The crowd was larger than even its organizers expected. Some 50 people turned out at the Missoula Public Library last Thursday night to hear what the political future holds for Montana’s budding Green Party.
Although most were Missoula residents, others drove from as far away as Dixon and Arlee, with experience in the political arena ranging from locally elected officials like City Councilmembers Jim McGrath and Dave Harmon to a woman in her mid-20s who readily admitted, “I’m not a Green Party member. I didn’t even vote in the last election.”
But regardless of the diversity in age, political expertise and voting record, a number of common themes emerged throughout the evening: the desire for a renewed vision in Montana’s politics, a stronger commitment to social justice, gender equality and ecological wisdom, and a greater focus on the future.
Others expressed frustration at the rightward tilt of the Montana Democratic Party, especially toward those Democrats who have condemned Clinton’s roadless initiative or have not been more critical about Montana’s foray into electricity deregulation.
Still others, like longtime Missoula resident Fred Walters, summed up their reasons for being there with plain-spoken Montana simplicity: “I want what everyone wants: something better than what we have now.”
What was not initially apparent to many of the attendees at this first organizational meeting of the Missoula chapter of the Green Party was just how “green” this grassroots effort remains. Missoula Green Party activist Richard Wachs could not say for sure how many Green Party supporters there are statewide—Montana does not require political party registration for election primaries—and the organization does not yet have a dues-paying membership, recruitment procedure, or a statewide charter.
That said, a look at the November election results hints at the group’s potential base of support. According to Wachs, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader garnered 15 percent of the statewide vote—about 25,000 votes—one of the largest percentages nationwide. Nader’s best showing was in Missoula County, where he garnered about 7,000 votes. Already, says Wachs, new Green Party chapters have also been launched in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Dillon and Livingston, with five more cities coming online soon.
“This is the awkward phase before the birth,” said meeting facilitator Mark Anderlik. Still, having earned a ballot line statewide in future elections, activists say they will be pushing hard to field more Green Party candidates in the future.