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Green politics is non-hierarchical

By Stuart Hertzog
September 8th, 2008

It’s about an eco-centric, egalitarian, compassionate democracy

This is the second of a two-part series on restructuring Green political parties in accordance with fundamental Green values. The first part of this series considered the democratic deficiencies that are present in many Green parties. In this second installment, a non-hierachical structural model is described that can offer many advantages to help revitalise and grow the BC, Canadian and all other Green parties.

Any attempt at revitalisation must consider the democratic deficiencies that currently exist in many Green parties and reverse these anti-democratic tendencies. They can be overcome. By re-examining their internal structure and processes, Green parties can reinvent themselves to become a model for the new kind of progressive and inclusive democracy vital for creating a peaceful, prosperous, and ecologically-sustainable society.

The solution lies in replacing the existing top-down, hierarchical power structure based on the pyramid of power, with one based on more egalitarian principles. The model relevant here is that of the mandala or circle. In adopting this, Green parties would align themselves with traditional First Nations and other indigenous cultures, casting out the historical power structure of colonialism.

This transition from a social structure based on the pyramid to one based on the circle is an historical necessity at this time. The worst aspects of power hierarchies — poverty, repression, war, conquest, colonialism, ongoing ecological destruction, and imminent global catastrophe — are being rejected by millions of people, and especially by concerned citizens active in local and global groups, many of whom currently are evaluating Green parties everywhere as their potential political home.

a decentralised poitical party structure

As shown above, a regionalised structure is decentralized and organic. The various Green party bioregional centres (the Regions), each embracing a regional group of adjacent electoral associations, become the main focus of organisation and activity. Because activity takes place on in local region, access to information and decision-making becomes much easier for grassroots members, who are now more likely to become involved in party activities and processes as they can see the tangible results of their contributions.

The evolution of Democracy

the monad of decentralised structureThis image (left) represents the basic the building-block of non-hierarchical organisation. It shows the internal relationships within an organisational element. Group members (the small circles) form or elect a decision-making council on which all members sit in plenary session. Ongoing communication takes place between members and their council, and between any combination of members (not shown).

This structural relationship applies at all levels of a fully regionalised structure. The image can represent relationships at all levels: between grassroot party members and the elected executive of a constituency association; between regional constituency associations and the regional council; and also between bioregional groups and a party’s central governing body.

‘Top-down,’ pyramidal power relationships are not condoned within a democratised group structure. All members are treated with equal respect. Closed decision-making followed by enforcement or patronising delegation is replaced by open, consensual decision-making and voluntary acceptance of responsibility. Individual members inherently understand that they are empowered to take initiative and contribute to the group effort.

Modelled on Nature

The resemblance of this non-hierarchical structural model to the organic internal structure of a cell or a zooplankton is not arbitrary. Pyramids do not occur naturally; they come into being through the enforced imposition of the will of a ruling élite. Nature functions through multiplicity, communication, interactivity, and co-operation, as well as by competition. The image of the sunflower was well chosen as Green Parties everywhere, and we should ensure that Green parties structure themselves appropriately to the inner meaning of its emblem.

This transition from the hierarchical pyramid to the democratic circle reflects an historic and fundamental change in human consciousness. The great period of human pyramid-building took place 3,000 years ago, when divine monarchs ruled the human civilisations of this planet. Conquered peoples were enslaved to serve the needs of their expanding empires, including the back-breaking hauling of stones to build the elaborate ziggurats of the time.

I suggest that we are moving away from the epoch of the Pyramids to the time of the Circle. This fundamental planetary shift is changing both our individual psyches and our collective cultural relationship with Nature — a change that many ecocentric Deep Greens believe is necessary for the very survival of life on this planet. Future social organisations must reflect this evolution of human consciousness, which includes the refinement of our cultural ethos to embrace all living species. Our politics must also change to reflect this ongoing evolution.

Organic federation of bioregions

This inherent structural empowerment will yield many positive results at all levels of the restructured organisation. In adopting a fully regionalised structure, Green parties would begin to operate in a very different way. Rather than being a ‘top-down,’ monolithic organisation directed by a secretive central council, the party would become an organic federation of Green bioregions.

