The greens are getting pounded politically, losing almost every national battle they fight, including the new energy bill. Today, on the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, they can't even beat George Bush at the PR game.
Thirty-five years ago 20 million Americans demonstrated, rallied, teach-in'd, lobbied, danced and partied for a healthy, ecologically sound planet on the very first Earth Day. This unprecedented and massive grassroots mobilization was followed by a flurry of green political reforms (supported by many Republicans), from the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency to the first Environmental Impact Statements and the first national clean air and clean water laws. Now, even though surveys show enviromentalism is more widespread and popular than ever, with citizens donating hundreds of millions of dollars each year to Washington DC's big green groups, the movement is a political basket case.
Today's big Earth Day greenwashing winner is President Bush, arguably the most anti-environmental president in history. He presides over a Republican Party determined to dismantle environmental regulations and enact corporate boondoggles like the energy bill that just passed the House of Representatives, a massive $8 billion give-away to corporate polluters. Yet Bush's Earth Day photo-op, a visit to Great Smoky Park, is getting great press, despite Mother Nature's interference that forced it to move to an airport hanger.
Meanwhile, the big green groups are looking for image help from George Lakoff, the California professor who has emerged as a PR guru for progressives. Maybe instead of PR advice the greens need political advice. After all, here is a movement with hundreds of millions of dollars, whose goals are supported by a majority of Americans, millions of whom give passionately and generously of their own time and money to the cause - and yet it is politically impotent.
It seems like more of a reality problem than an image problem, with the green movement needing to develop new strategies, tactics and organizations to build political power from the grassroots upward. Where is the green Ralph Reed or Grover Norquist? Where are the green funders who will play the roles that Scaife, Bradley, Coors and others have played for decades in the rise to power of anti-environmentalism?
Until those questions are answered, the image re-design won't accomplish much. What began as a formidable popular movement has turned into competing non-profit companies that merely use their grassroots members for fundraising, failing to empower them to become the political force needed for real change. Thirty-five years after the first Earth Day, a revolution is needed in the ranks of the greens. Until the environmental movement rebuilds itself from the grassroots up and demands accountability from the top down, it will continue its losing ways.