The Pendulum Swings Both Ways
Election? What election?
It was Skull versus Bones in ought-four.
And we couldn’t vote against the war.
Steve "PWT with a GED" Spahr
Recently I attended the opening soiree of a law office for civil/human rights attorneys in Eugene, Oregon. My friend Lauren Regan, one of the lawyers, is a stalwart, skilful defender of many heroic folks in legal hot water for their activist activities. (You can follow her effort to end the utterly oppressive "Interfering with an Agricultural Operation Act" – which is used in Oregon exclusively against the First Amendment rights of forest protesters – by regularly checking in on her defendant’s writings on the Oregon vs. Roselle case. Lauren and her tireless colleagues at the Civil Liberties Defense Center need all the support they can get. email@example.com
"It’s not Infighting. They’re not us"
It was billed as "An Inaugural Bawl," so there was much political discussion around the Vegan finger foods throughout the converted granary. While getting a sparkling cider (thoughtfully provided for us non-alcohol drinkers), I was cornered by a local wing-nut for a time. In between his haranguing me about CounterPunch and specifically, editor Alexander Cockburn and his buddies Noam Chomsky and Bruce Anderson, we got around to his views of where we’re headed.
The most shocking thing to me was how, despite his laundry list of issues where Cockburn, Chomsky and CounterPunch fall far short of his radical positions; he has decidedly skewed ideas about just what we’re up against, and, consequently, little in the way of good ideas for how to combat it. His own latte-drenched, insular college town views of just what we’re up against and how we should respond are strikingly at odds with those of the brilliant Joe Bageant and most others who actually live and work in the Red States and counties. (I live in a Red county in a Blue state.)
He fully believes that ABB won and all that has happened here is another stolen election. He believes that the public is firmly on our side and that only a minority really support BushCo and all that is needed to right things is for the Left to collectively get behind the "9-11 Cheney did it" and "ABB was robbed" bandwagon and happy days will return to the Empire. He angrily dismisses Bageant’s notion that, yes, half the country does indeed support Bush and are loving it and will love fascism even more once it fully arrives. He can’t abide that many, sadly, have come to Bageant’s conclusion: there is no "Left;" merely a lot of disheartened individuals who wish there was. Such notions are inconceivable in the People’s Republic of Eugene.
Basically ALL of his arguments boiled down to this: we’re losing simply because these, and other, Left icons don’t get it and are failing to do their jobs educating a public which would otherwise be behind us 100%. And obviously, Cockburn, Chomsky, Bageant and I don’t get it because we are part of a COINTELPRO operationwhen we aren’t shilling for the CIA. This rant is delivered at fever pitch, while at the same time he blames Cockburn, Chomsky, Anderson, myself, et al. for "sowing dissension and division on the Left."
Talk about needing to get away from the monitor screen and the central-casting hippie college town and out into the real world.
The Death of Environmentalism
The envIRON triangle = big green; Dems; Foundations
As if this insular tone deafness wasn’t enough, I got involved this week in a discussion thread as to the "Death of Environmentalism." As they used to say in my inner-city Flint neighborhood, even Ray Charles can see there have been no major environmental victories for a couple decades now. The last spate of proactive protection legislation came under Nixon and Carter, ferchrissakes!
At a time when Big Green, Inc. has become a billion dollar per year industry employing thousands, environmental protection has been reduced to a few skirmishes here and there. And, the sole successful ones are always those fought by local defenders of their special places.
Big Green environmentalism has, itself, like the invisible Peace Movement (I’ll weigh in on that later), been reduced to a wing of the Democratic Party run top-down by high-paid entrenched tired bureaucrats(the big greens collectively have over 100 staffers pulling in over six figures) with the real heavy lifting always done by underpaid, if not volunteer, young folks (as I noted in an earlier essay). They cannot be counted on to help gain protection or stop degradation of anything. But, they’ll jump right on board to use your local issue as a fund-raising ploy. And, they can always be counted on to apply a liberal coat of greenwash to whatever Democrat candidates are thrown up every election year.
