- this is finished, in this iteration, but I intend changes - notes for further iterations...green anger...disconnected from poverty...economic and political triage...environmentalism needs to wait...
Pragmatic Populist Politics
or, It's Not Easy Being Green
Joel A. Wendt
Green politics, populist politics - at the very least there is a definite interest in some kind of new politics. However, if you look at what these so-called new political parties are actually doing, then you see that they seem to be acting on the same assumptions as mainstream establishment political parties: raising funds, nominating candidates, buying media time, traveling around giving political speeches, sponsoring events, having news conferences, and so forth.

So what's new? The causes, the ideas, are new, but is that sufficient? How can you have a truly new politics, if it isn't new from the ground up?

Populism has something to do with what ordinary people want. Populism's origin is found in the thoughts and needs of the People coming to more dynamic expression; not in some different elite claiming to represent the so-called real heart of the people. A neo-liberal political movement is just that. It is not populism.

It is possible for those, who can no longer support mainstream politics, to be of service to the real needs of the American People. But the operative word is service. A Green ideology is still an ideology. So what's the problem with an ideology?

An ideology assumes a set of values and then seeks to impose that set of values on the social/political dynamic. This is true regardless of the goodness in the set of values; the process is still the same - an imposition.

How can being Green shed its ideological assumptions and tendencies? How can being Green become truly populist? Remember, it isn't easy being Green.

The answer to that is very simple. All that needs to be done is to apply the same ecological consciousness to the social/political "ecology" - the ordinary human way of life, its natural rhythms and dynamics. Green politics has to be truly holistic politics, not just have a holistic environmental agenda. The fundamental processes have to be holistically conceived, not just a new ideology.

Political legitimacy is rooted in the People. Not just power, but the moral right to govern is only found in the true will of a people. No one has the right to presume to speak for that will. One can only ask the People: "What is your will?".

Supposedly, that's what an election is for. But it hasn't worked out that way. The reality is that there are no choices; and, even a Green choice is only a weak alternative - it assumes too much. The vote can not express the will of a People if there is no where, within the possibilities of that vote, something that has its originating impulse in that will.

So, what should be done?

Service. Find out what do the People want? And, not just superficially. Some kind of political process needs to be begun, which initiates a dialogue that goes deeper and deeper into the pressing questions of the age, from the point of view of ordinary people.

Ordinary people are naturally wise. That's why they are meek - humble and patient. They know their job is to work and to raise children - to raise the next generation. For the most part they give their trust to their leaders, a trust which has been increasingly betrayed.

Ordinary people can't do everything. Its quite enough to manage a life of work and raising the young. Others are needed to think and problem solve the larger questions. The difficulty comes when those who take up this task forget for whom they work, and begin to believe that what is wanted is for them to implement their own (the problem solver's) agendas.

Not so. There is only one morally just agenda, and it has to be the will of the People.

Right now that will is frustrated. It has been ill lead and ill informed for many generations. That is one of the reasons we get such screwy results in elections these days - such as an executive of one party and a congress of another. The People, not being served, lack the necessary understanding to focus their will and to give their consent.

Ellen Goodman wrote, a few years ago, about the frustration of the modern parent, who is expected to raise a healthy, intelligent and discriminating child, only to find the most powerful forces of the culture - TV, movies, advertising - are all working against the needs of the parent, all creating as powerfully as possible a climate of temptation and desire in the child that only results in putting the child, and the parent, at war with each other. Where is the wisdom in that?

Green politics is reaching in these directions, but it has a great deal further to go if it is to begin to touch the deeper roots of modern civilizations schizophrenic and decaying cultural life.

What can you say to your children about their human meaning and significance, when the dominate way of thought - science - tells them religion is a lie, and that human beings are animals in an uncaring cosmos ruled by chance? In such a cultural climate how will they find a relationship with the Earth that is Green? How can they find a sense of self as a human being with meaning? If they, individually, have no meaning, then how are they to transfer that understanding to some other race, culture or religion?

Green still has to grow. But maybe that's what truly being Green means: Growth, change - budding, leafing, flowering, fruiting and seeding. And, fitting in, occupying a niche, serving a purpose, being food for something else, giving away one's most essential being so that some other aspect of creation may live and grow and become.

What does Green do best, and what does Green do worst?

Green fills in an empty space on the political horizon. The republicans and the democrats have lost connection with the American People, and with the world of Nature. Between the two of them they can't get half the eligible voters to vote. Green is an alternative.

But Green still wants power. Green acts as if it accepts as written in stone that a People is best served by those who pursue and win political power. This reveals a very limited imagination.

The electorate, which is only a part of a People, is still not consulted in a way which really values their self determined needs, their potential to participate, and, most importantly, their natural wisdom and understanding. When America was founded, no one doubted these truths, it was assumed. However, today, we have lost sight of these truths, and ordinary people are not really trusted by those who have agendas and pursue power. It is assumed that their only role is to vote, and that politics is best conducted by finding a way to manipulate the People in order to get that vote. This is not only false, it is diseased.

Try thinking about it this way. The people already tolerate political leadership which is essentially self-serving and fundamentally lacking in common sense. Just imagine how they might relate (in a surprisingly positive fashion) to an impulse which actually looks to them for answers to its questions and participation in its processes. Just imagine how they might react to a political leadership which does not place the acquisition of power ahead of the discovery of the natural wisdom living in the people being served.

