11 08 2019

We’ve had an election in Nashville since the last time I talked to you, but the results are….well, uncertain. The mayoral race is headed for a runoff between incumbent David Briley and Bob Cooper. As a side note, John Ray Clemmons, who was endorsed by “Our Revolution,” the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, came in a distant fourth. In the Metro Council at-large race, only Bob Mendes secured a seat by passing the 10% threshold. Eight candidates, Zulfat Suara, incumbent Sharon Hurt, Sheri and Weiner, Burkley Allen, Fabian Bedne, Howard Jones, Steve Glover and Gary Moore, will be facing each other in a runoff election on September 12. There will also be some runoffs for district seats. One of these runoffs involves a woman named Ginny Welsch, who just might have something to do with WRFN. I’m being vague because I’m not sure what details of election law might be applicable if she is associated with the station, knowhatImean?

I haven’ t been able to locate turnout figures for this year’s election, but, if the last couple of Metro elections are any guide, it was about 30%. Surprisingly, turnout for runoff elections doesn’t seem to drop off, which I suspected might be the case, but it costs the city the same amount for a citywide runoff as it does for the initial election. about three-quarters of a million dollars, which is not chump change, especially in a budget-strapped, infrastructure-challenged town like this.

The city had considered adopting ranked-choice voting, but some council members expressed concern that it would confuse voters, or couldn’t quite grasp how it would work themselves. When I looked into it, I found that the process is mostly simple enough to be explained in very short videos. The one thing that hung me up at first was expanding the concept to our somewhat unusual council-at-large situation, where voters select not one, but five candidates. I contacted Ranked Choice Tennessee, the statewide advocacy organization for ranked-choice voting and proportional representation, and it only took one sentence from them to make it clear to me. So, what I’m going to do, after I talk about the candidates who made it into the runoff, is show how ranked choice voting would work in the at-large council election we just had, by imagining who might have been voters’ second choices and running the numbers.

First, however, I want to give a shoutout to Aaron Fowles, one of those people I talked about earlier who get involved with The Green Party and then go on to other social change modes.  Aaron was our state Green Party chair for a while, but is now spending his activist time with Ranked Choice Tennessee. That seems to me like a logical progression.

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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 »


9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

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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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13 06 2010

I created a bit of a flap a few months back when I referred to Metro Council member Lonnell Matthews, Jr. as “Step n’ Fetchit”  for being so willing to do the bidding of the May family.   I have been doing some research on who financed Matthews’ campaign for Metro Council, and here’s what it looks like to me:  Matthews may not have thought he sold himself to the May family, but the Mays, who donated heavily to his campaign, almost certainly thought they were buying him.

By the way, it was very disingenuous of you, Mr. Matthews, to claim you don’t know the occupation of someone who lists the address of the Nashville Civic Design Center as their “home.”

I have read Mr. Matthews’ campaign finance statements, and the names and amounts are all there in cold, hard print….or maybe it’s flickering pixels, but no matter what metaphor you use (“it’s there in black and white”?  nooo…..), the facts remain the same:  the Mays–Jack, Frank, Diane, and Leon–Jeff Zeitlin and his Mays Landing LLC, and various friends and relatives of theirs, were major backers of Lonnell’s 2007 campaign for the Council, contributing $25,000 of the $35,000 that fueled his’ run for office.

.  Thirty-five grand, by the way, is an eyebrow-raising amount of money to spend in a Metro Council race.

I mean, you give a guy 25K, you might expect something in return, right?  As  Lyndon Johnson famously said, “you got to dance with them that bought you”–oops, Johnson said “brought you,” but we know what he meant, don’t we?

And Matthews at first did not dance with them that bought him, stepped on their toes when he did, and ultimately failed to deliver.  At first he appeared to oppose the plan.  When he finally got on board with it, he proved to be an inept advocate, famously telling the planning commission “We have to put the cart before the horse on this project.”  So now, the Mays are out $28M on their Bell’s Bend adventure, with no financial returns in sight.  Furthermore,   to keep their reputation up with the TSU crowd, they have had to go ahead and give TSU the 200 acres of floodplain and the $400,000 endowment that were originally promised only if the whole project went through.  Well, the floodplain, as we’ve just seen, is worthless for development anyway, and 400 grand is just chump change after 28 million.

Jeff Zeitlin is probably smiling to himself and thinking “suckas…at least I got mine!”

I can certainly understand why Matthews and many others in the TSU/ North Nashville area would find Maytown’s bait tempting.  “Jobs, education, and development” was, for many years, the magic mantra of upward mobility among a people who have been oppressed and exploited for centuries merely because of the shade of their skin, which is no good reason at all.  But the American bubble has burst.  Development is largely over, and education is rapidly becoming a portal for debt slavery rather than high-end employment.  It’s time for new priorities and a new paradigm, and I believe that the changes we are going through will ultimately be an empowerment and not a disappointment, but I also understand that it may take a while for that to sink in.

