Hamburg is a former member of the U.S.
Congress, where he authored the Headwaters Forest Act, a
bill that passed the House overwhelmingly. In 1998, he was the Green
Party candidate for Governor of California. He is currently the
Executive Director of VOTE
(Voice of The Environment), a foundation dedicated to creating a
progressive political coalition that can challenge the current two-party
Dan posted this
article on his VOTE website on August 18, 2001.
A Personal Journey
must understand the time you are in. It is not like it was
in the eighties,
seventies, sixties, or the fifties. This is a very, very
dark and difficult time.
And people are being murdered by the thousands every week.
The situation on earth must change or you and future generations
are not even going to get a chance at God-Realization.
1992 was an exciting year for
me. In June, I received a master's degree in philosophy and
religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS).
The subject of my thesis was Kairos as in the biblical words of
Jesus, "The Kairos (time) is at hand." By the end of the year, I
was a congressman-elect, ready to join a new administration and
an invigorated Congress in doing the work that I felt had been neglected
during "the 12 dark years" of Reagan-Bush.
I suppose the
understanding that politics must be imbued with spirituality began
when I was very young. One of my earliest memories, growing up in
St. Louis, was of my aunt purposefully taking me for a ride in her
big white Buick Roadmaster through the slums of south St. Louis.
Without understanding anything about how things came to be as they
were, I knew things were wrong. As I grew older, I looked for answers
to my questions within the reform Jewish congregation of my parents.
I even studied Hebrew, learned to read Torah, and spoke several
times with our rabbi about my increasing anxiety. I felt there had
to be some connection between the injustice I saw around me and
all the talk about God. But I couldn't find it.
My parents were
liberal Democrats. The only thing my dad loved more than politics
was the St. Louis Cardinals. He and my mom worked in both the Adlai
Stevenson campaigns in the 1950s. John F. Kennedy was a huge hero
in our family and when he was assassinated, there were not a dry
eye in our home. When Lyndon Johnson ran for president in 1964,
I participated in my first demonstration. Barry Goldwater, the Republican
candidate for president, was speaking in St. Louis and a group of
us from the high school Democratic Club picketed the speech. I was
a political activist at fifteen.
When I entered
Stanford in 1966, I had no idea of a career. To my surprise and
delight, handling the academic part was challenging but manageable.
I still had time to follow the more interesting activities on campus,
especially the antiwar movement. About a month after I started school,
student body president David Harris was accosted during an evening
walk on campus. Several students held him down while another shaved
off his long hair. This was done in retribution for Harris's stand
against the participation of Stanford in the US war machine. I was
appalled and disgusted. My childhood assumptions were being shaken
to the core.
my freshman year, I had decided to major in religious studies. I
was also strongly drawn to politics on campus, and began participating
regularly in demonstrations, but my heart was in trying to understand
what people believe and how that drives their actions. I remember
being very attracted to the idea, as described by Paul Tillich,
that religion is about "ultimate concern." I wanted to know what
it was that moves people at their deepest level. What I really wanted
to know, of course, is what moved me.
One fine spring
day that year I was lounging in the California sun when I learned
that my favorite professor, Presbyterian theologian Robert McAfee
Brown, had been arrested and jailed for blocking the entry doors
at the Alameda County induction center. I immediately understood
what had been missing in the adults I had met to that time in my
to risk, the willingness to put one's own person in danger for the
sake of those who are suffering pain and injustice.
I became progressively
more active in radical politics during my undergraduate years. I
got to the point where I loved standing at the microphone, exhorting
my fellow students to ever greater acts of defiance and anger. At
one point, in the heat of a demonstration, I joined a friend in
ransacking the campus ROTC building. As I became more of a radical,
my interest in religious matters waned. It seemed too painfully
slow to explore religion while the whole world was on fire. My last
gasp at completing a degree in religious studies was a rejected
proposal to write my senior thesis on the subject of Jesus as a
When the 60s
revolution failed to materialize, I felt devastated and deeply confused.
Luckily, a group of friends from Stanford were starting an alternative
school in Mendocino County and invited me to join as a teacher and
community member. There I met my soon-to-be wife Carrie and three
children. For the first time in my life, I learned practical skills
like car repair, carpentry, and gardening. It seemed to me that
with this small, cooperative community we were creating a model
that was, if less dramatic, at least more attainable than the sweeping
revolution of my dreams.
