I have been an active member of the Green Party for 18 years, mainly on a local level for the last dozen years. Before that I had been working with it for about a decade. I remember the beginnings of Green Party organizing efforts in the early 80’s, about the same time as the historic first Jesse Jackson for President/Rainbow Coalition campaign in 1984.
Some Greens look upon me as a kind-of traitor because, in 2016, I was very critical of the kind of campaign Jill Stein was running. I was particularly critical of her repeated refrain that Trump and Clinton were “equally terrible,” and her bewildering statements to the effect that she had a chance of winning the Presidency. By the end of October, between my problems with her campaign and the closeness of the race between Trump and Clinton, I ending up writing a column, “Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton,” and then did so on election day.
Unfortunately, I was right and Stein was wrong. Trump is off-the-charts terrible. Clinton would have been OK-to-problematic-to-bad, but nothing like the lying, pathological, narcissistic, sexist, racist poor-excuse-for-a-human-being currently in the White House.
However, I have continued to stay active with my local GP group in Essex County, NJ. For a long time our main focus was education and activism to combat the climate crisis. Some of us are still doing that, but for a number of the newer and younger members who joined in 2016 or 2017, running in elections is what they want to do.
The position I’ve taken within this group, one shared by a number of others, is that our focus should be on running people for school boards or city councils, local races where there is a real chance of winning or doing well through hard work and smart organizing. We should not be running candidates for Congress who have zero chance of winning and little chance of getting more than a few percentage point share of the vote. Campaigns like that show weakness, not growing strength.
On a national level it is these local races where Green Party members have had some success. At one point, back in 2004, there were about 220 members in local offices, almost all of them offices filled via the non-partisan election route. However, those numbers have fallen pretty dramatically. I remember seeing an email from the national office of the Green Party in 2016 saying that there were then about 140 members in office. That’s a big drop.
This situation, and Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka’s 1% of the vote in 2016, are not positive developments. The fact is, though, that election laws, the super-dominance of big money, mass media non-coverage or dishonest coverage, and a winner-take-all system, not to mention the historic two-party tradition in the US, combine to make it very difficult for any third party to take hold and grow.
It is also the case that, worldwide, the constituency for Green Party politics is limited. Even where parties have had electoral success, often because of proportional representation voting systems, there are few that have obtained more than 15% of the vote. In Germany, the country which has had the most electoral successes for the longest time, the GP vote in national elections is in the middle-to-high single digits, percentage-wise.
The US Green Party needs a strategic turn. It needs to consciously reject the losing strategy of running someone for President every four years. It needs to take a much more critical look at other-than-local campaigns unless there has been an organized base built and resources are available in the state or district a candidate might run in. It should concentrate virtually all of its resources on magnifying the number and improving the quality of the kind of local campaigns that are run, leading to a growing number of winners, more members, a stronger organization and better relations with the broad progressive movement.
Is this possible? I think the odds are against it. I think the greater likelihood is that the US Green Party will continue along as it has been for many years, following a losing strategy that just doesn’t cut it.
I really hope I’m wrong.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.
For over 50 years I have been a progressive activist and organizer, and for the last 15, a climate activist. Over these years I’ve always known that my upbringing in a family that took seriously the teachings and life example of Jesus of Nazareth had a lot to do with why I chose this course. Over recent years the importance of that spiritual grounding resurfaced as I’ve interacted regularly with people of various faiths within the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a group I helped found a number of years ago.
IMAC is the only social change group I’ve ever been in which begins and ends meetings and conference calls with a prayer, and I’m often moved by them. Without question, this practice helps to keep us all more humble, less ego driven, and more focused on figuring out how we can most effectively work together to preserve, in the words of an IMAC document, “what we variously call God’s Creation, Mother Earth, or simply, Earth, our one and only home.”
My family religious roots are deep. My father and both of my grandfathers were ministers in the Church of the Brethren. Growing up, I went to church every Sunday. For close to 20 years of my life in the eighties and nineties, I was a regular attendee and church council member of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Since then, up until a couple of years ago, I’ve not been a regular churchgoer, but I haven’t lost my belief in the importance of the teachings and example of Jesus. I sometimes carry and read a pocket Bible when traveling, and a favorite book is God Makes the Rivers to Flow: Selections from the Sacred Literature of the World by Eknath Easwaran. Many times in the years since I accidentally discovered it, its pages have helped when my spirit has been down and I’ve been in need of inspiration.
