2000 and Beyond: Texas Greens Look to the Future
Table of Contents
By John Tarleton
COLUMBUS, Texas40 Greens from a dozen Texas counties gathered on the weekend of December 2-3 at a ranch house outside of Columbus, 70 miles west of Houston, to do some post-election strategizing for their nascent 3rd party movement.
It was a coming together of citizen activists who had taught each other how to build a grassroots political party from scratch. In the spring, the Texas Greens gathered a record 76,000 petition signatures in 75 days to put Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot. The Greens then fielded four candidates in statewide races for US Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Supreme Court. Three of them (Ben Levy, Charlie Mauch and Gary Dugger) garnered 7-10% of the vote, guaranteeing the party automatic ballot access in the 2002 state elections.
Over the weekend, difficult questions of how to build a grassroots infrastructure, what races to enter in 2001 and 2002, which issues to emphasize and how to reach out beyond the party's white countercultural base were tackled, or at least addressed, and working groups were formed. At the same time, 22 Greens from seven West Texas counties were meeting in Odessa.
"There is a movement happening in this country. Almost everybody who is socially aware recognizes something is happening," said David Cobb, Texas Green Party Secretary. "…The Green Party has a unique role to play as the electoral arm of this movement."
The weekend's events brought to mind the Populists who organized at the turn of the last century to counter the abuses of the Robber Barons and what was then an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. In an era of billion dollar election cycles, six-second TV soundbites and a rapidly globalizing world economy, can these modern-day Populists break the two-party duopoly and gain traction in a system designed to discourage active citizen participation? If so, what do they look to accomplish?
Charlie Mauch is a retired petroleum engineer and a Green. This fall, he was a candidate for a position on the Texas Railroad Commission, an obscure but powerful agency that regulates the state's oil and gas industry. The Railroad Commission, founded in 1891, was the product of a populist revolt led by dirt poor farmers who were demanding that the state government regulate exorbitant hauling fees charged by Eastern railroads. The Railroad Commission's mission has evolved since then. However, Mauch wants the three-member, all-Republican board to return to its populist roots.
Mauch, 66, crisscrossed the state in his 1991 Honda Accord. He gave 76 newspaper interviews and had op-ed pieces that appeared in the state's largest newspapers. In a "mini-landslide", Mauch won 7.3% of the vote, helping to guarantee the Texas Greens automatic ballot access in the 2002 state elections.
"I recommend it," he said of his experience. "I think everybody should consider running for office at some point in their life."
Running for OfficeJT: What's it like stepping up for the first time and running for public office?
CM: It's something I never remotely dreamed that I would end up doing. I'm not a glad hander or a backslapper. I can't remember names. And, I'm not a good public speaker. So, I'm not really cut out to be a politician. But, it just worked out that way. We needed some candidates. I was qualified and since I was retired, I had the time. So, I decided to give it a shot.
It was quite an experience. I didn't really discover that I'm a politician. But, I did discover that it wasn't as bad as I was afraid it was going to be. It wasn't anything I couldn't handle. It was very educational, very interesting and I met a lot of great folks. I recommend it. I think everybody should consider running for office at some point in their life.
JT: What kind of issues did you emphasize in your campaign? And, what kind of response did you get from people?
CM: As I saw it, there were two primary issues in the campaign. Number One had to do with campaign finance reform. The three commissioners on the Railroad Commission are elected to serve six year terms on a staggered basis. One comes up every two years. Historically, all the incumbents and their predecessors have always raised all of their campaign money from the industry that they're supposed to regulate. Go back and check the records they file with the Ethics Commission and you'll see that they get money from Exxon and Coastal States and just on and on. It reads like a Who's Who in the oil industry. When you finance your campaign by raising money from the industry that you are supposed to regulate, it totally compromises you.
The other thing is that we hear a lot about the Energy Crisis. You are always reading in the newspaper that some spokes person for the oil industry says, "We're low on energy and we gotta drill in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. We gotta drill offshore California. We need more subsidies for the oil industry." But, you never hear anybody say that maybe we consume too much oil, that instead of producing more we should consume less.
As long as there is big money to be made from consuming oil and as long as politicians are addicted to corporate money, you're not going to here anybody talk about conservation. Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, I say we should subsidize people to drive fuel-efficient cars and insulate their houses and use mass transit and use more efficient household appliances and just on and on that nobody talks about.
I don't know if I got the message out. I got a couple of pieces published. In The Dallas Morning News and The Houston Chronicle. That was a one-shot message, whereas the industry is out there pounding its message day after day after day. It's discouraging. But, you need to give it a shot. And I feel I did that.
The PressJT: What was your general impression of the journalists you interacted with? What did you learn about the media from being a candidate for the first time?
CM: Most of the folks that I talked to tended to be young people in their 20s and very friendly. They were shocked to hear someone coming around as a statewide candidate saying things that they basically agreed with and had never heard before. A lot of them would sit there and shake their head, "yes, yes, yes. I agree with that." I went to 76 different newspapers. Of all those, there were only two where I ran into some hostility. One was in Midland and the other was McKinney up north of Dallas. The people I interviewed with there were really hostile. They interrupted me. They contradicted me. They argued with me. That was good practice for me, too.
Most of them were very nice. A couple of them bought me breakfast, just sit there and schmooze with them. The first thing I'd ask everybody is, "Are you familiar with the Green Party?" And almost everyone of 'em would say, "No."
These folks were in the press and you'd think they'd be familiar with it. We got quite a few mentions in the press and quite a few people talked about the Green Party. And people are getting used to hearing the name "Green Party". But, I didn't see a single article in which they went into detail about just what the Green Party stands for and what it is trying to do. That was a little discouraging. But, I feel like most of 'em I talked to were interested and wanted to learn.
The "Village Idiot"
JT: You are a petroleum engineer and a Green, which seems an unlikely combination, especially here in Texas. How did that come about?
CM: I worked for a major oil company for many years and nearly all of them were Republicans. Or, they claimed to be. I think 90% of them didn't know what a Republican was. But, they just heard everyone else was. And they knew the boss was. It was a knee jerk thing. When I started, there was no environmental movement and nobody thought much of it. Gradually over the years, I became aware of environmental problems and things like that. I became more and more Green and it amazed me that more people didn't.
I eventually found myself the only real Green in the organization. They kind of thought you were the village idiot. It was a strange situation. It didn't help my career. I'll guarantee you that. But, what can you do? You try to assume a little protective coloration and try to keep your job. It was a little stressful but it worked out.
