Can You Imagine It?: The Other Convention and The Other Candidates

What would America be like if a major political party nominated one of the nation’s leading anti-poverty activists and an environmental health advocate as candidates for Vice-President and President, respectively?  Can you imagine it? If  you can’t imagine major political parties nominating such people for such offices, then it’s time for you to help make the Green Party a major political party.

Other political parties will hold major presidential nominating conventions this summer.  None of them will say more about America at the start of the 21st century than the Green Party national convention this weekend. None.  The Green Party convention tells us a couple of sobering and sad facts about our country at this time in history.  One is that America and Americans in general just don’t care about poverty, the environment, and a healthy democracy.   Another is that our cultural and political systems have been engineered to make reform in the necessary areas next to impossible without some type of revolutionary transformation and/or some type of revolution. I’m not throwing around the word revolution lightly.  I ponder seriously if it’s time. Our political, economic, educational and social systems seem so broken.  There’s a time when it’s more cost effective to get a new car than to keep pouring resources into the old one.

The powerlessness, anger, and desperation I so often feel about America mingled this morning with hope, inspiration and optimism to cause me to shed a few tears in a tangle of emotions.   Jill Stein announcement this past Wednesday, naming Cheri Honkala to be the Green Party’s Vice-Presidential candidate is a masterful and courageous choice.  As much as I desperately want Jill Stein to win this election, I know it isn’t going to happen.  One of the major ways Jill can impact this time of change in America is with her major choices, major statements, platform, and building a political arm for the 99% in the Green Party.  The choice of Honkala is a rousing call of urgency about one of the nations greatest sins – poverty.

Cheri Honkala is National Coordinator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s largest multi-racial, inter-generational movements led by the poor and homeless.  She is a formerly homeless, single mom who has spent years working directly alongside the poor to build the movement to end poverty.  She  ran for sheriff of Philadelphia on a “no evictions” platform in 2011 and picked up the endorsement of the National Organization for Women as a Green Party candidate.  I relish her candidacy.   Every day in my current ministry with the South Central Alliance of Churches in Fort Worth, I speak with dozens of people who need assistance paying their rent.  People who, in most cases, are disabled, elderly, or single parents who just don’t have the income to pay even the modest rents in the slum lord neighborhoods of the city.  Every day I speak to people in the very real danger of being evicted and go through the Tenant’s Rights Handbook from the Texas State Bar Association with them.   It is an abandoned and desolate place sitting with these good people day after day, having to tell them I have no financial help to give and only being able to offer my presence and my prayers.  The nomination of Cheri Honkala is a reminder that some day, if we don’t give up the struggle, America will have a Vice-President who was once homeless and has spent a lifetime fighting to end such injustice and inequality.  It won’t happen this year, but Cheri Honkala’s presence shouts and screams that some day it will be possible.  Someday poverty and homelessness will be primary areas of concern instead of issues we get around to if there’s time, money or attention left over.

I can’t separate some of my sense of hope in the Green Party’s candidates from the fact that ten years ago I too, was Jill Stein’s running mate.  Being the Lt. Governor candidate when Jill ran for Governor (against Mitt Romney) in Massachusetts in 2002 was the most dramatic way I had ever taken action in support of my own core values and beliefs.

Now, ten years later, I am inspired daily to act on my core beliefs and values.  The last ten years have seen our country drift even farther away from democracy, justice, health, equality, and prosperity.    Yes, there have been some bright spots such as ending the war in Iraq, ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the president coming out in support of gay marriage, and the Affordable Care Act.  But there are trouble spots, too, that linger and will not go away because they call for deep structural change.

Beyond the Affordable Care Act lies the territory of a National Health Care system – a single-payer, universal coverage system that makes health care a right and not a commodity.  There needs to be an end to military aggression.  The dominance of corporate influence in government must come to an end.  The enormous inequality in terms of income distribution must be addressed.   Elections that include and even solicit voices out side of a corporate controlled two-party system must not only become common, but steps need to be taken to ensure they are encouraged.

I fully admit that supporting Green Party candidates is often troubling for otherwise progressive, open-minded, liberally oriented people.  Yet, if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.  True, open democracy does not put citizens in the trap of voting for one candidate or party because the other is a worse choice. Real democracy offers real choice.  The longer we avoid election reforms such as campaign financing laws and rank-choice or instant run-off voting, the longer we ensure our captivity to the status quo.  Occupy has clearly demonstrated that the status quo just isn’t working for the overwhelming majority of us.

Dramatic change, if not revolutionary change, to the prevailing economic and political system is required.  The substantial changes we need are not going to come about as the result of a desperate struggle between two political parties fighting over the small slice of middle ground their various perspectives leave unclaimed or negotiable.  Real difference must be on the table and there must be an honest alternative.

