By Brian Bittner, Maryland Green Party
The next generation of Green Party organizers is on thousands of high school and college campuses around the country.Hundreds of groups are already organized and holding events, recruiting students, and offering hope for training future leaders of Green Party states and locals and the Green Party of the United States. They have spearheaded efforts for fair wages and labor standards for university employees, advocated for fair trade in university stores and dining halls, fought for improved environmental policies in residences, and resisted military recruitment on campus.
Yet there is no committee, caucus or working group within the structure of the GP-US whose purpose is to organize on their behalf. We have left the coordination of these hundreds of groups to an independent body called Campus Greens—an unaffiliated non-profit 501(c)(4) organization, which has provided some level of support, but is legally prohibited from partisan political organization.
Many students know they have an affinity with Green Party values and want to make an impact, but have no experience in setting agendas and leading campaigns. National organization can provide advice from experienced Campus Green leaders and contact with existing student groups who can serve as models for successful campaigns. Campus Greens leaders can only contribute until they graduate. A network of contacts of experienced individuals who can facilitate this turnover of leadership or revitalize a once-organized group is absolutely necessary. National coordination can turn several separate projects into a regional or national success story.
Organizational support from the GPUS can help Campus Greens thrive. Campus Greens can also help organize support that our national and state Green Parties need. College campuses are a massive, mostly untapped pool of progressive, creative energy looking for options beyond the corporate alternatives. Student groups can strengthen our local and state Green Parties by inviting candidates to campus, holding voter registration drives on campus, and sponsoring educational discussions, film screenings, and debates. A few volunteers can collect several hundred ballot access signatures in an hour in a student union during lunch.
The GPUS’s lack of campus organization is based partially on an idea that political groups are not allowed to organize on campus. This is not true. While hundreds of Campus Greens are organized across the country, thousands of college Democrat and college Republican groups have been working for decades. Karl Rove himself chaired the College Republicans as a student in the 1970s. If Greens remove themselves from campus organization, politically minded students have no choice but to join the campus affiliates of corporate parties.
There are a few simple steps students, faculty members, parents, and local Green Party leaders can take to provide opportunities for Campus Greens.
1. Contact your state and local Green Party and the Green Party of the United States. They can provide contacts to existing groups and resources for getting others involved.
2. Contact school administrators about the policies regarding new student clubs. Most universities have an office that coordinates student groups. The main office at your local high school can provide guidelines for starting a student club. Many offices have written the requirements up as an easy-to-follow checklist.
3. Find students who are interested in joining a Campus Greens group. Admin istrations may require a number of students to sign a petition to form a group. Talk to friends or use social networking websites to organize a group of students. Many members of a school’s College Democrat club might be willing to join. Look for members at environmental clubs, service groups, Amnesty International chapters, philosophy clubs, and GBLT groups. Most students who live on campus have their mail delivered to the same post office on campus—use state and local contact lists to find groups of people who are registered to vote from this address.
4. Advertise. Hang fliers around campus. Many schools allow groups to use university facilities to hold interest meetings. If not, advertise interest meetings at a local coffee shop or bookstore.
5. Most groups will need a faculty advisor to sponsor a Campus Greens group. Call local Greens you know who teach at universities or high schools and ask them to sponsor a group. If you don’t know anyone at your school, ask department heads or administrators to suggest someone who might be interested.
6. Ask your representatives to the Green National Committee to support efforts to organize Campus Greens under the framework of GPUS. If the Green Party works together to support the next generation of Green leaders and activists, no student will fall victim to Ralph Nader’s warning to the youth of America: “I hear you saying often that you’re not turned on to politics. The lessons of history are clear and portentous. If you do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on you.”
Brian Bittner was a faculty advisor to Towson University (Maryland) Campus Greens. He is Maryland Green Party membership coordinator and GPUS office assistant. firstname.lastname@example.org.