Pacific Greens experiment with large-scale participatory democracy

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Organizational Model Background

With our planet facing a climate crisis and accelerating human rights catastrophes, the Pacific Greens look to the key value of grassroots democracy: " create new types of political organizations that expand the process of participatory democracy."

The Pacific Greens are considering a watershed democracy constitution, based in part on the recommendation of John Wesley Powell to the Montana constitutional convention of 1889: "I want to present to you what I believe to be ultimately the political system which you have got to adopt in this country, and which the United States will be compelled sooner or later ultimately to recognize. I believe that the primary unit of organization...should be the drainage basin."

The structural elements of this bottom-up participatory democracy model are based on the Haudenosaunee Confederation, one of the oldest continuously functioning participatory democracies in the world

Allowing free association with any group on any discussion is inspired by a series of organizational structure discussions, initially instigated by long-time Green Party member Brian Setzler,  Setzler's presentations demonstrated how complex behavior can arise from simple first-order rules, as in a "murmuration". 

"Community clubs and activities, new businesses, cocktail parties, marches, rallies, unions, churches, cliques, gangs, beach cleanups - people self-organize all the time," said Brian. "Organizations are complex, adapting systems, self-organizing all the time. They are living systems."

The model also defines the watershed as the geographic basis for chapters to spread greater awareness and consciousness and to align our political identities with the natural boundaries of the planet. Definitions for HU12 watersheds are readily available from the U.S. Geological Survey's Watershed Boundary Dataset. The Pacific Greens have developed tools to geocode member addresses to the HU12 watersheds. 

By using watersheds as administrative units --- as recommended for the American West by John Wesley Powell, and as demonstrated in the Hawai'ian land system of ahupua'a --- this model is scalable to the entire planet. All proposals start at the local level and the persons selected as the initiators are not required to leave their home watershed as they continue to represent their proposals before larger decision-making bodies, up to the level of the planet. This governance model provides a way for us all to live in place while acting locally and thinking globally.

This model can also be used for structured large-group mediation, and to allow Pacific Greens to model respect for diversity, including diversity of thought.   From the disagreements of recent years, members recognized the need to modify the Pacific Greens bylaws and constitution.  This adaptation of the Haudenosaunee constitution is proposed as a way to gain experience and inform a future Rights of Nature constitution. 

How a Watershed Democracy Constitution works to promote Large Group Consensus

Under this principle, proposals are first advanced at the local level before being brought up to larger groups for consideration and approval.  As proposals advance to ever larger groups, all the way to the state, the reflect more of a consensus position.

At any level of discussion, Pacific Green Party members who choose to participate in a discussion, request, or proposal self-select into one of three groups: 

  1. the Initiating group, initiating a proposal, 

  2. the Responding group, responding to the proposal, or 

  3. the Mediating group, which reviews the proposal for consistency with Green values, to find common ground, and to suggest possible next steps towards consensus. 

Any person or group may initiate a proposal. Members can also choose not to participate in a discussion. 


The Constitution applied

How the Large Group Consensus Process Works

An Initiating group may choose to be anonymous and manage its own meeting times and spaces, for the greatest possible personal safety.  An anonymous Initiating group would select a Pacific Green Party member to serve as its public liaison, managing all public communications on its behalf. 

An Initiating group may be open to all members or restricted to a specified identity, to create a safe space for those discussions. A caucus based on shared political views, such as the Green Liberty Caucus, may choose to restrict its Initiating group to caucus members only. All Pacific Green Party members can still participate in the overall discussion, by joining the Responding or Mediating groups. 

Some Initiating groups may choose to be both: restricted and anonymous. For example, a discussion of aggressive and violent language and behavior directed towards women may restrict its Initiating group membership to women, and request anonymity, creating a safe space for its discussions. 

Software is available to track individual discussion items as each one moves sequentially from left to right through each step in the sequence. A discussion item starts as "Submitted" and is reviewed before a "Call for members" invites PGP registered members to join the Initiating, Responding, and Mediating groups. The item then moves through each of those groups. 

The discussion item moves to the next step of the process when the group organizer explicitly selects the group's consensus position. Here are the options for the mediating group in Round 1: 

When there is no consensus, the Mediating group offers a mediating proposal for both groups to consider. 

The Initiating group and Responding group independently consider the original proposal and the mediating proposal. If both groups consent to the same proposal, there is consensus; if both groups do not consent to the same proposal, there is no consensus and the discussion is recorded, as a potential starting point for the next discussion.   

To start a discussion anonymously, approach a trusted member to initiate the discussion on your behalf and act as your liaison.

To start a discussion and share your contact information:

To experience the system and follow current discussions, join the discussion group LargeGroupConsensus, watch your email for the latest updates on the discussion, or see the most recent calls for discussions of specific topics at

For more information, see the slide deck about the Greens' 1-2-3 Consensus process or attend a meeting of the Greens Watershed Democracy group every second Friday at 9:30 a.m

Green Party members share a focus on ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence. To register as a member of the Pacific Green Party, visit the Secretary of State website at .

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  • John Quetzalcoatl Murray
    published this page 2023-02-07 09:24:29 -0800