The decline of the San Francisco Green Party

Both the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Bay Guardian have pieces today concerning the declining stature of San Francisco’s Green Party since early last decade.  They are very interesting – even if they are somewhat discouraging – and well worth a read.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Even in famously liberal San Francisco, the Green Party is hurting.

The city’s Greens had their heyday seven years ago when the party—which trumpets its commitment to environmentalism and nonviolence—boasted 15,000 registered voters and a serious mayoral candidate in Matt Gonzalez, then the Board of Supervisors president.

Now the party is at an intersection. Membership has dropped to 9,000. Mr. Gonzalez, who eventually lost a mayoral runoff to Gavin Newsom, left the party in 2008 to run for vice president on Ralph Nader’s independent ticket. And donations to the local party dropped so much that in October, it closed down its headquarters in the city’s South of Market neighborhood—and auctioned off the art in the office.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” says Green Party spokeswoman Erika McDonald. “It’s never been easy building an alternative.”

And the more lengthy and history-based article from the Bay Guardian:

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.”

13 thoughts on “The decline of the San Francisco Green Party

  1. Gene Berkman

    The Green Party has a hard time in San Francisco because it cannot position itself to the “left” of the Democrats. SF Democrats are to the left of Democrats even in the rest of California, so there is little space left for a Green Party.

    I don’t know if Matt Gonzalez actually left the Green Party to run on Nader’s ticket. A big element of the Green Party, along with several socialist groups involved in the Green Party continued to support Nader in 2004 & 2008.

  2. Trent Hill

    Matt Gonzales DID leave the Greens, he had to in order to get on the ballot in some states as an independent.

  3. Ross Levin Post author

    From the Bay Guardian article:

    Gonzalez left the Green Party in 2008, changing his registration to DTS when he decided to be the running mate of Nader in an independent presidential campaign. That move was partly necessitated by ballot access rules in some states. But Gonzalez also thought Nader needed to make an independent run and let the Green Party choose its own candidate, which ended up being former Congress member Cynthia McKinney.

    “I expressly said to Nader that I would not run with him if he sought the Green Party nomination,” Gonzalez told us. “The question after the campaign was: is there a reason to go back to the Green Party?”

    Gonzalez concluded that there wasn’t, that the Greens had ceased to be a viable political party and that it “lacks a certain discipline and maturity.” Among the reasons he cited for the party’s slide were infighting, inadequate party-building work, and the party’s failure to effectively counter criticisms of Nader’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.

    “We were losing the public relations campaign of explaining what the hell happened,” he said.

  4. joell

    Board Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, the most powerful elected GP member in the country , endorsed Obama.

    and when “safe states” and many other questionable actions , thought out the country are factored in, its difficult not to conclude the GP is just a subsidiary of the democratic party.

  5. Gene Berkman

    Ross, I am an active Libertarian, but I live in California and know people in San Francisco.

    The article from the WSJ does say “…many San Francisco liberals have come to believe that the local Democratic Party is a good fit for them.” That was my main point.

    I did not read the whole article originally, and missed the point about Matt Gonzalez registering Decline to State. He had still been in the Green Party when he campaigned for Dennis Kucinich in 2004 & 2008.

    And Peter Camejo remained in the Green Party when he ran on Nader’s ticket in 2004. The International Socialist Organization and Solidarity both promoted the Green Party and Ralph Nader for President in 2004 & 2008.

  6. Trent Hill

    It is sad to see one of the strongest city-wide third parties in the nation experience such a decline. Portland (Maine), Madison (Wisconsin), D.C., and Berkeley (CA) are some of the other strongest states. Neither the CP nor the LP have similarly strong bases of support. The closest thing the LP has is Alaska or New Hampshire, but while those have historically been kind to the LP–they have long since declined. The CP can always depend upon better results in Utah than anywhere else.
    Furthermore, the GP is in a league all-it’s-own in terms of actual electoral and governing success. The CP can claim only only 15 or so elected officials, and no one (currently) higher than a Mayor of a town of 15,000 people (though they did once a state legislator in Montana, Rick Jore).
    The LP, while it seems to have a similar number of elected officials to the Green Party, or a slight edge, has not been able to concentrate those victories in certain areas as the GP has, which means the LP official is generally either useless or can get very little done because he is just one vote. While HISTORICALLY, the LP has the advantage because of it’s 12 state legislators (mostly in Alaska and New Hampshire), they currently have nothing close to that. Indeed it has been a decade since they had a state legislator–the last was Vallaincourt in New Hampshire, who was elected a decade ago. The GP elected John Eder of Maine in 2006 and the CP had Rick Jore in Montana, also in 2006. The LP’s only legislative body-majority was Big Water, Utah–which consisted of only 400 people. The Libertarians of that city council were led by Alex Joseph, an admitted polygamist and morman fundamentalist.

    So there’s your romp through election statistics for today.

    The Green Party in San Francisco has an impressive history and I expect to see it on the upswing again soon.

  7. Trent Hill

    At the very beginning of the article I said “some of the other strong states” when I obviously meant “cities” or “localities”.

    One of the major reasons for the GP’s electoral clumps (large degrees of success in geographical pockets like San Francisco or Madison) is because their ideology lends itself far more to Urban voters. Large cities are naturally going to be a Green Party constituency. This works in their favor because these large urban areas have largely been abandoned by Republicans over the years, so in some areas (like SF or D.C.) the Greens are competing only to be the 2nd party, not the 3rd.

  8. Dennis

    The problem with the Greens on a national level is that they associate themselves with fringe candidates who are exiles of the Democratic Party. Namely Cynthia McKinney. I left the Greens after she was nominated their presidential candidate. Those more level-headed Greens, like Matt Gonzalez, tend to shy away from McKinney and her cronies. Thus, McKinney is publicly associated with the Greens, while Matt Gonzalez is ignored or associated as an independent.

    The Green Party is dead.

  9. Billy Cobb

    Sanctimoniousness won’t get you anywhere, in any field. That’s what happened to the Green Party.

  10. Don Lake .......... Notariety for the rest of the century

    Ya think military veterans, in general and as anti war allies, might be a good group to connect with ?????? In 2005, at the invitation of state officers, I tried [on 300 occasions] to contact potential green ‘abused veteran work group’ activists.

    May be two dozen responses, and mostly from folks we happened to catch by the phone on our telephone attempt! Uninitiated contacts, out of 300 attempts, a mere hand ful.

    GPCa, there is no there, there!

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