A week before the June primary, Barry Hermanson and John-Marc Chandonia, two prominent members of the San Francisco Green Party, decided to conduct an ad hoc experiment. They chose two precincts within the Haight-Ashbury District and saturated just one of them with fliers — a task that required about two hours of climbing stairs, opening mail boxes, lifting doormats, and slipping papers between metal grates.

After election day, Chandonia analyzed the results. Fliering didn't really affect voter turnout for the Green Party, he says, noting that it was about the same for the untouched precinct as for the targeted one. That said, overall turnout increased by 10 percent.

Hermanson, who was running a subdued campaign for Congress, found the results heartening. "It's a small sample size, and I'd wait until we have the resources to do six, or eight, or 10 precincts," he says. "But it would be extraordinary if we could increase turnout by 10 percent, just by dropping literature."

That's enough to move the needle, even for a political party that's become more of a splinter group. The question, of course, is where the resources to distribute fliers will come from.

Hermanson and Chandonia presented their findings at last week's member meeting, held in a stuffy third-floor chamber of the Redstone building on 16th and Capp streets. Nine people attended, not including two endorsement seekers, a newspaper reporter, and Chandonia's two young daughters, who busied themselves drawing "Gren Parte" signs in crayon. Other nonprofits held livelier meetings across the hall, while a black-box theater company rehearsed downstairs.

The Green Party had suffered an emphatic defeat on June 3, with gubernatorial candidate Luis Rodriguez earning 2 or 3 percent in San Francisco of the state vote, and Secretary of State candidate David Curtis garnering 6.6 percent. The mood was one of somber resignation.

It wasn't always this way.

The Green Party was founded in Europe during the 1970s by do-gooders who embraced environmentalism, social justice, and labor equality. (Hermanson interpreted those values rather broadly in his recent congressional campaign, in which he stumped for a free Palestine, tuition-free colleges, and the elimination of homelessness, among other things.) At one point, Greens were considered a viable third party to Democrats and Republicans — and in progressive cities like San Francisco, they actually were.

Eleven years ago, in fact, the Green Party was enjoying a renaissance in this city. Then-Supervisor Matt Gonzalez was running a formidable mayoral campaign against Gavin Newsom, and looked as if he might actually have a shot. Gonzalez had switched allegiances from Democratic to Green in 2000, surprising everyone and roiling the political scene in San Francisco. Suddenly, the hard-luck Greens had an icon, and the Democrats had a threat. National politics had also swung in the Green Party's favor, with left-wing voters disenchanted by the Clinton and Bush regimes. Without an opening at the state or federal level, progressives shifted their attention locally. Upstart Greens like Gonzalez earned a newfound cachet.

"When Matt ran for mayor as a Green, it was just this stunning development," retired San Francisco State professor Richard DeLeon recalls. "The Democratic Party was running scared."

The mood was more upbeat at that time, too. Chandonia's wife, Erika McDonald, remembers marching with a Green contingent in the 2003 Pride Parade, amid armies of bikes, roller skaters, and pedal-powered carriages. (Greens wouldn't use floats, she explains, because they're motor-powered and therefore carbon-emitting.)

"I remember hearing that Edwin Starr song from the '70s: 'War — What Is It Good For?'" she says now. "It was about the aftermath of Vietnam, but it seemed so relevant then."

Gonzalez lost to Newsom, but the Green Party stayed aloft for several years. It had seen a few successes, with Mark Sanchez's successful school board bid in 2000, and Gonzalez renouncing his Democratic ties, and newbie politician Jane Kim joining the party after helping with Gonzalez's campaign. In 2005, Gonzalez was replaced as supervisor by an even bigger star, Ross Mirkarimi, who'd helped found the California Green Party in 1990. Though they were still classed as a splinter group, the Greens didn't feel that all elections were insurmountable. They won endorsements from labor unions and neighborhood coalitions, and even some of the liberal Democratic clubs downtown — which would later be reprimanded by Democratic party superiors.

But it was hard to build a political machine with individuals who are inspired, but not aspirational — and who, moreover, are fundamentally opposed to machines.

"Why do I stay Green?" Hermanson asks. "Because I can't stomach being part of an organization that is absolutely controlled by money."

Yet he and many other Greens also can't stomach organizations that are controlled, period. They recoil at top-down structures, and make all of their own party decisions by consensus, a tradition that's made them uncannily similar to the ill-fated Occupy movement. (In San Francisco, the Green Party still faithfully lists Occupy events on its calendar.)