Even so, I’ve never been much of a praying person. The one big exception is the long fasts I have undertaken in past years, including three long fasts between 2007 and 2009 on the climate crisis. During those times without eating, I came to appreciate Gandhi’s words that “fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.”
Wonder, in the Face of Nature
For myself and many others, the natural world – in the woods, in the mountains, by the sea, in the desert, by rivers and lakes, in urban or suburban parks – is where we can feel connection to something much greater than ourselves and can gain perspective and strength for struggle. As John Burroughs wrote, “Familiarity with the ways of the Eternal as they are revealed in the physical universe certainly tends to keep a man sane and sober and safeguards him against the vagaries and half-truths which our creeds and indoor artificial lives tend to breed.”
Albert Einstein wrote about a sense of awe and wonder about the natural world that he considered to be at the heart of what makes us who we are: “The most beautiful experience we can have is that of the ‘mysterious.’ It constitutes the fundamental emotion that lies at the origin of true art and science. Anyone who does not know this and is no longer capable of asking questions, anyone who is incapable of wonder, is as if dead, with eyes covered by a blindfold. An understanding of the existence of something that we cannot penetrate and our primitive perceptions of the most profound reason and the most radiant beauty – this understanding and this emotion are what constitute true religious sentiment.” [Einstein’s emphasis]
Many people who are religious would say that this sense of the unknown, the mysterious, is really a path to belief in God. That is certainly true for me, though I prefer to call “God” the Great Spirit.
I find it very difficult to see how people can find inner peace, the strength to struggle day to day and for years to come, if they do not take time to connect with the natural world wherever they are. It can be found in urban settings too, in parks, in open green spaces, along rivers. Indeed, one of our responsibilities as citizens of the world is to increase the amount of green space available to city-dwellers to help all of us make the connections to nature that are so essential to emotional and spiritual health.
Hope in the Midst of Crisis
A conscious development of a closer connection to nature is an essential component of what the human race needs, I believe, if we are to appreciate how we are a part of nature, not lords over it, and that our powers are limited and finite. This humble appreciation, this consciousness, is absolutely essential if we are to have a chance of avoiding the Great Catastrophe.
Can we count upon the natural world to maintain our spirits when we fully understand, when we actually experience, significant changes to the Earth as it continues to heat up and we experience more and more destructive extreme weather events – which will happen for a long time to come no matter how strong our efforts? Yes, I think we can.
It’s not as if the natural world as we have known it is going to completely change within a few years, or even a few decades. The sun and the moon will still come up; waters, by and large, will continue to flow; green things will grow and woods and forests continue to exist. But there is no question that the news about what is happening in the world, to the world, as the heating process unfolds, is overwhelming.
Considering the evidence, it’s easy to feel that there’s little chance that the human race is up to turning things around in enough time to avoid catastrophic climate change. Yet my participation in IMAC has led me to reflect on the saying, “All things are possible with God.”
Maybe the human family needs to experience, collectively, a sense of hopelessness about our future after experiencing weather disaster after weather disaster. Perhaps that hopelessness will lead us to recognize that the strength we need to bring about change requires tapping a power much stronger than the fossil fuel industry and its allies in the corporate and governmental worlds.
We don’t know exactly when and how that mass sea-change in understanding will take place. In the meantime, those of us who understand how bad our situation is, particularly those of us who are spiritually grounded, must continue to speak out and take action.
Ted Glick has written a longer article on this subject, Religion, Revolution and Higher Love. Past writings of his can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick
For 43 years, since 1975, I’ve been a member, often a leader, of national and local groups working to build a mass-based, progressive political party. During all that time I’ve advocated for and acted upon an approach which appreciates that there is little to no chance of achieving such a thing—an organization actually capable of contending for power electorally—without a significant percentage of grassroots progressive Democrats deciding to be part of or support it.
