From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith – I helped to start the national Green Party some years back because I was looking for a political organization in the American mainstream with which I could feel comfortable. I wanted to get out of the Democratic Party because I thought I might become liable under the racketeering statutes. I didn’t want anything to do with parties that went around invading countries and killing people in the name of freedom. I certainly didn’t want to find myself called before some war crime tribunal. And I wanted nothing to do with an economics based on the cruel notion that what was best for one’s campaign contributors was also best for the country. Or people who treated nature like it was Kleenex.
In short, I wanted a nice conservative American political party. One that would conserve the environment, the Constitution, individual liberty, economic and social opportunity, and all the other values that our country claimed – if not always followed – during its first two centuries. Values like independence, fairness, cooperation, and the protection of those places – including communities, open spaces or buildings – that people called home.
Of course, I couldn’t even mention to my fellow Greens that I thought of them as mainstream. Some of them would have been insulted, some would have gone off to form a another party, and some would have argued with me long past my bedtime.
But I was right. If you want to find the prototypical American who not only values those things most often associated with America at its best, but acts on those values, you need search no further than the Green Party.
There are others to be sure: libertarians, free thinkers, devolutionists, unpolitical small farmers, eccentric shopkeepers, independent religionists and what Bill Kaufman in Look Homeward America calls “reactionary radicals and front porch anarchists.” On his website you’ll find a tentative list that includes, besides this writer, Ivan Illich, Wendell Berry, Karl Hess, Bob Dylan, Zora Neal Hurston, Senator Burton Wheeler, Jane Jacobs, Ken Kesey, Merle Haggard, Kenneth Rexroth, Hiram Johnson, William Jennings Bryan and Albert Jay Nock.
It is as inexplicable as it is flattering to be in such company unless, that is, you accept a currently unpopular notion that it is not policy or ideology that really divides us but our understanding of, and relationship to, the world, America, and each other.
While I might not agree with all the company that Kaufman would have me keep, I accept absolutely his argument:
“There are two Americas: the televised America, known and hated by the world, and the rest of us. The former is a factitious creation whose strange gods include HBO, accentless TV anchor people, Dick Cheney, reruns of Friends, and the National Endowment for Democracy. It is real enough – cross it and you’ll learn more than you want to know about weapons of mass destruction – but it has no heart, no soul, no connection to the thousand and one real Americas that produced Zora Neale Hurston and Jack Kerouac and Saint Dorothy Day and the Mighty Casey who has struck out.
“I am of the other America, the unseen America, the America undreamt of by the foreigners who hate my country without knowing a single thing about it. Ours is a land of volunteer fire departments, of baseball played without payment or sanction, of uncut maples and unpasteurized cider.
“So no, I do not feel ‘ashamed’ of my country, for America. . . is not George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton but my friends, my neighbors, and yes, the Grand Canyon, too. Even better, it is the little canyon and the rude stream and Tom Sawyer’s cave and all those places whose names we know, whose myths we have memorized, and whose existence remains quite beyond the compass of ABC-TV.”
The Green Party is part of that unseen America. The problem is that I seem to be among the few who know it. The media treats the Green Party as though it were a bag of nuts, liberals regard it as a strain of avian flu, and the Greens, to a sad degree, accept the illusion that they are an oddity rather than prototypical of their country.
The danger in this is that the Green Party will end up in hippie heaven, an ideological Balinas full of old VW buses, people who think the right thing and act the right way, but huddled together in a refuge when they should be leading a revolution. A revolution by mainstream Americans to recover their land from the thieves, dunces, megalomaniacs and pathological psychopaths who are destroying it in one of the greatest acts of political dishonesty, economic banditry and cultural apostasy in human history.
This is not rhetoric. On issues including the Iraq war, the environment, health care, campaign financing, genetically modified foods, and marijuana use, the Greens represent mainstream America better than either of the two major parties.
And there are other potential issues and constituencies about which the Greens have paid far too little attention but with nothing between them except the will and an appreciation that it’s not abstract platforms of good intentions that matter but the ability to witness one’s beliefs at ground zero every day and in every way. For example, on immigration, a recent poll finds Latinos blaming the Republicans and distrusting the Democrats – providing an opening for the Greens they have yet to discover. Or consider the women’s movement, so absorbed with glass ceilings that it ignores the hard floors daily faced by their sisters at Wal-Mart and elsewhere. Or consider the lack of any movement for young men with less than a college education, whom conservatives send to fight their wars or imprison for smoking pot, and whom liberals assign to a rhetorical hegemony of dominant males these men will never meet, let alone emulate. Or consider issues like eminent domain reform and small business that are just sitting there hungry for a political voice but shunned by both major parties. The issues are out there. And so are the voters. If people went to the polls as they did in 1960 there would be about 25 million more of them.
Finally, there are two great issues the Democrats have deserted: civil liberties and economic decency. Once hallmarks of liberalism, these causes have been forgotten by the liberals and trashed by the Clintonistas. One hardly hears a Democrat mention health care, pensions, or minimum wages any more because too many of the party’s elite have drifted into a social class buffered against such concerns and the party’s campaign contributors won’t let them near such issues anyway.
A Green Party that not only opposed the misadventures of U.S. imperialism and continued its fight for sane ecological policies and electoral reform, but also became the loudest voice for single payer healthcare, populist economic reforms; a sane drug policy; civil liberties; tight control on eminent domain; devolution of power, better treatment of small business; and fair immigration laws would pick up a large new constituency as it became the movement of the silenced majority, which is to say just about everyone in America currently being screwed by the Democrats and Republicans.
It wouldn’t be easy because the Greens are an anarchistic amalgam of pragmatists and purists; utopians; spiritualists; ideological fundamentalists and strategic agnostics; people with a natural feel for politics and people who would rather be practicing a religion; the sanctimonious and the excessively humble; those absorbed in a pointlessly fractious debate over presidential politics and those deeply involved at the local level; the gentle and the obnoxious. In other words, a typical American assemblage.
But there’s a big America out there without any party that gives a damn about its concerns. Many of these Americans have given up voting. The Greens could be the party of this America if they learned to lead on issues that currently don’t interest them; to respond to things actually happening around them as well in their heads and debates; to follow fellow spirits as well as to lead them; to take pleasure in, and make friends with, those who can only travel part their way; and to explain and celebrate their close connection to the best of mainstream traditions and values of an America the other parties have betrayed. The politics are all out there. All that is missing is a party.