DOWN AMERICA'S REAL MAINSTREAM
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
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
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
"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
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.
LOOK HOMEWARD AMERICA