That sense of ideological purity has also seriously hampered the party's progress. In June, San Francisco broke ranks with the state Green Party on such issues as Proposition 42, a law requiring local agencies to comply with state public records laws. Local Greens supported it, while state Greens did not, which gave the appearance of fissures within the party. And, according to one insider, those conflicts deepened when it came to mundane issues.

"The left loves 'process,' but it can really stunt things," the insider says, remembering an internal dispute over whether a particular candidate could store campaign materials at the Greens' former office on Howard Street. "Here's someone who's willing to stick his neck out, and they have to vote on it."

Hermanson concedes that in 12 years of running for office, he's "never come close" to winning, and he's one of the few San Francisco progressives to get beaten by a Republican. Over the last 12 years, Jane Kim, Ross Mirkarimi, and Matt Gonzalez have all defected from the Green Party, and the number of registered Greens has plummeted from a high point of 15,000 in 2003 to 6,869 now. In 2009, party members decided they could no longer afford the $1,200-a-month rent on their Howard Street office space. They spent several years meeting in cafes before moving to the Redstone a few months ago.

That said, the Greens still prevail on some issues. They have a shot at winning a contentious battle over the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park this November. Just about every deep-pocketed local player supports a measure to pave the fields with artificial turf and install 60-foot light fixtures. Greens want to maintain those seven acres of unkempt meadow in their "natural" state — a weed-choked field overtaken by illegal campers and cruisers.

A win on one ballot measure won't change the fate of a party, especially one that won't court big money or curry favor with bigwigs. Nonetheless, Hermanson thinks he might run again in 2016. The son of two Presbyterian ministers, he grew up in a staunchly Democratic household outside of Detroit, entered politics by way of the Castro Merchants association, and threw $100,000 of his own business' money into the 2000 campaign for a living-wage ordinance in San Francisco, which was his first political victory. Still, he's one of a very few politicians who are driven purely by principles.

And he's convinced that absent a political leader, the Green Party won't survive.

"We're not a huge organization," Hermanson says, "and it takes a lot to get people to come out on a regular basis." That, he continues, is reason enough to have a persistent, losing candidate. It at least keeps the Greens visible.

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An obvious question is why is this story appearing after the election? Did SF Weekly report on any Green campaigns before the primary?

Roy Jorge
Roy Jorge

They need to work WITH the Democrat Party - not AGAINST them. "Perfect is the enemy of good".

Eric Carlson
Eric Carlson

Lol, yes come save us Matt Gonzalez or was it Ross mirkirimi

Robert Scalzi
Robert Scalzi

I sure as hell HOPE NOT - those cheesy bastards are why we ended up with GWB for 8 fucking years and why the SCOTUS is packed with Corporate/religious Ideologues that are deconstructing a once great nation - Greens are nothing but paid shills for the Right wing , a party designed by polluting businesses (at least here in the usa) and their right wing allies to siphon off progressive votes from the Democratic Party and it worked like a charm in 2000 and since that election the Greens TRUE color has been exposed in this country and it sure as hell isn't green - I will NEVER forgive them for helping to elect Bush .


Thank you for the Green Party report. Join the Green Party today! Be part of the positive Green Party solution.  The Green Party has every reason to be optimistic. 

The Green Party is alive, well, and prospering across the United States, and around the world. Howie Hawkins is running a very strong race for Governor in New York.  Howie can win that race. When you have a fireball Green Party candidate in an election - well it is the best American politics has to offer, in my book. 

Paul Glover is a superb Green Party Governor candidate in PA. Paul brings the optimistic view for the future we want for our communities, the nation, and the world.  The Green Party and Petra Kelly (Green Party founder) vision for nonviolence is urgently needed now. Now more than ever!   The two larger parties are discredited on this vital issue.   The USA has only four true nationwide parties. And the Green Party is the only one not taking the corrupt corporate cash.  That noble Green Party vision for America is worth the political fight!

The Green Party as superb, smart, gifted candidates. 

The woman Green Party candidate for Governor in Tennessee has both a Phd, and law degree - and a Green Party Green New Deal platform of ecology for the economy - Green Party solar jobs. wind jobs, Green Party rail jobs. 

Green Party conservation jobs that is a winner. 

In California, former Green Party mayor of Santa Monica, the charismatic Mike Feinstein is returning to the political fight and running for city council in 2014. 

I have long known, and admired Mike Feinstein's Green Party vision for tomorrow. Believe you will too, if you read about Mike's positive proposals for Santa Monica, and California.  

In Virginia our Independent Green Party has a full slate of endorsed and nominated congressional candidate. Impressive among them is Dr. Joseph Galdo in the Virginia's 11th congressional district.  We even have a reality TV Star, Tareq Salahi, and Indy Green Party state press secretary, state central committee member, running as the Indy Green Party candidate for congress in the 7th district. That's where the former House Minority leader Cantor was defeated in his primary.  The Washington Post gave Indy Green Party strategist Tammy Parada, and former Indy Green Party 7th district chairman, and congressional candidate Floyd Bayne credit for the plan that engineered the upset.  https://www.facebook.com/IndyGreenPartyVirginia?ref_type=bookmark

Our Indy Green Party conducts party business by Roberts Rules of Order, not consensus.

Successful Green Parties around the world do the same. 

With and inclusive, empowering, and exciting approach the Green Party is winning new talents, and fielding superb candidates in 2014. 

Eugene Puryear, an articulate, inspiring young African-American has people all across Washington D.C. excited about the city council election at large.  Eugene, a former TV talk show host, and only 28 years old, speaks with the intelligence and authority of a natural born leader. Eugene captivates with the shinning Green Party promise he offers for social and economic justice.  Anita Rios is also an attractive hispanic-american woman the Green Party has on the ballot for Governor in Ohio.  Anita life story is inspiring, uplifting.  It might well lift the Green Party candidate into the Governor office.  

The German Green Party is in all 16 of the state legislators. German Greens govern in 7 of 16 states, with a Green Party Governor in one. In recent European Parliament elections the Green Party continued to be the 4th largest party across Europe. Look to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the Greens are their nations 3rd strongest parties, and growing.    

Audie Bock, Matt Gonzalez great Green Party achievements have inspired the rest of us across America, and around the world.

Now let us encourage you.  The Green Party is what we need.  Join us to build a positive Green future. 

brookse32 topcommenter

On Consensus, Greens, & The Democratic Party Betrayal Of Voters

Thanks for the report Rachel. I want to take strong issue however with your note about the consensus decision making process somehow undermining the SF Green Party, and then shift this discussion to the more important larger issue of the current deep betrayal of voters by the Democratic Party; a betrayal which must now be strongly challenged by progressives, Democrats, and third parties, if it is ever to end.

First, On Consensus

The SF Green Party consensus process in fact works really well. It is a -modified- consensus process which allows a 75% vote on very immediate or contentious issues. (That breathing room for a 75% vote when needed, is why our process works so well.) Note that the only Occupy camps that ran into consensus process glitches were those (like Occupy SF) which did -not- allow for this sort of 75% vote on contentious or strictly deadlined decisions.

The reason consensus is so important is that it prevents infighting within a group or party by avoiding alienating large blocks of members from the group process by confrontationally and callously outvoting them 51% to 49%. This often leads to very divisive factions within parties, and the repeated extremely bitter battles within the San Francisco Democratic Party between progressives and 'moderates' are ongoing prime examples of this.

The Real Reason For The Green Decline

The real reason for the decline of Green numbers and influence really boils down to one key factor; the formidable and widespread unshakeable trust that liberals and Democrats have unfathomably continued to place in Barack Obama, and his national Democratic Party, throughout his two presidential elections and beyond.

Anyone who simply takes off the rose colored glasses and looks at the Obama administration with any scrutiny at all, can easily see that this unwavering trust is simply not warranted.

The Failure & Betrayal Of Its Voters By The Democratic Party

On so many crucial matters, the Democrats at the national level have totally hung the U.S. populace out to dry, from environmental issues, to civil liberties, to entrenching corporate personhood, to Guantanamo remaining open, to illegal vicious drone attacks on other countries and civilians, etc.

It boggles the mind that so many continue to place their trust in Obama and the Democrats, in the face of such deep failure and betrayal from their own party.

Time To Hold The Democrats Accountable

During Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson similarly abandoned and betrayed Democrats on so many important issues, especially on war and peace (and the massive loss of social program money that instead was going to the war), Democrats abandoned Johnson and he was in turn forced to abandon his bid for re-election.

Today's Democrats need to similarly stand up and refuse to tolerate their now corporate and war-mentality controlled party which has so utterly turned its back on nearly everything they value and believe in.

Eric Brooks
San Francisco Green Party

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