After Democrats lost special elections for the House of Representatives in Georgia, South Carolina, and blew a close one earlier in Montana, old school blue-collar lefty filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted last week that the Dems don’t have a “friggin clue.” “No message, no plan, no leaders.” Who can blame him, especially after losing again and again and suffering a truly disgusting so-called progressive grassroots fund-raising campaign that sludged up the internet for months and months?
For those of us who contributed to campaigns and were thanked by being pestered and nagged every day with literally dozens of pleas for more money, many using rancid shaming language, outright accusations of disloyalty if you didn’t cough-up more bucks, scare tactics that became laughable and infuriating, and crass guilt-tripping to squeeze every last possible cent from the vast amorphous anti-Republican other side, Moore’s burst of frustration doesn’t sound that far off. Who wants to give another penny to these jerks?
No message, no plan, no leaders. On second thought, though, that sounds too true to be actually true. There’s an important movement gaining energy across the country, in urban power centers and rural America. It’s in response to Trumped-up Republicanism’s immoral denial of climate change. And I think it’s safe to say that the movement is made up mostly of other side voters, lots of Democrats and many people who are fed up with centrism and who are looking for an actual alternative way to consequential action. It can’t be called the “left” anymore, or progressive really. Where’s the progress? But it’s there and it’s a national movement based on rebellious localities not beholden to national leadership.
A New York Times editorial last week gave a picture of that movement whitch is all about actually doing something. The Times is of the opinion that “states and cities are taking on the brunt of climate responsibility” after Trump’s Republican withdrawal from the Paris Accords on climate change. The paper cites a dozen states and more than 300 cities that have “pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris targets.”
The cities, states, businesses and institutions of higher education that are bearing the load of battling climate change comprise a list of 74 pages on the Quartz website. The states that have joined the US Climate Coalition, as it’s called, are California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the territory of Puerto Rico.
The cities and counties include: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Honolulu, Boston, Houston, Salt Lake City, Bozeman, Denver, Flagstaff, Flint, New Haven, Newark, Santa Monica, Vail, Aspen, Tempe and Tucson.
I’m proud to also see Santa Fe on that list. But why not Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Los Alamos, and Bernalillo County? Is it Dunderheadedness? Political ball-and-chains? Fatal lassitude?
The more than a hundred colleges and universities include Amherst, Arizona State, Boise State, Bryn Mawr, the California State University System, Columbia, Michigan State, Tufts, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, Villanova, Universities of Colorado, Denver, Hawaii, Iowa, New Hampshire, and the Vermont Law School. But thousands still haven’t committed themselves. UNM, NMSU, Saint John’s, Highlands, and Eastern and Western New Mexico Universities are not on the list. Why not? Were they just overlooked or are they too distracted to know what’s going on around them?
Most of the Quartz list is made up of businesses that see climate change as breaking the back of the bottom line. They include Amazon, Apple, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell Soup, Clif Bar, Facebook, Gap, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, NIKE, Uber, Yahoo! and many hundreds of smaller businesses and non-profit charities.
This US Climate Coalition seems to me to be a pioneer in a new kind of politics in America that’s less associated with a party or an ideology than it is held together by ideas, issues, and business and regional interests.
Is it possible that regionalism, so deeply rooted in natural reality and business booms, might replace or seriously challenge Party Politics in America?
Who, for instance, in the Southwest—be it a state, a city, a university, or a business—shouldn’t be concerned about increasing heat, increasing drought, increasing groundwater pollution, and the impact of these scourges on public health? Of course, these are common problems for all of us in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and farther north in Wyoming and Montana. There is a natural climate coalition here that has little to do with traditional politics, other than expressing a massive lobbying and buying power.
It is possible too that those who oppose extremist Republicanism will find regional and business issues that bind them into a non-traditional force in American social and political life. If Democrats, liberals, progressives, and “the Left” want to find a home there, too, all the better. It’s clear that part of a new message, and a new plan, is a rigorous, no-holds-barred, no backing down kind of environmentalism that has moved away from being a club of the liberal-leaning, non-marginalized elite, but that belongs and is owned by everyone.
