THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

chomskynarrow

I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here. Read the rest of this entry »





OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE

18 12 2016

music: Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows

I confess, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I’m kind of in shock that it did, and I still wonder if some strong wind will suddenly rise up and blow this strange, new, apparent reality away, but for now, the fact remains: On November 8, a strategically located minority of America’s voters–barely a quarter of those eligible–rose up against being slowly roasted in the frying pan of the Democratic Party’s kinder, gentler neoliberalism and…jumped directly into the fire of an undisguised corporate/reactionary/climate denialist takeover of the United States Government. That strategic minority of voters didn’t jump alone, however. They took the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is, millions of people who might have thought everything was OK because Hillary Clinton was in charge now feel extremely insecure, and with good reason. That may not sound like good news, but it’s actually an improvement on what their state of mind with Clinton as President would have been, namely, “feeling secure, but without good reason.” More on that later. It’s one of the several facets of this complex question that we are going to be examining.  We’ll call that “Bad news/Good news.” The others are “how did we get here,” “What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and  “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?”

So…how did we get here? Let’s start by looking at a couple of intertwined longer-term phenomena: our overall national sense of well-being, which, I think, is the force that’s been driving the second phenomenon, the waxing and waning of political party ascendancies since the late sixties and early seventies. The Kennedy-Johnson years and early Nixon years were the point in our country’s history when American workers were at the peak of their earnings. A guy with a blue-collar job could buy a house, support his stay-at-home wife, have a family, and send his kids to college if they wanted to go, or into a high-wage blue-collar job of their own. Note use of pronoun “his.”

Psychological sophistication was, not, and still is not, a hallmark of this culture, however, and white, working-class America’s response to change has been to perceive it as stress, and to respond to change/stress by rejecting the change/source of stress. Thus, some people perceived the Civil Rights movement and the Democratic Party’s efforts on its behalf, the hippies, and the anti-war movement as emotional threats, and reacted viscerally to them, rejecting Johnson’s heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey, and voting instead for Richard Nixon, who promised “law and order,” but proved to be pretty disorderly and unlawful himself. Too much stress. Jimmy Carter is a very unstressful Democrat, a Southerner that Northerners feel comfortable with. He’s the Pres.

But another, far more visceral, source of stress had started to kick in in the late 70’s. Workers’s wages quit rising, but the rest of the economy didn’t. In other words, everything cost more, but workers didn’t have more money at their disposal. Source of stress. Throw in a small Middle-Eastern country grabbing America by the crotch, aka the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a botched rescue attempt, too much stress–Jimmy Carter is outta there after just one term, replaced by an entertainer, who had received hundreds of hours of television exposure as an easy-going, but principled, actor and show host. Much less stress! “It’s morning in America!” Ronald Reagan actually managed to hand the show off to George Bush, Sr., for one term, but the economic stress was continuing, even intensifying, and here’s two nice young Baby Boomers with a fresh approach. Hey, we all know he really did inhale, and so did his VP…they’ll chill us out way better than that crusty ol’ WWII vet. Read the rest of this entry »





A DEEP GREEN PERSPECTIVE ON BERNIE SANDERS

11 07 2015
sanderswoodcut
Not since the halcyon days when Rev. Martin Luther King broadened his perspective from civil rights for African-Americans to human rights for everybody, and called for an end to poverty, oppression, and warfare, has there been such thunder on the left.  Bernie Sanders has come out swinging, not just as a populist, but as a socialist, and he has tapped into a vein of enthusiasm that just might propel him into the Democratic Party nomination for President, and from there into the White House.
Bernie Sanders’ career has, over the years, built a solid foundation for such an attempt.  As a college student he worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, and he spent time on a kibbutz in Israel before moving to Vermont and getting into politics with the Liberty Union Party. He was a frequent losing candidate throughout the 70’s, and ultimately left the LUP.  Then, in 1981, friends urged him to run for mayor of Burlington, his home and the largest city in Vermont. Sanders ran as an independent and a socialist, won by ten votes, and went on to serve four terms, beating Republicans, Democrats, and Republican-Democratic fusion candidates.  Sanders’ tenure as mayor, according to Peter Dreier and Pierre Clavel, writing in The Nation, produced the following results:
… the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.
 
