Greens' growth has just begun
If you wanted one sentence that summed up the annual conference of the Green Party in Northern Ireland on Saturday, March 21, this would be it. "We're going to have to rethink our targets for 2016 - because we've already exceeded them."
In July 2014, the party set itself the goal of boosting membership to 300 within two years. By the day of the conference, thus more than a year ahead of schedule, we were just short of 400.
We said we would aim to have two new local groups established over the same time frame. We had three new groups up and running by February. And though we didn't explicitly set goals for this, we have also launched two major new initiatives, the Women's Forum and the Queer Greens group.
The Greens are growing. Why? Because more and more people are yearning for an alternative to the grey conservative consensus offered by the traditional parties, both here and across the UK.
The Greens are finding that more and more people are open to a new kind of politics, a new political conversation, a conversation beyond the conflicts that have divided us in the past.
The Greens are engaging in a conversation with people across our communities and neighbourhoods who want to talk about the need for secure jobs, about feeling socially excluded because of their gender or sexuality, about poverty, about inequalities - problems the traditional parties seem less concerned about than in shoring up their own traditional 'side'.
But it's not just about the problems we face: we also have a vision and an ambition for Northern Ireland. The blogger 'Alan in Belfast' has described us as 'an expanding and youthful post-conflict party with an open and honest approach'. It's a description we're happy to accept.
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Let's add, though, that we are a party on the march, actively demonstrating our commitment to social justice, to sustainability, to grassroots democracy and to non-violence, and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone fighting the same battle.
So the Greens are growing; but watch this space: there's more to come. In the words of our Deputy Leader Clare Bailey, we haven't even started our surge yet.
- Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland