CO-OPPING NASHVILLE

13 12 2015

As many of you probably know, I ran for Metro Council last summer.  My candidacy was pretty minimal–I made no attempt to recruit volunteers or raise money, and spent none of my own.  I created a blog and a Facebook page to lay out my platform, attended several candidate forums, posted ideas and answers on several internet voter education sites, and was interviewed by the Nashville Scene, which, as it did when Howard Switzer ran for Governor, trivialized my campaign and ignored my issues because they’re Democrats and we’re Greens, and they don’t care for competition on the left. (I was hoping to provide a link to the job the Scene did on my friend Howard, but they have apparently opted to chuck that article down the ol’ memory hole. Probably a good call on their part.)

There were three key pillars in my platform.  One was re-localizing Nashville, economically, socially, and politically–creating neighborhoods in which people could attend school, shop, work, and go out and socialize without needing to use an automobile–thus simplifying the city’s traffic problems–and granting these neighborhoods a fair amount of control over their zoning, codes enforcement, new construction, schools, and policing.  Another pillar was to identify and foster industries that would serve local needs that are currently being met by goods imported from across the continent or across the ocean.  The third pillar was to foster co-operatives as a form of small-d democratic community organization–not just food co-ops and other retail establishments, but worker-owned service and manufacturing co-ops, and housing co-ops, as well.  These worker-owned co-ops would include the local-needs industries, and the housing co-ops would be part of a larger context of urban land trusts. All these would serve to increase opportunities and living standards for lower-income Nashvillians, stabilize their neighborhoods, and empower them with an ownership stake in the places where they work, shop, and live. My proposals were largely modelled on the ones that made Bernie Sanders’ reputation as Mayor of Burlington–they were radical and populist but pragmatic and very “doable.” They are also infectious, in the sense that people hear them, like them, and make them their own.  Their emphasis on citizen, not government, ownership appeals to people all over the political spectrum.2015_1206co_2

That was my basic message.  About 2,300 Nashville voters heard it and signalled their approval by voting for me.  That earned me second-to-last standing in the election, but, for me, the important part of my campaign was that, in the course of attending the candidate forums, I got to speak repeatedly to the candidates who did win the election.  Hey, at several of these, there were more candidates on the stage than voters in the audience! Besides, candidates are also voters, and we each had four votes in the election besides the one each of us was likely to cast for ourselves.

And so, I planted my seeds, with no idea which ones would sprout or where, and, once the election was over, happily returned to my wooded hollow and my usual pursuits.  Imagine my surprise early last week when I glanced through my email inbox and discovered that the Tennessee Alliance for Progress (TAP), in partnership with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project, (which springs from the venerable Highlander Folk Center) was sponsoring an all-day workshop on….creating co-operatives in Nashville.  How could I not go?

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THE STATE OF THE STATE OF THE STATE

10 02 2006

Governor Bredesen gave his “State of the State” address recently. Compared to W’s recent remarks, Phil’s presentation was the very model of honesty and vision, but there was much he merely put a good face on, and much that he ignored.

Tenncare is, of course, the bull elephant in Tennessee’s parlor, and it was good to hear the Guv tie lifestyle counseling in as part of his health care reform package, but the fact remains that, as a health care millionaire, Bredesen is as responsible for skyrocketing health care costs as anyone. Is Dracula really going to curb the vampire problem?

Bredesen, like Bill Frist, has grown fat by profiting from others’ misfortune. Speaking of ethics reform, how ’bout giving up your ill-gotten gains, Phil? They’d help a lot of poor people stay alive. Phil says he will be proposing major health-care reforms soon, and has proposed a way to cover all the uninsured children in the state, but he’s not getting to the deep issue here—we are caught in the clutches of a for-profit medical system that is geared towards wealth accumulation, not promoting human health.