The city has largely continued in the direction Sanders set it in, with protégés of his winning election most of the time since his retirement as mayor in 1989.  The changes that Sanders made in Burlington have remained because they are so popular with so many people, independents, Democrats, Republicans, and socialists alike.  In 1990, again running as an independent, he won Vermont’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  One of his first acts as a Congressman was to establish the “Progressive Caucus.” However, his role since arriving on the national scene has more as a conscience than as a get-it-done legislator.  He has introduced what would be landmark legislation if it went anywhere, but, between hostile Republicans and indifferent Democrats, only one bill, and some floor amendments, have Sanders’ name on them. The bill was a largely procedural one allowing Vermont and New Hampshire to co-operate on taking care of the Connecticut River.

Read the rest of this entry »





TRAYVON MARTIN AND THE CULTURE OF FEAR

7 04 2012

OK, today is Easter, and it’s time for the latest crucifixion news.  I just wish I had some resurrections  to report on along with them, but, alas, I don’t.  By now, it is hardly news that Trayvon Martin, unarmed and in fear for his life, was murdered in cold blood by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer who, as of this writing, has not been charged with any crime, apparently on the grounds that he acted in fear for his own  life, which, according to the “stand your ground” law promulgated in Florida and many other states, including Tennessee, by the American Legislative Exchange Council, excuses murder if you’re afraid of the person you kill. How’s that for a ‘get out of jail free” card?

When we drop back from the immediate facts of this case, it becomes another link in a long chain of black men who have been killed by whites, generally with impunity.  This chain stretches back through the many murders visited on the Civil Rights movement, to the notorious case of Emmett Till in the early 1960’s, to pogroms that destroyed entire African-American towns and neighborhoods in the twenties, to the brutal repression of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, to slave owners’ desire to break the will of any person of color who was perceived as “uppity,” or likely to fight back against oppression, back to the Nat Turner revolt and the forced origin of African-American immigration to the Western Hemisphere–virtually every African-American’s ancestors were kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Oh, but that was centuries ago.  No way our conscience could still be bothering us, right?  Yeah, right.  What in the world do they want “reparations” for?

the late Eric Perez

Let’s put Trayvon Martin’s murder in perspective, by examining some similar incidents.  Let’s start with the death of Eric Perez.  One of the ironies of life in America is that this young man with a Hispanic name looks African-American, while George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, bears a German name but looks Hispanic, not African, but still would almost certainly be discriminated against by any white racist who had the opportunity.  Poop, as they say, rolls down hill, and here’s the story of how it hit the fan for the unfortunate Eric Perez.  On July 9th of last year, 17-year old Eric was riding his bicycle after dark, and the bicycle didn’t have a light on it, so the police stopped him, frisked him, and found a small amount of marijuana.  Because Eric was still on probation for crimes committed when he was 13 (and who isn’t crazy when they’re 13?), his probation was immediately revoked, and he was taken to the West Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center.  That night, under the guise of making sure he wasn’t taking any food back to his cell, guards at the jail roughed him up, banging his head on the concrete floor.  When the dazed young man obeyed their orders to stand up, he fell and hit his head on a table.  Within a few hours, he was nauseous and hallucinating, but the guards didn’t call 911, because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filing an incident report, and the nurse who was ostensibly responsible for after-hours medical care at the jail didn’t return the guards’ phone call.  Next morning, Eric Perez was dead, executed by neglect for the terrible crimes of riding a bicycle without a light and having a small amount of marijuana on his person–and it’s worth noting that defenders of George Zimmerman have attempted to slander Trayvon Martin by pointing out that he had been suspended from school for having a baggie with traces of marijuana in his pocket.  People, America is not Singapore.  Yet.