After four years
at Mariposa School, we decided to move our family to the nearby
town of Ukiah. With quite a bit of prodding from Carrie, I submitted
the necessary papers to run for City Council. Though new in town,
I did very well with a platform of responsible growth, affordable
housing, small business, and environmental protection. My slogan,
borrowed from the dollar bill, was "Out of Many One" (e pluribus
unum) which was also a takeoff on the large number of candidates
in the race (14 for 3 seats). But the meaning of the slogan had
its spiritual dimension —
from the separate citizens that make up the body politic, a unity
can emerge that is greater than the parts.
Although I did
well, I didn't win a council seat. A few months later, however,
I was nominated for a seat on the city Planning Commission where
I served for four years. I took the work very seriously and became
quite interested in how good land-use planning could help to shape
a good community. By 1980, I was ready for a run for the Board of
Supervisors, a race I won in a squeaker over a very appealing, articulate,
and well-entrenched woman who was chairperson of the county Republican
party. The first question I took after the returns came in was from
a right-wing radio station owner named Ted Storck. He stuck a mike
in my face and asked with a smirk, "Dan, how does it feel to be
elected supervisor on the same day Ronald Reagan is elected president?"
It felt awful. I remembered how I had vowed to leave the country
if Reagan ever made it to the White House.
I was elected, the opposition, which had painted me as some bizarre
representative of the "alternate life-style" movement and "anti-growth"
attempted to recall me from office. It was a time of real trial
for me. I was 33 years old, with a wife and four children, and a
mortgage. But beyond that, to be recalled from office would likely
be the end of my political career.
It was a truly
inspired campaign, even better than the one that had resulted in
my first winning the seat. The recall election became the dominant
issue in the county and people from all over the county responded.
This was a battle for our ideals, political and even spiritual.
We were trying to create a more inclusive, more idealistic politics
and the "good old boys" were miffed. We raised more money, all in
small donations, than we could figure out how to use. In the end,
the recall attempt failed by a large margin, leaving me, and our
ideas for change, much stronger than before.
As a supervisor,
I was one of five elected officials responsible for the governance
of a large (the size of Delaware), sparsely populated (roughly 75,000)
county. I took advantage of my "bully pulpit" to speak and write
about the kind of county I envisioned. Economic self-reliance, communities
where no one is allowed to go without basic necessities, stewardship
of the environment —
things seemed so basic and obvious to me but my positions were often
not in synch with the board majority. I knew that I could run unopposed
for a second term but also knew that I would likely remain in a
minority position, unable to implement the programs I had been advocating.
So, after four years in office, with Carrie's urging, I decided
to make a move.
We moved to
rural south China, where we co-founded a cultural study program
in the town of Taishan in the Pearl River delta. Over the next six
years, we hosted groups from the US, Germany, Switzerland and New
Zealand who wanted to have a "real" experience of China. We lived
simply in a traditionally built inn amidst tea, bamboo and lychee
groves. The south China climate grew enormous plants and flowers
of all kinds, with insects and butterflies to match. The monsoons
of late summer brought wind and rain so intense that we would listen
to it and think the world was being washed away.
Once we had
settled in, I began to get ideas of bringing our friends over. I
wanted my carpenter friend Billy to come over and help with expanding
our inn for the increasing numbers of students we anticipated. I
wanted my dentist friend Jack, who visited our site, to stay and
help out at one of the local clinics. I had visions of founding
a permanent cross-cultural community in Taishan that would create
a model and might help lead the way to greater understanding between
I paid scant
attention to American politics during those years. It was a huge
relief to be out of the US while Reagan was in office. Whenever
I picked up an Asian edition of Time magazine, or listened to the
news on short-wave, I felt deeply angered by what was going on —
huge military buildup, tax breaks for the rich, and what seemed
to be the complicity of the Democrats in allowing the Republicans
to have their way. Reagan's popularity seemed to me based on the
sublime ignorance of the American people, on an amazing capacity
to be deluded by a cue-card reading charlatan.