The main criticism of the Green Party effort and Stein’s campaign is a fear that voting Green empowers Republican candidates that are so bad, it’s not worth chancing,  candidates like Mitt Romney. Democrats like to point to Ralph Nader winning enough votes in Florida in 2000 to tip the scale of that state and the election to Bush.  This bypasses two important things. Millions of registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush.  If people actually voted Democratic who claim to be so, another candidate is not an issue.  The other major issue is that instead of blaming a result, seek to fix the cause. The cause isn’t someone running for office – as if it’s okay to tell people in a democracy not to seek elective office –  but an electoral system that encourages instead of retards voting defensively for a candidate who may not actually be your first choice.

Might Stein-Honkala get enough votes in a swing state this year to throw the election to Romney instead of Obama? Yes, it’s quite possible,  however as Stein says, “You don’t get democracy by silencing the voice of the public interest.”

There’s a very good chance Mitt Romney will be elected president anyway, even if there were no Green Candidate in the race.  Would this be worse than Barack Obama being re-elected? Yes.  However, I am convinced that it wouldn’t be as drastic as partisans of either the left or the right may think.  I have no love of Mitt Romney, not only do I disagree with his political positions, but I will admit to just personally not liking the guy.  My overriding memory of Mitt Romney and the times I met him during my 2002 campaign with Jill is this: He repeated called Jill and I by incorrect names.  He referred to us as “Jane” and “Tommy” enough back stage during televised and other joint debate appearances that Seth Gitell (at the time the Boston Phoenix political reporter) asked him, “Mr. Romney,  do you really not yet know her name?” Both Obama and Romney are corporate-backed candidates and the things I care most deeply about are not going to happen no matter which one of them wins.  Neither Obama nor Romney:

  • – will push for free public education through the earning of an undergraduate degree.
  • – will fight for a national, single-payer, universal coverage health care program.
  • -will create a major New Deal type jobs program based on moving the country to renewable energy sources.
  • -will fight to end corporate control of elections and contributions to candidates for office.
  • -will make protecting our environment and fighting global warning an administrative priority.
  • -will abolish the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the government the right to detain American citizens without charge or trial.

Obama won’t do any of these things in a second term and Romney won’t do them either.  A Stein administration will, at the very least, fight for each and every one of these things.  The commitment to do so is in the Stein-Honkala and Green Party’s Green New Deal:

The Green New Deal is an emergency four part program of specific solutions for moving America quickly out of crisis into the secure green future. We call these solutions a Green “New Deal” because they are inspired by the New Deal programs that helped us out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. And these solutions are “Green” because they create an economy that makes our communities sustainable and healthy.

  1. First, we will guarantee the economic rights of all Americans, beginning with the right to a job at a living wage for every American willing and able to work.
  2. Second, we will transition to a sustainable, green economy for the 21st century, by adopting green technologies and sustainable production.
  3. Third, we will reboot and reprogram the financial sector so that it serves everyday people and our communities, and not the other way around.
  4. Fourth, we will protect these gains by expanding and strengthening our democracy so that our government and our economy finally serve We the People.

Take courage. Because of the urgency of these times, I am asking you personally to take courage and to be willing to believe that these major changes to our economy and politics are within our reach.

I don’t emphasize this much, but I named this blog in honor of the two deepest sources of my values and convictions: Unitarian Universalism and Green politics.  I write a lot about my faith, my struggles with it, and how people committed to that faith might improve our faith communities.  I don’t write so much about Green issues, but this time in the campaign season it is imperative that I say something about the need for people of progressive values to look deeply at the 10 Key Values of the Green Party and compare them to their own deepest convictions.   When I do this, I compare the 10 Key Values to the Unitarian Unversalist Association’s Principles and Purposes.   I see them reflecting each other, speaking of the same things with different words, one in 10 points, the other in 7.

I am neither a blind idealist nor a blind idealogue.   Following my campaign with Jill Stein in 2002, I found the fight to make the Green Party in Massachusetts a real force in state politics too draining.  I was frustrated by the bitter infighting of activists who would have rather championed the plight of the Palestinians or the legalization of marijuana over how to most effectively address local issues of taxes, education, jobs and environmental protection from a Green perspective.   I voted Green for president in 2000 and 2004, but I did vote for President Obama in 2008.  At the time, I thought he was the candidate best suited to promote my values.  I can’t say that this time around.  The foot dragging on GLBT rights, the NDAA and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, among other things illustrate that he and I are no longer on the exact same page when it comes to some core issues. I fully understand the need to compromise in politics and I spent a lot of time taking this message to Greens I worked with in Massachusetts.  I understand that President Obama, like all presidents, can not accomplish everything they want to.  I do not believe there is not a difference between Republicans and Democrats, but I do think that one of the smaller differences is, as Ralph Nader says, “the speed with which they fall to their knees before corporate interests.”  I do not think Barack Obama is a war criminal (not any more or less than every other American president) nor a socialist and as much as I do not personally like Mitt Romney or his politics, I don’t believe he is evil incarnate or the bringer of the dominionist tea party theocracy.  Believe me, it’s not that I don’t get it.  Here is what I understand, however: I have spent too much time as an activist, a teacher, a preacher and an occupier to not ask for what I really want at this time in history.   I have worked too hard standing up for my core values not to support the people who are standing for them in this election.

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