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You Can't Facebook a Revolution

When Green Matters

by SAM SMITH

An election race you may have missed last November found Fred Horch losing to the Democratic candidate, Alex Cornell du Houx, by less than 150 votes. Horch also beat the Republican candidate by over 250 votes.

Horch was the Independent Green candidate and the reason you may not have heard about this race was that it was for state representative in the town of Brunswick, Maine, and involved less that 4,000 voters.

Which makes it all the more odd that I kept seeing TV commercials for Horch’s Democratic opponent including one that featured former governor Angus King.

State representative seats don’t usually merit that sort of attention and a Green opponent hardly ever.

But in Maine, Greens actually matter and the Democrats take them quite seriously. In fact, a few years back when Green John Eder was elected to the legislature with 65% of the vote, the Democrats sought to correct that scary development by redistricting him. And Greens have popped up elsewhere such as on the charter commission and the council of the state’s large city, Portland.

Part of it stems from a different view of life and politics. After all, Maine has elected more independent governors than any other state. But part of it comes from the Greens representing the best – rather than the most radical – values of the state, which inclines many to regard them more as missionaries than as troublemakers.

For example, Maine – as much as any state in the union – has come to come to accept and integrate ecologically sound approaches to life with remarkably little ideological uproar. After all, even moose hunters want to preserve the wild. The argument is over process more than principle.

Which is why a small election in Brunswick may have some large implications.

Starting with the fact the Fred Horch was a small business owner – operating a sustainable products store on Brunswick’s main street.

Small business owners are among the most neglected of America’s political constituencies. Sure, pols talk about them but they rarely lift a finger to help them, and that goes for Democrats, Republicans and Greens.

There are others left behind and one could create a powerful party based simply on combining the forgotten – groups like fiscally threatened homeowners; those under 25 trying to find a decent job let alone a career; small farmers; and people living in small towns, Throw in endlessly harassed pot smokers and you’ve got yourself quite a power base.

But even Greens don’t usually think that way. That’s why folks like Horch are interesting. Here’s a clip from his web site:

I live, work and play in downtown Brunswick: ice skating on the downtown rink, bicycling on errands around town, attending ball games with my kids, and running my store, F.W. Horch Sustainable Goods & Supplies on Maine Street.

My family and I love Brunswick and all it offers. My wife is a professor at Bowdoin College. Our children attend public school in Brunswick. I walk or bike to work every day. . .

Each month I publish a Green Tidings, an email newsletter sent to thousands of people in Maine listing local community and environmental events, and offering a "Sustainable Living Tip" of practical steps to promote environmental well being. Each month my store hosts a free sustainable living work shop, inviting in local experts to talk about practical ways to achieve personal sustainability — from backyard composting to roof-top solar power.

Through my store I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of meeting thousands of people from all walks of life in Brunswick. Just about every day I’m asked to support a local school, community group, or town committee with my time, expertise or financial contribution. I’m always happy to do so. Because I respect the dedication behind every request, I do my best to stretch my limited resources to have the most positive impact on our community. But there is only so much I can do as a private citizen. Many of our needs can only be met through changes in our laws, regulations, and public funding decisions made by our representatives in government.

Note the emphasis on being an integral part of the community. John Eder, had a similar feel, as described by Wikipedia:

As a first-time candidate in 2002, Eder took nearly 65% of the vote. His victory was in large part due to his strategy of bucking political convention and engaging Portland’s youth voters between the ages of 18-35 who turned out to support him. His Democratic opponent, who had run for office in the past, received 35%. Eder convinced the Republican candidate to leave the race. Eder had widespread support from Democrats, Republicans, Greens, independents, small business owners, and active members of organizations such as the NAACP and the Maine People’s Alliance. Eder was endorsed by Maine Friends of Animals and the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance, and by Representative Michael Quint. Eder received the endorsement of all three Portland area newspapers: Portland Press Herald, The Portland Phoenix, and Casco Bay Weekly. Eder’s campaign was managed by crime novel writer Patrick Quinlan, author of Smoked.

In 2003 Eder was voted Portland’s Best Politician in a readers poll conducted by that city’s alternative weekly newspaper, the Portland Phoenix, just as redistricting in Maine was threatening to unseat Eder by separating him from his base of support in Portland’s West End. The redistricting was seen by many as a deliberate effort by legislative Democrats to oust Eder. In response, Eder moved his residence to rejoin the district he had previously represented and face off against Democratic incumbent Rep. Edward J. Suslovic. In the end, his Democratic opponent found he couldn’t compete against Eder’s strong base of support. Eder won with 51% and became the only Green ever to be reelected to a State Legislature.

Horch and Eder are examples of backyard Greens, whose influence spreads virally through human contact and experience and not through the mass media. It’s the way every great drive for social change has worked in America – the abolitionists, the populists, the early socialists, and the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, too many Green leaders have read too much Marx and not enough American history.

The big parties gave up human relationships long ago. Which is why we have such a hard time relating to them. But you can’t text your way to the presidency, you can’t Facebook a revolution and you can’t save the planet with Twitter. At some point real people have to join with, talk to, and help other real people.

Which is why a Green small business owner in Brunswick did so well and why so many others could learn something from the story.

SAM SMITH edits the Progressive Review.