A strategic advantage of regional empowerment is that the Green Party can base its policies and educate people on the basics of bioregional survival, without which understanding an ecologically sustainable society is impossible, especially at a time when the onset of global warming is threatening to undermine local food and fuel supply.

Bioregionalism recognises the importance of the place of human beings in the web of life. This aspect of Green political philosophy has been forgotten in the headlong push for power that the influx of blue-greens (the Turquoisie) coming in from right-wing parties has undermined most Canadian Green parties.

Open communication flows

Centralised power structures maintain themselves by controlling and restricting information to those inside the brass ring of temporal power. Authoritarian leaders do not want people to alert others to their vicious acts of repression or self-serving, secret deals. We only have to look at the nasty and secretive nature of current governments — the lies of the Bush administration, or the stifling of dissent by Chinese party officials — to see this in action.

The concentration of media is a growing problem. The corporatists have done their best to undermine the open and inclusive ethic of sharing that has driven the phenomenal growth of the global Internet. Fortunately, their efforts to date have been unsuccessful, although the anti-censorship battle continues.

Censorship and control of information are the norm in any centralised structure, and Green political parties are no exception. Too often, members are excluded from decision-making and kept in the dark about the party’s political and financial deal-making. Open communication eliminates such secrecy.

Better use of the Internet

With the opening of previously closed channels of communication, better use can be made of both the Internet and conventional media. The Internet is a powerful communications tool for political activism. Email and the Web, along with the social networking sites such as Facebook and text-messaging, have become the primary communications technologies for many active people.

With adoption of a regional structure, the Green bioregional groups will have full control of their pages on the party’s web site, which can be developed to include more interactive communications functions; or they can run their own site on a server of their choice, if there is the technical know-how to do so.

More effective fundraising

Recent US experience has shown how powerful the Internet can be for Green and grassroots citizen groups. Although it has listened to Joe Trippe, Green parties has yet to realise the importance of his message. Trippe managed Howard Dean’s 2004 US presidential campaign. Using the Internet, he transformed 432 known supporters and $100,000 in the bank into a groundswell of 64,000 people who contributed over $50 million to the campaign — the most raised by any Democrat to that time. Barack Obama has since surpassed this.

Although Canada’s mainstream political parties all have professionally-designed web sites, due to their centralised nature they do not want to utilise the full power of this medium. The Green Party of Canada has made a useful model that the BC Party can emulate and improve upon. A fully regionalised, grassroots structure would encourage ongoing development of this vital tool.

Issues and policy formation

Issues research and policy formation also can be conducted online between members living anywhere in the province, leading to Green party involvement in local community issues and a much more grounded policy formation process. Members will be encouraged to join one or more issues Working Groups simply by signing up to an email list, from which they can unsubscribe at will.

People are at their best when working on an issue that is close to them. Citizen activism is both a vocation and a learning process, and the Green party can play a more effective political role with accurate research on issues provided by its working groups.

Fundamental structural change

This fundamental change in structural orientation and focus will have immediate implications for the day-to-day functioning of Green political parties, and will produce many positive results. Distributed democracy is a more dynamic and empowered structure that the fragile, centralised hierarchy of many of today’s Green parties. It is grassroots Green politics, empowered and in action.

  • Instead of decision-making processes and information flows being concentrated only within the knowledge of an executive committee, Green bioregions would become empowered as the main focus of attention, information flow, decision-making, and grassroots activity.
  • Instead of one remote central office, each region would be responsible for managing its own bioregional centre, supporting its constituency associations by focusing Green political activity and public education throughout the region.
  • Instead of being run by a few voluntary elected officials with weak or non-existent regional representation, the Green bioregional centres would become dynamic foci of party growth and activity.
  • Leadership would emerge from the party’s grassroots and decisions made by mutually-supportive, collective agreements between regions.

‘Top-down’ democracy and its centralised political institutions has brought about global warming. Dominated by those who own and control the corporate pyramids for short-term profit, corporatism is incapable of reducing fossil fuel emissions. To protect life, it is time to return to our bioregional roots.


Posted in BC, democracy, Green politics, Green principles | 6 Comments »

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6 Responses

  1. Brian Says:

    Policy resolutions can be made on-line

    Great post!

    What do you think about the policy resolutions proposed for the 2008 AGM posted here?

    Everyone is invited to propose a new policy resolution and comment on resolutions proposed by others.