JT: Why does Texas need a Green Party? Why can't progressive-minded people try to work inside the Democratic Party to make things better here in Texas?
CM: A lot of people have asked me that. I'm totally convinced that both of the major parties are so totally sold out to corporate money that I just don't think it's gonna be possibleto reform them from within. They're too addicted. The only way to get any change is to bring pressure from without.
I know a lot of good Democrats and a few good Republicans at the local level. But, it's up at the state and national levels where all the big money is taken in and where all the compromises are made and the deals are cut. I don't think that working from the inside you are going to be able to change that. You're going to have to bring some pressure and get their attention. I think we started doing that this time. As the old political saying goes, "When I feel the heat, I can see the light."
Balance of Power
JT: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Green Party at this point? What do you see as the endgame, long term, as far as what the Greens can accomplish? Is getting a ballot line enough in itself?
CM: I think we can be the balance of power with just a very small amount of the vote. I think we can do that in a lot of places and bring pressure to bare. As far as ever becoming a full-fledged 3rd Party, I don't know. That's going to be really tough. The system is so closed. The media is so closed. The money is so closed. But, the Green Party has a lot going for it.
The 10 Key Values are what sold me. I just agree with all of them. I think most people who sit down and listen to them will agree with them too. I think we have 7,000 people in our data base in Texas now. That's tremendous growth over the past 18 months. If we continue to grow, I think we can start running candidates at a local level and bring a lot of pressure to bare. Our best bet is to try to bring real pressure and get real reform.
JT: What motivates you to get out there and put in all this extra work and effort. Why bother?
CM: It's something that's interested me for years and years. I've read a lot of books about politics and economics and I guess I'm kind of a Utopian. I'd like to see less commercialism and a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity.
You see so many contradictions in our system where we claim to be a just system and an equal opportunity for all political system and none of that is really true. And, our foreign policy is just criminal. Has been for years. There's just so much bad stuff going on out there. I find it hard to see how people can avoid getting interested and involved. It's something that I just feel I have to do. I think there's a lot of other people out there who probably feel the same way. At some point, we gotta find a way to get 'em all together and on the same page. And then, we can really start doing some good. The whole system is set up to avoid that. We've just gotta keep on hammering on it until we figure a way to get around all those built in obstacles and put it all together.
Carolee Miles and three of her friends founded the Hays County Greens in early October just weeks before the presidential election. They held meetings and benefits, raised money in a can and put up yard signs around San Marcos, the county seat. They were concerned about hometown issues like the FCC's September shutdown of a community micro-radio station and Southwest Texas State University's attempt to appropriate a local, spring-fed river as well as well as larger national and international issues raised by the Nader campaign. For Miles, a 25-year-old computer programmer who voted Democrat as recently as 1996, it was a welcome opportunity to break away from the two-party system.
"I feel that the everyday person has been left behind," Miles said. "If you don't have money, you're not included."
Starting from Scratch
JT: You guys started a Green Party rather quickly this fall. Talk a little bit about what that was like and how it worked out.
CM: A large group of us realized we had been talking about politics and the Green Party and we realized that it might be a good idea to get in touch with more people in the area and start a group. We organized as quickly as possible, wanting to get some support in before the election. So, we had our first meeting on October 3 and 35 people showed up. From that, we started having rallies and just started getting the word out. We were really surprised. We ended up with 8.25% for Nader in San Marcos and 7.3% in Hays County.
JT: What were some of the reactions you got from people around San Marcos, both those who were positive about what you were doing as well as the local Democratic reaction?
CM: Positive reactions were pretty amazing. A lot of the local alternative press papers gave us a lot of support, did stories, interviews, helped us out with ads. We started getting support from local city council members and from local professors at Southwest Texas State University.
The Democrats mainly viewed us as a subsidiary of the Democratic Party, the liberals. A lot of speaking down to us. I don't know much of that had to do with the Green Party or four women starting a political party. We had to deal with a lot of that. We had to take charge and make them realize we are a party and that we are organizing. We are not Democrats. We are Greens.
Politics on $5 Per Day
JT: What's the difference between being a Green and a Democrat?
CM: Well, there are many key issues that the Democrats do not support anymore. As a Green, I do not support the death penalty. I support a living wage. I support equal rights for minorities, for gays and lesbians, for women. The Democratic Party may have once had this as a part of their platform, but they've forgotten about it. And I feel the everyday person has been left behind. If you don't have money, you're not included. I feel that the Green Party is something that is going to help the everyday person out.
JT: How much money did you all have to run your campaign this fall? And, how did you all go about raising it?
CM: Two weeks before the election, we had $12.32 in our coffers. We did a rally at the Hays County Courthouse in which we raised $50 more despite having people drop money into a can. We had a fundraiser at one of the local bars in town and we had musicians playing and we had food set up and an information table. And at that, we raised another $185. By then, we had roughly $260.
JT: What are some of the local issues that resonate with people when you go out and campaign as a Green?
CM: One of the main reasons the Green Party did get such a strong backing in San Marcos is because we have a spring-fed river. It's the most pristine water. And, there's many issues with the university claiming rights to the headwaters and also limiting citizen access to the swimming areas in the river.
There's a big university. So, we have a lot of student involvement. KIND micro-radio was shut down on September 1. That was our community radio. It brought the community together. It was very helpful during the flood in 1998. The radio was on top of everything, telling people to get out of their houses because they were about to go underwater. And now we don't have that anymore. Our voices have been taken away.
JT: What's been the reaction of the Hispanic community in San Marcos to the Green Party, so far? What are the issues that are important to them? And, how do you see the Greens and the local Hispanic community working together more in the future?
CM: Perhaps our biggest goal is to work closely with the Hispanic community. Because we've just started, we haven't been able to tackle this big goal we have. One of our main goals is to educate the population and let them know that we're there for them. The Democrats aren't anymore.
I did poll watching. My neighborhood is mostly Hispanic. Most people were coming in saying, "I want to vote straight Democrat" because for generations you're told that Democrats are for minorities. I think one of our goals is education and outreach and to let the Hispanic and black community know that there is a party that is interested in what they have to say and what they feel is good for them.
Four Determined Women
JT: You said four women founded the Hays County Greens. How did that happen? Here today, we're seeing 75-80% of the people at the state conference are men. The Greens have sometimes been criticized by feminist groups along these lines.
CM: Like I said, we just realized something needed to happen. The four of us happened to be the ones who were the most into it, the most willing to do research, the most willing to get people together. I actually didn't believe it when people said that the Green Party was mainly white men. Because in Hays County, it's mostly women
It upsets me to here feminist groups critique the Green Party, especially when the Green Party is the only party that's for absolute womens' rights as far as the right to choose. I feel that voting out of fear is tragic.
