This proposed Open Letter is the result of a months-long exchange via e-mail between Karen Young and John Rensenbrink. The readers of Green Horizon are urged to offer feedback to one or both of the authors. [Karen: [email protected]; John: [email protected]]
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WHO WE ARE
We are Greens of many different social and political persuasions. Some of us take libertarian views. Some are committed to workers’ rights and union organizing. For some, protection of the environment is uppermost. Some go to bat for small business and entrepreneurship. For some social justice and humanitarian concerns are uppermost. For some a peacetime society is key. For others cooperatives and non-profits should have the highest priority in organizing the economy. For others the return to local organic farming is of supreme importance along with localization in general. Some of us are dubious about electoral politics. Some are Green-minded Democrats; some Green-minded Republicans; some Green-minded Independents. Many identify with the Occupy movement and its call to reduce income inequality and the power of the 1% versus the 99%. Many support the Tea Party’s approach to smaller, less wasteful, and more effective government.
We are committed to help re-build Main Street. We are determined that government must be accountable and accessible to the people. We share ten key values: ecological wisdom, personal and social responsibility, grass roots democracy, non-violence, decentralization, community-centered economics, respect for diversity, gender equality, global responsibility, and thinking to the seventh generation (sustainability).
Our three reasons for writing this letter: First, to celebrate the fact that people throughout our country aren’t waiting for politicians to save them, but are re-building our country from the bottom up. Second, to keep in the forefront of our concerns the fact that our government, rather than helping Americans re-build their country, is standing in the way. And third, to identify seven steps you can take to spur the re-building and help bring about a new society.
Some of us are struggling to stay afloat and too many are sinking. Some have been doing this a long time. Others are new to long-term unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. Even those of us who still have jobs, homes and savings don’t feel at all safe. We all know, deep down, that the world we knew, the world of steady jobs and endless growth, the world of every generation doing better than the last, just isn’t coming back. We also know that the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing isn’t a fluke. We’re all taking a good hard look at our situation, and we know we need to figure out a new way to live.
The good news is that people are figuring it out. We see a movement in America and many other countries that Yes! magazine calls the “Do It Ourselves Economy”. Peggy Noonan, a conservative voice, has said, “We know a unique challenge is coming, that it may be soon, and that we will have to get through it together.” People are reclaiming control of their economic and political lives. They are focusing on livelihoods, not just jobs. They are focusing on rebuilding Main Street and revitalizing local democracy in ways that will enable us to create our own work, localize credit, and reduce our dependence on money and paid employment.
People are living well on less money, and building stronger families and communities along the way.
People are growing their own food and supporting local farmers. Even in the cities, people are starting to keep chickens and bees and make gardens on rooftops. In Detroit, for example, people are growing a local, sustainable food system. There are now over 1,600 farms and gardens in the city. They are nurturing a new education program and creating social enterprises that build community and capital. This in a city that has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs and seen the abandonment of 33,000 houses during the last decade.
People in state after state and city after city are starting their own businesses, supporting the small business community and keeping more jobs and money close to home.
People are conserving energy, to save money and save the planet. They are insulating their homes, unplugging their appliances, hanging clothes out to dry in the sun, developing more energy efficient buildings. We’re giving away stuff we don’t need, getting free stuff that’s used but still good, and fixing stuff instead of throwing it away.
Tremendously exciting is the fact that there are 33,000 cooperatives in the United States with 130 million members (nearly half of the people in the country), with 2 million people employed and $753 billion in sales in 2009 – this according to a survey by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives in 2009.
Recently, hundreds of thousands of people responded to the call of Bank Transfer Day and moved their money from the mega-banks that caused our economic crisis, to the local banks and credit unions that can help keep our money in our communities.
While we still struggle with racism and prejudice against people who don’t look like us, there is also a real multi-cultural America taking shape. More of us value the rich experience of living and working with people from cultures or countries that are different from our own. Many Americans take exception to those who scapegoat immigrants for our economic troubles and recognize that the American ideal of justice for all has implications for how we deal with those who in desperation seek refuge within our borders.
The Tea Party has focused attention on the failures of government. The Occupy movement has focused attention on the huge gap between the Wall Street super-rich and everyone else. Together they create space for an important national conversation about the true meaning of democracy and our national commitment to liberty and justice for all.
GOVERNMENT: THE PROBLEM OR PART OF THE SOLUTION?
We believe that hope lies with people who are taking matters into our own hands and creating solutions. There are millions of us.
Even those among us who have traditionally looked to government as the solution recognize that our government is no longer able to agree on much of anything, as in the Congressional “Super-Committees”, or is actively making things worse.
There’s very little constructive action on job creation, on crucial environmental issues, on helping small business, on foreclosure and other problems that are destroying lives and threatening our national prosperity.
Unlike most countries that are proud to call themselves “democracies,” we have a two-party system that allows us to choose only between Republicans and Democrats. Increasingly, both parties champion the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful 1% against the 99%. The Democratic Party gives lip service to protecting “working people,” but often joins with the Republican Party in advancing the Wall Street agenda.