Meanwhile, Lonnell is fortunate that the Mays operate on the right side of the law, or he might find himself on the bottom of  the Cumberland in concrete shoes.  And he’s lucky that they don’t literally own him, or they would be selling him down the river, as the old saying goes.  Rumor has it hat the Mays are doing is grooming a candidate to contest his seat in the next election.

Rumor further has it that that candidate will be former Metro Council member and unabashed Maytown Center advocate Saletta Holloway, who is currently registered with the city as a lobbyist for Bell’s Landing Partners.  One aspect of colonialism is rich white people choosing which native will hold power in the colonized area and help them exploit it.  That seems to be what’s happening here.  Other than being a stooge for her white masters, Ms. Hollloway has what passes for impressive credentials.  She is, as I understand it, on the Board of Directors at Meharry Medical College and was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic convention.  I’m sure she could give Lonnell a run for, um…the money.    She will have to move into the district in order to run for his’s seat, but her backers have plenty of cash and real estate, and a strong desire to teach Mr. Matthews a lesson.

By the time of the 2011 election, Matthews will have had four years to cultivate his constituency, and from my perch here in the hills it looks like he is doing a good job of taking care of the flood-battered residents of District 1, where White’s Creek literally pushed houses off their foundations.  Perhaps Mr. Matthews has learned from his fling with the May family about the dangers and obligations of accepting outside money.  I know that, when I first met him, I was impressed with his grasp of the real issues that underlie the thin veneer of conventional political discourse in this country.  I would be wonderful to see him scrape the Maytown debacle off the bottom of his shoes and go on to greatness.  Time will tell.

music:  Yohimbe Brothers, “More from Life”


11 09 2009

After the high-stakes drama of the Bell’s Bend hearings,the Planning Commission meeting about the proposed chicken ordinance earlier this month was practically a love feast.  Hardly anybody, it seems, had a bad word to say about the birds.  One commissioner reminisced about turning his no-longer baby duck loose in Shelby Park.   Andrea LeQuire enthused about chicken tractors she had seen while visiting west coast urban gardens.  Citizens came forward to testify that hens are so quiet that they had had chickens for years and their neighbors only found out when they offered to share surplus eggs with them.   Sure, Jason Holleman’s bill, based on a Cleveland ordinance,  needed a few adjustments–as another commissioner pointed out, “six quail is not a lot of quail, but six turkeys is a lot of turkeys.” Regulations about the minimum size of the home site that can have chickens, the maximum number of birds allowed, and coop placement might need a little adjustment, but nothing too difficult.

Besides, Metro Council generally passes anything the Planning Commission recommends, right?

Councilman Holleman, in a phone interview, told me he had consulted with Councilman Paul Burch, who, along with Councilman Jim Gotto, was sponsoring a bill to completely ban chickens in the Urban Services District (anyplace your garbage gets picked up by the city, basically), and that it had seemed that Burch and Gotto would go along with a bill that simply set strict limits on domestic fowl.  Much to his surprise, Burch and Gotto did not vote for Holleman’s bill, and it was defeated, 15-20, setting the stage for the Gotto-Burch bill to be voted on at the next Metro Council Meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 15.

It seems to me the Council is “straining at gnats and swallowing camels” here–making trivial, hard-to-enforce rules instead of dealing with the many serious issues that face our city–and one of those issues is our lack of a viable local food supply.  If Burch-Gotto passes, it will constitute a giant step backwards.  A whole lot of otherwise law-abiding citizens will become outlaws, and even more law-abiding citizens will be prevented from doing something to feed themselves.  In fact, we can now say,


Please join me in contacting Metro Council and urging the defeat of the Burch-Gotto  chicken ban (which is up for consideration this Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 PM!) and a reconsideration of the urban bird issue.  You can find Metro Council contact info online at http://www.nashville.gov/council/feedback.aspx

Here’s my letter:

I am extremely disappointed that Metro Council defeated a bill that would have legalized and regulated the keeping of small fowl in the Urban Services District.  I hope you do not go on to pass the Burch-Gotto bill which will create an outright ban on keeping birds in the USD.

Such a move would create a problem where none exists.  There is no history of complaints about chickens; in fact, many urban chicken-keepers have already testified that their neighbors only learned of their birds when they were told, and had not noticed any noise or smell coming from them.  Are we going to have a “chicken hot line” where people can turn in their neighbors for unauthorized fowl activity?   There’s a word for that, and it starts with “chicken” and ends with —t.  Are we really going to send codes or the police around to bust people for keeping chickens?   I think both city departments–not to mention Metro Council–have much more serious things to deal with.

I hope you will vote against the Burch-Gotto chicken ban and move to reconsider the Holleman-LaLonde proposal.  Please let me know your thoughts on this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Martin Holsinger

to be continued….

music:  Rufus Thomas, “Funky Chicken

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