Third party efforts on the left over that time have borne out the soundness of this approach. On the one hand, partisan, go-it-alone, Democrats-and-Republicans-are-equally-terrible third party campaigns have yielded a miniscule number of electoral victories nationally. On the other hand, independent, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ tactical decision to run for President within the Democratic Party in 2015-2016 had and continues to have a very big political impact.
A story in today’s New York Times, “Democrats Brace as Storm Brews Far to Their Left,” reports that “about a sixth of Democratic congressional nominees so far [in 2018 primaries] have a formal affiliation with one of several important insurgent groups. Fifty-three of the 305 candidates have been endorsed by the Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign and Our Revolution, organizations that have helped propel challenges to Democratic incumbents.”
The Times writes about those 53 victories with some palpable relief that it’s not more, that 5/6ths of the primary victors are less progressive, more centrist, more corporate or some hybrid. But they do acknowledge that this movement “promises to grow as a disruptive force in national elections as younger voters reject the traditional boundary lines of Democratic politics.”
I am sure that some of those 53 Congressional nominees are not as radical and consistent in their positions as, for example, Green Party candidates. Some are, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes in the Bronx. But there are no Green Party members of Congress, and there are very few, if any, elected to state legislatures anywhere in the country. That is not a good track record.
There is such a thing as the “art of politics,” knowing, if you are a leftist or socialist, how to keep your principles, advocate for strong policies, but not be so far out there that you have no chance of being elected. Part of this “art” involves determining if you should run on an independent line or in a Democratic primary.
There is no doubt in my mind that, right now, and for at least the next two and a half years, through 2020, the strategic priority for leftists and socialists is to run campaigns within the Democratic Party, to work to massively register and bring out to the polls the 35% or so of eligible voters—the vast majority of them people of color, working class people and young people—who don’t vote, and to thereby both set back the Trumpist Republicans and build and make visible a mass, progressive movement. Such a movement is absolutely essential to the ultimate political decline of the ultra-right and the conservative-run corporations which support them. We can’t depend on people like the Clintons to make this happen.
The corporate-influenced wing of the Democratic Party, which continues to have most of the national party’s day-to-day decision-making power, will unquestionably continue to fight against the left political upsurge, at the same time that they will try to do so in a way which doesn’t help the Republicans and which wins back Democratic control of both houses of Congress and, in 2020, the White House. That objective of Democratic control of government is a goal which we on the left share, and we should work in both alliance with and independent of that less progressive, more pro-corporate wing accordingly.
It is hard, day after day, to see and experience all that the Trump/Republican cabal is consciously and maddeningly doing to struggling people, to our severely wounded planet and to the best traditions of our country. But the signs are everywhere that the November 6 elections could be a very big political defeat for the Republicans and a shot in the arm for the Trump resistance movement. We all need to figure out how we can each do our part to achieve this critical objective that is right before us, within our reach.
Ted Glick has been a progressive political activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.
Over the last 15 years that I’ve been an activist and organizer on the issue of human/system-caused climate disruption, I’ve many times discussed with others if there is any hope of avoiding the ultimate unraveling of the world’s ecosystems, given how deep a hole we are in. Put another way, can we overcome in enough time the power of the fossil fuel industry and their corporate and government collaborators?
Realistically, there isn’t enough time to prevent major human and ecological damage on a worldwide scale. It’s already happening, via extreme weather events taking place more often and more destructively in all parts of the world. These are going to get worse before, many years in the future, they happen at a scale and frequency that is more normal; that is, more like how and when they have happened in recent centuries.
Another example is the war in Syria, which has led to a half-million deaths, tremendous destruction, millions of refugees, and a rise in anti-immigrant, racist political groups, particularly in Europe. The war was caused in part by climate change via a horrific, many-years-long drought that exacerbated economic hardship and social and political instability.
How will we as individuals and humanity as a whole cope if/when rising temperatures and a disrupted climate lead to major crop failures and water scarcity on top of all of the other impacts from extreme weather events and unraveling ecological systems?