JT: What sort of plans do you all have for next year's city council races in San Marcos?
CM: We are going to have candidates running in both open positions. Hopefully, we can find some minority candidates who are willing to run. Start at the local level and see what happens.
Something to Believe In
JT: You were saying earlier that you were at some of these mass demonstrations that have been going on in the past year. What did you glean from all that, and how did that influence what you are doing now?
CM: I went to the Fortune 500 protest in Austin in October. I guess I yet again received more of an awareness of how many people are for the same goals we have. It was very eye-opening. It felt wonderful to be standing up against something so basely wrong and trying to be a part of the response and let people know that it (the Fortune 500) is not ok, that it's not acceptable.
JT: You say you disagree with the Democrats on a whole bunch of issues. On a more personal level, what makes it worth your while, what makes it satisfying to put in all the extra time to be involved in this kind of grassroots politics?
CM: For the first time in my life, I've found a platform that fits most of my beliefs. They are beliefs that are true to me to the core of my being. And, it feels good to be a part of something that hopefully down the line, day by day, we'll make somebody's life a little better.
Roger Baker, 56, is a science writer and a longtime Austin activist. With some unwitting assistance from George Bush, Jr. he was recently able to make one of the largest financial contributions in the history of the Texas Green Party.
JT: You recently became one of the Texas Green Party's largest campaign contributors. Talk a little bit more about how that came to pass.
RB: I was the recipient of part of a negotiated settlement with a bunch of people who were falsely arrested in 1999 on a public sidewalk for merely carrying a sign. The sidewalk was the sidewalk in front of the governor's mansion. We were arrested by the Department of Public Safety and as a result of that we filed suit for false arrest against George Bush (Jr.) and the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Our lawyers recently won a negotiated settlement of $99,000. Plus, we won all our civil rights and free speech rights back in front of the governor's mansion. Plus, the DPS now has to undergo civil rights training. We won everything we basically wanted in terms of restoration of free speech and $99,000. My little piece of that is $4,000 and I'm donating that to the Green Party of Texas.
JT: What were you all originally protesting for? And, how did you see that related to your involvement with the Green Party?
RB: There were a number of us arrested. Several people working with an environmental group called Texans United. There was a woman with Down Winders at Risk, which is an environmental organization near Dallas. There re two Crown Petroleum workers from Houston who were protesting Bush's environmental policies. And myself who mainly identifies with the Green Party.
We were arrested on various days. We carefully reviewed our civil rights and our attorneys told us we had the right to be there. So, we were fully aware that we were being falsely arrested at the time. And the ACLU, to their credit, picked up the entire bill for the legal work.
JT: What did your sign say that you were arrested for holding in front of the governor's mansion?
RB: The sign said, "The Right to Pollute But No Right to Free speech on a Public Sidewalk?". And on the bottom it said, "Austin Greens".
JT: What did the DPS people say when they came to arrest you? And, what was your treatment like while you were in custody?
RB: I was in jail for 12 hours. The conditions were horrible. It was a Travis County jail. It was overcrowded, dirty. Rick Abraham, who was one of my co-arrestees, says that he's been in eight jails in Mississippi and other places and it was the worst one he's ever been in. We were charged with "blocking a sidewalk" which we were in no way doing because we'd just talked with our attorneys and they told us exactly to walk along the sidewalk with our signs so it could in no way be construed as blocking the sidewalk. The guys who made the arrests grabbed us and put handcuffs on us and took us away.
JT: Did you feel like you were living in a police state?
RB: Well, certainly. Particularly in my case. They put my picture on the front page of the Austin American-Statesman. And, it got in the Dallas Morning News and the Houson Chronicle. My picture was even in the Christian Science Monitor which is published in Boston.
The "Athens of Texas"
JT: As far as your involvement with the Greens, what's your long term vision.? Where do you want this all to go? Because, the Democrats are going to continue to say it's a spoiler party.
RB: Well of course they are going to say that. I don't imagine that we could be doing the right thing and not having the Democrats saying that kind of stuff.
The Democratic Party has abandoned all its principles. It used to be a strong supporter of labor and civil rights and a lot of programs to do with health and afforadable housing and stuff like that. The Green Party is just walking away with the good positions. In Travis County, we got 10% of the popular vote. And that vote came overwhelmingly at the Democratic Party's expense. So, of course they see us as a threat. And, they should.
JT: What was going on in Travis County that made it one of the strongest Green counties in the whole country in this year's election?
RB: It's a government town. I guess you could call it the "Athens of Texas". There's a lot of liberal and progressive people there. There's a high percentage of gays who like the fact that it's a relatively tolerant city. Also, we worked our butts off in Austin passing out leaflets. We had a lot of people working on trying to get the word out. That's why it happened.
JT: What do you see as some of the local Austin issues that the Greens will be trying to address now that this presidential election is over?
RB: Austin is now the most expensive city in Texas to live in. 10-15 years ago, it was one of the cheapest cities. You have very high housing costs in Austin. The traffic is terrible. The air quality is bad and about to reach the federal limits that make highway builders approach planning in an entirely new way.
It is a high-tech city. The city is ruled by the developers who can make a lot of profit from urban sprawl, using the high-tech boom as a way to sell their housing. But since sprawl is a very inefficient kind of development, that syndrome has caused housing prices to skyrocket in the past decade.
JT: You've spent a lot of time in the last decade working on transportation issues. Why is it important and what do you see in Austin that makes this kind of work necessary?
RB: They've totally screwed up transportation in Austin. One thing that is raising the cost of housing is that no one can get to the cheaper areas and commute in and out of the city easily anymore. TEXDOT, which is the transportation bureaucarcy that builds the highways of Texas, is rapidly running out of money. The present policies are clearly unsustainable economically.
And, the biggest problem that I think looms over the whole transportation situation in the United States and a lot of the rest of the world is that we're running out of cheap oil. A lot of the economic experts and geologists predict that oil production will peak in the next five years and if that's so, we're in serious trouble. The biggest threat to the global economy today is running out of cheap oil in the next decade. That will change everything.
JT: Were you surprised by what happened at The Hague last week with climate talks falling apart with the US demanding that it not have to make any cuts in its fossil fuel usage?
RB: I expected something like that to happen. We're addicted to cheap oil for our whole lifestyle. And no one willingly gives up their lifestyle unless there is very serious pressure forcing them to change. Bureaucracies and civilizations don'' reform themselves very easily. We'r' on auto pilot. We're headed over a cliff and yet we're in denial that we're addicted to cheap oil.