Billions of dollars from corporations and other special interests flood our elections, especially since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision removed almost all limits from corporate contributions. Most of the money is spent on negative and divisive ads that only drive people away from the polls.
While there are a number of decent people in office trying to do the right thing, party leadership in both major parties is firmly in the pocket of Wall Street and other big business and special interest funding.
Trust in government is at an all-time low. The two parties, however, have built institutions that are designed to keep themselves in power regardless of what the citizens want.
Most Americans now say a third party is needed. But from partisan redistricting that tailors districts to incumbents, to restrictive voter registration laws, to ballot access requirements that keep smaller parties out of the picture, there are severe obstacles for those who want to open up the system and give all citizens access to political power.
But government COULD be doing so much to help us move toward the new world we have started building on our own. They could turn over government-owned property for affordable housing and community gardens. They could provide seed money and government contracts to new green businesses, both of which provide jobs and help the environment. They could buy food for schools from local farmers. And they could create a balanced tax system in which the rich and big businesses pay their fair share to fund government services.
To actually move government in this direction, we need candidates and officeholders willing to confront big-money interests and enact policies that support the rebuilding initiatives of the American people. We need citizens willing to accept nothing less. We need people who will actually support third party and clean money candidates: with their time, their money, and their votes. We need people willing to fight for campaign finance reform and for election laws that open up the electoral system. Making the same old choices between two evils, in the same old way, isn’t going to produce different results.
SEVEN STEPS YOU CAN TAKE
If everyone reading this takes even one or two of the steps below, we’ll see much stronger communities. We’ll see new leaders coming forward. We’ll find a renewed sense of confidence in ourselves and in our country. We’ll catch the wave of creative and positive change that is moving us to a better world.
1. Get involved in your local community. Join your block or neighborhood association, community garden, activist group, or local theater company: the possibilities are endless. Support local businesses, farms, and banks dedicated to community prosperity. Start your own group, small business, or garden.
2. Find out what’s going on in other communities. Other people are facing the same challenges and opportunities as you do. How are they coping?
3. Start conversations with parties, candidates and movements that are open to or, even better, committed to help re-build America the and are free of monied interests in politics.
4. Support changes to make elections more fair and representative. Most election laws are made on the state and local level. They can be changed at the state and local level. You may be able to help fight for easier access for third parties; for some form of ranked choice voting or proportional representation to eliminate the third party spoiler effect; for campaign finance reform; for clean election funds; for expanded voting hours; for same-day voter registration; and for non-partisan redistricting.
Some quick background on ranked choice voting and proportional representation: When you have ranked choice voting, there is no “spoiler” effect. If your first choice doesn’t win, your vote transfers to your second choice. With proportional representation, groups or parties are represented in the legislature based on the proportion of voter support they have. For example, with proportional representation, if the Green Party or the Libertarian Party had 20% of the vote, they would receive 20% of the seats. In our current system, 20% of the votes doesn’t result in ANY representation. For more information look up FairVote at www.fairvote.org.
On the national level, we urge joining the move to amend the U.S. Constitution to assure that only individual human beings, and not corporations, are persons in the eyes of the law. For information see www.movetoamend.org.
5. Vote for candidates you believe in! You may have become completely disgusted with the system, and that’s understandable. But people who get elected to office have a lot of power over you and your community. Don’t throw away the opportunity to help decide who gets to be in charge. Don’t just leave it to the rich and powerful. If voting didn’t matter, they wouldn’t work so hard to keep people from doing it. Use your vote wisely. One important guideline is to vote and support only those candidates and political parties who do not take big corporate money.
6. Run for office. You can be the face of the change you want to see, and you can energize people in your community to fight for what they need. Even if you don’t win, you can bring your ideas to the table and show that there’s support for them, and that can change policy.
7. Support independent media. We can’t do this without news and views of, by and for the 99%. Seek it out, promote it to your networks, and give financial support. And if you’re so inclined, be the media:make and share your own videos, photos, and writing, and tell your own stories of the old world dying and the new one being born.
We are Greens who love our country. We come from many political persuasions.We share the desire and the capacity to get going on building a new world that’s based on local communities, cooperation rather than competition, do-it-yourself jobs, conservation, respect for the planet, sharing and love.
Government right now is the problem: disconnected from the people, enacting a radical Wall Street agenda, unable to grapple with the real and desperate problems we are facing. But government must and can be part of the solution, if we engage in the hard work of making it represent us, and use its power to help make our bottom-up initiatives successful.
We urge you to join us, and the people everywhere, who aren’t waiting for politicians or anyone else to save them, but are already at work re-building America and the basis for a new society. We urge you to commit to taking one or more of the actions we’ve outlined here, or others we haven’t thought of.
We have committed ourselves to take positive action. What will YOU do to be part of the solution? With you, your friends and family, their friends and family, and so on, joining in, we WILL get this country moving in the right direction. We will live to see the dawning of a new era.