Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

To Greener Pastures

February 15, 2010 · 3 Comments

You wouldn’t think it’d be so hard to volunteer your time to people. And yet, I was surprisingly difficult to sell my labor to people.  I only begin this post, which will eventually be about what I am doing for the HUM 310, with what didn’t work because it made me really step back and think. We’re all humanities at a liberal arts college, which means we aren’t preparing for a specific job, not really. We’re preparing how to think and know how to adapt at a specific job. That is a liberal arts education’s strength and weakness. I started out as an IR major and then switched over to Anthropology because I wanted to work more on a humanistic level. Then I found Biological Anthropology and forensics and that whole world, and I was certain that was what I wanted to do. But several failed internship opportunities later, I’m studying Art History at a university in England with barely any experience beyond various odd jobs I’ve picked up to pay expenses. And it freaks me out a little bit. Senior year is rapidly approaching and with it the “real world.”

Recently Adrian Ramsay spoke to my British Politics class, and I really connected with what he was saying — be it out of desperation or genuine interest, I am still not sure. Adrian Ramsay is the leader of Norwich South’s Green Party Councilors, and he is currently running for an MP position. The idea of a third party getting a national seat is a bit baffling for us State-siders in our two party dominated world. In the States, a third party is nothing more than an annoyance that reminds democrats that they’ll lose votes if they don’t at least make shout-outs. But when I contacted the Norwich Green Party and got a chance to talk with its members, it seemed like there was actually a chance to make a difference. I talked to them about my research paper. They were eager to help and even a bit curious.  After spending two years studying foreign policy and macro-systems, I was surprisingly relieving to find myself amongst a grass roots party system. Even in the rain and the sleet, these were people that were passionate about this and as we huddled around the kitchen eating vegan stew, everyone talked about how far they had travelled just to support an ideal and a man. I have no intention of soap boxing green politics. Rather, I have been given an opportunity to combine ethnographic work and my lost love of politics. If only there were some bones to study right? It was just so amazing to see politics on a personal level: no tv, no radio, just the man running for politics serving sandwiches and stew in his kitchen. Further, after all the work was done, the group all went out to eat Indian food in Norwich like a big, happy green family. I sadly didn’t bring any green, so I had to head home on the bus. I feel as though seeing them interact outside of the political work area is a critical aspect of how they interact with the community as a whole, and I hope to observe this next chance I get.

I was asked to go out with two other volunteers and go door to door and discuss green politics with people, test the waters as to a general base of support.  The two guys I went out with were more interested in the political realm than the environmental one, which I thought was interesting, and they did not live in the Norwich area. My Watching the English sense was tingling. The thought of intruding in on these people and asking them such personal questions seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, yet it wasn’t. I even spoke with a woman about Green Politics with moderate success. People were eager to speak with us and talk about how they wanted local politics to change. It was only when we switched over to the national elections that people became uneasy. There is a large percentage of civil servants in Norwich, and they are scared. Scared of losing their jobs to a Tory government. I don’t blame them but at the same time, one cannot wallow a self-induced lack of efficacy. Don’t say you want to vote green, but vote Labor instead of green simply based on a fear. 

The Green Party also brings up an interesting question: is it really an anti-party anymore? Many of the people I have spoken with have mentioned that it is an anti-party. Yet the Green Party operates within the set political system, in an attempt to change it from the inside. The Green Party has become significantly more efficient since its days in the early seventies, when it was nothing more than an interest group.

The majority of people I spoke with weren’t actually from the Norwich South area and would not be able to vote for Adrian. This seemed like an initial flaw in my research, yet it speaks to what Norwich represents to the greater Norfolk area. Norwich was once the second largest city in England, and it still commands immense cultural respect from the areas around it. Were the green party to win a seat here, it would most likely help to ignite a chain reaction. Each person counts, each person matters. But at the end of the day, I was also left with questions.

