So I’m trudging off to this past Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Pasco County Green Party. Hell, I am the Pasco County Green Party. My main emotion is relief that my just-repaired car didn’t break down again. And with the world going to hell, part of me is quietly hoping that nobody else will show up, that I’ll have nothing to work with, that I can give up with some small shred of dignity. I’m old, sick, poor, and so terribly, terribly tired.
I get to the restaurant, and nobody is there, not even customers. Except some stranger looking around who waves to me. He’s from St. Petersburg, to the south. And we are soon joined by Jen, the organizer from Tampa. We meet. I lay out my very modest plan to try to work the 170 or so Green registrants in this sprawling county with its Confederate flags adorning the barely paved streets. We kick around a few ideas, we build on them, there are moves to be made. Small moves to be sure, but useful.
That’s all I need to keep going. We shake hands at the end, I head for home feeling a little less old, not quite so sick. Not too tired. Off to face the coming storm.
Why the Greens?
I’ve become less willing to suffer fools gladly. I consider the U.S. left, taken as a whole, as a cesspool. It has pursued “more and better Democrats” for decades, before collapsing utterly as Obama yanked out the Public Option during the Great Healthcare Debacle. I have ranted against the 3rd party ghetto as well, the comfortable niche occupied by radicals who think it is enough to have the correct program but otherwise keep their hands from getting dirty.
My greatest anger is that the left has turned its back on the poor. Won’t defend them. Certainly won’t organize them. Only raises their plight as an argument for supporting the latest crop of Democrats. So how come I’m now working with the Greens?
After all, everyone knows that they are just a bunch of aging middle-class hippies who care more about trees than real people, a rap that dovetails neatly against the media’s snide slurs about the Occupy movement being a bunch of pajama-clad rich kids living in their parents’ basements.
So get this pitch from Green presidential candidate Jill Stein’s January 25 State of the Union speech, right up top after the customary greetings:
One hundred and forty-six million people – that’s nearly one in every two Americans – is now living below or near the poverty level. The stress falls hardest on our most vulnerable and disadvantaged, with the majority of children, half of our elders, three quarters of Latinos, and two thirds of African Americans living in or near poverty.
Last year, one million Americans lost their health insurance, raising the numbers of the uninsured to almost 50 million of our people. Over 6 million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure.
Thirty million college students and recent graduates are trapped in the financial prison of student loan debt. Most students must take out costly loans to meet the skyrocketing cost of tuition. Yet paying off those loans is almost impossible as young people face double-digit unemployment and much lower pay – 40% less – than their parents’ generation received for the same work.
Overall, nearly 25 million Americans are unemployed or unable to find full time work. And even those who have jobs are struggling, because wages have been declining for American workers, and are now lower on average than in 1996. Household income has fallen faster since the official end of the recession than during the recession itself, because the so-called “recovery” is made up of mostly low paying jobs.
Over seven million are under “correctional supervision”, 10 times greater than in 1965, as incarcerating poor people – disproportionately of color – has become big business with the failed war on drugs. And more African American males are now locked up in US prisons than were slaves in 1850.
America’s creed is “With Liberty and Justice for All.” That is a creed of Equality. But right now we are experiencing the worst economic inequality in our nation’s history. The gap between the very rich and the many poor has never been so great. The wealthiest 1% in America now own as much wealth as 90% of all Americans. Those over 65 hold, on average, 47 times as much wealth as heads of households who are under 35. White families own, on average, twenty times as much as Black families. Such inequality is unacceptable, unconscionable* and un-American.
From the party’s bio on Cheri Honkala, their vice-presidential candidate:
Cheri Honkala was born into poverty in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She grew up watching her mother suffer from domestic violence that she quietly endured for fear of losing her kids. At the age of 17 her 19 year old brother Mark, who suffered from mental health issues committed suicide. He was uninsured and could not afford to get the help he needed. At the time of Mark’s suicide Cheri was a teenage mother living out of her car and going to high school. Despite her difficult upbringing she graduated high school.
Cheri and her son Mark (named after her brother) lived in and out of places eventually becoming homeless after the car they had been living in at the time was demolished by a drunk driver. Mark was 9 years old and Cheri could not find a shelter that would allow them to remain together that winter so in order to keep from freezing Cheri decided to move into an abandoned HUD home. She then began working to help other poor families and became a pioneer in the modern housing takeover movement. For the past 25 years Cheri Honkala has been a leading advocate for poor and homeless in America. She co-founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. She has organized tens of thousands holding marches, demonstrations and setting up tent cities.
These women are not your average treehuggers (though for the record, they and I have nothing against trees).
As for Occupy, the leading demands for their recent march on the Charlotte Democratic Convention were: “Money for Education, Housing, Healthcare & All Human Needs — not for War & Incarceration. Jobs and Economic Justice are their constant theme. And we know that they have put their asses on the line for this.
These are an important development on the left. I am not campaigning to get Occupy to formally endorse or campaign for the Greens, but they are pursuing similar tracks, through different tactics, and the alliance is tangible if not formal, held together through a commitment to the poor that is only mouthed by most of the left.
But as I mentioned above, the plight of the poor is now being invoked to whip the left into lockstep behind Obama. Independents often respond reactively, and fall into a trap.
There is a difference
Dem apologists argue that, if the Republicans win, they’ll do this, they’ll do that, and the task RIGHT NOW is to stop them. (And we can do progressive stuff later.) In response, independents tend to argue back that the two parties are the same, righteously smug in their 3rd party ghetto. That may satisfy them, but it fails on several levels.
