Green Party gets footing in town

Unsatisfied with the political candidates they could choose from, two 2013 Waterford High School graduates decided to take it upon themselves to make sure they would have candidates who they truly agree with.

"We don't politically align with the Democrats or the Republicans, we tend to be a little more liberal leaning than either party," Joshua Kelly said. "We decided that we didn't want to stick with the two-party system, we didn't want to go with the lesser of two evils every time we voted."

So, along with a handful of like-minded friends, Kelly and Baird Welch-Collins decided to start organizing a chapter of the Green Party in their native Waterford with hopes of becoming an officially recognized group.

"No one else in Waterford was trying to work on this effort, so we decided that we would," Kelly said.

The group made its public debut on Nov. 23 when it held a "Songs for Syria" concert and pasta dinner at the Niantic Community Church. All proceeds from the dinner were donated to UNICEF's Syrian relief fund, in an effort to help children in Syria who have been affected by the ongoing crisis there.

"We wanted to put this event together because we want the Green Party to start getting involved in community affairs and that includes the global community," Kelly said.

Kelly, a politics major at Ithaca College, was elected chairman of the party at its first meeting and has spearheaded the charge to have the Green Party of Connecticut officially recognize the Waterford chapter.

Per state party guidelines, any group of five or more people who hold a monthly meeting in three consecutive months can apply to be named a regional chapter of the Green Party. After holding meetings in September and October, representatives from the state party attended the Waterford group's November meeting "to talk about what it means to be an official state chapter," Kelly said.

"We'll certainly be in much greater contact with (the state party) once we formally apply to become a chapter and moving forward," he said. "We've also been in close contact with the New London Greens. We've asked them for advice on the best way to go about becoming an official chapter and how we could eventually work together."

And while Kelly and Welch-Collins said they hope the Waterford chapter of the Green Party will be vibrant enough to get candidates on the ballot for the town's municipal elections in 2015, they know they have work to do before then.

"We are definitely going to try to run candidates (in two years)," Welch-Collins, who studies government at Connecticut College, said. "But the first step is for us to get the word out about the party and to start getting people in Waterford involved."

Among Green Party supporters, there is an optimism that the party's platform of decentralization, non-violence, environmental sustainability and community-based economics will draw interest from voters.

"There is an enormous amount of green space and marshland here, and the ocean is so important to a lot of the people who live here," the Waterford chapter's treasurer Michael Stankov, 18, said. "Because the ecosystem and environment are so important to this area, I think a lot of the Green Party's platform will appeal to people in Waterford."

Though they are new voters themselves, Kelly and Welch-Collins said they don't view their inexperience as a detriment. In fact, they think other young voters will be attracted to the Green Party.

"In recent years, due to the economic crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially in younger voters, I've seen an increase in interest for an alternative to the two-party system," Kelly said. "The Green Party is definitely a route that can be taken to help get rid of the two-party polarity so many people dislike."

Despite the Green Party having no state or national officeholders, Kelly said recent Green Party victories in places like New London and Fairfield make him hopeful that the party will continue to grow.

"Across the board this was a very good year of local elections for Green Party members, many were able to clinch a spot in an office or on a local council or board," he said. "In the future, Waterford will be no exception."

C.YOUNG@THEDAY.COM

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