The New Activism
JT: What personally motivates you to get out there and do the basics of trying to build a Green Party here in Texas?
RB: I've been involved in progressive politics since the Civil Rights days of the early 1960s, more or less continuously. I was in radical organizations back when I was going to UT and that influenced me and stuck with me and caused me to retain my desire to make the world a better place through progressive politics.
JT: Is there anything you're seeing now with this new wave of activism that's different from what you've seen before?
RB: I think during the '60s you had special conditions the Vietnam War and the integration movement that helped contribute to the radicalism among youth. That receded a lot, particularly in the '80s. Now, I see a resurgence through things like what happened at Seattle with the World Trade Organization demonstrations, with the demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican conventions.
I think now the side-effects of unrestrained corporate global power are beginning to cause the system to become socially unstable. You don't have any particular cause now like the Vietnam War or integration to point to as factors. There's sort of a general discontent, particularly among younger people I see. You can say, "Oh, they're crazy anyway. They're wearing spiked hair and tattoos and getting everything pierced". But, I just see a new spirit of rebelliousness and alienation from the system that comes out in ways like these demonstrations.
Julia Kastner is pissed and she wants to change the world. She won her first environmental campaign at the age of 8 when she convinced her parents to not bulldoze and fillin the swimming pool behind their ranch house in Columbus, Texas. but instead to let it remain a frog pond.
Kastner, who aspires to run for office someday, joined the Texas Greens when she was 16 and a year later was elected to the party's seven-person state executive committee. Now a freshman at the University of Houston, she battled her Poly Sci professor this fall to have Ralph Nader stand-ins included in the class's mock presidential debate. The professor finally relented. But, there was one proviso.
"Unless there's huge changes in this country, I can't see myself becoming complacent," Kastner says. "I expect to always be outraged and active."
JT: You voted for the first time this year. How did you feel about that? And, how did you get involved with the Greens?
JK: I was really excited to be able to vote for the first time in the 2000 presidential elections. For one thing because of the way the whole thing turned out. I think this is the last election that's going to happen this way at all. I think this is just proof of how badly our current system works and I think it's going to change from here. And it's really exciting for me to be able to say 20 years from now that this was the first election I voted in and I voted for Nader and I helped destroy what's going on in our country!
The way I got involved with the Greens was about two years ago when I was a sophomore in high school. I kinda got roped into organizing an event that led me to meeting David Cobb (state secretry) and Bev Hayes (state co-chair). We became friends. At my first Green Party meeting, I joined two committees and signed up for an upcoming event and it's just been a whirlwind from there! They caught me real young and I was on the State Executive Committee as soon as I turned 17.
JT: It's kind of unusual to hear about 18-year-olds being this engaged in politics. What kind of reaction have you gotten from your friends and family?
JK: My friends and my peers in my age group, for the most part, think I'm completely nuts. I have one close friend who is also involved in the Green Party. My room mate my best friends, a lot of the guys I've dated, they all think I'm crazy. Nobody my age, especially the slacker kids I hang out with, really gets excited about these things. So, I'm very much alone in my peer group in being involved in this. My family is a different story. My parents were very much political activists in their youth and are very understanding and supportive
The DebateJT: You're taking a Poly Sci course this semester at the University of Houston. What kind of reactions have you been getting in class about your Green Party advocacy?
JK: The course is a freshman honors introduction to Poly Sci. It's set up to be more about teaching political theory of the past than encouraging political theory in the present or in the future. The professor I ended up with is a very two-party establishment sort of person and she's a huge Gore supporter. I gotta lot of flak all semester. I felt completely stifled and that I wasn't allowed to express anything I needed to.
JT: Give me a couple of anecdotes.
JK: Sure. She wanted to hold a presidential debate right before the election. At the beginning of the semester, she announced her intention to have Gore and Bush represented. And at the beginning of the semester, I announced my intention to not allow that to happen in our class. And it ended up being a much much more well-represented debate with representatives of Bush, Gore, Nader, Harry Browne (Libertarian) and Pat Buchanan (Reform).
The debate was a really interesting one. She allowed the Bush and Gore people to talk for three minutes each and Nader and the other thirdrd party candidates got 30 seconds each. A really clear example of how our country treats third party politics.
JT: What are the problems you see in society that regular politics isn't dealing with? What's there to be so agitated about?
JK: I don't know how to start on that one…
JT: What's got you pissed off?
JK: What's got me pissed off is that a few people are controlling this country and controlling my life and our lives and everything about this society. They haven't asked me for my input, don't care about my input and have in fact worked very hard to get the opposite of what would be beneficial to myself and my fellow citizens.
It's disgusting the way big corporations, moneyed interests, rich politicians who have no contact with their constituents are ruling our lives. They dictate what I wear, where I go and what I can buy. I consider myself something of a conscious consumer and I try to use my buck as a vote and to let the corporations know what I think by selective buying and who I'm buying from. But, the way this country and this world are set up, it makes it really difficult.
There's still times when I have to buy from people who I suspect of running sweatshops. I'm a vegetarian but the options aren't good in this country and this city. From time-to-time, you're really challenged to try and eat what you want to eat. People will fight with you. I don't want special treatment. And when you ask for meat, I don't give you flak and say, "there's one meat dish on this menu and you're going to have to deal with it and I think you're pretentious for wanting to eat meat anyway". I leave you alone about that.
The Frog Pond
JT: Looking back, when did you first have some awareness, a consciousness that you didn't want to accept things around you the way they were?
JK: That started real early on. I owe it to my parents and the environment they placed me in. As activists, they placed these radical ideas in my head. I had a subscription throughout my small childhood to Ranger Rick magazine, which is an environmental magazine for little kids that does real well with cartoons and stories.
There's a swimming pool out there (points to the backyard) that's now turned into a frog pond. When my parents first bought this place, they wanted to bulldoze it and fill it up with dirt because it's ugly. In Ranger Rick, at that time, there was an article about a hole in the ground where all the frogs lived and somebody wanted to bulldoze it. And the animal characters were like, "No, going to kill so many animals". And, I convinced my parents not to bulldoze the swimming pool because of the environmentalist magazine that they bought for me.
I remember writing a letter in third grade to President George Bush, echoing something I heard my dad say. I said, "My name is Julia and I'm in third grade and I don't think you should be cutting down the trees in Alaska. Alaska is very beautiful. There's not that many trees left. And we don't need that much oil. Sincerely, …..".