In 2007 I engaged in a climate emergency fast that ended up going 107 days. 25 days were on water-only; the rest were on fruit and vegetable liquids, with powdered protein and vitamin supplements in the last 50 days. On about the 100th day I was reached out to by a young Indigenous leader who wanted to meet with me. We did so, and we had a deep and substantive talk for several hours.
The one thing that has stayed with me about that conversation was when we discussed what could be coming down the road as the climate becomes increasingly unstable. This very grounded and very intelligent young man spoke about how he had considered that in some Indigenous communities it might be necessary for people to decide, literally, who should live and who should die, who, by continuing to live, was best able to help as many as possible to survive until things changed for the better.
Then there is the person who told me, in all seriousness, in a conversation about 20 years ago that he believed a half-billion people was about the right number of people for our planet. Who was he? Someone who had worked for decades in the Pentagon as a high-level assistant to top Pentagon leadership.
I am certain that this kind of discussion goes on among the corporate ruling elite who dominate the world’s governments. Some may feel some pangs of conscience about what they know is coming, absent a massive people’s uprising, but the primary concern of these people as a class is how to maintain the system as it is with them in control. If that means that billions of people die, so be it.
I am sure that for many of them, they have been so immersed in their corporate culture of white/male/heterosexual/elite privilege and power that they just can’t conceive that another world truly is possible, one which moves rapidly forward with a just and democratic transition to a fossil-fuel-free world.
But for the moment let’s assume the worst is going to happen, that the fossil fuel industry maintains enough of its power for many years to come so that the now very possible transition off fossil fuels to renewables, efficiency, conservation and a social ethic of creation care goes too slowly, and the unraveling process accelerates. Billions of people die, and a third or a half of existing animal and bird species disappear. Instead of the 7.6 billion people now alive, it’s more like 1-2 billion.
To live through this—or to try to do so—would be devastating. It’s something almost impossible to think about. And I don’t think we should, really, because this is a result which assumes the worst. It assumes that the growing, worldwide climate movement and the worldwide transition away from fossil fuels to renewables are going to stall, and I don’t see those things happening. It assumes that all of the human and social progress which we have made over the centuries can be easily wiped away, that masses of people will not fight to defend the rights of women, workers, people of color, lgbtq people, people with disabilities and children. It assumes that people like Donald Trump are the wave of the future. I don’t believe any of that.
A worldwide battle is going on right now between those of us who are fighting for the survival of the world’s ecosystems and the potential for positive change going forward on one side, and on the other, those addicted to obscene wealth and power at the top of a decaying system willing to devastate our beautiful mother earth to stay on top.
Because the hole we are in is so deep when it comes to climate disruption, in particular, as well as other environmental crises, I don’t think it is possible to predict who will win out on the climate fight, the people, awakened, or the Trumpian polluters; them or us. But if it is the case that we can’t stop them and turn things around in enough time to forestall worldwide climate catastrophe, it is still absolutely essential that we fight as hard as we can right now. The sooner we can make the turn, the less human and ecological damage there will ultimately be.
And as we fight we need to expand and deepen a movement which connects thousands and thousands of locally-based groups building healthy and authentic, love-based communities. We need to get better organized to help as many of us as possible survive this jarring and difficult period so that we come out on the other side, whenever that is, with a world culture and human society which has finally and fully learned to live in a qualitatively superior way with one another and the natural world.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick
“Even more striking are Jesus’ teachings that we must elevate ‘feminine virtues’ from a secondary or supportive to a primary and central position. We must not be violent but instead turn the other cheek; we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us; we must love our neighbors and even our enemies. Instead of the ‘masculine virtues’ of toughness, aggressiveness, and dominance, what we must value above all else are mutual responsibility, compassion, gentleness, and love.”
-Riane Eisler, The Chalice & The Blade (p. 121)
Yesterday was Easter, the day that many hundreds of millions of Christians around the world celebrate the believed-in resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth about 1,985 years ago. Should those of us who believe that systemic, fundamental change, revolutionary change, is needed in this wounded and struggling world join in this celebration?
Many revolutionaries would say no, given the questionable proof that Jesus actually rose from the dead and ascended to a mysterious place called heaven. For myself, I’m not that kind of a believer. But I do believe that, after Jesus died, the memory of him, his spirit, if you will, had profound impacts upon his followers that led to the emergence of Christianity as, for many decades after his death, one of the most revolutionary movements the world has ever experienced.