Finding Success with the GOP in Power
Of course, none of this analysis is new. What is new is that it is now being espoused by some who were collaborators in the decline. Adam Werbach, former golden boy president of the Sierra Club, who presided over and glossed over many Clinton-era losses, (and approved club CEO Carl Pope’s $200,000 per year salary and benefits package) has recently leveled the same charges that Jeffrey St. Clair, Cockburn, Denise Boggs, Andy Mahler, Tim Hermach, Jeanine Blaeloch, John Borowski, Scott Silver, myself and many others have detailed for over a decade now.
Werbach’s piece, a New York Times piece and a recent Oregonian article on environmentalism’s decline, has created an internal movement firestorm of response; from denial, to attaboys, to some real soul-searching. But, as expected, most of the soul-searching comes from the grassroots activists and the denial from the paid professionals.
The Oregonian article titled: "Activists’ new cause: restoring their clout" acknowledges the decline in the public’s trust of environmental organizations and notes the lack of real victories. But, the Oregonian reporter, like his colleagues at the New York Times, repeats one of the causes of the decline in that he interviews no one other than paid staffers of the ineffective organizations at the root of the decline.
Perhaps the most shocking thing I read in the various e-mails it provoked was this from a paid staffer in obvious denial: "in the last 30 years, I don’t think it is that we’ve lost touch with the public, rather I think it’s that there’s been a major religious movement that has converted millions of people in the country to a religion with a conservative ideology attached. We are also facing a much more organized opposition."
Well, someone has obviously "lost touch" with something here. Time to get out of what Mike Roselle calls, "the vast cubicle wasteland."
Where have they been? Have they never lived in a Red County? Have they even visited? The religious right and extraction industries have ALWAYS been intertwined. It was thus three decades ago when I was a timber millworker in rural Washington and long before that. Do they so easily forget Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior James Watt? Anne Gorsuch? Rita Lavelle? Compared to them, Gail Norton is but a typical bureaucrat. Watt famously called for the using up of ALL natural resources as that would trigger the return of Jesus!
What it did trigger was massive opposition AND proactive protection efforts. None of that fazed the activists of the time. Local activists gained a lot of protection in the dark days of Reagan. People didn’t whine about the toughness of the opposition. They noted it and went to work. Major additions to designated Wilderness took place under Reagan even, as opposed to the paucity of such under Clinton.
Similarly, opposition at the grassroots level has been fierce against Bush. While no victories have been forth-coming, a lot of bad proposals have been sidetracked, including the very one big green called "our greatest victory."
Bill Clinton’s vaunted "Northwest Forest Plan" actually called for over 1.1 billion board feet (35,000 acres) of Ancient Forest stump-creation per year in the Northwest’s public-owned national forests. Al Gore vowed to carry it out and the big greens cheer-led his promise. However, under the big greens’ nemesis Bush, just less than 200 million bf of Ancient Forest has been cut per year. Clinton’s annual average was 1.9 billion bf! At the current rate, Bush won’t even succeed in cutting one year’s worth of Clinton cuts in his entire eight years, should he complete his term.
We Won the Last Time
Which brings me to a final thought: Richard Nixon was reelected in 1972 with an unheard-of 62% of the vote. He carried every state but one. Within two years, he was gone and that era’s Imperial war ended. (Note to Cheney: his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, was ousted before him.)
And we had: a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (the Mother of all environmental legislation), a Clean Water Act, a Clean Air Act, an Endangered Species Act and on and on passed on his watch and signed into law by Nixon himself.
But you won’t hear big green talking about it. Imagine the Hosannas had it been Bubba, not the Trickster?
The environmentalism thread concluded with a lot of advice from long-time activists. Here’s my distillation: leave the Blue enclaves; leave the cubicles; smash the envIRON triangle; own up to the failures of the Democrats; admit the gains under Republicans; go after bad Democrats; get to know some loggers, miners and ranchers AND some grassroots activists; stand up for your local areas no compromise; just lead the rest will comeand then maybe we’ll see some "restored clout."
P.S. At the soiree, I trotted out Steve Spahr’s rap. Naderite Jim Flynn piped up reminding me, "Some of us indeed voted against the War"
MICHAEL DONNELLY is a grassroots activist who always fights equally hard against the depredations of Republicans and Democrats alike. He doubts the official 9-11 story. He finds Spahr’s election re-cap the best summary of all.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org