I was doing some minor bouts of activism like that at a young age, directed by my parents. I thank them for exposing me to wildlife, to social justice issues. Growing up as a child, my parents had adult friends who were gay and lesbian. That was a fact of life. They weren't going to give me an option to be a bigot.
JT: What are you studying at U of H? And, what do you see doing with yourself in future years?
JK: Right now, I'm a political science major. Political science fascinates me. I think it's very important to have that understanding of what controls our lives. I hate math but I'm looking forward to taking statistics because when people spout statistics at me and I don't buy them, I'd like to have the tools to investigate and see what kind of methods they're using.
I don't think I want to be a career politician. I have other career plans in mind, like teaching and lots of other jobs I want to do. Politics isn't my whole life, by any means. But, I do expect to always be politically involved. And unless there's huge changes in this country, I can't see myself becoming complacent. I expect to always be outraged and active.
I do want to run for political office. The first office I ever wanted to run for was school board and I still want to do that because my first political activism on a real scale before joining the Green Party was fighting my school board and my high school administration. I ended up graduating early because I couldn't stay for four years because the system was too far gone for me. That was really my first outrage and my first political activism. And school board is still the first race that I'd like to run. I'm looking forward to that.
JT: When are you going to run for school board?
JK: I was going to run for school board two years ago but I was too young. And, now I'm wrapped up in college and I'll be real busy for awhile. I'd like to run as soon as I can make promises and keep them.
As long as I'm young, moving around, a student, I wouldn't feel comfortable making campaign promises. It's a four-year term. That's a lot to commit to when you're 18. When I'm 22 maybe I'll be better able to say, "I want to give you my next four years" and if I got elected be able to give those four years. I want to take that on within the next 10 years of my life.
Education Without Learning
JT: What's it like now in the high schools for students? What are they learning about democracy and becoming effective citizens?
JK: I think our education system is despicable in a lot of ways. For one thing, look at the corporate domination in public schools. At my high school, we weren't allowed to wear shorts until the year I left when we were allowed to wear shorts if they were Khaki, 17 inches long and produced by one of five companies. Included were the Gap and Dockers. I don't remember the rest. But, they said that you could only wear these brand of shorts. That's disgusting.
I'm sure you've heard of Channel 1 educational TV and their corporate advertisements. Disgusting.
JT: You had to watch that?
JK: Yeah, we have to watch that. You have to be indoctrinated. Don't close your eyes!
JT: What were you told if you don't want to watch Channel 1?
JK: A lot of teachers don't care enough to force you to. But, those are the rules. When I was in elementary and middle school, I didn't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. And, that was a huge issue. They all wanted to fight about that. I'm not going to say things about pledging allegiance to God and America. You can't make me.
A lot of history and government and education classes and anything that got into political theory was poor education. It's history written by the victor. It's all teaching you the political theories that this country's current leadership would like you to have. There's no encouragement to be an active citizen or to take part in politics. The encouragement is to acquiesce, to like what's going on, to accept the status quo.
JT: What's the student activism scene at U of H?
I don't know much about the student activism scene at U of H. I haven't got real involved. It's hard to be a student activist when you're in school. It's a rough environment.
JT: Where do you see this Green Party project going? Do you think that more than disrupting close elections between the two major parties that this will become a major force in society? Or, is this going to be just a cool, marginal scene to hang out in?
JK: This is absolutely a cool, marginal scene to hang out in. But, I believe the Green Party is going to change the way this country works. And, that it's going to change the world. We're the only international party. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere, maybe.
I see us making huge changes in the way that our country works. I see us making huge changes in legislation that will affect quality of life for billions of people. I think the Green Party can do everything.
Carl Manz has made the long journey from anti-war protester to LSD to living on a New Mexico commune to running a business and then going bankrupt to moving out to the country with his family to find inner peace through meditation and simple living. In June, he watched Ralph Nader deliver his acceptance speech on C-Span and was impressed.
At the same time, Alcoa, a $12 billion corporation with a long record of environmental abuses, was applying to the Texas Railroad Commission for a permit to open a 15,000 acre strip mine near Manz's Central Texas community. Manz was ready to become re-engaged.
JT: What's been your experience this fall with starting up a Green Party and how did it work out?
CBM: It started with watching watching Mr. Nader on C-Span doing his acceptance speech. I had been pretty much apolitical up to that point. And, Mr. Nader really flipped my switch. I went over to Travis County, attended a Green meeting and it all looked pretty good. But, I decided what we really needed was to have an organization in Bastrop because we have our own county issues which center around the strip mine they are trying to put in our county. It's sort of our national issue.
The Strip Mine
JT: What's going on with the strip mine project? How's it affecting local people in Bastrop and how were you all able to connect it to the larger project the Greens have?
CBM: Alcoa came to Milam County, just north of Bastrop, in 1950 and set up an aluminum smelter right on a seam of lignite coal. They burned it until 1970 when the Clean Air Act was passed. At that time, they went to the Legislature and said, "Well, this is an old plant. It's not going to be around much longer and we don't need to upgrade it". So, they were grandfathered in. That was 30 years ago and they're still burning lignite in this place.
It's completely unregulated. They put 108,000 tons of pollution into the air each year including chromium, mercury and lead. From what I understand, it's the worst single-point pollution source in the State of Texas. At any rate, their lignite mine is about to play out. So, they've gone to the Railroad Commission and asked permission to open a new lignite mine, which means they have to jump a seam of limestone to get to the next lignite. They have to get re-permitted.
They're coming over to Bastrop County and want to open a 15,000 acre strip mine. As a byproduct of that, they want to pump the water out of our aquifer and sell it to San Antonio. They want to pump it in such large quantities (100,000 acre feet per year) that it's projected in the next 50 years it will completely dewater our aquifer. It's not good for anybody except Alcoa.
This shows the shortsighted way the corporations work. They're willing to go in and squeeze the environment for short term profit. The long term damage to the people and the environment doesn't fit into the equation anywhere. The only thing that counts is how much you can get out of the short term bottom line.
So, we have this huge pollution source. They want to strip mine the land and steal our water. Because we are a rural community, we have very few resources to fight that kind of thing. It ties back to all of what Mr. Nader has been talking aboutthe way corporations are generally setting our agenda and that they're able to do that by manipulating our elected officials through campaign finance.
Rural people don't typically contribute to campaigns in the same way corporations do. We find ourselves being exploited. It's almost like we're watching our county become a Third World country. We're being exploited in that same way. Those are the issues we organized around and it really resonated with everyone in the county and helped us connect those dots back to the larger analysis. And, that's what we intend to do in the future.
