Hanging out on the left wing has never been easy. You see the world differently from your neighbors because your media intake is not limited to the major corporate networks; you actually read and understand books with big words; you spout Chomsky-esque inconvenient truths that make middle-class lifestyles seem inherently immoral. As a result, the mainstream world tends to ignore you, belittle you, cast doubt on your sanity, or find less savory ways to neutralize you.
Sure, liberal-to-progressive ideology enjoys periods of vogue, when pop culture co-opts lefty issues and talking points, and when lefty males are society's rock stars, getting laid without much effort. Then comes the inevitable backlash from the hung-up wealthy men who are missing out on all the fun.
This is my big-picture way of introducing this reflection on Perry "PDiddie" Dorrell's fairly comprehensive Brains and Eggs post on the ongoing crisis du jour at Pacifica radio. As I write, I'm nodding along with his headline about "a microcosm of Left's dysfunction in Texas." Such dysfunction is certainly not limited to Texas, but considering the size of this state, one doesn't need a magnifying glass to see its effects.
The Mighty Ninety & Me
KPFT 90.1 FM is an enormously valuable resource, occupying a frequency that used to be in the designated non-commercial band, but now could easily be turned into a source of corporate audio-drivel. Pacifica acquired the license in the 1960s, and its first-ever Gulf Coast affiliate began broadcasting in March of 1970. It has had several golden ages, but for the last 20-plus years its programming has ranged from mind-blowingly awesome to mind-numbingly dreadful, sometimes in the same day.
Like PD, I have demured on every effort to recruit me to run for the Local Station Board, or toward any other involvement beyond listening and occasional on-air guest spots. While I have been an occasional member-supporter of KPFT, and a programmer there in the mid-1980s, I have no desire to jump back in. Most of these recruitment efforts have come from Ted Weisgal, and I appreciate them for the respect they convey, but...uh-uh.
The LSB, made up of non-programmers and with no power of programming, has been a radioactive shit-show practically from Day One. Even sadder, people I have considered friends have been in part responsible for the toxicity—or, in fending off others' toxicity have become toxic versions of their former selves.
The Partisan Picture: Greens and the Fractious Left
Getting back to general lefty dysfunctionality, PD also links to my recent entry about withdrawing from positions of responsibility within the Harris County Green Party. Every local and state Green organization goes through its various difficulties and interpersonal squabbles. However, the Green Party of Texas, like the Lone Star State itself, just does everything bigger. The venom has trickled down to the county organizations. This did not all begin with a certain incident in 2015 that was much on our minds at the recent state meeting, but that incident brought our internal strife into sharp focus.
The disaffection of so many Bernie Sanders Democrats, in the wake of the screw-job perpetrated against Sanders, should be a golden opportunity for the Greens to grow in membership and influence. But the organizers of Our Revolution, Draft Bernie, Brand New Congress, et al, without saying it flat-out have told the world that they view the Green Party as damaged goods. These people would rather reinvent the partisan wheel than take advantage of the Greens' existing infrastructure (scant though it may be)—not just in Texas, but nationwide.
Despite Texas and other setbacks, the Green Party of the United States is growing, attracting more members of color, and proudly wearing its eco-socialist label. From all accounts I've seen, the recent Annual National Meeting in Newark NJ was a rousing success. That is why, from a Green perspective, these groups' glancing at a party with a truly progressive platform and saying, "Ugh, no thanks," is truly moronic.
If disgruntled Berniecrats wanted to take over county and state Green parties, to make the territorial old farts running them shut up and play along, they could. They have the numbers. But they insist on forming whole new parties. Might this have something to do with all the Greens pointing out to them, repeatedly on social media, that Sanders and his Social Democratic platform was spot-on domestically but his foreign policy was right out of the neoliberal playbook (especially on Israel/Palestine)? Do these Berniecrat refuseniks, in general, have the same sense of moral outrage at US foreign policy that most Greens do, or are they just following the larger herd?