The Greens did not even have a leader up until recently, and yet it is a rapidly growing party. Does this speak to a shifting trend in politics, one that vears away from party hierarchy and arms-length membership? Why is the green party replacing labor seats? What does this say about the state of the local and national political structure and the potential cultural changes that are occurring within Norwich?

I find it rather corny to end with questions that I have not found the answers for yet, so I’m going to end with something else I observed in Norwich: doorways.  Doorways in Norwich are fascinating. No one will contest that Norwich Cathedrals are stylistically beautiful. Even the buildings in the town vary from Edwardian, and what they call Victorian (do not get me started on that one). I am not saying every house is like that, there were definitely exceptions, but for the most part the houses were remarkably practical: single face, hints of neoclassical, maybe even a little bit of Elizabethan. From my understanding this has to do with bombings during WWII and population explosions, but I’ll have to do more research. My point is, they aren’t the prettiest of houses. The doors, however, have had an immense amount of time put into them. You can find columns, pilasters, intricate ivy workings and arches practically stolen from Gothic cathedrals. They were beautiful. As we have discussed, this is more than likely an expression of “castle-envy” and an attempt at blurring the lines between country house and house. There is a similar symptom in America, although we normally project this insecurity onto our modes of transportation or a TV, rather than a housing fixture. The English see land as the most important symbol of wealth, dating back to the vassal system. I’m not going on a communist rant, but why do we pick a much more nomadic, tangible and less subtle means of showing our cultural capital? And I end on a question anyway.


Categories: Andrew R
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3 responses so far ↓

  •   kstaab77 // Feb 19th 2010 at 13:10

    First off, I found this really interesting to read, but I was a bit curious about something you said. You called the Green Party a grass-roots organization, but also argued that if the Greens were to win a seat in Norwich, other parts of the country would take notice and be influenced by this. Although I know that the definition of a grass-roots party is one that is driven by the wants and needs of their community, you never really stated what the party’s campaign is for Norwich. I guess my question in all of this rambling is if the Green Party is truly grass-roots, how can they expect the wants and needs of Norwich to be the same as another part of the country? (I know that this is more of a political question than one about your experience – sorry!)

  •   russella // Feb 20th 2010 at 10:08

    I’ll try not to get up on a soap box here, while still answering your question. The Green Party initially started out as a very decentralized lobbyist-like group called PEOPLE Party in 1972. It didn’t actually have a “leader” until very recently. The Green Party in England is not nearly as organized as its European sister organization, yet I feel that plays well with the English culture. The party as a whole helps each other, but they are allowed a significant degree of independence also.

    When I said that a victory in Norwich would lead to a paradigm shift, I meant that it would allow people to see that voting with their beliefs was no longer only possible on a local level but also in the general elections. That was the biggest problem I observed really: people thinking that they had to vote Labour or Tory for their vote to matter at all. A victory in Norwich South might galvinize the electoral support necessary to win elsewhere.

    Because of its more decentralized (albeit not anti-party) nature, it has the flexibility of addressing issues on a very local and interpersonal level. The Green Party is simply looking to find greener, more economically viable solutions to the same problems everyone else is trying to figure out. Much of their platform is focused around more efficient transportation, social welfare and more affordable energy. These goals are fairly universal yet because of the nature of the Green Party, they are able to address these issues in area-specific ways.

    I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I hope it helped.

  •   Karl // Feb 22nd 2010 at 08:43

    Sounds like you had a good experience, Andrew. You are right to argue that the UK (and US) Greens have a ways to go to catch up to the power of the European counterparts. I have often been fascinated with the Greens because their appeal should be nearly universal (use resources more efficiently and leave behind a planet that future generations can enjoy), but they don’t catch on at the national level. I think your observation about the fear of not voting for one of the big 2 (either in the UK or US) is spot on. Greens do better on a local level because their policies seem more tangible locally. How do you “scale up” the Green platform to the national level without creating a vast amount of change? And despite recent political rhetoric, people do not like change and the uncertainty (and certainly not the unintended consequences) that come with it.
    As for doors: I hope you get to take a look at back gardens too. It seems to me that this is where all the DYI effort goes.

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