A Wake-up Call
JT: What has been the local reaction in Bastrop over the years to this corporate attack by Alcoa? And, what was the political situation in Bastrop before you all got a Green Party started?
CBM: This particular attack on our particular county is fairly recent. They only filed for this permit to mine our county last year. Alcoa is located in Milam County. This really hasn't been an issue. Then, all of a sudden, they're going to jump over and open this new strip mine. It's been a wake-up call because most of the population is rural farmers who quite frankly don't care about what we think of as Green issues, in a lot of ways.
We've been able to connect the dots and show them that Green issues really do impact them and I think we're making some inroads and that goes across party lines. We only started organizing Bastrop County two months before the election and Mr. Nader got 5% in our county and the (Green Party) Railroad Commissioner candidates got 16%. The one precinct where I was able to talk to people before they went in, we got 24% for the Railroad Commission. We are able to get to people if we can figure out how to get through this media blackout, which is where indymedia is really starting to play a part. It's a crack in the wall. And if we can get a crack in this wall, we can take the wall down, eventually.
JT: What kind of actions and campaigns are you all looking to do in Bastrop in the next couple of years.?
CBM: We're still a very, very young party. And, we're still trying to figure out who we are and what we're doing. The people who are joining the party have been involved in issue politics for a long time. This is a quantum leap going from issue politics to an actual political party. We're not quite sure how that is going to shake out.
We're still trying to figure out some of the nuts and bolts of how you get the word out, especially in a rural community where we really don't have radio stations or television stations of our own. We have small town papers which are generally friendly to us, but the question is how many people read those papers? And do they read them for anything more than the high school football scores? We found our most effective way of reaching people was going door-to-door, old-fashioned knock on doors.
The Long Journey
JT: Had you ever been involved in political stuff before this?
CBM: When I was in college many years ago, I organized for SDS. So, I'm getting re-engaged. I was with the Greens about a dozen years ago when we were basically an environmental group talking about watershed issues, Barton Springs, recycling, those kind of things. There was a desire at that time to have a political facet to what we were doing. But it wasn't right at that time, which is why I'm so happy now to see the Green Party making that transition. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the SDS had made that transition some 30 years ago and become a political party.
JT: With this new wave of activism, what kind of similarities and differences do you see between what's going on now and what you experienced 30-35 years ago with SDS?
CBM: With SDS, we really did function as a protest movement. We thought that would be effective It's debatable whether or not it was. I think the difference now is we realize simple protest politics aren't going to cut it. The system has been inoculated to that. It's not that you can't use that kind of activity as a tactic. But fundamentally, we have to go to the root of the problem. We can't just stand out in the street and scream and holler, which we did a lot of in the '60s.
Compassion in Action
JT: Now that you're involved again, what do you find personally most satisfying about doing this kind of work? Besides local self-interest, what keeps you plugging away. Not everybody in your community is doing this.
CM: I'm a Buddhist. I practice a Mahayana Buddhism which at its root encourages the practicioner to dedicate themselves to benefitting others. And Mr. Nader is the example of how you combine a meditative tradition with a political reality. I don't know what he practices or believes. But, the way he's lived his life, the way he's used his wealth, he's dedicated everything he's done to benefitting others. I really connected with that particular aspect. And, I'm trying to do the same thing with my life.
NOTE: On December 20, President-elect George W. Bush nominated Paul J. O'Neil, former CEO of Alcoa, to be the next Secretary of the Treasury.
Esther McElfish is a long time environmental advocate and a single mom. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, where modern day cowboys ride pickup trucks instead of horses, she sees her work with the Greens as a continuation of what she was already doing.
JT: Talk about what went on with the Greens this year in Fort Worth, how things went with the campaign and where they're headed post-election.
EMc: It was a whirlwind. We all felt like tops spinning. We held our first organizational meeting at the end of January when Nathalie (Paravacini) came to our area. There was immediate organizational business that had to be taken care of. Then, we spun into getting the petition drive going, which was a major thing for us. And when Ralph Nader announced at the end of February, we were thrown into a major political campaign on top of everything else. It was one thing after another and everything pressing.
Emc: Now, we're focusing on where do we want to go from here. We're regrouping. We've had very good support from a core group and we're trying to expand that and include more people and particularly go to the campuses and student groups organized. We feel that's going to be a big strength for the party.
Mass Transit in the Metroplex
JT: What are the specific issues going on right now in Fort Worth that Greens are working on?
EMc: One of the things that I've mentioned and most of our members agree with is that we want to build coalitions with other groups. It's silly for us to try and re-invent the wheel when other groups like the Sierra Club or clean air groups or others have been already doing the leg work and detail work for issues like clean air and grandfathered polluters. They need our support. We need them. We can work together on these issues. That's a big one for us.
The whole Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex area is under the EPA mandate to clean up the air. So, we're trying to keep that pressure on officials, on City Council, regional planning groups and also statewide. It's an ongoing thing for us.
Also, transportation issues because of the NAFTA highway going through our Metroplex area. We're very concerned about how it affects the air, the traffic, the transportation. Public transportation is a big thing for us. We've got a new Trinity rail express that's going between Dallas and Fort Worth, which is a major thing. Texans are not inclined to go with public transportation. I had one Fort Worth city council member say to me, "Esther, if you think people are going to give up their pickup trucks to go ride a bus, think again".
The Trinity rail trains are going between Dallas and Fort Worth. The biggest challenge for us has been getting some of the mid-cities areasArlington, Hershey, Richland Hills, North Richland Hillsto ante up. It's a time-consuming, labor intensive process. You have to go to a lot of meetings. You have to get citizens who are in those areas to go to their city councils because those are the guys who make the decisions to come up with the funds that go toward that. It's not just the DART or the T that makes those decisions. They look for the local municipalities to go for it. So, those are big things for us.
Greens and Democrats
JT: You've done a lot of lobbying and citizen activism type work for a lot of years. Why bother to build a Green Party when you can try to work with and influence the Democratic Party? Why go this direction?
EMc: We have done that. We have a very good representative, Lon Burnham, out of Fort Worth who is probably the lone environmental voice in the Texas Legislature. He's great and I've worked with him on advisory committees. However, his hands get tied through the process. And as you know from witnessing the most recent presidential election, a lot of issues that the Greens are concerned about are not the priorities of the two major parties.
