by Art Goodtimes
What is it about advocacy positions that lead supporters to beat up on allies as much as enemies, or sometimes even more?
I’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand as a lifetime environmentalist, former Earth First! organizer, and co-founder of the local community group in Telluride (Sheep Mountain Alliance), after having stepped into the political realm and having served now as a four-term county commissioner. Who beats up on me unmercifully, when I deviate from an activist stance (regardless of my reasons) – it’s my friends and allies. Just as, a few years back, here in Colorado, it was the constant carping of enviro groups (in large part) that drove the thin-skinned senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, out of the Democratic party and into the hands of the Republicans.
When I reflect on it, I suppose there are several reasons for this phenomenon.
First, we expect more of our allies. I see this in the Green Party, of which I am a member. Greens, at least in Colorado, hardly ever run against the worst of the Republicans in conservative districts. No, they take on popular Democrat leaders because they aren’t “pure” enough, aren’t as ideologically “green” as they “should” be.
Enviros (of which I’m proud to call myself one) tend to act similarly, at least those of us with limited political savvy. When we’re angry over good (or bad) legislation, we call our allies. And rail on them. Our enemies we merely write off.
Second, in a representative democracy, compromise is the name of the game. But as an Earth Firster, my motto was “no compromise in defense of Mother Earth.” And while that sounds intuitively right in these times of continuing ecological destruction, it leads in practice to confrontation and anger (not always bad things, but not always good either).
Confrontational activism (I think) has its place in the political process. But it’s not how government really works. Compromise comes from the Latin mittere “to send”, pro “towards, and com “with”. Thus, it’s about sending something forward with the help of others. And that’s precisely how decisions get made and change happens in the U.S. We form coalitions with others to move an agenda, a law, an idea forward.
The longer I’m in political office, the more I’ve come to understand that the job of a representative in our form of governance is to listen to ALL the people and try to find solutions to issues that work for the majority — inching things in the ultimate direction you personally would like to see an issue go, but doing so by building support among coalitions of the willing and unwilling. And compromising. That’s a slow process. It takes stamina and guts. And sometimes, as the poet Robert Sund says, in every good dance there’s a step backwards, too (in order to really advance things).
Third, the disastrously disingenuous lying of presidents for the last three decades in this country (starting with Nixon, and continuing down to Bush, with possibly Carter as an exception) has poisoned the well. Combined with dirty trick campaign tactics and uncivil partisan grandstanding in Congress and state legislatures, Americans (including environmentalists) have developed a deep cynicism about politics. We joke about how all politicians are crooks. We look askance at public service as merely a chance for someone to feather their own nest, or those of their friends. Basically, we’ve lost the trust that is essential in a republic between the governed and our governors.
In my experience, there are good politicians and bad politicians. And they come in all sizes and colors and political affiliations. Just because someone disagrees with us philosophically doesn’t mean they are bad people. But there are bad people. And bad politicians. So we need to discriminate. Investigate. Come to know politicians for whom they really are.
Instead, all too often, we take the easy answer. Like term limits, as though length of service were the problem and not the failure of the electorate to distinguish between the good and the bad. Being a citizen in a democratic government carries the rights we always talk about – speech, guns, religion — but often we forget about the responsibilities that go with those rights. Without an educated electorate, making informed decisions (which take time and study and is our responsibility – not TV, not the media barons, but each and every citizen), bad people get into political positions where they don’t belong.
Someone once said we get the leaders we deserve. I hope that Obama proves that saying true, even as we come to realize just how badly George W. embarrassed the people of this country at home and abroad. But regardless, I think it’s time to stop blaming politicians for the bad choices we sometimes make as a nation.
Politics is an essential element of a democratic society. We need to rebuild the trust among ourselves, the people, and the leaders we elect (along with our political institutions). And it’s my belief that we do that not by just getting “our” side in office, but by looking to moderate, bridge-building leaders who care about the views and opinions of the minority and the majority alike.
I believe Sen. Ken Salazar is exactly that kind of leader, as is President-elect Barrack Obama. And that’s why I was so upset to see enviros jumping to the attack when Obama chose Salazar as his Interior Secretary: "Obama misfired with Interior pick"
The link above will take you to the Suckling article in the Arizona Republic, as well as my response.
Obama’s election has given us something that’s long been missing from American politics, at least to those of us progressives (Greens, Dems, Independents) — hope.
Now, rather than beating up on our allies even before they get into office, it’s time we give a little something back to true representatives of the people – trust.
There will come a time to push and lobby and fight for positions we believe in. But let’s start our relationship with this new administration, not by second-guessing every decision, but by supporting the people we’ve entrusted to be our leaders in the incredibly complicated task of bringing this nation back into harmony — politically, socially and environmentally.