On January 20, 2005 the new American President, swearing to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," will be a man committed to a vision of the United States as a quasi-imperial nation, its hundreds of military bases stretched all around the globe. And he will be a man who actually supports increasing America's military budget beyond its current $1 billion+ dollars per day.
He will be a man committed to the "new world order" of the World Trade Organization, GATT, NAFTA, vicious "free trade" rules and "globalization."
He will be a man committed to "fighting terrorism [sic]", continuing America's racist and oil-driven war policies towards the Muslim world.
He will be a man who supports the impoverishment caused by "welfare reform," and who has never had much contact with the beneficiaries of what little social welfare programs remain in the United States. On the contrary, he will be a man who has lived his whole life in great personal wealth, the best schools, the best medical and dental programs, and zero fear of making rent payments or of missing a meal.
The next President will be man who has never been in a union or never struggled against financial adversity. He will be against a universal, single-payer health insurance system that would guarantee all Americans health care and cost us far less than the insurance company dominant system we presently have in place.
The next President will be man who supports the so-called Patriot Act and its countless un-Constitutional excesses.
He will be a man who does not see what the entire world outside of the U.S. sees as the number one cause for the dangerous situation in the Mideast: Israel's racist recalcitrance to cease its violent treatment of the Palestinians and its shameless flaunting of international law. Thus he will be a man who supports the Palestinians continued bantustanization as the Israeli's continue the evisceration of Palestinian identity with that massive concrete wall through stolen territory they have no right to be in to begin with.
And he will be a man who will continue the support of countless petty dictatorships around the world to secure cheap products for America's consumer-product-addicted citizenry.
The next President's name will either be George Bush or John Kerry and he will not change any of those things in any fundamental way.
I offer up this little exercise because I believe it is time we cease looking at our present political situation through the prism of one man (or woman's) potential impact and more through the possibilities that exist currently on the street. That is, our reliance upon one person whether that be someone we do not support (like Bush or Kerry), or someone we may support (like Nader or Cobb), is part of our long-term problem. In the Green Party's case, we remain too dependent upon our shining stars and when they flake out or disappoint us, like is said of Peter Camejo, Medea Benjamin or Matt Gonzalez, (wonderful people all) we get depressed, lose our fighting spirit and essentially surrender.
I believe that if every star personality were to leave the Greens, if all our big shots up and joined the Democrats or some other party, saying that they made a mistake or wanted to "go home" I would still be a Green. Why? Because our parties' values are right, our vision is right, our positions are right. We cannot build the future on the backs of a few talented speakers, knee-jerk grandstanders, egomaniacal wanna-be "players" or wanna-be Democratic speechwriters. A future is built now, among the people and based on a vision of where we need to go and a consensus on how to achieve that.
Unfortunately, however, every time a consensus develops, someone bolts with their own ideas and then everyone begins the endless self-examining that ends up splitting us into ever more fractious factions. This is no way to build a Party or a future. At some point we have to trust that those 10 Key Values we espouse or the Four Pillars or whatever other formula we come up with, are legitimate and work to convince others likewise. That's right people, convince others.
We lack a formidable base among workers and minorities, the two groups most disenchanted by politics as usual and most alienated from the political process and the parties that dominate it. At this point we remain too white, too highbrow, too abstract and too associated with whales and vegetarianism to cut some depth into the electorate. If we changed that, however, we'd win. Well here are three solutions that will enable us to increase our membership and advance our Party: learn Spanish, join a union, and attend church more often.
That's right, those three things will get us more members and more street cred than a hundred witty and well-written articles in Counterpunch, Z Magazine or In These Times put together. With Latinos now the largest minority in the United States, unions becoming the last potential stronghold of truly radical thought in America and Blacks, Latinos and working class whites still attending church in larger numbers than the entire population of Counterpunch readers quadrupled, doing these three things will expose us to more potential supporters than just about anything else we can come up with.
And what would happen were we more exposed to them? Well, we might get over our own flatulent self-importance (most Greens in the US remain among the best educated and solidly upper middle to upper class sectors of our population). We might see suffering more, get over our subtle (and often not-so-subtle) snobbishness about "workers" and "the poor" and we might actually learn something from them about what they want, and what they think the world should look like.
Once we do this, natural "leaders" will, as is usually the case, naturally rise up. They will have our support because they will be "one of us." And when they fall, someone new will rise up to replace them, because our goals will be shared and our opportunities open to all.
It is high time we get over our reflexive defensiveness and replace it with a reflective offensive strategy. Reflective in that we consider carefully what is is we want and then with the joyous abandon of our good convictions, unite together and go to win. Offensive means in part tightening up our weak national party identity and becoming a truly national force, not just a collection of local and state clubs.
We have these have two basic divisions or trends in the Greens (between the more national, electoral-oriented and the more local, idea-oriented, much like here in Europe) but one key difference remains that, while honoring the decentralized pull of local influences, they push as a united front on a national scale with agreed upon tactics and democratically chosen strategies, and support their national candidates.
While this may ruffle some in the US, I say, so what? We are already vilified, made the butt of jokes and even dismissed merely because a Green Party member was chosen to represent the Green Party in the Presidential race. This would be laughable if the resultant anger and bizarrely cultish behavior vis-Ó-vis Ralph Nader weren't so seriously jeopardizing our party's political future. My friends and contacts here, all familiar with Ralph Nader and his work are stunned at the possibility his candidacy might actually get George Bush elected President.
