'Radical to the Root' | The Nation


'Radical to the Root'

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Also this week, William Greider profiles David Cobb. in "The Happy Warrior."

Q: If rank and file had their heads on straight, do you have an idea what they might be able to crib from you?

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William Greider
William Greider
William Greider, a prominent political journalist and author, has been a reporter for more than 35 years for newspapers...

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Doug Hughes is not a dangerous fruitcake. In fact, he is a small-d democratic idealist who went out of his way to alert the authorities in advance of his so-called “Freedom Flight.”

The thought leaders of the Next System Project want to move past the narrow debate about policy and toward a conversation about the deeper structural change required of the political system itself.

I do, actually. What rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party could crib from us is that they have a helluva lot more power than they realize. If only they would exercise it. Exercising power as a member of any political party is not merely voting in the primary. It is to actively engage to pressure, day in and day out, your own organization and institution. And to begin to grapple with the fact that we don't have real democracy where the people rule. Because, remember, you don't get real democracy merely by voting. We're going to have to change a legal system where property rights are more sacred than the human rights of individuals. We have to challenge a corporatized media where the truth is not told. Rank-and-file Democrats could learn that, when you unleash the democratic spirit for members and encourage them to act autonomously and individually, it is nothing short of staggering.

Actually, you, know, a perfect example of that is Howard Dean--Howard Dean tapping into and using the Internet phenomenon and meet-ups and really encouraging people to get out there and campaign. We're not telling you exactly what to do. We're going to make tools available to you, but people weren't rallying around Howard Dean as a personality or even specific proposals. They were rallying around somebody who was really railing against George Bush as a model for all that was wrong. The tools of his Internet campaign were not going from Dean to others. What Howard Dean's phenomenon demonstrated was that if you actually create a system where ordinary folks feel like they can do something and get actively involved and engaged, they have a lot of power.

And I tell you, there's no doubt in my mind that Howard Dean was destroyed by a combination of the Democratic Party leadership and corporate media. You know, two and a half weeks before the Iowa caucuses he was really all but the Democratic Party's nominee. Dean goes on one of the Fox News programs, Bill O'Reilly, maybe Chris Matthews, whatever, and he says, another thing a Dean administration is going to do is really dismantle this consolidation of the media empire. We've got to repeal the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and really open it up so the people can use the airwaves. The next day, the corporate media began the incessant, repetitive chant of "Howard Dean is not electable." The electability thing--all the stations began doing it, just this constant refrain of "Howard Dean can't beat George Bush." Why are the Democrats going to nominate somebody who's not electable? Knowing full well that was what was really motivating most Democratic people. It became a drumbeat, so by the time Dean came in second in Iowa, then they used the scream.

Q: Two possibilities you see for the future. One is that rank-and-file Dems, people within the party who are not going to identify with the Greens anytime soon, actually figure out they've got to build some kind of rump group or counterforce, whatever you call it, within the Democratic Party. The other alternative is that the Green Party chugs along as it has. Of those two, which do you think? Is the first likely or possible at all?

I mean it's possible but I don't think likely because, even though I see really great and encouraging signs of attempts to form rump groups and caucuses within the Democratic Party, they are not really grappling with the fact that the party leadership is so thoroughly dependent and addicted to the corporate money.

Another metaphor for the Democratic leadership is that it's like a huge statue but it's completely hollow and only the corporate cash is keeping it upright. Rank-and-file folks are not actively participating in the Democratic Party leadership. Howard Dean is trying to create a rump group, Kucinich is trying to create one and those are promising signs. Unless they really grapple with what Larry Goodwyn identifies as a necessary step. It has to be autonomous in order to really challenge the cultural myth.

Q: So how do you envision the Greens actually getting power?

Here's how I actually envision us getting power. There are those of us in the early stages and true leadership who understand Goodwyn's advice--a warning really--so we are committed to staying truly autonomous. As we do our work and we're continuing to educate people, we continue to infuse that kind of radical analysis. And I mean by that, radical to the root. We are in that sense radicals so that we continue to grow and are able to resist attempts to co-opt us.

How? Well, right now, let's acknowledge that John Kerry and the Democratic Party are not pre-empting any of our policy positions: Universal health. The living wage. Repealing NAFTA and the WTO. Those core positions are not being co-opted. But if we continue to grow, there will be attempts to co-opt those positions. That's the biggest worry, frankly. Let's say the living wage is raised to ten bucks an hour. That would have such a profound impact on the living poor in this country, right? But it would not actually get us to a real democracy, would it? Even universal healthcare--if we took the Medicare system and made it available to everyone, the quality of life for working people would be profoundly improved. Yet it wouldn't get us one step closer to real democracy.

So what is the danger to navigate? To be able to build enough pressure and not to allow us to be bought off by issue statements. By saying: We want those issues addressed, but at the end of the day we are demanding real democracy, where the people rule.

The best and most hopeful way that I can envision that actually being accomplished is if the Green Party forces genuine electoral reform. Instant-runoff voting is the first step, but the real prize for reform is proportional representation. Moving toward a genuine multiparty democracy, where every voice is not only heard but everyone feels like they have genuine representation in the political system. So the real goal here is electoral reform and multiparty democracy.

As we continue to build autonomous institutions and our analysis deepens about who really controls and who's making the policy decisions, we need to continue to find ways to say all this in a very popularized language. Look, we're just heirs to the revolution, we come out of the Jeffersonian tradition, the abolitionists and others. It's like the work my colleague Tom Lindsey is doing [in Pennsylvania] to find ways to convince local communities to exercise real power that runs counter to what they're told they are allowed to do. It's also the work we do in the group I am with--Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. We need to help locate specific locations where the people are willing to exercise real political power and nullify [the government's power]. The nullification movement is all over. Green Party member Dave Meserve, who's elected to the city council in Arcata, California, successfully passed the first-ever anti-Patriot Act city ordinance. Now we know there are 350 anti-Patriot Act resolutions and, of course, resolutions are important as a sense of the body. But Dave Meserve has taken it a step further in the city of Arcata--a binding city ordinance that says we don't care what the federal government says, we are instructing our police department, librarians, our city clerk never to comply with any requests from federal or state governments to attempt a sneak-and-peek or other provisions.

Basically, we are nullifying several provisions of the Patriot Act because we find that those provisions are an unconstitutional violation of the civil rights of the citizens of Arcata. Come after us if you want. In fact, we understand, those of us who are radical democrats, they are going to come after us. We will have either a genuine movement or not.

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