By late 1986,
we had decided it was time to head back home and confine our subsequent
trips to summers. I took a job as director of a bicounty community
action agency which acted as an umbrella for programs to assist
low-income folks and their children. It was a good job with a fine
group of employees, but I quickly became dissatisfied with the demands
of administration. I wasn't particularly good at it either. Again,
I had that confused "What am I doing with my life?" feeling. I began
to feel depressed and began psychotherapy just so I could hang on
at work and home.
Then, as has
happened over and over in my life, Carrie came to the rescue by
encouraging me to go back to graduate school. I enrolled at CIIS
where I felt I could "pick up where I had left off" when I bombed
out of the religious studies program at Stanford. I was forty years
old. I had tried, in many different ways, to find that confluence
of work and spirit that seemed to me to be the only really satisfactory
way to live. I didn't feel that I had failed, but only that I had
to go deeper.
I studied Tibetan
Buddhism, Taoism, hermaneutical phenomenology, and Chinese. I worked
as a typesetter while Carrie worked as an accompanist. With that,
plus my student loans, we got by. When it came time to write my
thesis, I decided it was time to get in touch with my old religious
studies professor and mentor, Dr. Robert McAfee Brown.
Brown was editing
a book called Kairos:
Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church. He explained to
me that the ancient Greeks had two words for time — chronos
and Kairos. Chronos refers to chronological time, time as measured
by our human-made clocks. Kairos, however, refers to a transcendent
dimension in which God, in conjunction with human beings who accurately
read "the signs of the times," changes the course of history.
When I was elected
to Congress in November of 1992, my mind was literally swimming
with these ideas. Could this be a Kairos? What would it take to
create the critical mass of human energy and consciousness that
could transform the world, or at least get that process underway?
With great expectations, we packed up our station wagon and headed
east to the Capitol.
Part of "freshman
orientation" for Democrats in 1992 was a three-day symposium at
the JFK School of Government at Harvard. We were flown down to Boston
on Air Force planes, then shuttled to the school on plush buses
with motorcycle police flanking us. It all seemed pretty overdone.
I could imagine the people watching us from the sidewalks or in
their cars being irritated by all the hoopla. Had I been elected
to the Soviet Politburo or the US Congress?
Most of the
workshops at Harvard I found uninspiring. I felt that we were being
indoctrinated rather than informed. I was amazed that some of the
speakers were people from the outgoing Bush administration. Even
the new Clintonites seemed cautious and conservative. One night,
however, each of the 63 newly elected Democrats had a chance to
stand briefly and tell their story about why they had wanted to
run for Congress. I was delighted to hear so many stories about
the civil rights and antiwar movements, environmental struggles
and the like. Even if the challenges would be great, this seemed
to be a group of people that could make positive things happen.
During the two
years I served in Congress, I met many people who were hard-working,
intelligent, and eager to improve the situation of the country.
I was befriended by people like John Lewis, congressman from Georgia,
who had marched with Martin Luther King. I sat in Senator Howard
Metzenbaum's office and was honored when he told me that he felt
all right about retiring since he was leaving things to "young guys
like you." I even discussed the fate of old-growth redwoods across
the desk from President Clinton while Air Force One took us across
But my two years
in Washington also convinced me that the deep changes that the country,
and the world, need will not come from government, at least not
from the US government which happens to be by far the most powerful
on earth. One reason, obvious to most everyone by now, is the fact
that the government is increasingly subservient to the corporate
and other large financial interests that fund it. That's why we
don't have universal health care, a living wage, first-rate education,
solar energy and many other things that would serve the public interest.
an even more serious problem is the lack of a vision that encompasses
the spiritual. There is a chaplain who opens each session with a
non-denominational prayer, a rather rote exercise that gets about
as much deep attention as the playing of the national anthem at
ball games. I joined a group called the Faith and Politics Institute
and met weekly with a small group of Democrats who were interested
in the faith aspects of their legislative work. While these decent
men (there were no women) were almost obsessed with doing good,
they were mostly stuck in patterns of patriotism, morality, and
the teachings of their various churches.
While many well-intentioned
men and women serve in Washington, and in governments across the
country, few seem to be willing to consider that our overall direction
as a nation and a planet is destructive and even life-threatening.
Nor do they begin to consider that we need a radical rethinking
of what this human enterprise is really about at its most fundamental
level. What is the purpose of human life? Are we basically homo
economicus, whose main purpose is to produce and consume, fending
off scarcity while attempting to maintain public morality? Or are
we more than that —
spiritual beings living in the physical plane? What should be our
relationship with the natural world? Is the natural world more than
"resources" to feed the maw of industry and the greed of consumers?
