Five questions with the co-leaders of the North Carolina Green Party

Five questions with the co-leaders of the North Carolina Green Party

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law last year making it easier for third parties to get on the ballot, and the Green Party has achieved official status.

The Electoral Freedom Act of 2017 is probably best known for its elimination of judicial election primaries this year, but the bill also eased ballot restrictions for third parties.

Green Party officials officially petitioned the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in January 2017 to be recognized as an official political party in North Carolina. The Board, which was just fully appointed in March, approved the petition last week.

That means voters across the state have another choice of party affiliation when registering to vote: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Green. It also means Green Party candidates will appear on ballots in the November election.

Jan Martell
Tony Ndege

Since the ballots will be different for voters this year, Policy Watch caught up with Green Party co-chairs Jan Martell and Tony Ndege to get more information. Below are five questions and a bonus tidbit from the co-chairs.


#1- PW: What is the North Carolina Green Party and what are its values?

Martell and Ndege: The North Carolina Green Party is an anti-racist, feminist political party that supports gender equality and gender diversity and rejects capitalism in favor of a democratically run economy that responds to the needs of community and planet.

We believe positive social and political change will come when progressive and radical people determine that movement activism must also include this critical element: building our own political power outside the confines of the capitalist two-party system. For this reason, the North Carolina Green Party is a membership-based, dues-paying party and is fundamentally and structurally different from the two major parties—we’re funded by individual working-class members, not corporate interests and the ruling elite.

Why Green? In Green politics, the word “Green” means more than just the environment: Green means “ecology”—examining current systems and then doing what’s necessary and what’s right to foster healthy ones, whether it’s transforming the organization of our society towards a democratic and worker-run economy, ensuring a safe and clean environment, fighting for social and racial justice, or ending imperialistic US foreign policy.

Our platform follows the guiding principles of the Green Party of the United States, in particular: 1. Grassroots Democracy; 2. Social Justice and Equality; 3. Ecological Wisdom; and 4. Nonviolence. But also: decentralization of wealth, economic power, and political power out of the hands of the privileged few; community-based economic justice; feminism and gender equity; respect for diversity; personal and global responsibility; and sustainability.

#2 – PW: Why is it important for the Green Party to be officially recognized here?

Martell and Ndege: There has been no progressive/left party on the ballot in North Carolina since the 1980s due to undemocratic ballot-access laws enacted by the Democrats and Republicans, and this lack of a truly left voice has allowed our entire political spectrum to shift far rightward. Numerous polls show that Americans think the two-party system is broken and that we need more options. On top of that, millions of Americans choose not to vote because they feel there’s little reason to vote Democrat or Republican. We can’t blame them for that. And millions also self-identify as independent or unaffiliated. These are all clear indications that Americans aren’t getting what they want politically and are looking for other options—not merely other options but options such as the Green Party that offer solutions focused on social, racial, and economic justice. And while the Democrats sometimes give lip-service to those things, voters know that they have been unable and unwilling to deliver.

#3 – PW: What and how has the Green Party been doing in North Carolina? And as independent voters continue to rise here, do you feel that your party has a greater chance of appealing to North Carolinians?

Martell and Ndege: The Green Party has worked to create awareness of political alternatives to the deeply entrenched two-party system. Most political discussion takes place within the confines of that system. Independent voices and minor parties have largely been excluded from the political discussions that determine the future. As activists, we have engaged the public over the past 18 years to expand the conversation and propose better solutions to the joint crises in education, unemployment, health care, pollution, and climate change.

More and more voters are dissatisfied with the two mainstream parties, which are increasingly more responsive to wealthy and corporate donors and not to the needs of the electorate. Real change cannot come from within this “two-party system” but must be powered by independent politics. The Green Party does not accept corporate donations, and so we’re able to hold our candidates accountable to our principles and platform. This is the opposite of the two major parties, whose structures ensure that their candidates are accountable to corporate and other major donors rather than to a body of party members.

#4 – PW: There are more female candidates running this year than before; does that give the Green Party hope that voters might give a second look to the party, which has been running a female candidate at the top of the ticket for years?

