Green the Vote
Richard Manning profiles the Democratic officeholders in Western states who are leading the fight for progressive environmental policies [“Political Climbers,” Report, August]. Manning believes that a pro-conservation agenda will continue to produce political and economic dividends in purple states such as Colorado and New Mexico, and occasionally even in red states such as Montana and Wyoming. Environmentalism appeals to the increasingly nonnative and well-educated population in such places — people who were drawn to the West for its landscapes and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Consequently, Manning writes, it is now possible for Democrats to build winning coalitions for state-level offices that were historically less attainable for them than the presidency.
I agree that the dual impact of an educated electorate and the economic value of national parks has been crucial to the success enjoyed by Democratic candidates in recent years. But Manning is too quick to dismiss identity politics and interest groups as potent forces in local and statewide elections.
Candidates in Western states must also pay attention to extractive energy, mining, logging, and ranching interests that are economically important to rural communities. While the “lords of yesterday” — a phrase coined by Charles Wilkinson at the University of Colorado — have hit hard times and no longer have much political clout in this era of “post-cowboy economics,” it is still necessary for both Democrats and Republicans to seek some sort of balance between the policy preferences of urban and rural constituencies.
Professor of Political Science, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colo.
Manning’s timely travelogue of conservation politics in the West should give hope to all those who love our public lands. Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of Montana, has called America’s public lands “great equalizers,” where “all citizens can escape to hunt, fish, and hike,” and recent elections in Colorado, Montana, and Utah support his claim that conservation has become a key force driving votes toward Democratic candidates.
At least one party should take advantage of Americans’ desire to preserve large pieces of land in a more natural state. The Democrats are presently in need of a good mountain to climb, and the West just happens to offer an abundance of them.
Conservation of public land is fast becoming a marker of political tribe like gun control or abortion rights. Witness the bumper-sticker wars in today’s West: On the doors of compact S.U.V.’s, you can see the green-and-brown emblem of the National Park Service and the bright logos of outdoor-gear companies; on the rear windows of American pickups you can see advertisements with mantras like coal. guns. freedom.
Political change in the much-abused West is good. By now, turn-of-the-century boomer economics and pioneer ideals have had their moment. They no longer fit the times. Manning predicts an economic renaissance in the West — this one green and high-tech — that will not despoil the land, public or otherwise. But there are dangers in such a lopsided dynamic. Even a healthy transition may be resisted and reviled if it remains the province of one political party.
Todd A. Wildermuth
Director, Environmental Law Program, University of Washington School of Law
Garret Keizer’s essay on the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 reveals that the history of the wage-earning classes and their struggles remains as relevant as ever [“Labor’s Schoolhouse,” Miscellany, July].
“Big Bill” Haywood, one of the strike’s leaders, grew up amid the hard-rock mines of the West. Haywood had a reputation for being a brawling giant; he claimed his ancestors were pirates, puritans, or both. He was also a superb administrator, an effective labor organizer, a lover of poetry, and an incurable romantic with a utopian bent.
When Haywood appeared before the federal Commission on Industrial Relations in 1915 to discuss the future of the labor movement, he said: “I have had a dream of a new society . . . in which there will be no struggle between capital and labor, in which every man will have free access to the land and means of production and livelihood. There will be no government, no states, as we know them now. Congress will be made up not of lawyers and preachers but of experts from all branches of industry, come together for the good of all the people.” So, in fact, the child in Keizer’s essay who stands on the balcony of the Botto House — the unofficial home of the strike — and recites the words “I have a dream” may not have been giving the “wrong speech” in the “wrong era.”
I hope that remembering labor leaders such as Haywood, Hubert Harrison, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn will demonstrate to younger readers that there was once such a thing as American socialism. Bernie Sanders has advocated effectively for the Danish model of democratic socialism, but I’d like to think it’s possible that we are heading toward a resurgence of our own, American brand.
J. P. Kenna
I grew up in Haledon, New Jersey, and knew nothing about the 1913 strike until I was in graduate school. My grandfather was a ribbon weaver, so I asked my grandmother about it. Her response was quite pragmatic: “Pa was out of work for six months.” She was proud they had managed to stay out of debt. It wasn’t until years later that I Iearned about and visited the Botto House.