September 29, 2013 Green Party of CT Retreat Observations

Rolf Maurer 10/29/13
Stamford

Much thanks goes to Linda Thompson and everyone else involved for organizing this day-long event, which included the tranquil seaside scenery of Killiam’s Point, stimulating workshops/exercises, conversation, live music and a spread of donated food so generous as to make anticipated ordering-out in the evening unnecessary. Overall, the day proved both entertaining and enlightening in clarifying methods by which (and challenges to how) the GP message can be better promulgated.

Group 5 Session

Prior to the start of the day’s two workshop tracks, attendees were divided into several groups to get to know one another and raise particular concerns specific to alternative party politics. For Group 5, the focus was on two main topics, the first being how to deal with the persistent charge of being a “spoiler” candidate. A welcome range of constructive comebacks that elucidated the undemocratic character of mainstream politics were suggested, including simply pointing out that the proprietary attitude implicit in the accusation, alone, demonstrated the need to make the electoral process more varied and inclusive.

On the other hand, I found emphasis on the proposal to accommodate the desire of Green Party “fence-sitters” to be able to vote for Democrats in primary runs where Greens have no challengers unjustified as an issue for the amount of attention it was given. As there are already plenty of avenues for voters from different parties to support one another (for which I cited plenty of examples from Stamford races), persistent advocacy during the session for establishing a “two-tier” GP membership model not only seemed unjustified, but likely to water down what makes the Green Party of Connecticut distinctive, not just from the Democrats and Republicans, but from the underlying system which animates both.

Conflict Resolution Training Workshop

John Lancz’s presentation gave numerous examples of how to negotiate with people in political and church situations, but, most importantly, how to distinguish between simply difficult personalities (who can be reasoned with much of the time if you listen closely) and disingenuous personalities—that is, people that are there to foment trouble for an ulterior motive.

As participants acknowledged from their own experiences, sometimes the two types can be discerned very quickly, especially as difficult personalities have reputations from prior organizational associations that unavoidably precede them.

Most constructively, John shared examples of how sometimes simply providing an opportunity for allowing difficult people to expound on their true concerns in a non-threatening way can do the trick; other times, it’s a matter of recognizing when someone is simply testing your reaction.

In the end, I found John’s strategy for dealing with purpose-driven provocateurs particularly useful. By inquiring with others in the same organization about their own experiences with them, it’s often surprising how this will create a space for people to come forward with their own accounts, as those with an agenda often count on each target within a group feeling isolated or too afraid of ridicule to speak up.

Campaign School Workshop

This session’s format was somewhat confusing, as it was listed as being led by Allan Brison, yet was mostly moderated by Melissa Schlag, who seemed to be essentially using the discussion to relate what she gleaned from an outside (and clearly mainstream) campaign training program.

While I learned much about the logistics of how the two-party campaigning process works, from public contact, flyer distribution strategies, telephone campaigning, flyer design and other matters, the drawback of this approach was that it was geared to showing Green Party candidates how to promote themselves like the major parties. In the process, little distinction was made between useful strategies worth adopting from strategies that ultimately make minor parties more useful to the two-party machine.

Intimations of this slant came through with advice from others in the session that reflected a whatever-it-takes ethos, such as joining relevant community organizations before planning to run so that you can readily point to it as a qualification for your candidacy; as a Green, if you are running with the common good in mind, it stands to reason you are already a part of such organizations as a reflection of your overall commitment.

Since Greens are running for office not simply against other candidates, but against the duopoly of which the major parties are a part, future versions of such a program would benefit by addressing how to deal with biased and deceptive media outlets, how to use debates or forums to directly incite the better natures of the public beyond the canned discourse of the Democrats and Republicans, how to crash a debate and other challenges peculiar to alternative parties.

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