Sure you want to jump into that cesspool?"
I've heard countless variations of the same question in recent months, as the possibility of running for Congress has become more real. With all the big-money hit pieces and mud fights that pass for "politics" these days, no wonder so many people see election campaigns as little more than depravity masquerading as democracy.
But there are lives in the balance, near and far, from the North Bay to Afghanistan. A list of what's at stake would be endless: the rights of workers, the ecology of rivers and the injustices of a healthcare system largely run for corporate profit.
And with the U.S. military now spending more than $2 billion every day, grim results of what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the madness of military" are all around us. Public schools hold bake sales while Pentagon spending continues to go through the roof.
At a time when budget cuts are having dire effects on our own communities, I think of the distorted priorities that I saw in 2009 during a visit to Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world. That nation, in desperate need, does not need Uncle Sam to escalate warfare.
Here at home, an upsurge of hope peaked a couple of years ago with the inauguration of President Obama. Since then, we've come back to earth—which, in the long run, is where we should be—with feet on the ground and eyes on the horizon. Pragmatism and idealism can be a very good match.
The push for green sustainability, the grassroots efforts to reduce carbon footprints near and far, the strivings for energy efficiency and conservation are all occurring at a time of growing realization that life on this planet is under threat.
The current Zeitgeist is reflecting the worst and best of times. Afflictions are easy to spot. Yet vital countertrends, pushing back against gloom, are widespread. A greening of America has got to include a greening of American politics.
On the national stage, a few elected leaders have made a start in that direction.
For 18 years, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey has represented the North Bay as a tireless advocate for progressive change. In the process, the consistency of her antiwar voice on Capitol Hill has been extraordinary. Now she's saying publicly that she might not run for reelection in 2012.
After decades of activism for social and political change, I've come to believe that it's not enough to "speak truth to power." We also need to speak truth about power, and do what we can to end its misuse.
I remember, as a teenager, marveling at the first Earth Day. Four decades later, I had the bittersweet experience of co-authoring last fall's report from the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay, sketching out a range of grim problems in our midst, but also offering some truly viable solutions.
It's not hard to make a case that modern politics in the United States is a fetid cesspool. But that's only part of the story. What we call politics is a vast realm that may determine how, or even whether, the next generations of the human species will be able to survive.
Yes, corporate money and mean-spirited attacks have polluted the electoral pond. But sometimes we need to hold our noses and jump right in.
So, if Lynn Woolsey decides to retire, I will run for Congress. This week, I'm announcing the launch of a federal exploratory committee (www.normansolomonexploratory.com). I continue to believe that idealism and pragmatism can get along just fine. And sometimes, they can even win an election on behalf of a progressive future.
Norman Solomon is the author of many books including 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.' He is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America.