And what happened to the killers of Eric Perez?  Well, they lost their jobs, after five months of paid ‘administrative leave,” but they were not prosecuted, because, the Grand Jury determined, “no existing statute applies to the facts of the matter.”  Apparently, Eric’s death somehow does not fit any definition of murder, homicide, or manslaughter.  However, in an official statement,the Grand Jury did urge  “… the Florida Legislature to enact a statute that criminalizes the neglect of anyone in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”  Just the thing Rick Scott and his Tea Party buddies in the Florida legislature will jump right up and do…not.  In a further insult to Eric’s family, the state offered $5,000 to help with burial expenses, then stopped the check, before reissuing it.  Talk about “jerking people around.”

So that’s the murder of Eric Perez–killed by prison guards because he didn’t have a light on his bike and he did have a baggie in his pocket, and might be taking food to his room.  Next, let’s look at the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, who actually did have all his ducks in a row–and was shot dead in his own home by police at point-blank range anyway.

the late Kenneth Chamberlain

At five o’clock in the morning last November, the African-American former Marine and prison guard, who was under treatment for a heart condition, rolled over in his sleep and accidentally set off a “life-aid pendant” used by many older Americans so that, wherever they are, they can alert 911 in the event of a medical emergency, and so 911 operators dispatched an ambulance and police car to see what the matter was.  Perhaps because Mr. Chamberlain lived in a public housing project, where common prejudice has it that crime is more prevalent than elsewhere,  the police were not satisfied when Mr. Chamberlain told them he was fine and declined to get out of bed and let them into his one-room home at such an early hour.  “I know my rights,” he told them, and asked them to leave.  The police, apparently, did not know theirs, and cursed at the accidental object of their unwanted attention, demanding that he let them in.   They called for reinforcements, until there were eleven officers in the hall outside the apartment, and then they broke in and tasered the unfortunate but completely innocent occupant, who was clad only in his underwear and making no attempt to resist their unlawful entry.  When tasering didn’t knock him down, one of the officers ordered the minicam on the taser shut off, and shot him twice.  The second shot killed him.  He had done no wrong. There was no contraband of any kind in his possession.  And he was dead, just like Trayvon Martin, Eric Perez, and so many before them, and,  as has all too often been the case, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Another irony emerges in this story.  Many people, including me, have expressed concerns about the increasing intrusion of security cameras into our lives.  In this case, the entire incident was caught on tape by security cameras, not just on the taser, but in the hall of the apartment, and by an audio recorder on Chamberlain’s 911 device, which did not get turned off, giving the lie to the police story that the 5’6″ heart patient had threatened them, and for that reason they had used deadly force.  Like Trayvon Martin, Chamberlain had been on the phone as he felt his doom approach.  Chamberlain was talking to the 911 operator, pleading with authorities to call off their attack dogs–er, police officers, and letting the 911 operator know he was in fear for his life.

When I took a break from writing this story, I discovered that Chamberlain’s murderer has been identified, thanks to Democracy Now! reporter Juan Gonzalez, as Anthony Corelli, who, in spite of being indicted and about to go to trial on Federal civil rights violations in another case, was still on duty.  And I also learned that the white New Orleans police who shot peaceful, unarmed African-Americans trying to escape the city after Hurricane Katrina have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms….seven years after the fact.  I wish I could take some satisfaction in that, but I can’t.  What we are dealing with here is widespread and systemic, and punishing individuals for acting on the basis of conditioning that was instilled in them when they were too young to think, and that they were never encouraged to question, is not an answer.  Jail time is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, and more likely to simply breed deeper fear and resentment.  We need a more creative solution, a way to transform people.  Except in rare cases, putting people in jail doesn’t transform them, it deforms them even further.

