Farewell, Harris County Green Party. It was nice knowing you.
I didn't just walk out of the General Meeting tonight. I stormed out, kicking an empty chair dolly that someone had conveniently left between me and the exit. Just for good measure, I kicked it again, turned at the door, raised both my hands, and said, "Bye."
Someone I barely know asked as I hit the door, "What the fuck's your problem?" It occurred to me to re-enter and answer her question, but my problem could not be reduced to a short, tidy response. She would not have listened to the whole answer anyway.
The group with which I have been active for 18 years, more or less, has now ceased to function. That's only the beginning of my problem, the headline. It runs much deeper: HCGP didn't just die; it was killed, and the people who killed it have names, to paraphrase Utah Phillips.
And I have given—or perhaps recycled—my very last fuck.
I take a proportional share of the blame myself, mind you. Certainly, I could have taken measures to keep the county party I love from disintegrating like this. But even in hindsight, I'm not sure what measures would have been effective.
It's also quite possible that HCGP has not disintegrated, but merely transformed. If so, congratulations to those who have worked so hard to transform it. But I want no part of it. Consider the proverbial bridge burnt. It will take a lot to get me to build a new one.
Sadly, that bridge-burning most likely precludes my participation in the Ballot Access Petition Drive that I've been promoting these many weeks. It also means that I won't be tricking out my pickup with Green Party images for this year's Art Car Parade.
The Nutshell Version, according to dbc
What occasioned my noisy exit was the enormous amount of fuckery over how the Steering Committee election was to proceed. The meeting officially began at 7 pm, although it didn't really get underway until 7:15. We were supposed to have begun the voting at 8 pm. When I left at 8:30, we had ballots in our hands, but there was still conflict as to how exactly we were supposed to indicate our preferences, as well as who would count the votes. I didn't see any way that actual voting was ever going to take place.
Believe it or not, what you see below is a summary of what led to tonight's shitstorm. Others who attended may have different viewpoints of what happened. It's rather difficult to paint a clear picture when attendees were talking over each other.
At the January General Meeting, longtime member Bernadine Williams introduced a proposal to establish a Nominating Committee. I didn't stick around for that business, but tonight it came to light that the Nominating Committee was established for the express purpose of creating ballots and conducting the election. That was news to me: I was under the impression that the intent was to have a group to cultivate candidates for the SC. Oh well.
Then, three weeks ago tonight, the monthly Steering Committee meeting proceeded as if none of that had ever happened. This is the danger of not having reliable minutes on hand, outgoing Secretary Deb Shafto. Those in attendance devised a procedure for the election, with a lot of push and pull about whether we would fill the open positions one at a time so as to allow the losers in, say, the co-chair election to run for secretary, treasurer, or at-large. Other proposals were floated, mostly by outgoing Co-Chair George Reiter, to make the process more democratic and encouraging of broader participation. But sometimes "more democratic" turns into "more time-consuming, more confusing, more complicated, and thus more likely to run into logistical snags. The discussion went on for more than an hour. The SC was outnumbered by general members and first-timers; while these non-SC attendees had no vote, they still had the right to speak. When all was resolved, I spoke up, stating that I was mortally embarrassed that this 18-year-old so-called organization did not have a procedure already in place to conduct its internal elections, feeling that anyone new to the organization must be equally bewildered.
Tonight, at the General Meeting, those two voting procedures clashed, resulting in acrimonious debate. Outgoing Treasurer David Wager, who hasn't been able to stomach a General Meeting since July 2017, walked out about 8 pm, along with his father Bob. I almost left right after them, but as I was packing up to go, it appeared that the issues were coming to a resolution and the voting would soon begin. So much for appearances. More shit hit more fans. By 8:30, I was done.
It's Not All You, Bernadine (Unless It Is)
It's no great secret that a fair number of HCGP members find Bernadine Williams difficult to work with. She has alienated several of us old-timers, scared away multiple first-timers, and brought in several new folks who have proven disruptive to our processes. I resigned from my one-year interim co-chair position a few months short of completion because I could no longer abide her abrasive management style. Even during meetings, she could be gratuitously rude—not just blunt, but rude.
When Bernadine ran for re-election last year, she lost narrowly to Valerie Alessi. The majority of those voting perceived Val, a reluctant and unproven candidate, as preferable to what they knew of Bernadine. Since then, Bernadine has used the Agenda Approval portion of General Meetings to stack the agenda (or tried to) with contentious points that would expand a 2.5-hour meeting to interminable. Insertions of agenda items is supposed to happen at the Steering Committee meetings that she either did or didn't attend. Tonight, SC at-large member Janis Richards actually used the word "hijacking" to describe what Bernadine and her friends were doing. That got some feathers flying.
All that said, Bernadine has brought forth some good ideas. I agreed with her, for example, that co-chairs should facilitate General Meetings, rather than just having somebody different volunteer every month. Yes, rotating that duty is an exercise in building leadership amongst the members. However, we have had far too many meetings at which the designated facilitator didn't show up, with or without notifying anyone. Since facilitators are responsible for bringing printouts of the evening's agenda, we also had no printed agenda to hand out (and occasionally the facilitator would show up without the printouts).
In one-on-one conversations, when she's not tearing someone down for being ineffective or racist (consciously or not), Bernadine can be downright pleasant. She gives the impression of having the party's best interests at heart. She can promote Green Values and explain the state-imposed obstacles to third-party politics as well as anybody.
On 10 February, when a group of Harris County Greens gathered at the Havens Center, we unanimously and sincerely wished that Bernadine were there so that we could talk out our differences with a Non-Violent Communications specialist as mediator. We understood, and acknowledged aloud, why she would not want to be there, wary of an ambush. But nobody there had any interest in getting in her face; we all wanted to come to an understanding. The afternoon was not wasted: We who showed up found some emotionally wrenching differences amongst ourselves that needed resolving, and we worked on those.
Anything positive that came out of our soul-searching on the 10th was undone tonight.
Done and Undone
If all the old guard except Bernadine should walk away from HCGP for good and leave it in her hands, I wouldn't weep. [Inflammatory sentence retracted from this spot, with apologies.] Certainly, I care deeply, but I can no longer afford, mentally and emotionally, to remain involved. She may actually extricate HCGP from the wheel-spinning morass it's been stuck in for years, for which I would congratulate her—or she may push it to new depths. Whichever should happen, would happen without me.
This is a group that, once upon a time, knew how to conduct meetings and elections. Some of the same people are still around after all these years, and it's as if they've lost the recipe. This results in stress that I don't need in my life.
So I'm done with HCGP. Hands-washed, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may, other-fish-to-fry, kiss-my-ass-goodbye done. Farewell, adieu, seven-three, dbc out.