The Greens in Bristol have 14 councillors, 7 of them women. (They are all white, and that’s been the subject of discussion and struggle in ‘Equality and Diversity’ and various other meetings.) Here are some of them outside the Council House, holding a sign welcoming refugees. In the city council elections, they got 25% of the vote. They work hard. They face the usual dilemmas of ‘power’: they are now expected to help administer the terrible cuts imposed on Councils by the government. The penalties for not doing this are serious. Refusal has been tried before elsewhere, and individual councillors were made legally and financially responsible for the resulting debts. The bigger the Green group, the worse the dilemma.
I went to a good Green Party meeting last night – about housing. It was good because we all got to participate and learn, because it was consultative, and because in the new way of organising ‘Policy and Ideas’ meetings everything discussed must have a policy or action outcome. The underlying theme was social justice: how to resist the Conservative Government’s cuts in social housing. But was it green?
One of the things I like about the Green Party is that it doesn’t see itself as permanently marginal, as so many activists do. So of course it has to have a programme for power. The first meeting I went to, more than a year ago, was in the run up to the General Election. There was a real possibility of electing a Green MP in Bristol. This seemed worth going for, since the one Green MP so far, Caroline Lucas,
has been able to do more than you would think possible for a single person. Yet I was disappointed by that first Green meeting, because climate change had become a mere item on the agenda, just as it is for Labour, and, believe it or not, for the Conservatives.
Humanity is in a crisis. You can’t sensibly talk about social justice in just one country, not in the long run. Redistribution is necessary, of course, but on a far greater scale than radical or left wing British parliamentary parties seem to discuss. I’d hoped the Greens would be saying: “This is an emergency! We can deal with it, but it means recognising that it’s been brought about and fed by the capitalist system, and there will be no sustainable solutions within that system. All the reforms we demand now are necessary, but they have to be put in that context. Within the corporate capitalist system, they will never be enough to bring about social justice and equality.”
I asked, at that first meeting, why environmental crisis was so far down our candidate’s bullet point manifesto. I was told we mustn’t frighten people.
There’s something in this. People are already frightened, that’s the point. Frightened, discouraged and hopeless.
We are not only scared because the situation we are all in is objectively dangerous, but also – as I understand through co-counselling – because of the unprocessed, unhealed experiences of our lives, especially our early lives. All the oppression that damaged and limited our parents was our earliest legacy. ‘Life’s hard and you have to compromise to get anything’: that was one of the messages we sucked in with our infant milk. ‘I had to give up my dreams – why should it be any different for you?’ And we found ways of living with our parents’ limitations and our own. As grown up citizens, we accept the limitations of the system until they make our lives impossible.
Fear, discouragement, hopelessness.
This is the baggage we bring to our current situation, to this emergency. No wonder we can’t bear to think about it. But in my opinion we are also longing for leaders who dare to tell the truth and point the way out. How can you deal with fear? That’s the question. I am certain that part of the answer involves telling the truth and offering hope – with confidence, not as despairing outside voices. The anti-austerity parties in Europe, including the UK Greens and now Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, have been pretending that reforms within capitalism can be enough to ensure a just transition to a sustainable future. Not true! They do this because, as we saw with the defeat of Syriza, the political power of the capitalist system is so enormous. But not for ever. It’s creaking at the seams. Any system is at its cruellest and toughest before the collapse.