I could spend the rest of this radio show, and many more, detailing the European-American-generated tragedies that have unravelled the lives of people who just happened to be born African-American.  And much has been written already about the deep cause–the seemingly insatiable European drive to conquer, exploit, convert, and control every person and acre of ground on this little blue ball we call home.  The question is not so much “what’s the problem?” as it is, “what can we do to heal this ongoing, world-wide wound?”  As a human being of pretty nearly unadulterated European descent, this is an extremely personal question for me, one that I have grappled with ever since, in my early teens, I began to become aware of just how much privilege I took for granted.

I didn’t quite realize where this story was going when I started writing it.  My head was full of the switcheroo in the early 80’s, when big corporations responded to the expansion of ecological and social justice consciousness in this country by moving their operations beyond the reach of American law, thus beginning the destruction of the middle class, leaving people less time for reflection and activism, and the linked switch from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs.  The War on Poverty was offensive to the corporatocracy because it empowered people and led them to question the status quo.  The War on Drugs changed the government’s primary focus from empowering the poor to imprisoning–and disenfranchising–them.  The U.S. prison population is now seven times what it was in 1980, despite a dropping crime rate–thank you, Ronald Reagan!  Thank you Bill Clinton!  But I digress…that story will have to wait for another time.  We’re going deeper than that.

Becoming a hippie solved some of my conflicts about being born into such a privileged situation.  The exploitation and destruction of the natural world is driven largely by clean-cut white guys in business suits, and so from an early age I did my best not to be one of those.  I can’t do anything about the color of my skin or the y chromosome in every cell of my body, but being clean-cut and wearing a necktie are two things that a white guy can abandon, and, in the process, get at least a little taste of what it’s like to be a member of the powerless, dark-skinned underclass.  And hey, all it takes is a shave, a haircut, and a suit, and you are once again indistinguishable from the oppressor class!

But being powerless has its own difficulties, especially when coupled with a desire to make the world a better place for everyone.  In the early 70’s, my fellow counterculturalists and I hoped to prevail by sheer force of numbers and the fact that we were having more fun than our square, bought-in counterparts, but time, fear, and financial fetters conspired to erode those attractions for far too many of my unindicted co-conspirators, many of whom (including, some would say, me) have taken the easy way out and accepted the privilege of our heritage.  Since the 70’s, the crisis we perceived then has only snowballed in severity, and there is no sign of any let-up.  Were we wrong to bail on the lives we could have led, to attempt the creation of a counterculture in which black men, and everyone else, young and old, need not fear for their lives, rather than to fully enter the mainstream and attempt that same work in the belly of the beast?  Was Margaret Thatcher right?  Is no alternative possible?

No.  Margaret Thatcher was wrong.  Not only is an alternative possible, it is imperative.  The only way to change a society as steeped in fear and domination as ours is to do all we can to create a real, living, breathing, wake-up-to-it-in-the-morning alternative, to the very best of our admittedly limited ability.  Patience, tolerance, and flexibility are core values for this new society, and one way to practice them is to apply them to the limitations we all have due to our deep conditioning to, and inescapable links with, the impatient, intolerant,inflexible culture that confines us.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s the only game in town, besides the one that is so afraid of its own shadow and the evil it has visited on others that it excuses the murders of innocent people whose skin happens to be the wrong color, or who happen to maybe smoke the wrong kind of cigarettes, or who happen to live in places where fossil fuels or other deadly drugs could be produced.   Our success is not certain–but if we don’t try, our failure is inevitable.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”





RACISM AND ME

10 04 2010

Some people think I’m racist.  I have called my Metro Council representative “Step n’ Fetchit.” I wrote a Joel Chandler Harris knockoff called “B’rer Obama An’ De Tar Baby,”(since withdrawn pending revision) and I once wondered in print whether TSU president Melvin Johnson “shouted ‘Hosannah!’, “did a buck dance, or “shook his wooly mane in joy” when the May family offered to donate the undevelopable flood plain portion of their Bell’s Bend holdings to TSU for an” organic farming research institute.” Taken out of context, this last one sounds especially awful, but I was attempting to highlight my observation that it was the May family that was actually playing the race card, seeking to enlist the support of Nashville’s African-American community with a splashy show of faux generosity that, in fact, as I put it in my original post, re-enforced ante-bellum Southern class structure by “arranging to have the darkies out toiling in the fields.”

