Editor’s Note: The following article is based on a speech by Pam Hartwell-Herrero, Mayor of Fairfax, California, to an audience of Green Party delegates from all parts of the country at the U.S. Green Party convention in Baltimore, July 12-15. She gave the talk shortly before the Convention nominated Jill Stein for President.
Greens have been on the Town Council in Fairfax, California since 1999. In 2009 I was fortunate to join two existing Green Party members on the Council. My election established us as the only current Green Party majority council in the nation.We now hold 4 out of 5 seats on that council.
The Greens have taken OVER and all is well!
In the past several years, we have done work in Fairfax for which we are very proud. We are best known for our environmental policy work on Marin Clean Energy, Open Space preservation, GMO labeling, Pesticide, Plastic and Styrofoam bans, and don’t even get me started on our Zero Waste garbage contract where we will be getting to a 94% diversion away from the landfill by 2020.
But today I want to tell you about our economic policies. As I do, I ask that you keep in mind who makes up our town council.
We are citizens—parents, workers, volunteers, living mostly normal lives, enacting changes in our community through shockingly basic means: hard work, research, negotiation, compromise, debate, trial and error.
GETTING IT DONE
We occupy the city government of Fairfax not only with ideas and principles, but also with the determination to do the boring part: getting it done.
If there’s something to take from these brief remarks, that’s it: Fairfax made these accomplishments happen because we formed coalitions with everyone, grew political will, and we push until we get them done.
Here is what we have done on the economic front: We had a progressive majority before we had a Green majority and one of the early actions of that Council was to establish a fair wage ordinance. They believed that the health and welfare of all Fairfax residents is benefitted when all Fairfax workers are paid a living wage.
Many of our workers and families in the town live at or below the poverty line, and paying inadequate wages had a negative effect on everyone in Fairfax. A living wage tells each worker they are valued, and builds wealth in the entire community.
They also passed a ban on nationally owned chain stores, to ensure the unique character of our community, but also because doing business with our neighbors ensures our town’s autonomy, economic security, and collective solidarity.
I came into elected office after serving for 5 years as the Executive Director of a nonprofit that educates and advocates on sustainable policy and resilient lifestyle. One project that spanned the work of that nonprofit and my service to the Town of Fairfax was the FairBuck, a local currency, launched last year. The FairBuck is an initiative of Sustainable Fairfax, the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and the Fairfax Town Council. Using this shiny little 3 dollar token, residents, visitors, and businesses have an opportunity to invest in Fairfax. FairBucks keeps money local, generates funds for community projects and encourages conversation about economic alternatives.
And has that conversation about economic alternatives ever been fruitful!
Soon after the launch of the FairBuck we supported statewide legislation to form a public bank like the one in North Dakota. We believe public tax dollars should NOT be placed in private banks for private gain. Public money should be in public banks for public good.
Municipalities, small businesses and students should all be able to borrow money at reasonable interest rates that do not line the pockets of Large Private bankers.
Most recently, we worked with staff to Move Our Money. Our $7 million town budget and all the banking services that go with it are, as we speak, being moved from the Bank of America to the Bank of Marin, a small community bank.
And the town is saving money on services. Doing the right thing is no longer more expensive. With the rate of bank bailouts and resulting home foreclosures skyrocketing, we were dedicated to working with and supporting a community bank with low mortgage turnover that dedicated funds to local non-profits.
When Fairfax incorporated in 1931 as a party town on the train headed north from San Francisco, nobody would have guessed that our small town 81 years later would contain the only majority Green Party government in the country. We have become a place where local political initiatives synthesize with national and global campaigns for social and economic justice, a place where the beauty of Northern California combines with vital policy to improve our world and our day to day lives on this precious planet.
But that’s how political and economic change starts: In the most intimate and normal of spaces.
We are like you- simply citizens who love our town and have a desire to improve the future. We represent constituents who want to live sustainably and responsibly in their community, and need structures, support networks, information, and education to do so.
Personally, these issues were important to me as a mother as well as an educator and advocate. But, what I’m really here to tell you today is that, despite the accolades, and despite the importance of what we are able to do, there’s nothing exceptional about the fact that we do it.
The policies we enact are pragmatic, realistic, and feasible—they are not “utopian” or far-fetched. In fact, these policies are part of a groundswell of socially, environmentally, and economically responsible policymaking happening in communities around this nation.
Living wage ordinances are emerging all over the country and although these ordinances are sometimes vetoed by leaders who cater to interests different than our own, the movements keep springing up, and each time there’s a living wage struggle, more people are educated about the relationship between the other person’s quality of life and our own. Campaigns for living wages teach us about our interconnectedness.
I have also been contacted by numerous other communities working on passing their own Chain Store Bans.
There are hundred of local currencies in the US: Detroit Cheers is being used by several businesses. One of the business owners called it “Detroit’s economic stimulus package.”
Ithaca, New York has Ithaca Hours. In Piedmont, North Carolina, the Plenty Currency Cooperative has been operating since 2002 with the goal of safeguarding jobs and differentiating local culture from “big box stores and Generic Americana.”
Since its start in 2006, $2.3 million worth of BerkShares have been circulated.
Legislation and feasibility studies to create regional and state public banks are being looked at in 17 states. And thanks to the Occupy movement and the horrific practices of the big multi-national banks—people, towns and businesses are following the Move Our Money command and taking their money to credit unions and community banks all over the country.
To “occupy” today means to take control of our own destiny.
Doing business with all your neighbors is the key to solidarity. We demand that the real alternative to corporate capitalist management is collective, democratic self-management.
And as we look at the Green Party platform, from electoral reform to economic reform, from a peace-oriented foreign policy to environmental sensibility, we need to remember that each of those big ideas consists of a lot of perfectly feasible, starkly pragmatic policies that can and must be enacted at every level of government.
All of which will take a hell of a lot of patience, focus, discipline, and hard work. So I invite you all, especially the advocates and educators to join me in Occupying public office.
And if you don’t get in right away, don’t wait for the next election, work with the electeds there.
Do the hard work to build the future we need!
Please note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of this individual Council member and are not representative of the entire council or Town of Fairfax unless otherwise stated. – Pam H-H