Personalizing the Political
In political science classes we learn about something called party identification. When one says, "I'm a Republican" (or Democrat, or Tory, or Labourite), that's a good predictor of one's voting patterns. Political science has less to say about party identity, in which an ideology or partisan affiliation becomes a major part of one's personality.
I am a Green not merely because I believe in peace, justice, democracy, and ecological wisdom, but because I endeavor to put these core principles into practice. Greenness is very much a part of me. So when institutions like the Green Party—and influential individuals within it—struggle to live up to those principles that the Party embodies, you bet it's troubling. I could say the same about Pacifica, or even my UU church at times.
The infighting that could have destroyed First UU Church of Houston a decade ago served as the inspiration for The Earthworm that Blows No Trumpet. During the troubles, which drove a lot of members to join other nearby churches or out of Unitarianism entirely, I remember thinking, This is just imperfect beings doing what they think is necessary to preserve something they love, even if it means alienating their friends and neighbors. If some person or persons had come here, deliberately sabotaged the church, and caused all this bickering, they couldn't have done a better job. Whoa, wait—what if someone actually did pull shit like that?
Given what we know about our government's and major parties' history of malfeasance, especially against left-wing groups, it's no big leap to imagine that the crises in GPTX and KPFT are caused at least in part by skillful infiltrators with a knack for sabotage. Veteran Texas Green katija gruene, whose occasional bouts of paranoia have sometimes been justified, has expressed similar misgivings. But who are the saboteurs? Why can we not rat them out? How are they so good at covering their tracks?
I've heard similar tales of dissension in organizations like MENSA or Society for Creative Anachronism. Groups of smart, creative people get along great, sometimes for years, until someone gets excessively territorial or power-trippy. Before anyone knows it, longtime friends can't stand each other's residual odors. New members run away screaming or slink away nauseated.
My three years of life in HAUS Project ended in bitter disappointment. Numerous members of uRth HAUS co-op discovered to their chagrin that they could not handle living in an intentional community with a focus on ecological sustainability. The average length of residence at uRth decreased dramatically, until the whole population turned over in less than two years.
People raised in the age of mass electronic media generally have trouble relating to each other on a meaningful level. Public schools have undertaken a mandate to emphasize the Three R's at the expense of developing soft skills.
I'm convinced that the floor plan, leakiness, dodgy fixtures, and other quirks of the otherwise magnificent old house on Ruth Street exacerbated the difficulties, making living there uncomfortable even at the best of times. uRth is yet another institution in which I invested my energy that crumbled before my eyes. (NOTE: uRth HAUS is not dead yet; it's still very much a thing. Rosalie HAUS has had its ups and downs, but its membership has stabilized. Also, I have never regretted participating in the HAUS experiment, because I learned so much from it.)
Did anyone sabotage uRth HAUS? Not likely—or at least not intentionally. Sometimes sabotage can be inadvertent. There was one newish member in 2015 who insisted that everyone in the place was either overtly racist or sexist, or indulged with impunity in various microaggressions. Rather than saying at a house meeting, "I think everyone here could benefit from anti-racism training and non-violent communications workshops," this member phrased her observations as accusations via email. Before you could say "Implicit Bias Test," members were at each other's throats (rhetorically, at least). Then this member moved out. Mission accomplished? You decide.
To paraphrase Willard "Mitt" Romney, "Institutions are people, friend." That's probably why so many institutions suck, composed as they are of flawed humans. One could say the same of governments—especially in democracies, which Mark Twain famously defined as "the worst form of government, with the exception of all others." But not all institutions suck equally; even whilst sucking, they may still provide benefits to individuals and communities.
(CORRECTION: When I posted this on the 17th, I originally said that the infighting at First UU had inspired A Small Town for Its Size. That was wrong. If you bought that book intrigued by the reference, please accept my apologies and buy a copy of The Earthworm That Blows No Trumpet as well.)