We feel that encouraging voter participation is so vital and that people are not feeling empowered with the other parties and that this gives them a viable option. I think people have thrown up their hands and said, "What's the use?". We'd like to let them know that the Green Party is a viable option.
"I See Issues That Need to Get Taken Care of"
JT: At this weekend's state conference, probably 75% of the participants were men. I'm curious how you perceive the situation. Is it a problem? And if so, how can that situation be improved?
EMc: I think it varies from group to group because I know there are women in the Dallas group who have been very strong and active and we have a number of them in Fort Worth, at least a third maybe half of our participants are women
One of the things I like about the Green Party is that we encourage male and female co-chairs in each of the party groups. Everybody seems to like that. I think that is helpful to women in terms of getting into leadership positions. And, we try and encourage women to participate more and speak up.
I think we just happened to have women in leadership positions who couldn't make it this week. We have a lot of students, men and women, who I'm encouraged to see getting more and more involved. And those young women are more inclined to speak out and feel less reserved about it. We try and nurture that.
JT: On a more personal level, what motivates you to do the work you do? There's obviously other things you could do with the long hours you put into citizen activism. What fires you up and keeps you going?
EMc: It's been a lifelong thing. I see issues that need to get taken care of and don't get taken care of that are very basic to our health and well-being. I think at this point and time in my life one of my biggest motivators is that I'm a single parent with a 13-year-old daughter. When she was a baby, I would take her to environmental meetings and I would throw down the little comforter and she'd crawl around, or sit down with her books or play. Some of the environmentalists have literally watched her grow up.
When she's asked me, "Mom, why do we have to go to all those meetings?", I've said, "Because, I want to be able to look you in the eye and say, 'Yeah, at least I tried to do something so that you have a decent life and a decent planet to live on' "
I can't imagine trying to look her in the eye if I don't do something.
Texas was an independent republic for nine years (1836-1845). It had its own army and navy and foreign ambassadors assigned to faraway capitols. When it was accepted into the Union during the first year of the Polk Administration, this enormous new state was allowed to reserve the right to unilaterally divide itself into five separate states at any time in the future. Mike Rogers wants the Greens to dream Texas-sized dreams. 8 more senators. That's the prize.
JT: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Texas Green Party at this point? And, where do you want it to go in the next couple of years?
MR: Our strengths are that we have a program to provide ethical values to legislative issues. I have concerns about whether we'll be able to do so if we're not more imaginative than to simply be the political action committee of the social action network on the left wing of the Democratic Party.
JT: You're concerned that the Democrats are going to be targeting the Greens in 2002, that there's not going to be any "free ride" like this year when they failed to run candidates in many statewide races. How would you like to see that addressed?
MR: I see an opportunity for the Green Party to reach out in the next legislative session. I urge all Green Party members to identify, contact and support liberal Democrats to secure a reapportionment victory.
A Grand Vision
JT: What's the long term vision if the Greens are able to continue getting 5% in statewide races. Where does it go from there? Up to 6%, 7%? How much is that worth in a system of winner-take-all voting?
MR: Ultimately, nothing. It's an excellent goal in the next election cycle in 2002 to re-secure ballot access for 2004. I can certainly accept that. However, as a long term strategy, lingering from 5-10% strikes me as being distinctly worthless.
Rather, I'd like to see an aggressive new strategy of new Green issues to reach out to new Green state voters statewide. I have suggested earlier that it is time to have a black Senate delegation, to have a Hispanic Senate delegation from a reformed Texas in Washington, DC. Recognize the Native Americans for all the sacrifices they've made in surrendering an entire continent to build the only superpower on Earth and give them two senators through a reformed Texas. The Greens of Texas would make an excellent coalition partner in the fourth of the new states of Texas along with our coalition partners, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And for the fifth part of the new state of Texas, I invite the conservatives to keep Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison themselves as far away from us as possible!
JT: Isn't this as much a pipedream as any project that's been suggested this weekend?
MR: At least as much as some. But distinctly more fun than others.
JT: What got you involved with the Greens in the first place? Why not just stay with the liberal Democrats?
MR: I've never been a liberal Democrat. I'm a Green. I've always been a Green.
JT: Last Question. Why do you think the Greens have so far been unable to attract Blacks and Hispanics?
MR: They have nothing to offer them. The liberal Democratic ideas are not distinctively Green. The Democrats already have them covered. We need something of our own. They need senators and representatives and from that will flow the funding they need for social services
David Cobb is the grandson of a Baptist preacher and a former rock concert promoter who was inspired to become an activist lawyer by Ralph Nader. He quit his job in the past year to devote himself to building the Texas Green Party. He is also the legal advisor to the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), the main national Green party.
"50 years from now," Cobb said, "if we're successful, we will have fundamentally transformed how we interact with one another, the way we interact with the natural world, our media institutions, our educational institutions. Everything will look fundamentally different. Just as different as monarchical government looks from representative democracy."
Cobb, 38, bubbles with enthusiasm. He has the boundless energy of someone who believes completely in what he is doing. On the way back from Columbus, he and I talked some more about the future of the Greens, his work and his possible candidacy for Texas Attorney General in 2002.
The Electoral Arm of a Movement
JT: Do you think Ralph Nader's 2.7% showing will take the steam out of this project? What kind of feedback are you hearing from Greens across the country?
DC: The very blunt, honest answer among Green Party organizers and activists is that this campaign is viewed as a success. Not a stunning success but a success. We increased by five to ten fold the number of local chapters, student-based groups and organizations. We've increased the number of coherent state parties that are following state and federal law. We built infrastructure in an enormous way and plugged a lot of people in. And we exposed a lot of people to the politics of meaning, politics of value.
Remember this. That 2.7% represents almost three million voters. That's three million people who voted for fundamental, transformational change in the way politics is done and in the way our society is organized and structured. And remember if people were allowed to vote their hopes instead of their fears, we don't know how many actual supporters we really had.
JT: Where at this point do you see the Texas Green Party going? There's lots of talk about 2001 and 2002.
DC: We are a newly born political party. We will be focusing on local and municipal races in 2001. During that process, we will continue to hone our skills as citizen activists and political organizers working on local electoral campaigns. Between now and then, I anticipate we will continue to work in coalition with other citizen groups on living wage, police brutality and a whole host of other environmental and social justice issues.
2002, of course, is the next election cycle. We don't have to petition to get on the ballot. We need to get ready to run sttewide candidates to make sure tht we maintain 5%. That's the midterm goal for us.
JT: But why not just be a Democrat? Why not push progressive causes through working with the Democratic Party?
