The Political Challenge
Greenfuse #1 Fall 2000
This is my editorial essay for issue number #1 of monthly newspaper that, much to our surprise lasted for 15 years. Remember this was written before hanging chads, before G.W. Bush, before 9/11, before Afghanistan, before the Iraq invasion, before anonymous, before wiki-leaks, before so much we now know. It mostly stands up to scrutiny. Hopeless optimism has been tempered a bit by reality, but, none the less...
Politics, no matter the orientation, is the pursuit of influence in, or control of, organizations, institutions and government. To pursue this influence assumes an implicit acceptance of existing political structures. When we compete for influence over governmental policies we are expressing our support of a system that defines our non-representative, non-responsive state of government.
Knowing this, it is easy to understand why idealistic, hopeful and progressive thinkers may be disillusioned by politics. It seems that the only way to have any influence over government policy is to accept a role in politics, and that role requires working within existing political structures. In our system of government the actual arbitrators of influence and control are a slim minority, activated by an interest in maintaining the status quo- for their own benefit and the benefit of those that support them financially. No change in the orientation of government or society will be possible unless and until the overwhelming majority of the people begin to actually express their will.
On paper, our governments are conceived as inclusive structures in which the will of the people determines the role and priorities of government. In reality, government has developed a self-interested will of its own, largely dependent on those who pay for the election of politicians. While it is alleged that the majority opinion determines policy, the current level of participation in electoral politics means that slightly more than 15% of the people comprise a majority. That is, 50% of the 30% that actually vote- In other words, a super-majority of the 70% are disenfranchised, uninterested, discouraged, or left out of the complex system that determines the priorities and goals of our society. This is a powerful vote against the system, but by the rules of that system, it has no standing in the political debate.
The non-political must perceive governments as an inevitable fact, something with its own agenda that must be endured. The fact is that in this country our democratic government has come to fulfill the same function of the state in feudal oligarchies, absolute monarchies, or ancient theocracies- Unilateral control over the life of the masses. Democracy has become the power of any party that can command sufficient numbers of votes to do what it wishes.
Originally, the legitimate purpose and reason for democracy was to minimize injustice, not as it has become, to impose opinions or protect privileges. A political structure in which people are directed by law and force in what they may or may not do is not a legitimate democracy. The fact that rulers are chosen by majorities does not make governmental tyranny a democracy. Democracy presupposes a minimum of ordinary human intelligence in its participants. This is nearly impossible today in a country where intelligence is deliberately sabotaged by our educational and media institutions- Which avoid the great fraud of democracy; the fiction that the power conferred by a right to vote, is in any way comparable with the power possessed by the interests which have complete control of every other means of power, including absolute economic power.
Democracy was established for the purpose, and in the name of liberty. In a world where privileged power ruled, where it protected its tyranny over peoples lives by tyranny over their minds. Every advance towards intelligence of action or thought has been possible only by an advance in liberty- Liberty has been the measure of progress. In our era, democratic liberty has been sought as an end in itself. Democratic principles have bestowed equal liberty on privileged power and its victims- With equal rights to valid opinions which were suppressed by tyranny and on the irrational tyranny which oppressed them. Pursuing liberty as an isolated ideal has led to the absurd condition of equal rights for exploitive multi-national corporations, and the dangerous and entrenched, subtle tyranny of our government.
To develop a socially equitable liberty based on a rational understanding of the limits on resources, the needs of people, and the abuses of control, change is clearly indicated. Because only social justice can secure true liberty, what is required is no less than a revolution in understanding and action. A redevelopment and reorganization of our society based on common needs. Only by challenging the assumptions of what our potential is, and what the true limits are, can progress be made towards social justice.
This is a daunting task, which by comparison makes personality driven national politics look simplistic and inconsequential. Some intellectual heavy-lifting will be needed to develop an effective, equitable plan of action that can inform and inspire the majority of people to participate in a better system, electoral politics alone will never do this. Only when making the world a better place for all is a unifying community effort will true democracy be possible. Towards this end we can only do what we can, but we must do at least this; and no longer act out of fear, the fear of wasting a vote, or the absurd fear that casting a vote for a progressive candidate equals a vote for some else. It most certainly does not. Maintaining the status quo is no longer good enough. It is hard to imagine how much worse the disconnect between privileged power and the rest of us can get, but if it does get worse, this may be the only way things will ever change. Even the apathetic may be motivated if the status quo tips toward a more blatantly absurd abuse of governmental prerogative.
What we need is planning that will be effective no matter who is the president or what his agenda is, planning that leads to a rebirth of civil society- A society in which all participants have an interest in advocating for what is right, and advocating against what is wrong, step-by-step, issue-by-issue, pursuing a civil process of social justice. This politics beyond presidency must by necessity be locally developed and implemented. Decentralized policy development that is networked between communities, which builds support organically, is the only way to reclaim a political process in service of people and the earth.
The International Green movement is an important tool of future politics; the key Green values include a fundamental understanding of the importance of ecological wisdom, personal responsibility, and decentralized politics and economics. The problems are clear and the time to act is now. We challenge you to make a difference for change.