I am hereby officially declaring myself a candidate for the Green nomination to run for the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University in the 2004 election. Although I received my BA from Aquinas College rather than from MSU, I have spent most of my life in East Lansing . Much of my political activism during the last decade has been bound up with the work of campus-based groups. Since I worked during two summers at MSU, I know something about the university's labor practices. I've walked picket lines with graduate teaching assistants protesting the university's union-busting tactics. (Since a successful organizing drive forced MSU to recognize the union and they negotiated and approved the contract, the university has been engaging in devious tactics to get around it. Lots of TA's have been told that there is not enough money in the budget to renew their position for a new year. Instead, they are offered an entirely different position, “Instructor” for the new year. Miraculously, it turns out that “Instructors” have exactly the same duties as “Teaching Assistants,” but they are not covered by the union contract!) When MSU President Peter McPherson got back from Iraq—a former Reagan Administration official, he had taken a leave of absence from his duties at the university to be part of the colonial administration there--I tagged along with various student and community groups to protest him at the homecoming parade. The most important bottom line is that MSU is a state university, publicly financed and allegedly controlled in the last analysis not by wealthy alumni or corporate contractors by the voters of the state of Michigan , and I am a resident of the State of Michigan who cares about peace and justice. The issues involved should concern every one in that category, regardless of whether or not they went to college or where they went if they did. Should I receive my party's nomination, I will use the campaign to highlight the union-busting practices of the administration, the fact that many MSU employees earn less than a living wage, the fact that the administration has sent undercover campus cops to infiltrate student radical groups that have done nothing but exercise their rights to free speech and assembly, and the ways in which the University is bound up with the U.S. government's war machine and is complicit in its crimes.
As a democratic socialist, I am running on a platform that involves ending all of these practices. While I believe that it is important for radical candidates to run for every position from MSU Board of Trustees right through the Presidency and in the process advocate these kinds of immediate demands to make people's lives better, I will also make it clear that, even if greens and socialists somehow swept every one of those races, I don't believe that fundamental change for the better in our society can come from the maneuverings of elected officials. Rather, it must come from the actions of ordinary working people rising up to take control of their own workplaces and communities, abolishing the political, economic institutions of the existing society and replacing them with something qualitatively better and more democratic. Indeed, one of the purposes that can be served by radicals running for public office is to help build the kind of movement that in the long run can bring all this about—real, meaningful change from below, not crumbs dispensed from above.
I have been a member of the Green Party since the summer of 2002, and a member of the Socialist Party since the spring of 2003. The Socialist Party of Michigan passed a resolution at its summer 2003 State Convention which said that it would support its members running on the Green ballot line provided that they ran as Socialist Party members campaigning on a full Socialist platform. (It is a decentralized party, so individual members would be able to do what they like in any case, but those are the circumstances under which their party would endorse their candidacy.) I voted for that resolution at the time, and I will honor both its letter and its spirit in this campaign.
I was energized to join the Green Party in the first place by the campaign of Doug Campbell, who was running for Governor of Michigan on a platform that included pardoning every single person serving time for simple possession, keeping the Michigan National Guard out of foreign wars and similar planks. He had briefly achieved a high media profile when he was arrested and rough housed by the police for daring to show up at a Gubernatorial debate. (It turns out they didn't mean “all candidates” when they said “all candidates.”) I had been excited when I saw him being interviewed on ABC news talking about such things as “the international solidarity of the working class” and “an injury to one is an injury to all.” I thought to myself at the time that any party that nominated some one who talked like that to head up its ticket in the midterm elections was worth getting involved with. I was Campbell's Ingham Couny Campaign Coordinator and I also actively volunteered for Ray Ziarno's campaign for Secretary of State. During that election cycle I also recruited into the Green Party my old friend and comrade Jason Lafay, who ended up running for MSU Board of Trustees, getting the second-highest vote total of any GPMI candidate that year.
I was until recently the Chair of the Capital Area Greens (the Greens' Lansing-area chapter) and a member of the State Central Committee of the Green Party of Michigan as a representative of the CAG, although of course I had to give up both of these positions when I moved to Kalamazoo to start up as a graduate teaching assistant at Western Michigan University. I also briefly served on the Platform Committee of the Green Party of the United States. I was on the planning committee that organized the state-wide anti-war demonstration at the Capitol in Lansing, an event that even Fox News was the largest such demonstration the Capitol had seen sine the Vietnam era, and I managed to get two Greens on the platform—GPMI Chair Marc Reichart and Jason Lafay. Jason's tag line, which electrified the crowd, was “Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, they say that they don't like the ‘Old Europe.' Wait until they see the new America!”