For example, over the last seven years, four diabetes lifestyle clinics along the line of what Gov. Bredesen seems to be proposing have opened in New York City, but three of them have closed because they lost literally millions of dollars, even though they were doing wonders for the patients who used their services. Healthier diabetics do not need to spend so much money on pills and procedures, and that, in our current economic regime, is not a good thing—it lowers the GNP! Ah, the religion of economics….put wealth before health, kiddies… Insurance companies balk at taking on diabetics, because they are obvious losers from the for-profit company’s point of view. For-profit hospitals must make the best-paying use of their time, and people pay more for kidney dialysis, amputations, and stomach-shrinking operations than they do for diet and exercise counseling.

And people who receive and apply that counseling, not only are lowering the GNP by not consuming so many expensive pills and procedures, they’re weakening the country by not buying the foods that contribute so much to the American economy—pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers, french fries—excuse me, freedom fries—red meat, wonderbread—all the big contributors to the GOP—I mean GNP –are gonna get hurt if too many people change their diet. And if people are out exercising instead of watching TV, how will we control what they think and how they vote?

The exercise thing must have been a sop, like Bush’s “alcohol from switch grass” line—the very next day, Shrub cut the alternative fuels r&d budget. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Phil’s lifestyle counseling centers. And will health insurance for all of Tennessee’s uninsured kids be insurance that lots of them get put on Ritalin? Stay tuned.

An issue that Gov. Bredesen didn’t touch was the continuing deterioration of small-town life in Tennessee as Walmart continues to suck money out of the state. Sure, they’ve got the lowest prices around, partly because they have such a big, efficient distribution system, and partially because they underpay their employees. And sure, those low prices are a boon to low-income people, but if Walmart wasn’t driving wages down and driving out owner-run retail business, there would be a lot fewer low-income people who need to take advantage of Walmart’s low prices to stretch their shrinking food stamps.

But…what could the State of Tennessee do about Walmart, especially now that it’s ubiquitous?

The most obvious step relates back to the health care question—Gov. Bredesen could ask for legislation requiring all companies over a certain size to provide affordable, comprehensive health care plans to their employees. Yeah, I know that doesn’t establish not-for profit health care, but you gotta start somewhere. For another thing, he could ask for legislation that would, through zoning and tax incentives, work to preserve open land and discourage sprawl, so that the Walmart/strip mall plague doesn’t get any worse.

I think another big/little step would be to use the power, organization, and communication ability of the state government to foster community economic organizing—rather than bringing in outside corporations to provide services and employment in Tennessee’s dying country towns, we need to bring people together in those towns and help them realize their own strengths and their ability to provide for themselves. The Mondragon movement in Spain provides a template for this kind of worker-owned co-operative business. Neighborhood food, clothing, and shelter providers need to become the order of the day, because, as our Junkie-in-Chief put it in his speech, “America is addicted to oil,” and we need to break that addiction before it gets broken for us by crashing oil supplies and skyrocketing prices. When that day comes, Tennessee will, if current trends continue, find itself with an excellent network of four-lane footpaths, at least until the rivers change course and wash out the bridges. Then there will be some job opportunities for ferrypersons.

Phil spoke not a word about peak oil or global warming, nor did he offer anything that even remotely seemed like a way to meet these crises, crises that will turn low high school graduation rates and the so-called “meth epidemic” into the worst problems we wish we had. P.S. to Phil, if you want people to quit screwing around with amphetamines, you could try legalizing marihuana—or even legalizing amphetamine, which was an over-the-counter, cheap, nonprescription drug from its invention in the thirties until the mid-fifties, without producing any noticeable crime wave–not that I’d use it even if it was legal.  But, I digress.

Governor Bredesen could have showed some vision by asking the state legislature to endorse the Kyoto Protocols, or some courage by denouncing the war in Iraq (which, after all, has as much legal basis as the Nazi invasion of Poland!) and announcing that he will no longer allow Tennessee National Guard Troops to be sent over there to get their asses shot off to keep our fear factor government happening. He could have just shown common sense by proposing an initiative to cut Tennessee’s electrical consumption, or to encourage more solar design in all the development that’s eating what’s left of the countryside in this state, but he didn’t do any of those. He gave a nice, business-as-usual, nothing extraordinary about to happen around here speech—but business is not as usual and extraordinary things are coming to pass, and he will go down in history as a man who did nothing to prepare us for it. Sorry, Phil, you flunked.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland”








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