Full disclosure: my father’s family owned slaves, and my great-great grandfather died in the Civil War, defending his right to do so.  The idea that one human being can somehow “own” another is morally repugnant to me, as is the idea that lighter-skinned people are entitled to better treatment than darker-skinned ones.

I was not brought up to look down on people for having a different color of skin than my own.  Far from it; my mother and I (divorced, she was a single parent long before it was common) attended interracial “family camp” weekends when I was a teenager, and my mother encouraged me to become a civil rights activist.  My activism brought me in contact with a more relaxed, informal culture that contrasted sharply with the stultifying mores of the de facto segregated suburb where I grew up.  Still, my most common contact with  African-americans was the women my mother hired to help her clean house.  My mother certainly did not think of herself as “racist” for doing this. Others might dispute that.

But at the same time as I appreciated the culture I found through the civil rights movement, I became aware that this was not my culture and there was no way I could blend into it.  I became a hippie, more or less consciously attempting to help initiate a relaxed culture that would be available to those of us with paler complexions. It is my curmudgeonly opinion that most of the serious damage to the planet has been done by short-haired, clean-shaven white guys in suits.  I do not  want to be a clean-cut white guy in a suit.  I can’t do anything about having European ancestors, and cosmetic surgery won’t change the fact that I have a Y chromosome in every cell of my body, but I can at least be shaggy and suitless.  “Barbarians,” the clean-cut Romans called us.  That’s me.  Not interested in supporting the Roman Empire, thank you.

But it’s not just about me, or just about me and the other  hippies. It’s about the way people with lighter complexions have treated people with darker complexions–can you say “oppression,” boys and girls?  It’s about how that oppression informs the perceptions of the oppressed.

I wasn’t thinking about that when I used the language I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.  I was seeing a form of “the Stockholm syndrome,”  as the descendants of kidnapped Africans were (and are) seeking to emulate the unsustainable, oppressive lifestyle of their kidnappers, mainstream America, and I was attempting to use shocking language to bring attention to this.   However, to the public at large, those who don’t know me personally, I am just another white guy, just another oppressor, and for me to use the kind of language I employed is about as appropriate as telling dirty jokes to a rape victim.  I know from long and embarrassing experience that I am capable of astounding insensitivity.  That’s why I don’t drink–I’m clumsy, uninhibited, and insensitive enough without taking a drug that will increase those tendencies.

But–am I “racist?”  Not on purpose, no–but to the extent that I have not succeeded in transforming myself, I still carry–and express–the subconscious racist attitudes that permeate our European-dominated culture.  That’s the real “white man’s burden.”

This is not something that can be overcome merely by legislation.   The issue is too complex and psychological for that.  It’s something that will only pass away through the healing that comes from open-hearted self-examination and interpersonal contact. That can’t be legislated, but it can be nurtured by creating a slower, more introspective, more compassionate culture.  There may not be time or means left to save the planet from the consequences of climate change or resource depletion, but we can, each and every one of us, be kinder and more open in our daily lives, and it will have an effect.

This is not a rejection of “politics.”  If enough people in a political system change their minds, the political system will change, no matter how much money the corporations spend.  So, if I have offended you with my “racist” language, (and yet you have the patience to still be following my rantings), please accept my apology.  I don’t want anything to stand in the way of people getting together and working on what needs to be done.

As Frank Zappa said, “I’m not black, but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I wasn’t white.”

music:  Mothers of Invention “Trouble Comin’ Every Day”








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