Or is the creation itself divinely inspired? What should be our
relationship to God, Oneness, Reality, or whatever term best describes
for each of us that which is sacred, real, true? Is it enough to
put in your time at church or synagogue, or is there something really
esoteric going on here, something that we need to consider at the
deepest levels of our discriminative intellects and our hearts?
In the election
of 1994, I lost my congressional seat in a bitter election. It was
a horrible campaign, filled with lies and attacks. I remember one
day I was holding a forum on health care in Santa Rosa when a reporter
asked my reaction to the fact that several high-ranking Republican
leaders were in the southern part of my district assaulting my record
and character. While I knew this kind of thing went on, I was still
appalled. "What ever happened to professional courtesy?" I ventured
rather weakly. I had pledged to myself, after a nasty 1992 campaign,
to refuse to play gutter politics. I would disagree with my opponent's
positions but I would not attack his beliefs or his person. This
did not turn out to be a winning strategy in a year in which Democrats
across the country were in retreat from Newt Gingrich's "Contract
the loss, having seen my personal dreams and my hopes for the country
so quickly dissipated, I took a job working as a political consultant
to the new provincial governments of South Africa. At first, South
African politics were a fascinating diversion. The real power of
newly elected president Nelson Mandela dwarfed anything I had seen
in Washington, DC. Mandela embodies the dignity, humor, courage,
and intellect that is very rare in the world today.
I will never
forget a day that we decided to attend a concert in the township
of Soweto, just outside Johannesburg. There had been rumors that
civil disturbances might occur because of tensions between the supporters
of Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Mandela. When we arrived
and looked up at the stage where the musicians were to perform,
there was the president, sitting calmly in a folding chair. At one
point, he got up and briefly addressed the crowd of nearly 50,000.
Then he went back to his chair and sat down. He remained there throughout
the concert, enjoying the great music, without bodyguards. No violence
of South Africa were as alive as US politics seemed dead. The people
were awakening to issues that had been squashed during five decades
of official apartheid. Capital punishment was abolished. Women's
reproductive rights were affirmed. Programs were put into place
to integrate schools and give preferences to minority groups whose
economic rights had been denied for so long. There was a broad awakening
to environmental problems and the need to more closely examine new
industrial facilities and other developments. Military spending
was being sharply scrutinized. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission
was established to bring to the light of day the atrocities of the
past, while leaving open the opportunity for contrition.
But by the time
we left South Africa at the end of 1995, I again felt that I was
at a dead end. The overwhelming poverty suffered by the vast majority
of South Africans had deadened my spirits. The lingering racism,
the crises in drugs, AIDs, street crime, organized crime, depressed
me. I couldn't stop thinking that the only way South Africa would
be allowed to come into "the modern world" was to sell itself out
even further to multinational corporate interests (who were staying
out of the country for reasons including the prevalence of unionized
labor). And I couldn't make myself stop thinking about the lost
opportunities of my experience in Congress.
home. I got a job managing the campaign of a friend who was running
for county supervisor in neighboring Sonoma County. My family, and
especially my four children and grandchild helped me to get back
on a better emotional keel. I began to feel optimistic again, for
the first time in several years.
By 1996, the
political campaign I'd worked on was won and I was hired to be executive
director of a nonprofit called Voice of the Environment. We helped
to lead the fight to save ancient redwoods of Headwaters Forest,
to end commercial logging on public lands, to save the Mojave Desert
from having radioactive waste dumped on ground sacred to the native
Americans who still live there. During this same period of time,
I left the Democratic Party and became a Green.
The four ideological
pillars of the Green Party —
justice, environmental wisdom, nonviolence, and grassroots democracy
rooted in a spiritual understanding of our purpose here on the planet.
The party advocates smaller-scale, community-based economics, the
ascendance of feminine qualities like cooperation and nurturance
over the patriarchal values that tend to dominate our current society,
and respect for diversity in both the human and the non-human world.
Greens have also adopted the ancient wisdom of the indigenous people
of this continent, the wisdom that decisions should always be made
with "the seventh generation" in mind. This ethic would rule out
our perilous experiments in nuclear power, genetic modification
of organisms, proliferation of toxics, and many other things that
exemplify our death-inviting hubris.
