Harrison is not new to policy analysis. The former host of Greenwatch TV broadcast his biweekly conversations with subject matter experts on a variety issues for more than 15 years. He also ran as a Green for the State House from District 147 in 2016, amassing just under 3% of the vote against popular Democratic legislator Garnet Coleman.
Since that 2016 election, in which the Green Party lost its ballot line, Harrison's pet project has been Houston's chapter of Socialist Alternative. I dropped into SA's meeting at the Montrose Center Tuesday night, on the topic of curtailing gun violence nationwide, participating in the two-hour discussion and collecting ten signatures on the Green Party's ballot access petition.
This was my first SA meeting since the rather disappointing one I went to last January. That one, my own disappointment aside, packed a double-wide meeting space to overflowing; this one drew fewer than 20 attendees, even with a current hot-button topic in the afterglow of the March for Our Lives.
Harrison kicked off the meeting with about 15 minutes of analysis, careful to stress that the issue was gun violence, not merely possession of guns. He recognized how unrealistic it would be to separate millions of Americans from their firearms, legislatively or otherwise. In light of that, he argued for the common-sense restrictions on gun ownership that many progressive groups have offered. Whether or not you approve of hunting, the national consensus runs in favor of the responsible keeping and bearing of firearms for hunting and self-defense.
Harrison also listed some root societal causes of gun violence in the US: disparities of income and wealth; ridiculously militarized and militaristic policing, particularly of the poor and persons of color; and the nation's long history of violent colonialist conduct toward Native peoples, Africans brought over by force, Latin Americans in our geopolitical backyard, and others. It is noteworthy that nations with a high degree of poverty and economic disparity (e.g., the US, Brazil, Honduras) tend to have higher incidence of gun violence than more egalitarian nations. In addition, certain manufacturers of armaments profit and their friends in the media handsomely from a frightened populace.
The group then spent the remainder of the time addressing some large, open-ended questions introduced by those attending. The substance of those questions hardly matters, given how difficult it was for participants to stick to the topic on the table. It's quite understandable: The issue is multi-faceted, involving questions of economics, Constitutional rights,
One member kept a stack for the speaking order, and members were asked not to interrupt other speakers or talk out of turn. Unlike a certain group I could name but won't, the participants mostly refrained from jumping the stack, apologizing sincerely when they did speak without being recognized. While some members took up more speaking time than others, Crystal the facilitator (I'll try to get her last name) made sure that everyone was heard; I didn't detect any white-male-alpha-dog behavior.
I am sad to report that the end result of this meeting did not take the form of a consensus-based policy statement that the group might turn into a press release. It's too easy for people with strong opinions to get together in a room and just talk about aspects of an issue, or solutions to a general problem, without moving toward a lien of action. In my final contribution to the discussion, I tried subtly to push the group in that direction—something like:
"Hold to this vision you have of a society in which a heavily armed police force and a heavily armed civilian population are no longer necessary. Translate that vision into policy that makes heavily armed police and populace no longer profitable."
Nonetheless, I came away with a positive feeling from this group, who without exception recognize that the Socialist vision offers a prescription for eliminating those root causes. We need a mass movement toward a cultural shift, at street level and in the halls of government, toward building a people-centered society. In this richest of nations, we can curb or eliminate poverty, desperation, chemical dependency, barriers to education, barriers to health care (including mental health), etc. We can do this by wresting our governments and institutions from the cold, slimy fingers of the corporate oligarchy. As Jill Stein would say, "People, Planet, and Peace over Profit and Plunder."
As I said in a recent entry, I'd like to believe that the March for Our Lives was a giant step in the direction of that cultural shift.