ASKING INCONVENIENT QUESTIONS

14 07 2019

As long-time readers of this blog know, I ran for an at-large seat on the Metro Nashville Council in 2015, mostly in an effort to publicize the long-term concerns I express. I received a couple of thousand votes and came in second to last. I said I’d be back, but when this election cycle came around, I didn’t file papers to run, for several reasons. First, somebody asked me to run last time, and nobody asked this time. Second, as I ran last time and got a better understanding of what was involved, it seemed that, if I ran again, I would have to run with the pledge that I would hire somebody as a legal consultant to help me translate my somewhat radical proposals into Legalese, the language in which our governments do business. From there, I concluded that it would be more efficient, and more credible to the voting public, if I, or the “we” that constitutes the local Green Party, simply found a lawyer who shared my/our values, and offered to help her or his campaign. And that’s as far as that got.

A few weeks ago, after attending a Mayoral candidates’ forum in which my concerns for Nashville’s long-term stability were not addressed, I wrote the following letter to all four major Mayoral candidates, and to the ten at-large council candidates I think have the best chance of winning. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Candidate:

I ran for at-large Metro Council in the last election. For a variety of reasons, I’m not in the race this time, but I still have the concerns I ran on four years ago, and I am still writing my blog and doing my radio show, and that is why I am writing you now. I would like to hear from you about “my issues,” and I would like to share your response (and comment on it) as my next radio show/blog post, which will air/be published in mid-July, so I am also asking your permission to publish your response. If I need to do any editing/condensing, I will share my proposed edit with you, to make sure that I have preserved your intentions. Here’s what I’m asking:

The way I see it, Nashville is currently enjoying an extraordinarily prosperous period, especially compared to a great many other cities in this country, and regions of the world. However, the same crises that have overtaken them loom over us—a runaway climate crisis, an increasingly fragile national economy, and the rapidly approaching exhaustion of many of the material resources our civilization depends on, from fossil fuels to rare earth metals to fish, forests, fertile soil, and clean water. To what extent do these factors inform your political agenda?

To what extent do you share my concerns? What do you think the city should, could, or is likely to do in response to them?

Thank you for your time and attention.

No mayoral candidate wrote me back, although Facebook Messenger informed me that John Ray Clemmons opened my letter–at 7:30 in the morning. I hope that some day we will find out that it served as a wake up call for him.

I did better with the council races, with six responses to ten letters sent. Three of the candidates who didn’t respond are the ones who are generally identified as Republicans, although technically Metro Council races are non-partisan. The fourth non-responder was Gicola Lane, one of the organizers behind the initiative that established a Police Review Board here in Nashville.

I can understand why a political candidate would be inclined to handle my questions very gingerly. Al Gore nailed it when he called climate change “an inconvenient truth.” It’s easy to see human history as an increasingly rapid spiral into greater wealth and technological complexity. By and large, people don’t want to imagine that things might move some other way– a spiral of decreasing resources, complexity, and expectations. As Bill Clinton is rumoured to have said, “Nobody ever got elected by promising the American people less.” When Winston Churchill told the British people, “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil, and tears,” he wasn’t running for office, he had just been elected, and the Germans were taking over Europe and saturation-bombing Britain as a prelude to invasion.

It’s difficult to get people to see that we are in a “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” situation with climate change. Instead of an invading army, we are threatened by the way our own actions are skewing the planet’s climate into a “normal” that is far less human-friendly than the climate in which we have evolved as a species. So far, for most Americans, that change is nibbling at daily life, rather than devouring it wholesale, and so, for most of us in America, and especially here in Nashville, it is possible to live as if nothing has changed or is going to change. City election issues can be restricted to budgets and taxes,  infrastructure, zoning, education, policing, and similar daily life issues. These mundane issues offer almost infinite details to keep us occupied and keep us from looking at the longer-term questions I have been asking. When our community governments do address these questions, they will tend to do so in the context of the short-term, daily-life issues they are used to dealing with. With that in mind, let’s go through the responses I received, with some commentary from me, and then I will suggest a few things the city could do that would tend to steer the city, just as it is, into an entity that is better prepared to deal with the financial and material shortages and extreme weather events that we are likely to see in the mid-term future. Read the rest of this entry »





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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