No less a revolutionary than Frederick Engels saw things in a similar way. In “The Book of Revelation,” he wrote, “[Quoting Ernest Renan] ‘When you want to get an idea of what the first Christian communities were, do not compare them to the parish congregations of our day; they were rather like local sections of the International Working Man’s Association.’ And this is correct. Christianity got hold of the masses, exactly as modern socialism does, under the shape of a variety of sects, and still more of conflicting individual views, but all opposed to the ruling system, to ‘the powers that be.’” (pps. 205-206)
Karl Kautsky, a close friend of Engels until his death in 1895 and a leading theoretician and practical leader of the European socialist movement, saw things similarly. In his classic book, Foundations of Christianity, published in 1908, he explains how early Christianity was all about raising up the lives of the poor and the oppressed. He comments favorably on Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount: “The reader will observe that to be rich and enjoy one’s wealth is regarded as a crime, worthy of the most cruel punishment.” (p. 328)
More than this, Christianity, with its “outspoken proletarian character,” naturally “aimed to achieve a communistic organization. We read in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Grace was among them, because no one suffered lack, for the reason that they gave so generously that none remained poor.’” (pps. 331-332)
Kautsky, understanding the importance of organization to the efforts to transform society, identified this reality of early Christianity as the reason why the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth had such an impact not just in the early first century AD but for the last 2000 years. “Jesus was not merely a rebel, he was also a representative and a champion, perhaps even the founder of an organization which survived him and continued to increase in numbers and in strength. It was the organization of the congregation that served as a bond to hold together Jesus’ adherents after his death, and as a means of keeping alive the memory of their crucified champion. It was not the faith in the resurrection of the Crucified which created the Christian congregation and gave it its strength, but, on the contrary, it was the vigor and strength of the congregation that created the belief in the continued life of the Messiah.” (pps. 376-378).
We all know what happened as the years rolled by, the eventual corruption of the religion of Christianity and it becoming a willing ally of oppressive and violent ruling governments for a millennium and a half.
We also know what happened to the socialist project in the two major countries in the world which had socialist revolutions in the 20th century: the rise of Stalin and Stalinism within 10 years of the Russian Revolution and the reality of repressive crony capitalism in today’s Russia, and the failure of socialist efforts in China to withstand the strength of capitalist ideas in that heavily peasant society.
Today, there is much more appreciation by people who understand the need for people-before-corporations social change that the way that we treat each other as individuals, the quality of our human interactions, is an absolutely fundamental component of that change. You can’t say that you want a society where women and men and people of color and whites have equal rights and opportunities, where justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, and interact with those around you in a disrespectful or indifferent way.
We need forms of organization that embody this new, this very old, culture as we go about our day-to-day work of working for change.
Could it be that there is an historic model of this way of living and being that lasted for a long time that most of us have known little about? Could the Christianity of the first century AD help to inspire and lead us in this 21st century toward the world we not just want but which we need, in this time of escalating climate change and more and more serious extreme weather events and ecological destruction?
In “The First Coming,” a book by Biblical scholar Thomas Sheehan published in 1986, the case is made that the important thing about the life of Jesus is not the uncertain resurrection but his radical teachings: “’If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’ (Matthew 19:21). The vocation of Jesus and his followers was to live God’s dawning presence—not up above in heaven or up ahead in an apocalyptic future, but there in their midst, at the edge of things where security unravels into risk, at the center of things where common sense is challenged by the wager that henceforth God is found only among men and women.
“All Jesus did was bring to light in a fresh way what had always been the case but what had been forgotten or obscured by religion. His role was simply to end religion—that temporary governess who had turned into a tyrant—and restore the sense of the immediacy of God.” (p. 68)
You don’t need to profess a belief in “God,” or in a higher power of some kind, to get it on the deep and profound truth that we should all try to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” And that organizations which have internalized and openly manifest this truth are organizations that, yes, can change the world.
Ted Glick has been a progressive organizer and activist since April 4th, 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.