First, it is ridiculous on the face of it. Of course, one can argue that both parties are equally evil, as though evil were a measurable entity. “In essence” equally bad? Sorry, but when you start engaging in essences, this might work in casual conversation but you have — scientifically speaking — entered the realm of pure gibberish.
Further, “equally evil” may satisfy the self-righteous few, but it rings false to the hundreds of millions who see obvious differences — in social services, civil liberties, foreign policy, across the board. This doesn’t make Obama good. One can even regard that in some regards the Democrats are worse, or that some Democrats are worse than some Republicans, but that is conceding differences, isn’t it?
But above all, it obscures the specificity of Democratic rule vs. Republican rule or, to be even more precise, the specificity of how both parties play different roles in serving their masters in the one percent. Crudely put, the Democrats play a sinister role in disarming the 99%, as we have seen in the past four years, while the Republicans drive the public dialogue ever further to austerity and repression.
That specificity has to be engaged, in order to engage those progressives who would have us continue to rely on the Democrats to defend us from the ravages that Republican policy openly advocates. In fact, I would argue that these Obamacrats seriously underplay the threat — the threat of overt fascism.
Oh how the Obamacrats love to evoke the spectre of 1930’s Germany: how the Communists were responsible for Hitler by failing to work with the Social Democrats against the Nazis (with nary a word about how the Social Democrats failed to ally themselves with the Communists to do the same). Yet while making the analogy ad nauseam, they actually dare not invoke the F-word to the current fascist forces that have elbowed themselves into the American mainstream. One could, of course, attribute this to American fascism’s superior public relations skills. They follow Atlas Shrugged rather than Mein Kampf, attack abortion rights and Muslims rather than Jews, etc., with the media’s criminally complicit in obscuring their rougher edges. But I attribute it to the left’s gutlessness, cynicism and mendacity.
After all, if the spectre of fascism were anything more than a stick with which to beat anyone to their left, they would be loudly demanding that Obama be taking sterner measures against the right, that Obama speak out against fascism directly, that Obama be mobilizing the American people for more than his own re-election. But Obamacrat strategy in fact depends on the American people NOT being mobilized. That would complicate how they have capitulated to the right at every turn, because they have been PAID to do so, and how they will continue to do so.
The Progressive Dem/Progressive Indy alliance
I have long called for an alliance of progressive independents and Progressive Dems (still the betrayed base of the Democratic Party), using the Democratic Party in the primaries and going independent in the generals. But this has failed on two levels.
First, the failure of the left to mount a primary challenge to Obama makes clear that the conditions do not exist for using the Democratic primaries to build a base, however attractive it may appear on paper.
Secondly, as Chairman Mao so succinctly put it, “it takes two to tango.” And the independent wing of such a projected alliance does not exist, at least not in sufficient strength. One could conclude from this that there is nothing left but despair. Or, as I think on my better days, one could conclude that the independent force has to be built. And I believe that its foundation must be the poor, those who are in the crosshairs of the coming bi-partisan onslaught.
As stated before, two critical elements are the Occupy movement and the Green Party. The Occupy movement seems to be doing quite well, thank you, despite their no longer being the media darlings. They are digging in and building the foundation for future action.
As for the Greens …
There have been many criticisms of the Greens, and I have certainly made them myself. Many problems. But they stem from weakness, not malfeasance.
I’m not sure what direct impact the Greens will have in this election. I suspect that whatever impact it does have will stem less from mobilizing any great forces itself, than from it simply being on the ballots and attracting those looking for a progressive alternative to Obama/Romney when they step into the voting booth. That’s okay. We’re in this for the long haul. What will mark the success or failure of Green 2012 will have to be the extent the party can use the current campaign to develop solid organization. This, however, will require transformation(s).
First, take those thousands of progressives who spout how they are fed up with Obama, with the Democrats, who are VOTING Green this year. Fine. But how about WORKING Green this year? We don’t need cheerleaders — we need organizers. We need people who can make a specific commitment that bears some relationship to the danger we are all in, which the blogs trumpet daily without drawing corresponding conclusions. They cry “the American people must do this, the American people must do that,” without an inkling of how that is to come about, how their bold battle cries would turn into concrete mobilization. In other words, these bold radicals need to track down their local Green chapters and find ways to build them.
But a second transformation is also required. Among the complaints about the Greens, there is a steady theme of those who wanted to support the Greens, but were greeted with less than open arms. This is what I call the 3rd-party ghetto mentality, a certain, if not comfort with, acceptance of remaining small, remaining marginal, remaining impotent. There is a certain chicken/egg problem here. From the current Green perspective, what is the use of coming up with all sorts of organizing plans, brilliant as they may be, if they don’t have the resources to carry them out?
And if you want to volunteer, well, why bother if there is no eagerness to use your energy and enthusiasm?
We’ve grown hardened, tired, cynical. The left has suffered one defeat after another, as the country’s drift to fascism threatens to become a headlong rush. I myself feel foolish, naïve, a sucker once again, and again and again. But we need to start making a leap of faith. A la Field of Dreams, the Greens have to embrace “If we build it, they will come.” And serious radicals have to believe “If I come, they (we) will build it”!
We need to make this leap of faith because the two movements, of radicals to join, and Greens to organize, will not happen in synch, will not automatically mesh, will lead to all sorts of awkward moments, embarrassments, misapplied energies. This isn’t a problem. This is what growth looks like, this is what power looks like.
I fear that I make this sound too big, perhaps too much to wrap our arms around, because so much is demanded by the historical moment. But in other ways, it can be very small. So recall the introduction to this piece. Sometimes all it takes is just showing up. And knowing that if you show up, there may be someone else who doesn’t walk away.