Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Regional Planning for urban brownfields

Co-Author Martin Zehr was not able to log in and post this himself. He sent it to me via email.
Urban reconstruction of brownfields is a Green agenda and the more we say it the more we can develop policies that address education, housing, public transit, violence, renewable energy and homelessness. How long are people willing to accept the failures of public education? No liberal here. No radical trying to promote government spending. We have failed to develop the programs that are up to the task.

Decentralization and grassroots democracy means Greens are willing to engage all communities in the tasks and develop the input they can provide. Regional planning is not always pretty and may not always look the same, but it provides real perceptions, important science and economic data and the opportunity to let the people decide.

We face tough times ahead. Many of us have endured tough times for years. To succeed we need to play on the field that's there and build towards a new one that empowers people and addresses our real problems together. We need to build real leaders in our communities by really listening, by incorporating sound input and not simply posturing. Street theatre has become all too often a justification for avoiding electoral politics. Slogans too often replace sound policies.

We need to be as critical of our own role as we are of the Democratic Urban Machines that dominate too many metropolitan regions. Fiscal accountability needs to be incorporated so that we do not simply rob Peter to pay Paul, or drive municipal governments into bankruptcy. We know Dems will not simply rollover as we gain support. We have to anticipate that and develop long term strategies. The third way is not to simply up the ante of the liberal agenda, but to rigorously engage our communities in real debates and present real alternatives.

As things stand now, the Green Party will simply be another experiment in liberal third parties that rises and then falls from the weight of their own preoccupation to “do the right thing”. Configuring a new political landscape inherently means that we are willing to establish new priorities and cut up existing constituencies consistent with our goals and objectives as a political party. A Green New Deal fails to do this. It attempts to maintain the historical coalition of the Great Society. It does not incorporate the reality of the economic and fiscal crises in the context of our solutions. It projects the federal government as the employer of last resort as a solution. It fundamentally negates the Key Values of Decentralization, Grassroots Democracy and Community-Based Economics.

The answers do not lie in what I write here. They lie in our communities by working diligently and developing support from the people where they are. Over the years I have had several significant organizing efforts based on the principal that the people teach us. I helped to organize a city-wide coalition of industrial workers against plant closings. I built support for prison reform with the families of prisoners and correction employees that confronted an armed state Secretary of Corrections in a mass demonstration with the simple message of improving visitation and ending super-max facilities. I engaged in a regional water planning process with farmers, water managers, hydrologists, developers and environmentalists that developed a sound 50 year plan through stakeholder input. In each case, there were victories as well as challenges. The point is that if we stick to our Key Values, we really can unite with others who have not been engaged in the past. In each case, the failures were rooted in the inability to translate public support into political action.

We are novices in this regard. Despite our numerous campaigns and elections of public officials, we still let the basics of change slip through our fingers. When our votes are large, we miss using the results as political capital capable of winning concessions that will benefit those who supported us. When we elect officials they become disconnected from the party in developing policy priorities, increasing public education and projecting our unique vision in concrete ways. We let Democrats take the stage from us and undermine our ballot access. But our window of opportunity is closing. Our influence and our role in elections are endangered in most states. Too many “activists” have presumed to know what is good for people without listening to them. Too many friends have been alienated by leadership that only wants to control our political work and are not willing to incorporate the input of others.

Our relevance in the future is not predetermined. It is based on our relevance to the people who we represent. Changing the political culture of our state parties means that we are willing to recognize new voices. It means that we establish priorities that are consistent with public needs and concerns. It means not being afraid of change when it is indicated.


Alex Walker said...

No disagreement with anything you have written. But it sure does seem like a daunting task. 

I confess, I winced when you dismissed public education. My knee-jerk reaction is to defend it, but I think that battle is basically lost and that system as we know it is as screwed up as the healthcare system.

Wes said...

Martin, this is so true...
"Street theatre has become all too often a justification for avoiding electoral politics. Slogans too often replace sound policies."