Green and dusty dreams

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Last time we caught up with him, Tom Ness, guerrilla warrior for community radio and founder of the quixotic local music/politics mag JamRag, was about to become the Green Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the state convention, held in an Okemos motel July 29. When the dust settled, Ness wound up running instead against U.S. Rep. Sander Levin in the 12th Congressional District, which includes southeast Oakland and southwest Macomb counties. Yes, there is also a Republican candidate, somebody with the cartoonish name of Bart Baron. No, you don’t need to think about him.

There were rumors, fed by a story in the Oakland Press, that Ralph Nader himself signaled Ness to get out of the Senate race. The theory was that he felt labor would look more kindly on Nader if his party didn’t muck up Debbie Stabenow’s chances.

Was that it? Or was it — gasp — repercussions from Ness’s long-ago admission of bisexuality? Murky spots in the entrails of a chicken?

None of the above. “Actually, my wife Sue said if I kept on with the Senate thing she’d move out till November,” chuckled Ness. He got even when Susan Trescott-Ness became state coordinator for the Nader campaign “for about three days.” He then threatened to move into the campaign offices, over the Eyeglass Factory at Nine Mile and Woodward, unless she scaled back her Green obligations.

Domestic bliss was restored, and he’s running for Congress instead. This is a man who, at age 40, rides a rusty bicycle (he gave up his car in protest during the 1991 Gulf War and hasn’t changed his mind since) and lives on a shoestring, with two cats and a little help from family and friends. Is there any reason to take him seriously?

Damn straight. For one thing, the contrast between the candidates couldn’t be stronger. Sandy Levin, a fixture on the political scene since 1964, is the consummate establishment politician. “He seems always to be seeking the mean between two extremes; he likes negotiations and dislikes issues that divides opponents on matters of principle,” The Almanac of American Politics justly says.

Tom Ness is all about principle: “Unlike Levin, I oppose China trade. I also call for the withdrawal of the U.S. from GATT, NAFTA, and the World Trade Organization. I call for a moratorium on prison construction, repeal of the death penalty, an end to the failed drug war, legalization of marijuana, no prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, new trials for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier.”

Furthermore, if he wins, “I will vote to slash military spending, repeal Taft-Hartley, and provide single-payer universal health care insurance for all.”

Now you may or may not support all that; incidentally, I disagree about half the time. But the important thing is that he has positions and wants us to start thinking about and talking about and arguing about them — what he calls “Deep Democracy.”

“We (Greens) agree on 10 core values, but that’s the most important one to me — grassroots democracy,” he said, surrounded by heaps of campaign literature. The others: ecological wisdom; social justice; nonviolence; sexual equality; decentralization; community-based economics, respect for diversity, personal responsibility and global responsibility. Those are sufficiently vague one could imagine George W. saying he’s for them too. But somehow I don’t think he’d get away with it.

What attention the Greens will get from the mainstream media in the remaining weeks is bound to go mainly to Ralph Nader.

But I have news for you. Tom Ness’s campaign is more important. Why?

Every third-party movement you can remember was tied to a presidential candidate who made a splash, as H. Ross Perot did in 1992. Perot got more votes than any third-party candidate ever. Yet today his party is hopelessly fragmented and rapidly dying.

That’s largely because there was never any grassroots effort to speak of.

Everything was directed towards the head. No serious attempt was made to build the body. Reform never elected a congressman; they did little to help their only major success, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who soon left the party.

Ralph Nader won’t win this election. Even if he did — what could he accomplish, facing a Congress made up entirely of Demolicans and Repubocrats? Not much.

Yet what if, someday, a few Tom Nesses get elected to Congress? Wouldn’t you just love to see him there, on C-Span, annoying the hell out of the blow-drys, asking the sort of questions you aren’t supposed to ask in the circles of the elite?

Might start a trend. By the way, Ness won’t win this election either.

But he might get enough of the vote to remind Sandy that he used to be for working men, a long time ago when Democrats stood for something.

“Don’t let your dreams get dusty,” Ness said. “That’s my campaign slogan.”

He paused. “You know, if I get 10 percent, I just might keep this office open and start the next day working toward 2002,” he said.

That would be something.

News of the Stupid: I was a bit worried this summer. Entire days went by without the Morons of Labor and their puppet, the Michigan Democratic Party, doing anything horrendously stupid, and I feared Steve Yokich was sick. But I was reassured when the Democrats refused to renominate either of their incumbents on the Wayne State board of governors, evidently because they honked off the unions.

That sent a clear signal that the party regards a major university as a mere political football. Nominating Marietta Robinson, a well-married lawyer without a day of judicial experience for the Michigan Supreme Court was brilliant too.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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