Bad habits of third parties

I was active in the Green Party of California from the early 2000s through 2006, including serving on an elected county central committee (or “county council,” in Green Party lingo).

During this time, I observed a number of bad habits (some of which I indulged in myself) which kept the party from moving forward. I hope other parties (or the Green Party itself, if anyone is listening) can learn from.

This article is mostly for the benefit of the California National Party, which as far as I can tell, has either magically internalized this advice already or is just too busy to have the time for bad habits. So really, an attempt to keep it that way.

Bad habit #1: thinking of the party as your “team”

Your team is whoever will take forward the mission of your party, including decline-to-state voters and people in the major political parties. If a major party devours your third party by taking all its best ideas and people, mission accomplished; pat yourself on the back and take a well-deserved vacation.

Likewise, if people who don’t totally agree with you “infiltrate” your party, listen to them and then put them to work. Ideological purity buys you nothing if you can’t grow.

Bad habit #2: distrust of money

Money is the root of all getting shit done. Get some and do something useful with it. Your standards should be effectiveness and compliance with campaign laws.

Bad habit #3: believing party officials are power-hungry

Most people in third parties are hard-working volunteers, and would be only too happy to have someone take their job away from them.

Also, when disputes arise within the party, act like adults, and keep in mind that basically no one outside the party cares.

Bad habit #4: excessive due process

Distrust of power sometimes manifests not as statements directed at particular people, but as calls for “due process” to protect the party against hypothetical bad actors. For example, letting county parties tie the hands of the state party, or requiring decisions to pass by an 80% vote.

In most cases, when faced with an important decision or opportunity, the absolute worst thing a party can do is nothing. And excessive “due process” requirements sap time and energy that would be better directed at growing the party.

Just let your elected party officials try to get things done and expect that they will occasionally make mistakes. If someone does a terrible job, elect someone else.

Bad habit #5: rule by people who have time to go to meetings

Ideally, party officials should be democratically elected and accountable to the people who elected them. And then they should delegate as much power as they can to responsible people so as to spend as little time as possible in meetings.

In California, the Elections Code provides for real, at-the-ballot-box elections of county central committees, so these have more democratic legitimacy than anything else.

However, even with other divisions of the party (e.g. a city party organization), it’s much more legitimate to elect a steering committee once a year rather than letting whoever shows up vote. And voting membership should be contingent on getting stuff done (e.g. registering voters), not just showing up.

Bad habit #6: complacency

Sometimes you may end up with a party official who represents a corner of your state/county/etc. where your party’s stated goals are less popular. Everyone likes this person and believes they do a good job of representing the unique, if challenging, views of people in their area.

So far so good. But if that party official is the only person from that place that you ever hear from, that official is not doing their job.

Conclusion

Third parties already have a ridiculously difficult time in America’s first-past-the-post voting system. If you’re going to form a third party, the least you can do is to not sabotage yourself by indulging in these bad habits.