The same can be said for health care, of course, job creation though the stimulation of local business, and a new view of regional urbanism in a world trending toward the vast majority of its population living in megacities and their mega-suburbs. Public education and state universities, public television and public radio, anti-poverty measures, women’s issues, the plight of children, the aggressive fostering of civil rights, anti-bigotry, anti-sexism, and anti-classism, the plight of the working poor, sustainable agriculture, water conservation, pollution clean up, and promotion and defense of the sciences, the arts, and technological invention could also take up an organized and persistent regional and coalition-oriented base that was detached from the old Parties, but not dismissive of them.
This would mean, however, learning how to buck Republican propaganda about taxes. States and cities would have to tax themselves, create and monitor programs themselves, and find ways to detach themselves as much as possible from purely national politics and national media. A new regional and local media would also have to spring up to keep these efforts honest. But unlikely as all that seems, positive efforts are just as susceptible to out-of-the-blue improbable success as greedy and malicious ones are. Eventually the distributions of fortune evens out.
Such issues are all manifestations of the old core values of taking care of what you depend on for survival—land, air, and water. Taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves. Innovating the best public education possible to teach people the tools of on-going self-education, how to learn and how to keep on learning, and working to abolish unfair advantage in the guise of classism, racism, and sexism.
Here’s just one of hundreds of regional urban and environmental issues that could be addressed by coalitions of Southwestern water managers, academic departments of urban and regional planning, businesses, tribal entities, and the broad-based groups devoted to preventing climate change and enhancing urban life for those of us who are not in the financial upper echelons—it’s called stopping Zombie developments.
Zombie subdivisions are those publicly subsidized explosions of promised growth in the hinterlands around major cities that never reach their much touted glorious promise. They often remain only bulldozed land, huge parcels with streets but almost no houses. Many times they’re only barren groves of 2×4 framing with no sheetrock or roofs, or just hardscrabble land with little white weeds of PCB piping and nothing else around them. Sometimes just a false front of houses hide an interior desolation of nothing at all but street signs and wasted concrete. We see these big promises all around; in Albuquerque’s Mesa del Sol, in huge tracts of empty ‘development’ east of Belen, and in the miles upon miles of bulldozed platted land in Rio Rancho once own by the AMREP corporation. It’s likely we’ll see such a thing in the proposed Santolina development southwest of Albuquerque, which has promised vast new populations and job development in a state that’s losing population and hasn’t been a magnet for new businesses for years.
Zombie suburbs also plague Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, many parts of non-agricultural rural California, other cities in New Mexico, and Texas. Zombie neighborhoods waste water, waste construction materials, waste public resources and public trust, and damage and erode landscapes that biological well-being depends on.
Quoting a Nevada Public Radio story in 2011 about Zombies around Las Vegas, the station said that “…zombie suburbs are a phenomenon of the American Southwest, the region of the US that grew astronomically during boom times and is now, by many estimations, losing population. Some say the Southwest is overbuilt by as many as 28 million homes.” That’s a number to be questioned, but it’s surely in the many millions at least.
Much needs doing in states and cities that the federal government and its partisan paralysis has forgotten or outright abandoned. Do Democrats or Republicans have well-formulated urban policy goals, underground water clean up plans, strategies for treating and remediating heat associated illnesses and social hostilities? These and hundreds of other questions need addressing, and they haven’t been, and probably won’t be, in the current political context.
A fresh, pragmatic, new political reality is among our countries greatest needs. An expanded strategy of traditional coalition building and new forms of cooperative regional governance could well be a big part of it. The US Climate Coalition, from what I can tell, is a grand experiment that is showing us a new way to think about how to solve public problems in a deadlocked world of partisan national politics. The U.S. Climate Coalition might even prove to be a way to help reinvigorate the Democratic Party, purge it of centrist capitulations to rich man Republicanism, and make it a party of humanitarian action once again.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it