When Barry Goldwater, loved by a serious core of the Republican Party lost to Lyndon Johnson, or when Jesse Jackson led millions of new voters to revitalize the Democratic Party though ultimately shunned by the party powerful, neither man bolted and formed a new party. (Certainly Jackson had plenty of opportunities to and was regularly encouraged to, but both made their stand within their party.)
The Goldwater example is most instructive here because his brand of fighting conservatism eventually re-molded his party and transformed it to the point where the Republican Party of old is de facto no more (though some may lament this fact, it remains instructive that they stuck in there and worked for 20 years to take over and dominate the Republican Party. One may argue with their ideology, but their commitment to unity, long-term vision and passionate resoluteness put us Greens to shame.) Our party, the Green Party, is in dire need of a forceful, revitalized core strategy, akin to the Goldwater conservative one, that will take us past the hero worship or the flaky localistic tendencies that hobble us every time. We need to fight and fight to win.
Greens can do it because we are right-our opposition to unlimited growth strategies with its consumer addicted passion for oil and cheap foreign resources seems remarkably prescient when analyzing the current state of world affairs today. We have sacrificed our Republic for a empire and we are hated for it and are rapidly becoming feared as a nation. Americans rarely inspire anymore, (aside from the occasional burst of rhetorical flourishes from all parties), and that is soon seen as the empty promises of politicians hungry for votes and beholden to the real power brokers, the vast corporate dominators of all our lives. We remained ensnared by the same militaristic "leaders", the same moribund corporate ideology and the same short-sightedness that keeps us living and dying like a bunch of global priest-kings, sacrificing our children to the Moloch-like gods of commercialism.
Such an enemy is not to be negotiated or reasoned with but to be destroyed. We cannot fight the powerful forces that generate such Presidents unless we strengthen ourselves and our message by reaching out, gaining new members and uniting more tightly under one goal and one vision.
Unfortunately, we are still believed by many to be the Party of some lithe, oil-slicked and tanned mountain biker on Powerbars. Well, that image will sure get us our Boulder, Colorado supporters but that ain't a popular movement. Though we certainly are more reflective of the general population than before, we still need union workers and fast food servers, domestics and office workers, gardeners and service industry clerks, lumber mill workers and civil service workers. We need a more (metaphorically) muscular group of foot soldiers, people whose political physiques were built on the shop floor and not in some high-end intellectual fitness gym complete with PC tanning booth. Our "color" should be gained from being outside because we live and work there, not because we have enough leisure time to "hang out" in the sun. That means to organize amongst union households, to get to the malls and talk to the salespeople there about the future and to engage all those workers who by and large remain anonymous as we criss-cross the country in search of allies in another college lecture hall in another state.
A muscular Green movement would challenge regularly the Democrats and Republicans, Nader supporters and others to debate publicly our positions, would not shy away from a good fight nor run from any false accusation leveled against us. We would not run from the responsibility challenging the status-quo presents us, we would instead continuously point out the irresponsibility of corporate America's continued pollution of our communities, our playgrounds and our workplace environments. We would write letters to all the local papers, in the Spanish language editions of those in the southwest and in the predominantly black papers in the south and in the cities of the north and Midwest. We would need a tighter ship, a more focused national message and presence and an even greater push for attention.
We have to break the grip the Dems have on "people's movements" by reminding everyone that the only real "people's" movement today has to be one that begins with the macro-environment and works its way downward, issue-by-issue, neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Otherwise none of us will survive.
The Democrats don't have that perspective and the Republicans get their weak grip on the people by appealing to all our worst instincts and fears. (Sure, people will unite that way, for a while, but they stay united longer and stronger when they are given a realistic, positive package and a positive vision for the future.)
And yes, some will tell us that we have little chance of success with only a handful of people in office, realizing accurately that the very system we have in place is geared to keep the same political parties in place. And they will be right. But only the Greens want that system changed, only the Greens are out there saying that the very foundation of democracy rests on its continual expansion and that the regular infusion of new ideas is essential if the system wishes to continue to be relevant.
A muscular Green movement would not be afraid to challenge the grocery stores over their labor practices as well as their selection of natural and organic produce. A muscular Green movement would not be afraid to enter the lumber mills and listen, not just preach, to what the workers feel about their environment and their livelihoods. And yes, we might get clobbered over the head with some of our ideas and sentiments and yes some of them might have to be reconsidered, or retooled, but in essence our vision is pure, our vision is right. We know, and those lumber mill workers and those store clerks and those domestic workers and those office workers all know that our food is unclean, our cities near unlivable and our water and air all at severe risk if we don't begin moving towards a new and more Green future. This is not a task we can't afford to pass up.
Rev. JosÚ M. Tirado is a poet, writer and Green activist. He is also a Shin Buddhist priest teaching in Iceland. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Swans Commentary, Dissident Voice, the Magazine of Green Social Thought: Synthesis/Regeneration and Gurdjieff Internet Guide. (And in case anyone wonders, he also used to live in Boulder and was both a union member and union president at Warner Bros. Pictures.) He can be reached through: www.thepathofmyexperience.com.
Other Articles by JosÚ M. Tirado