This article is from the Earth & Spirit column of the National Catholic Reporter
Greens connect ecology with democracy
By RICH HEFFERN
At their annual national gathering of the U.S. Green Party last summer in Reading, Pa., party leader John Rensenbrink gave a speech in which he outlined how the Greens were positioning themselves for the 2008 election and beyond.
“We are going to vie for real political power in the United States in order to achieve important goals for our neighborhoods, the country and the planet. We are no longer entering the political arena just to force the ‘real’ candidates to discuss substantive issues. We are not a club, not a nongovernmental organization but a real political party that will contest for power in these United States.”
A more strenuous Green Party strategy will include a marketing campaign, achievable political goals and serious fundraising. “The Republican party is imploding. The Democratic party has lost its way,” Mr. Rensenbrink concluded. “It’s up to a third party now to inspire the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.”
U.S. Greens have been working out alternative ways of doing politics for 25 years while committed to values and goals like gender balance, sustainable land use, nonviolence, community-based economics, grass-roots democracy and more. They have been busy fleshing out and realizing these values in the world and in the realm of politics. They have consistently opposed the invasion of Iraq, advocated for campaign finance reform and for a single-payer health insurance plan.
There are presently 227 Green party members holding state and local level political office around the country, 55 in California alone. They’ve had their struggles and infighting but now seem to be emerging as a force for change in America, capturing in particular the interest and passion of the young. Campus Green parties have sprouted like weeds in an organic garden. A Green Party candidate is expected to run for president this year.
The Green party platform is expressed in terms of 10 key values. These in turn are usually phrased in questions not definitive statements.
Under “ecological wisdom”: How can we live within the ecological and resource limits of the planet? How can we build a better relationship between cities and the countryside?
Under “community-based economics”: How can we redesign our work structures to encourage employee ownership and workplace democracy? How can we move beyond the narrow “job ethic” to new definitions of “work,” “jobs” and “income” that reflect the changing economy? How can we restrict the concentrated power of corporations without discouraging superior efficiency or technological innovation?
What other U.S. political party concerns itself with such a rich, values-laden agenda?
Environmental writer James Kunstler, speaking at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., last September, said: “So many Americans believe the only thing wrong with America is George W. Bush, and that if only we could wiggle out of ‘his’ war and his presidency, every day would be Christmas.”
In reality, there’s a lot more wrong with how we live and how we think about how we live than the mere presence of George Bush in the White House.
Our dependence on foreign oil, for example, is not the real problem. It’s the living arrangements and consumerism that depend on that oil, and in that we’re all implicated. This failure to make connections between how we all live and resulting public and foreign policies goes down to the grass roots.
Mr. Rensenbrink presented an example of the strategizing that has been going on. A longstanding Green party goal is to find ways “to tame giant corporations in the interest of small businesses,” that last phrase added in order to avoid the protest mentality that identifies Greens as over against something else and to stress a positive commitment to community-based economics.
“We need to get on with the life-fulfilling project of citizenship and public life,” said Green writer Patrick Mazza, who spoke of the need to “transform politics and America itself.”
Short-term goals include winning ballot status for the Green party in all states. In 2008, the Greens want to add at least 25 states to the 19 states where they are recognized as a political party and win a minimum of 5 percent of the vote, which would qualify the party to receive public funding in the 2012 election, while also focusing energy, resources and enthusiasm on a reasonable number of winnable House seats and two Senate seats in 2008. Another goal is to have 1,000 Green party members holding elective office nationwide by 2010.
Greens present an alternative vision for America that projects hope. They are the most notable example of grass-roots environmental electoral politics in our nation’s history, yet they are largely ignored or viewed solely as presidential election “spoilers.”
Ecology, which can be defined as intelligent caring for the whole, “represents a tremendous breakthrough for viewing res publica [public affairs] as a natural sphere,” said Mr. Mazza. The direct connection between the traditions of democracy and ecological consciousness is a force that can lend Green parties dramatic force and energy for a transformation of politics.