On Saturday, November 12, 2016, The Green Party of Michigan held an informal after-election debriefing meeting. In the brainstorming session that made up part of the meeting, one of the things suggested was that testimonials about “Why I joined the Green Party” would be useful for growing the party. Here’s mine.
In February of 1987, my son Tommy, just a month past his 6th birthday, was diagnosed with leukemia. I had been laid off from a very decent job around Thanksgiving of the previous year. My wife Linda was working a rewarding job that did not pay especially well. We thought my unemployment was the main problem my family had. The new reality shocked us into realizing that a period of unemployment is relatively trivial.
I had been looking for a job roughly equivalent to the one I lost, with good pay along with a fair amount of independence and responsibility I had earned over the last 15 years. I changed my attitude to looking for any job that would pay enough to cover our mortgage payments and (maybe) medical bills. I found one in a couple of weeks, and began working longer hours to make up for the reduced rate of pay.
The point of this is, I completely understand how circumstances can cause a person very aware of the importance of politics to withdraw from political activities for years at a time. That’s exactly what I did.
Previous to Tommy’s diagnosis, my wife and I both had been long-time activists. In the early 1960s, before we met, she was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and was active in labor, civil rights and anti-war activities at Antioch College in Ohio. I had been a member of the Student Peace Union and the Young People’s Socialist League in Chicago.
In early 1987, Linda was the managing editor of Against the Current, a sort of scholarly publication of Solidarity. I had written a couple of articles for it. While unemployed, I was working on an article for The Humanist magazine.
With our son in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices, I dropped political activities immediately. She resigned from that job not long after I was working again. We stayed loosely in touch with our more active friends. From then until just before Easter in 1991 when Tommy died, and for several years after, the world of organized political activity managed to get along without us.
When I hear that 43% of registered voters did not vote in this year’s Presidential election, I’m really not inclined to rail at them for being irresponsible or neglecting their civic duties. First of all, it makes sense that, between Clinton and Trump they did not see a candidate they wanted to vote for, and Clinton and Trump were the only candidates publicized by corporate media and hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising. Secondly, it’s pretty likely that some substantial percentage of registered voters are trying to cope with a crisis such as health, unemployment, addiction, foreclosure, PTSD, crushing debt, family in prison, … and those are just a few of the COMMON crises.
Between two grossly flawed major party candidates and all the social issues their policies do not begin to solve, it’s no surprise that 43% voted (with their feet, so to speak) NO for President when roughly 27% voted for Clinton and 27% voted for Trump. Yes, there was a candidate on most ballots who did propose solutions to social issues. However, I can guarantee that, when it came time to mark their ballots, more voters “knew” that Jill was opposed to vaccines (an effectively promoted lie) than knew about Jill’s Green New Deal.
If the topic is how I came to the Green Party, then that’s kind of a digression. Still, I hope it is clear why I look at the non-voting block with more sympathy than most activists.
By the mid-1990s, Linda and I were beginning to recover and beginning to function more normally. Bill Clinton was President, and was pushing – let’s call it, in the fashion of today, Hillarycare. Their version of health care reform was even more of a convoluted bureaucratic mess aimed at subsidizing private health insurance companies than Obamacare is now. At the time, I read through a whole book explaining every detail. I concluded, in large part because of my recent intense experience with hospitals and insurance companies, it deserved to fail. I was happy that it did.
In the last half of the 1990s, I was quite active with MichUHCAN, the Michigan chapter of the Universal Health Care Action Network. We held monthly meetings, had literature for tabling and worked closely with Physicians for a National Health Plan. And then came the election of 2000, When Ralph Nader was the candidate of the Green Party and was the only candidate who proposed a national health care program. I don’t even remember if he called it Medicare for All, but that was certainly the gist of it.
There was a proposal that our local chapter of MichUHCAN should endorse Ralph Nader for President. After a long (more than one meeting) discussion and a close vote, Metro Detroit MichUHCAN voted not to endorse Ralph. I was done with MichUHCAN and became a member of the Green Party of Michigan sometime around September of 2000.
In 2002, I ran for State Representative; Andy Meisner, currently Oakland county Treasurer, won. In 2004, I ran for Oakland County Executive; Brooks Patterson won (again). In 2006, I stood for the office of House of Representatives; Sander Levin won (again).
The first two were active, if amateurish, campaigns. In 2006, I was actually working 12-15 hours a day and 6-1/2 days a week, so I had little time or energy for actual campaigning. The experience, for which I got something like 0.7% of the vote, convinced me that standing for office is a bad idea. When we get this kind of result, it reinforces the idea that nobody need take the Green Party seriously.
Now I’m 72, and retired. My knees are too shot to do the door-to-door work that’s necessary in an election campaign. Our income from Social Security, 401k and a 30% VA disability payment is less than half of what it used to be. Between those two things, I’m not going to run for office again. But I do sit in front of a computer screen for several hours a day, and I may as well do something more useful than watching fragments of Game of Thrones on You Tube.
That’s assuming that running the Green Party of Michigan blog is useful. I hope it is, and I wish more GPMI members would use it.