Woke in flight: Greens grapple with generational schism

Key points

  • Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe quit the party on Tuesday, followed in quick succession by Yarra councillor Amanda Stone and Merri-bek councillor James Conlan.
  • The resignations have led to claims of a generational divide within the party between older community activists and young ‘woke’ Greens.
  • Greens leadership argues the defections are just a case of growing pains with the party increasing its number of elected representatives in Victoria from 25 to over 40 in the past two years. 

Three high-profile resignations this week from the Victorian Greens have led to claims of a generational divide within the party and growing tensions between older community activists and young “woke” members.

The party leadership argues the defections are just a case of growing pains after it increased its number of elected representatives in Victoria from 25 to over 40 in the past two years, but some members see the differing opinions as a potential major schism within the Greens.

Senator Lidia Thorpe departs after a press conference announcing she was quitting the Greens. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The turmoil began when Senator Lidia Thorpe quit the party on Monday, followed in quick succession by Yarra councillor Amanda Stone and Merri-bek councillor James Conlan.

All three cited different reasons for their departures, with Thorpe opposing a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous Voice to parliament without a treaty, Stone quitting after her colleagues restricted public access to council meetings, and Conlan resigning in solidarity with Thorpe while calling out “structural racism” within the Greens.

Privately some Greens members say the resignations show a shift within the party away from consensus politics to identity-based politics, with councillors like Stone increasingly isolated because of “extreme woke” views from a new generation of Greens who are not prepared to compromise.

They point to Thorpe’s decision to walk away and Conlan “picking up his bat and ball and going home” rather than advocating for change within the party.

One Greens councillor, who wanted to remain anonymous because of the backlash they said they would face for speaking out, said older members were seen as “has-beens” within a party dominated by younger Greens with sectional interests.

“Too many of us are white and so are [deemed] suspicious, too many are straight cisgendered and so are treated as suspicious, too many of us are feminists and feminist allies, so we are seen as transphobes even if we are not,” the councillor said. “How much can a sectional interest, whether they are Blak Greens, queer Greens and young Greens, determine the policy of the whole party? This is an issue that needs to be discussed.”

Dandenong Greens councillor Rhonda Garad acknowledged that there was a generational divide within the Greens, but said it was not a bad thing.

“I am really happy that we have people that care so passionately about issues; I think that makes us stronger,” she said. “Allegiance to a party is one thing, but allegiance to your own values is surely more important.”

Garad said the Greens was a broad church and could accommodate a range of views.

“It’s a good thing that we have a generational divide because it means that we have young people coming through,” she said.

She said she understood the reasons that had caused Thorpe, Stone and Conlan to walk away.

Conlan said there had been an “overwhelmingly positive” response to his decision to leave the Greens, particularly from First Nations party members.

Merri-Bek councillor James Conlan quit the Greens in solidarity with Thorpe. Credit:Justin McManus

“It’s about how the party treats marginalised groups, especially First Nations women,” he said. “If they actually speak their minds, then there is a lot of squashing of those voices that happens if they don’t speak, talk and walk like a white politician.”

Conlan said recent constitutional changes to the Greens had centralised power and the party had a lot of work to do to become more inclusive.

“When you centralise power like that, it tends to go towards, you know, a wealthier, older demographic, at the expense of the younger membership,” he said.

Greens party leaders declined to comment on any divide, instead emphasising the strong growth of the party.

“I know this week has been tough for many Green supporters, but we are still in a really strong position in Victoria and federally, in balance of power and with record presence in parliament,” federal leader Adam Bandt said.

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said while it was always sad when someone left the party, the Greens were focused on solving society’s big issues.

“When you’re a large and growing party with this many elected representatives, there is always going to be movement,” she said.

Greens founder Bob Brown said the defections from the party were just a symptom of its growth.

“[Greens] now represent more than 10 per cent of the population and with that always comes the ups and downs of politics,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s generational. Instead of one or two representatives, you’ve got dozens or scores of representatives as there are now in Victoria. It’s inevitable that there will be people come and go from the party ranks, for whatever reason.”

Brown said Thorpe had prioritised her activism.

“I am an environmental activist and when you go into politics, it becomes difficult to make that choice to be a political representative as against a political activist,” he said.

Whatever the cause of the Greens resignations, they have exposed fault lines within the party.

While most Greens support the Voice to parliament, the party’s First Nations Network, known as the Blak Greens, have declared solidarity with Thorpe in rejecting “being forced into the racist Constitution by the so-called sovereign Australian government”.

Zareh Ghazarian, senior lecturer in politics at Monash University, said the turmoil showed some fragility within the Greens as an organisation.

“The challenge for the Greens is to maintain a sense of cohesion because, of course, every member is so crucial to a minor party,” he said.

Conlan said he planned to work “constructively” with the Merri-Bek Greens where he could, but would use his independent position to champion issues he cared about.

Stone declined to comment, but Yarra socialist councillor Stephen Jolly said the council was “wide open” with the Greens losing its majority, now holding only three positions.

“It is a bit messier now than it used to be,” Jolly said. ”Three issues – housing, planning and climate change – open up an opportunity for the real left to outflank the Greens.”

Jolly said the generational divide that was impacting the Greens benefitted parties like the Socialists.

“The young Greens are a woke professional managerial class,” he said. “They are progressive on climate change, they want to advance the cause of First Nations people, but on economic issues they are not working-class or middle class and privately they may not be as much in favour of taxing the rich as Adam Bandt might be.”

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article