’t been and never will be on the political radar of Canadians. So narrow is the strategy, that the slogan “A Fresh View on Democracy” has been up since the ill-fated coalition talks. This will not work and is costing the GPC votes.

    2. Elizabeth May will not be the media’s darling in the next election. This is for three reasons: Michael Ignatieff will be in his first election, taking the novelty away from Elizabeth May; Elizabeth May blamed the strategic voting fiasco on the media for twisting her words rather than her own refusal to say “vote green”; her new book, Losing Confidence, in essence blames the media for propping up the flaws of Canadian democracy. Would you be nice if you were blamed for these things? Probably not.

    In the end, those who know that a broader, more effective strategy exists to create a political force for the GPC but is simply being ignored, are only left to be, as you are and I am too – frustrated.

  2. Wow!
    That’s a nice synopsis of an echo chamber at work. ‘What worked for the Sierra club is obviously the solution for a Political Party.’
    In one respect I disagree Mark. I never felt that I had to be ‘co-ordinated’ by head office. It would be nice if they put their $$ multi-million budget to work effectively, but it doesn’t take that much money to communicate effectively. I have been somewhat of a dilettante, blogging away, and some small local efforts. I would be far more inclined to do more work if effective channels existed for me to work within. It’s not inconceivable that an effective strategy could be effected by the EDA’s acting in concert. Needless to say, the EDA’s are all pretty gun shy, and I would have to say that mutual distrust is how effective Party units view each other, but a truly open suite of tools to organize, recruit, and communicate could easily gain traction. The major caveat is that it would have to provide clear value to the users, and it would need to be trustworthy, not an attempt to get something for nothing.
    Thanks for the comment.

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