The idea of dues isn't something we invented. There's a historical argument that dues are imperative if we want to build a party that can truly challenge the two-party system: We will not win campaigns in North Carolina and around the country and radically alter the political landscape and the system without building a people-powered and people-funded political organization—the Green Party.
The North Carolina Green Party requires dues because it is not only ideologically different from the corporate-capitalist Democratic and Republican Parties—it is also structurally different. In this state and most states, Democrats and Republicans are classified as such by their ticking a box on a voter registration form—there are no true "members" of either of the two major parties otherwise, and indeed, their "members" may hold vastly different ideas within their own party. As a result, often big-money donors, corporations, and influential party bosses tap Dem and Rep candidates to run, and as such those candidates are accountable to those interests, not to party members. Because again, there is hardly any actual membership of the major two parties for candidates and politicians to be accountable to.
Not so with the North Carolina Green Party. Green members are committed to Green principles and a spirit of activism, and we show this by investing in the Green Party. Like union members, Green Party members identify with the key values of our organization; so we invest in it, are afforded a voice and a vote in it, and are a part of something that benefits the whole. Nonmembers are encouraged to join us, but they do not get to decide the course our organization until that time.
Howie Hawkins (an author and longtime New York Green) and Bruce Dixon (a Georgia Green and managing editor of the Black Agenda Report) are convinced that dues are essential for the left to build political institutions independent of the duopoly. Check out their presentation on this below.
Summary of the Hawkins–Dixon presentation on transforming the Green Party into a dues-paying, membership-based organization:
- Most state Green Parties, and the national Green Party, currently have the same model of party as the Democrats and Republicans: an enrollment party, where the party structure is determined by state law and voter registration. But we don't have to let the state to define what our party structure is.
- After the various state Green Parties moved away from dues/membership structure in the 1990s, the GP as a result has a depleted funding base and depleted grassroots organizing base.
- The GP is largely underfunded and understaffed. Too weak to compete with the two major parties—because we're imitating the organizing model of the two parties.
- The two major parties have candidates that are completely independent of and not responsible to any party membership save 1% donors and corporations. The GP often follows the same model of unaccountability—only without the money and without the media. How's that working for us?
- The solution for the GP is to return to the dues/membership model. The dues/membership model is an invention of the left in the early twentieth century that allowed left parties to compete against top-down Democrat and Republican parties. And it allowed the organization to hold officers and candidates accountable to the member base.
- Green Party local chapters—well-funded ones—will be the places where we conduct political education and build social movements not controlled by the whims of corporate-funded, single-issue nonprofits. Prior to the 1960s, there were no single-issue nonprofits. Instead, social movements came out of membership-based political parties, labor unions, and farmers' alliances.
- Legality question: "Are dues legal?" Dues are legal per the US Supreme Court. It's a First Amendment right for a political committee (a party) to require dues. The one thing parties cannot dictate is who votes in primaries—state election law decides that. But a political party can designate that dues-paying members are the people who nominate/elect the party's officers and its candidates.
- The poll tax question: "Aren't dues a poll tax?" No, dues are not a poll tax. Low-income people will not be excluded. Examples: Data show that the lower the person is on the income scale, the more the person gives to charitable and civic organizations. ACORN (composed of working-class members) asked for $5 a month ($60 a year) and had up to half a million members, while some middle-class progressives complain $5 is too much to pay to the GP.
Are you convinced that dues are essential? Want to join a radically different party? Yes, we're radically different than the two major parties—but the funny thing is, our solutions are commonsense ones supported by a majority of Americans.