It is common for a green party to talk about "the green movement" as something which the party is involved in, but is larger than the party. Perhaps people have a comparison in mind: the Labour Party and the wider labour movement. But in that case, it is clear what is meant by the labour movement: the trade unions principally, but also social clubs, tenants' associations, co-operatives - in some countries there used to be quite a range.
But what is the wider green movement to which the Green Party relates? There is, certainly, an environmental movement. There are the general organisations like Earthwatch, Greenpeace, and An Taisce. There are the more specialised or localised bodies like the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, the Irish Council against Blood Sports, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, or the Cork Environmental Alliance. Those who participate in these organisations are environmentalists. They may not support a whole environmental agenda but only one particular interest. That is the strength of the environmental movement. Firstly, it makes sense in terms of the particular demands which a particular body is putting forward: you don't have to be a fully-fledged "green" to realise that the demand is justified, that the change is necessary. Secondly, the movement has no overall leadership: it cannot be decapitated, there is no-one to be bought off, there is no structure to be sucked into the system, there is no committee to degenerate into an endless wrangle while the movement collapses. Of course, individual organisations may suffer from all these afflictions, and more: but anyone who gets browned off with what is happening in one organisation can join another, and the overall environmental movement can continue to advance.
So this movement is held together, if at all, as an unstructured network, where duplication of work is minimised by overlaps of members and the publicity with which activities are carried on. But it is Greens, whether inside or outside the Green Party - people who have some commitment to the interconnectedness of these struggles - who see it as a network. The green movement, then, is a way of looking at a series of struggles; and the people who are involved in them do not have to see themselves as being a green movement. So the green movement both exists and does not exist.
Greens see the struggles as interconnected, and as extending far beyond the merely environmental. A Green is an environmentalist who realises that it is necessary to attack the causes and not merely the symptoms. And the causes of the constantly renewed attacks on the environment, no matter how many reforms are implemented within the system, lie in the massive scale of industry and government, the power blocs and power struggles, the hierarchies and bureaucracies, the uniformity and rigidity of the ideas in common circulation; the drive of man (and I mean man) to dominate nature and to dominate woman, the drive of heterosexual man to dominate homosexual; the drive to accumulate property and to practise power-play and aggression and war in order to keep it and expand it.
So a Green has to take up these other causes and bring them into the movement: to work for peace, to be with the individual and the powerless and the small group against the big battalions, to challenge the power of the manager and the employer and the multinational, to seize limited autonomy from the market by forming co-operatives and LETS systems, to participate in the women's organisations and the gay organisations and the civil liberties organisations.
And these organisations should also be seen as part of the green movement. To work in one of them is as valuable for the green cause as to work in an environmental organisation. So the Green Party must have frequent contact with their activists, it must see them as a political base, it must see itself as a political voice for their demands. Of course, they may not see themselves as part of the Green Movement, but that doesn't matter; if their supporters see the Green Party articulating their demands, a green consciousness will spread. Party and movement will reinforce each other and things will move forward. It is the progress made in implementing the agenda which is important, not the progress of the Party.
But there is yet another green movement out there, almost totally devoid of organisational form. It is the movement made up of all those atomised individuals who question their lifestyles and try to change them to some degree, who look for green products when they are shopping, who are conscientious about recycling their rubbish, who watch television programmes and talk about them to their children or their neighbours or their workmates.
Finally, and most important of all, the green movement is important. The work that the Green Party does is necessary: to spread ideas, to offer an electoral alternative, to influence government decisions, to take at least sometimes a share in government and accomplish what reforms can be accomplished from that level. But politics is deceptive to those who participate, and political activism requires a particular type of personality. The Party is not the General Staff of the movement, and must not behave as if it is. The world will be greened if people both change their own lives and band together to change it collectively.
John Goodwillie is the author of Colours in the rainbow: ecology, socialism and Ireland
An Caorthann (The Rowan Tree)
Irish green-alternative magazine
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