DC: In a nutshell, the Democratic Party has simply become the other arm of the corporate-controlled Republicrat Party. You can no longer successfully move true, citizen-based democratic reforms and issues through the Democratic Party because the hierarchy has been taken over by the Democratic Leadership Council. They are funded by the same corporate interests. The range of acceptable, progressive issues is getting narrower and narrower.
JT: From another perspective, what do you see as the relationship between the Green Party and other progressive and radical social movements? Many people are wary of participating in the Greens and see the whole electoral process as a swamp that swallows up radical initiatives.
DC: In my mind, the Green Party has a unique role to play in this growing movement. There is a movement happening in this country. Almost everybody who is socially aware recognizes something is happening. There are many aspects of it. The Green Party has a unique role to play as the electoral arm of this movement. Every two to four years there will be an election coming up. And, an election can be understood as another form of direct action. After all, going and voting is a form of action.
JT:What do you see as some of the barriers that keep the Greens, at least at this point, being primarily a marginal, countercultural phenomena? What's it going to take to go beyond that?
DC: The electoral system itself is designed for two parties only from issues of making it difficult to get on the ballot in many states to making it very difficult to register as a member of an alternative party. Those barriers are going to have to be surmounted by old-fashioned Saul Alinsky style organizing. You just have to do the work. What you saw this weekend was a core group of 40 people from 12 counties across Texas representing larger constituencies who were demonstrating that they were prepared to do the work in Texas. And the same thing is happening across the country.
The socio-cultural barriers are more difficult. We have to convince people that it's worthwhile to vote for what they want instead of being so afraid that they have to vote against what they don't want.
JT: So you believe that one of our fundamental rights should be the right to vote for who we really want?
DC: There are other groups working on electoral reforms in a non-partisan way and who are beginning to question the election system we use in this country. The United States was once put up to be a Laboratory of Democracy. That place where new ideas and innovative procedures were tested and explored.
Yet today, we are one of the last countries that labor under this antiquated, single member district, winner-take-all election system that is a throwback from British colonial rule. While the rest of the world gets cutting edge tools like proportional representation, preference voting, cumulative voting and instant run-off voting. Ultimately, if we are going to have meaningful democracy in this country, it will be because there has been electoral reform as well as social change.
Corporations and Democracy
JT: You've done a lot of work with POCLAD (Program on Corporate Law and Democracy). What do you see as the role of corporations in our society, and how does that connect with your Green Party work?
DC: I am not anti-corporation. A Corporation is a legal fiction. It is a business arrangement. The corporation as it currently operates is the antithesis of the kind of democracy where We the People are in charge.
The corporations are wielding and exercising illegitimate authority by making decisions that are properly understood to be public decisions. For example, Monsanto, Dow and other agricultural conglomerates have made the decision that we are going to have genetically modified food organisms in our food supply. That is a public policy decision that should only come out of a public policy format.
The American revolutionaries understood very well that their task was to reject monarchy as a form of government and replace it with something else. So too, our role today is to reject corporate governance and to replace it with something else.
JT: Any idea what that something else should be?
DC:Yeah, I think we should give democracy a try.
The Nader Campaign
JT: This year you had the chance to work with Ralph Nader and the Nader 2000 campaign. What were your impressions?
DC: I'm a lawyer because of Ralph Nader and Atticus Finch (the fictional hero of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird). So it was a phenomenally gratifying experience to work with Ralph. There were difficulties with working on a campaign that got started so very, very late. Remember, Ralph didn't even formally announce until February 2000.
The Nader campaign didn't have skilled, experienced people who had run a national campaign before. So, the frustrations I had didn't have so much to do with Ralph or what kind of person Ralph is. We were in an intensive, marathon bicycle race while we had to build the bicycle underneath us. That my friend is a frustrating experience.
JT: Given Nader's background, how much feeling or grasp do you think he has for the kind of grassroots people who gathered this weekend much less the kind of young people who've been participating in these mass demonstrations in the past year?
DC: Is it on his radar screen that there is a different dynamic at which a lot of these grassroots groups are operating on? The short answer is absolutely. He recognizes that there's a difference. How Ralph will learn to interact with these burgeoning movements that operate completely different than his own paradigm remains to be seen.
Ralph has been phenomenally successful. He helped to create the entire concept of public interest law in this country. That's no small legacy. He succeeded by following a particular format and paradigm. It's a paradigm that worked, at least for him.
From my estimation, it didn't work. It provided only minor changes in the regulatory framework. It did not fundamentally address cultural, social institutions. It didn't address fundamental inequalities in this county. It didn't address things at the level the feminist movement did, that the Abolitionists did and that the Green Party is trying to address. Has Ralph got his intellectual fingers around the difference between regulatory approaches to problems and fundamental transformtional issues? I don't know.
JT: You have the fire of a true believer. What gives you the drive to do all this extra work?
DC: To me, it's not work. It's a joyous experience to go through the process of trying to actually become a self-empowered citizen, which is the highest role any of us can play.
I come from a family of four brothers and lots of cousins growing up. And, I can remember very vividly my momma having to sit down and explain to us why we needed to share. It made sense to me then and it makes sense to me now. It's a very, very simple idea that if we treat each other with kindness and respect, it feels good to us and it feels good to the people around you. It seems like a good motivation to me to try and find ways to treat other people with kindness and respect and create institutions that do that as well.
JT: This weekend you were saying that you might be interested in running for office. There were a few calls of "Run David Run!". What are your thoughts on running for Texas Attorney General in 2002?
DC: It was incredibly flattering to have people I respect so much be so encouraging about it. Let me just say this. I believe that most of us as citizens, if we take our role seriously, are capable and competent of actually being legislators. I'm very interested in building the Green Party of Texas. And if it turns out that's the best role to play, then I would be very eager to run for Attorney General of Texas, if the Green Party were to nominate me.
Future Vision: 2050
JT: 50 years from now, how do you think people will look back on this Green Party project that's being started up now?
DC: 50 years from now, if we're successful, we will have fundamentally transformed how we interact with one another, the way we interact with the natural world, our media institutions, our educational institutions. Everything will look fundamentally different. Just as different as a monarchical government looks from a representative democracy. Again, understanding that it's not the Green Party that's doing this but that the Green Party has an overall role to play in this movement.
JT: Do you think we are at a tipping point?
DC: Something is happening. There's no doubt in my mind. We are in a transitional moment. We are going to have different institutions. I'm not yet convinced they are going to be positive, democratic, life-affirming ones that I'd like them to be because they could well end up being brutal, fascist, ugly institutions. It remains to be seen which way we fall.