Bottom line, that vision—a new America, a new society based on peace, justice and meaningful democracy, rather than the current mess of war, poverty, and minority rule by the employing class—is the central goal that has inspired everything I have ever done politically. That is why I'm a member of the Socialist Party, not just the Green Party. I enthusiastically agree with just about every plank in the Green platform—national health care, meaningful environmental regulation, real multi-party elections guaranteed by full public financing and Instant Runoff Voting, full employment at a living wage and so forth. This is part of the reason that I have been happy to vote Green in the past and have a Green Party membership card in my pocket now. At the same time, I think that there is a sense in which all of this doesn't go far enough and a sense in which it goes too far.
It doesn't go far enough in that the most ambitious plans of the Green Party don't go beyond the limitations of legislative reformism, and the fact is that under capitalism, most of the power structure is not up for election. In any case, even if all these very ambitious and radical reforms were somehow carried out, they would still leave fundamentally unjust and undemocratic structures in place at the foundation of American society. Most of us would still have to rent ourselves out to an employer as wage slaves in order to making a living. Most real decision-making power would still be concentrated in a fairly small portion of the population—stockholders, CEOs and so forth—that live off of the sweat of others. Corporations don't need to be reformed, and they don't need to be regulated; they need to be expropriated. Democracy, to become full and meaningful, must be extended from politics to economics.
There is also, however, a sense in which the reforms Greens advocate go too far. That is to say, we are living in an age where multinational corporations are increasingly aggressive and effective in bending nation-states to their will. Neo-liberalism is the order of the day, and throughout the world, reforms won decades ago are being rolled back. The solutions to corporate power that the progressive-populist majority of the Green Party support amount to what has been tried and failed long ago, like government regulation, trust-busting and so forth. I would suggest that in today's world, it is unlikely that the institutions of big corporate capital would ever stand for this sort of thing. They will fight back tooth and nail against any attempt to institute, for example, the demand for full employment at a living wage that is included in the platform of the Green Party of the United States, would constitute after all a tremendous setback for employers, essentially destroying their bargaining position when dealing with workers. They would use capital flight and most likely the stiffer forms of resistance that the Wall Street often applies to uppity Latin American governments that try to redistribute wealth.
These problems point beyond progressive populism and towards democratic socialism, the political outlook adhered to by a sizeable minority of Greens. The fact is that if we are serious about translating these radical reform demands into reality, we have to seriously understand the real power dynamics in American society. That means that we can't talk about “the American people” as if it were a single undifferentiated entity and every one had the same interests. Rather, we must acknowledging the real existence of classes and class struggle. The conflict between the working class and the owning class rages whether we are willing to acknowledge its existence or not, because it is built into the nature of the system. When right-wing politicians try to accuse their rivals of fomenting “class warfare,” this is the sheerest hypocrisy. When the ruling class and its allies cut social services, bust unions and send working-class kids off to die in Iraq for the sake of oil privatization, regional control and Halliburton reconstruction contracts, the fact is that this constitutes one-sided class warfare. Ultimately, the only “solution” that can put an end to this struggle is for the working majority to organize effectively to win it, taking over society and instituting real, meaningful democracy in all areas, thereby dissolving the division of society into contending social classes.
I realize of course that most Greens don't adhere to these crazy unrealistic ideas, but I feel that it is a matter of basic honesty for me to tell the people whose support I want for the nomination what my politics are, what my long-term perspective is and want kind of movement I want to build. I would nevertheless urge every one, reds and greens alike, who agrees with my perspective about what changed need to be implemented at MSU and the rest of our public universities to support my campaign, regardless of whether or not they are in 100% agreement with my politics. Certainly, that should include every one who thinks that its wrong for a state-funded public university to interfere with student's rights to free speech and assembly by infiltrating student groups, a tactic designed to chill legitimate political activity. And every one who thinks that the war in Iraq is not simply a mistaken policy to be corrected but an atrocity to be resisted, and that as such all links between the war machine and our state universities should be severed. (That means no more ROTC and no more military research contracts). And every one who thinks that all MSU employees deserve to earn a living wage should support my campaign. Every one who thinks that graduate teaching assistants have a right to unionize to achieve better wages and benefits and that the University should stop trying to get around the contract it already signed with the Graduate Employees Union. And every one who wants to build a movement, in the streets, on the picket lines and through the ballot box, to root these kinds of war-making and union-busting practices out wherever they exist.
Another world is possible!