The fact is, if ordinary citizenship changes in a dramatic way - finds a true voice for the expression of its natural genius, then all of politics will change and you won't need new political parties. The existing parties will have to adapt to the changed conditions of the citizenry, or die. All that really needs to happen is, for those who would truly serve, to aid the ordinary people in discovering what they genuinely want and think.

More than a new Green party, we need a green (small "g" intentional) dialogue among the electorate. The only thing that needs to change is the conversation. If that does, then politicians will fall all over themselves trying to please that new voice, presuming (incorrectly) that once they get to Washington they will have power. Meanwhile, the real power, the power to determine the context and the central ideas and goals of a Nation will have been exercised by the ordinary people.

Consider the possibilities:

What if ordinary people no longer believed the junk about free market competition? What if they completely rejected that as an idea that makes any economic sense? What if they substituted another idea - economic cooperation?

What if ordinary people no longer believed in profit as the sole justifiable motive for running a business? What if any politician who urged such an idea was ignored? What if politicians actually had to talk about the fundamental basis for a rational democratic economy?

What if ordinary people demanded of media better reading material - truth and discussion of ideas instead of gossip? What if they wanted stuff that explained things that had previously all been made mysterious before?

Now that doesn't happen right away. That's where the act of service comes in. Someone has to help ordinary people see through the bull. They can't be preached to, either. They will, however, respond to that which treats their naturally given wisdom respect, and honors their justified right to knowledge.

Something in the spirit of the following might make sense to them:

"We all know its not working. Schools are terrible, television is mostly junk, there are too many cars, too many people concentrated in small areas, not enough doctors, not enough food, not enough good housing.

"There is not enough money, jobs are scarce, and even more scary, jobs are not secure any more. Doesn't make any difference how hard you work, how honest and upright you are; given the situation, every one is at risk all the time. Its a long list, and we all have our own special items we would put on it.

"OK. So what's wrong? Well, a big part of it is that we have a lot of ideas about economics and politics that are just not true. A lot of what politicians say when they talk about the economy is a lie, even if they don't know how much of a lie it is. They are all blowing smoke in our eyes.

"Lets imagine the economy was a car. One politician would say - "isn't it great, look how stylish, all the lights work and everything". Another might say - "See how comfortable the passengers are. They're really happy. They like what I do that lets them stay in their comfortable seats."

"The problem is most of the people have to walk, or push the car. The car only really carries a few."

Now that's a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much. It is possible to describe the economy in a way that explains that same principle without getting hysterical or making exaggerated statements about the solution being to throw the people in the car (the privileged) out, and wreak the car in the process. Even though much of the anti-corporate dialogue of neo-liberals is basically just that.

Societies can change because their underlying fundamental way of seeing the world changes. That paradigm shift, which Greens seem to understand, doesn't require the pursuit of power to create. The only real obstacle is twofold: One - the will to do what is necessary, i.e. the will to serve; and Two - to circumvent the media which manages information, and in some major respects because of this, manages the paradigm.

Lets look at this matter more closely. Media follows its own rules. It doesn't deal with the truth, but only with perceptions. It (media) believes it is entitled to form perception according to its own agenda. It ignores what it chooses. It tells only that part of a "story" it wants to. It slants the "story" according to its own assumptions about the given nature of the paradigm. Its "slant" is dominated by commercial interests directly and indirectly. "News" "sells" newspapers. Ratings sell advertising on television. Media follows the pattern that maximizes its revenue, not the pattern which best serves a People.

Asking media to serve a role in the creation of a new populism is certain to waste time and energy. It is constitutionally incapable of seeing the broader picture, and serving the needs of that wider view. Immediately a new political impulse imagines it has to play according to the existing media rules, that is when that impulse consigns itself to an early death.

Green that plays by media rules will fail.

Are there other ways to do what we hope media would be able to do, that is to make people aware of the issues and how they can contribute to a healthier public life? Of course there are, once we've weaned ourselves from believing media has a dominating control on the dissemination of information and the formation of public opinion. Everything that Green hopes to gain from media can be accomplished by ordinary people in a much better way.

Lets just consider one imaginary possibility: If I give a written page to one person and ask that person to make 5 photocopies and to give those to 5 additional people; and then on each following day each individual who receives the paper carries out the same task, in less then a dozen days everybody (including children), in the United States, will receive a copy of the paper.

That's just with photo copy machines, which are everywhere. We haven't considered how it all works with faxes, VCRs, computers and the net. A truly populist new politics won't need major media; the people themselves will provide all the communication necessary simply out of their own interest. And we haven't even begun to guess what might happen if America's college students and young were to find a relationship to something truly and wholly new. Properly appealed to, the idealism of the young is an incredible resource.

Populism must have a person to person interest basis. If someone's neighbor, or friend, or co-worker gets enthused about something, that is ten times the value of the most expensive TV commercial. If we have to "sell" it we are already on the wrong foot.

A political movement that can't inspire a natural kind of interest isn't worth promoting. Only a way of practicing public life, that intrinsically means something to ordinary people, will have truly popular support.

Can Green claim this kind of support?

Not yet it can't. And to blame ordinary people for lacking the appropriate consciousness is to betray their true worth and station. Populism begins with ordinary people's political needs and goes from there. A Green agenda that can't be related to by the "salt of the earth" shots itself in the foot.

Green needs to grow - become. Acquire depth, understand service, discover holistic political processes. It is hard being Green, but not that hard.

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