Dorothy H. Engel, North Carolina Green Party
“Grassroots democracy” often is the first value in our Green Party list of ten. However, there is little doubt of its importance to the over all beliefs of the party.
The voting apparatus in this country is based on the Electoral College—a group of selected persons who are charged with the responsibility of casting their particular state’s electoral votes. The candidate with the most electoral votes wins the election. As we saw in the fiasco of the 2000 election, the candidate with the most votes did not win the election, but the candidate with the most electoral votes won. How did we get saddled with this system in the first place?
Our founding fathers were concerned the method of selecting the president must be independent of state legislatures, Congress and popular majorities. They formed the Electoral College—whereby each state was to appoint as many electors as it had members of Congress, and the electors were then to elect a president to serve for four years. The appointment of the electors is driven by party politics, and thus became a part of the machinery of each political party. Ordinary citizens only had a voice through their vote, but the electors who made up the Electoral College determined who was elected.
The grassroots movement began in an effort to bring the concerns of ordinary people into mainstream politics. Candidates with a populist message began speaking about the needs of ordinary people, often organizing their campaigns in the kitchens and backrooms of their communities. Many of them made speeches on soapboxes in the town square, promising to bring the needs of common citizens, farmers, minorities, and laborers to Washington. Today, grassroots democracy means empowering individuals to organize locally in order to bring about changes. Some examples of grassroots organizing include distributing literature door-to-door or in public gathering spots such as supermarkets and festivals, letter writing campaigns, and attendance at city or county council meetings. The Internet is the most recent addition to grassroots organizing.
Top-down election control is the antithesis of grassroots organizing. This is the use of money or power or both to manipulate elections and place candidates in office that will carry out the agenda of the perpetrators. Corporate powerbrokers simply pour enough money into a campaign so their candidates subvert the wishes of the populace when they get in office. One primary reason George Bush is in the White House is he had more money at his disposal than any other political candidate in history.
The Green Party itself was formed as a part of a grassroots effort and continues to use those organizing principles to carry its message. Greens should not despair, because all the money and resources of the big political parties only buys media manipulation and the willingness to cast a vote for a particular candidate.
Grassroots organizing means involving people in a much greater level of activity—citizens becoming activists. By using those ideas at all levels—locally, statewide, and nationally—the party will grow and bring its values into mainstream politics.