    Go Green!

  2. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Thanks, Brian. Being able to post motions for an Annual General Meeting via the Internet is a good start towards a distributed democratic process. But the fact that the BC Green Party still expects members to travel to an AGM to be able to vote on the motions rather negates this progress. Secure, online voting should be available to enable all members to decide policy on an ongoing basis, not just once a year.

  3. Heather Says:

    Bioregions a good idea


    I really like the idea of using bioregions to define regions — are you going to bring this idea to the AGM in the form of a structural rule change? Do you have a sense for how many regions there would be and what the boundaries might look like? I think you are right that we are struggling to engage the grassroots and we need to support that as a party. maybe we should select candidates on the basis of their commitment to organize in between elections as well. We seem to attract candidates, but then nothing happens ‘tween elections. There was a regional office in prince george (now closed though) which was supported by the CAs in the region – that happened organically due to people in the area willing to organize. There’s nothing stopping people from organizing, but as you point out maybe there’s nothing helping them do so either.

    Brian had an idea to use the Internet for policy development and I think this could still work — someone needs to facilitate each area of discussion and agree to write out a policy or nothing will come of online input. So maybe we need policy moderators or something like that to help facilitate or document consensual decisions from the discussion on a topic area.

    BTW, members can vote on policy without coming to the AGM — ballots can be mailed in. This is not as good as participating on an ongoing basis. But at least members have a voice of some sort. I don’t believe other parties do this at all in any way…but could be wrong.

    I look forward to more ideas about how we can engage grassroots and get people interested in organizing and working locally.

  4. Roy Ball Says:

    Bio Regional approach

    I have supported Victoria in its bioregional approach in the past and would like to see Green parties make this a priority.

    Communications from the central party are virtually 100% top down. I suggest starting a weekly Action Alerts bulletin to supporters telling them and letting them tell each other what is going on, looking for volunteers, share ideas for local events, etc. We have done this successfully in FVBC and the supporter growth has been impressive.

    One tricky area is fund-raising. Very few volunteers are willing to do this (Oh! How we have tried!!! With almost no success) and I recommend using professionals but … hard as it may be given the fiscal state of GPBC it is important to distribute some of this money to local groups. This has been discussed ad nauseum but still not being done as far as I know.

    If GPBC doesn’t focus on getting local groups to do things rather than organize them centrally then membership will continue to stagnate and with it the financial base you need to make a political party effective.

  5. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    I’m amazed you you say that you have supported Victoria in its bioregional approach in the past when I understand that it was you who devised and introduced the Byzantine set of rules that effectively disempowered the BC Green Party’s constituency associations, and the South Island groups in particular.

    I’m also amazed that a person such as yourself, whom I understand partly owns a company that makes military video range-finding gear and video surveillance software, would even contemplate membership in a Green Party that is nominally opposed to militarism — at least it was when I joined a long time ago.

    Could you please explain how you reconcile your commercial and Party activities with the stated aims of grassroots empowerment and non-militarisation of the BC Green Party — or are you the shape of things to come?

  6. Roy Ball Says:

    Hi Stuart

    I was one of the few councillors who opposed the Byzantine interpretation of bylaws that dogged GPBC’s efforts in 2007. When I was Organizing Chair (previous to 2007) I introduced Regional Organizers (as well as regional reps)and some much simpler operational guidelines to make the local organizing run smoother. This was effective in building the regional teams but was all undone in 2007 because of an overly bureaucratic approach.

    GPBC membership voted on the military issue at the 2007 AGM and decided to accept Amnesty International’s guidelines (proposed by me)on military involvements rather than a pacifistic approach (proposed by you and some other people).

    My personal viewpoint would correspond with yours in an ideal world. Unfortunately we do not live in such an ideal world. As an example: one of the most heavily militarized country per capita(switzerland)has maintained it’s neutrality and territory relatively bloodlessly since they booted the Austrians out centuries ago.They have not done this by being pacifists but by being armed to the teeth so it is too costly for their neighbours to mess with them.

    When humans can stop their incessant greed and grabbing for each others resources then I will agree that the huge efforts wasted on military should stop completely. Until then: you and i will have to differ on this.

    Hopefully we can work together in other areas (like bioregions for example) to save as much of the planet as we can.

    It certainly needs a lot of saving.

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