Martell and Ndege: All of the Green Party presidential campaigns, beginning in 1996, have featured women on the ticket. These are Winona LaDuke, Pat LaMarche, and within the last ten years Cynthia McKinney, Rosa Clemente, Cheri Honkala, and of course Jill Stein. The best thing about these candidates was that they had excellent politics rooted in social, economic, environmental, and racial justice when they ran as Greens. There are a lot of women candidates and politicians out there with undesirable ideas that are harmful to women. So as a feminist party, the North Carolina Greens aren’t interested in elevating those ideas just because of the politician’s identity as a woman; rather, if we’re talking about women candidates, then we and most American voters want candidates whose identity as a woman has informed their politics in progressive and radical ways to achieve social good. This goes for other identities as well. In the case of women, that especially means ideas and solutions for improving women’s human rights and the quality of life for women. And we think voters are going to respond to all this positively.

#5 – PW: Some voters view Green Party and alternative party candidates as “spoilers” for mainstream candidates. What would you say to those folks?

Martell and Ndege: For one, Greens believe that our political system is already spoiled, and the Republican and Democratic lawmakers are responsible for the damage (remember, they have both been in charge of this country for over 160 years now). There is no doubt that the majority of Americans agree with us on that. The Greens have historically been blocked by the two major parties in various ways. So we are not responsible for spoiling a system—a system that has been designed to prevent working people from building independent power. We’re trying to transform the system by offering bold solutions and via a party and a platform that’s powered by and accountable to everyday people.

Also, the idea that we are “spoilers” is an undemocratic one, based on the faulty assumption that Democrats and Republicans own people’s votes. Votes aren’t owned; people vote for candidates whose platforms and policies align with their own beliefs. And we know that millions of Americans choose not to vote because they feel the candidates do not align with their beliefs or because they feel the state of American politics is hopeless. The largest party in this country isn’t on the ballot—the largest party is the disaffected working American. Those uncast votes are not owned by any one party or individual. They need to be earned. Despite having Wall Street lobbyists, super-PAC donations, and corporate-owned media propping up their political theater, both of the big-business parties are unable to inspire the plurality of potential voters to vote for them. So it is disingenuous to place blame on a party like the Green Party that does not accept corporate and super-PAC donations for “spoiling” an electoral process that is rigged against independent power and the working poor.

The Green Party is here to earn those votes via building grassroots power. And when we do, they are newly generated votes that would not otherwise have been cast. The Democrats, for instance, don’t own uncast votes, and they certainly don’t own new votes that the Green Party or another party has earned. But that’s largely the problem—the Democrats have come to believe that they own a bloc of American votes via sheer financial dominance and thus they take that bloc of people for granted.

Bonus question – PW: Is there anything else you would like for NC voters to know about the Green Party?

Martell and Ndege: The Green Party is the only ballot-qualified party in North Carolina with a critique of capitalism. The Democrats may talk the talk about programs meant for social good, but they largely cannot deliver on their talk because they are tied to capitalist interests that are antithetical to strong programs for social and economic and environmental well-being. Even before the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, polls were showing that more and more Americans—especially young Americans—approve of socialist ideas. Even though Sanders was and is tied to the Democratic Party and there are major contradictions in that, his campaign’s popularity is proof that these ideas can be very appealing, even among voters we’re supposed to think are “conservative.” So we already know people can sense that capitalism isn’t working in the US and globally. The Green Party is the only party on the ballot with ideas that address that reality.

Finally, political decisions are currently made and handed down to the public by the major two parties. Citizens can lobby their legislators. But with the extremes of gerrymandering and the influx of enormous sums of often untraceable money into campaigns, it is clear that we have a political system where citizen influence is weakened, if citizens’ concerns are even considered at all. In this way, the Republican and Democratic Parties are structured much like a capitalist corporation, with party leaders much like owners and CEOs unaccountable to the people who are doing the work and who are most affected by the leadership’s decisions. By contrast, Greens believe that communities of citizens know what they need to create stable lives and plan viable and sustainable futures. The goal of leaders should be to understand the conditions within our varied communities and to return political power to the local level as much as possible. Greens will look at public policy from the point of view of communities—what is in the best interest of all residents, not just a well-connected or privileged subset.