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Tomasky’s smear ignores party reality


Greens stand for working people, not ‘dilettantes.’
by David Larson†

Wed 10/01/03†
GreenPages, Vol 7, No.3

A false and calculatedly trivializing smear of the Green Party that enjoyed currency during the 2000 campaign season has again risen upon the printed page.

In a July attack published in the American Prospect, Michael Tomasky charged that Greens are out of touch with average people’s plights, to the extent that we’re aware of them at all.

According to Tomasky, our “lives wouldn’t change much one way or the other no matter which party won.” To him and others like him, we’re irresponsible, reckless and privileged.

That argument irks me no less today than it did in 2000, because I know it to be untrue.†

Unlike our mainstream critics like Tomasky and Salon.com’s Paul Berman, I’m one of those people who has depended on social services at times in my life. I’ve always lived on the poverty line, and I know the importance of government assistance.

But I also know the importance of alternative political activism, and I decided a long time ago that helping build the Green Party would better serve my long-term interests.†

A longtime union steward and blue-collar laborer, I never matched the fanciful stereotype contrived by some of our detractors, nor, I’m sure, did many Greens.

Like so many others, I’m a serious, shoestring grassroots organizer committed to building a viable electoral vehicle for those of us ignored by the Enron Republicans and taken for granted by the DLC Democrats.

During the 2000 campaign and after, I spent my days fighting company bosses, trying to get fair treatment for shop floor workers, and my nights coordinating local Green meetings and activities.

And I prefer coffee, not latte. Beer, not white wine.

I’m the blue-collar Green Party member whose existence is denied by the “comfortable dilettante” attack line.

And I’m only one of so many other Greens with similar stories. Too often, the two traditional parties don’t hear our voices. And too often, they don’t substantially address our needs.

The growing Green Party, with its bottom-up, decentralized decision-making structure and commitment to workplace justice, is the best and only logical choice for low-income workers who desire a meaningful role in electoral civil government.

Since it’s likely we will continue to hear the disingenuous “comfortable dilettante” line repeated, I feel we should as a party emphasize our organic, popular political character.†

And several of our basic areas of concern already lend themselves to such use.†

Labor and Economic Justice:†
As a steward, I watched as my union organized anti-NAFTA, WTO and Fast Track lobbying activities, only to later urge members to re-elect the same Democrats who had ignored that lobbying and given in to big business, time and time again.

The conventional wisdom is that organized labor is a loyal Democratic Party constituency. And while Greens have made some inroads (including receiving important candidate endorsements), that’s no doubt going to remain the case into the near future. Change will be gradual.

But as the economy worsens and transnational corporations move more and more U.S. jobs overseas, worker discontent with the NAFTA Democrats will surely intensify.

In July, that discontent received new justification. By a vote of 213-210, the House approved a Bush Labor Department plan to eliminate overtime pay for millions of American workers.

Four more pro-worker votes would have made all the difference, and seven Democratic House members missed that vote, including Dick Gephardt. According to Indymedia, Gephardt was in Iowa that day courting a union endorsement.

The Green Party would be wise to place greater emphasis on union outreach, to form a national-level Labor Committee to help coordinate the local Green labor efforts already underway and to print party papers on labor issues. A regular “labor page” in Green Pages could spotlight local activities.

Grassroots Democracy:†
Corporations don’t need it, and neither do the rich. Genuine grassroots democracy, with its potential for universal citizen participation, is most definitely an issue of relevance to the common person.

Remember Cicero’s declaration: “Freedom means participation in power.” The ability to participate in government at any level, whether as voter or candidate for office, is a common person’s issue.†

Peace and Nonviolence:†
It’s the poor and people of color who fight wars and die in them in disproportionate numbers. And that reality alone shows that this is an issue whose chief beneficiaries would be those citizens most at risk.

The themes of class and race need to be central to Greens’ anti-war message ó from who needs the financial aid dangled by the Army, to who is most likely to kill or be killed.†

Peace is not a matter of impractical, fuzzy idealism. It’s about life and death. We need to make clear our recognition of it as a class issue.

Social Justice:†
The victims of discrimination, poor educational opportunities and lack of affordable health care are seldom found in penthouses.

These issues, and others such as economic fairness and universal health care, have the greatest impact on the working poor and lower middle-class.

The Green Party’s solutions to social justice problems go beyond pleasant-sounding rhetoric to fundamentally address injustice. For instance, our proposal for universal health care recognizes that access to regular medical attention is a human right.

As the 2004 elections approach, we can count on our rivals to try to persuade blue-collar voters that the Green Party offers nothing for them.†

But remember the Blue-Green coalition that evolved during the Seattle WTO protests? Environmentalists, social justice activists and labor union members are natural allies. The Blue-Green coalition can become an enduring force in American politics.

By emphasizing the relevance of the Green Party and its platform to the daily life of the average citizen, we can deflect the “comfortable dilettante” charge and progress toward the national electoral viability our principles deserve.

David Larson is the Iowa Green Party’s media coordinator, is on the national Green Party Media Committee, currently serves as co-chair of the Black Hawk County Green Party and has never crossed a picket line.

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