In 1998, I ran
for governor of California as a Green candidate in 1998. It was
one of the more invigorating experiences in my life. I felt totally
and completely free to state my case for major reprioritization
in a state that builds prisons instead of universities, where a
quarter of our children grow up in poverty, where our rivers are
polluted and without fish and our forests are severely overcut.
I'm now working with the Ralph Nader for president campaign, hoping
that this effort will shake up the two-party corporate-controlled
"duopoly" and present a new and whole electoral alternative to the
true change that you must create is not principally in the
(or in the parentlike world of competitive egos) but in
the ordinary, daily associa-
tions between yourself and other human beings.
Despite my strong
support for Nader and the Greens, and my enthusiasm about the new
wave of social and environmental activism evidenced in Seattle and
elsewhere, I no longer believe that politics can ever lead us to
any degree of a utopia. It is not as if politics and spirituality
stand shoulder to shoulder, like a team of horses pulling the wagon
of the world ever upward and onward. At its best, politics is a
tool which can make it possible for human beings to achieve a reasonable
degree of physical health and security. With these matters out of
the way, each individual can utilize her talents and intuitions
to find peace, and perhaps to experience the Divine Reality of Oneness
that spiritual leaders from Lao Tzu to Jesus to Adi Da Samraj have
politics bring us little satisfaction. While politics may attempt
to ameliorate a few of the worst horrors, it simultaneously creates
others. For example, every politician extols the benefits of economic
growth. Yet we know that such growth has much to do with destroying
our environment. Politics has proven itself to be woefully inadequate
in the advancement of even the most basic forms of justice or the
maintainence of peace domestically and globally. The solution to
this problem is not simply better politics, it is a different politics,
a far more "radical" politics than any that has been advanced for
hundreds of years.
we know it is the necessary creation of bureaucratic, industrial
civilization. This politics is based on the fulfillment of the individual
ego through the exercise of various "rights" which are "protected"
by the State. A new politics, in contrast, must be based on the
transcendence of egoity through "intelligent consciousness." This
can occur best in the context of intimate, cooperative community
with other human beings. As for the role of the State,
its negative and parentlike powers become obsolete through
[it] will be obliged to beome the simple instrument of the
responsible agreements of the people.
The human enterprise
is a difficult one. Even those of us fortunate enough to be materially
secure know that life is not easy. We may have times when "things
are going well" and we feel rather satisfied. But there is always
that fear lurking in our minds. Fear that our good fortune may end.
Fear that something can always go wrong. Ultimately, fear that no
matter how good we might feel in any particular moment, it is impermanent.
Each of us will die.
are "built in" to our existence on this material plane. Other than
a few Spiritual Adepts who can help guide us to a deeper consideration
of the Divine, most of us cannot experience sustained bliss or even
sustained peace of mind. But we can use politics to advance the
great cause of human justice and thereby take a huge load off our
minds and hearts, and allow ourselves the space for more creative,
or deeper pursuits.
throughout history have taught that within the heart of every living
being is the Divine. If this is true, then our most important work
must be turning toward the Divine, toward "non-conditional Reality."
The causes of global peace, human freedom, and human well-being
depend on an individual and a collective movement in this direction.
As the Spiritual Teacher Adi Da points out,
is a matter of converting the mind and the life and the
entire human collective
to a right understanding of conditionally manifested reality
(which is a great unity) and to a right (and truly religious,
and truly Spiritual) submission to Ultimate Reality (Which
The new politics
that grows out of this conversion will be radical in the best sense
of the word. It will be a politics based upon intimate, cooperative
association among human beings. It will be a politics based on the
integrity of the individual, then extends outward to the community
and even the State. It will be a politics that recognizes as its
first priority spiritual realization rather material aggrandizement.
It will be a politics based not on scarcity (fear) but on plenty
(love). In the words of Adi Da Samraj,
is the key to this necessary change. Love is self-surrendering,
self-forgetting, and, ultimately, self-transcending participation
in the Indivisible Oneness and Wholeness and Singleness
That Is Real God, and Real Truth,
and Reality Itself.
I'm not giving
up on my political work. In fact, I'm looking forward to standing
in for Ralph Nader in a couple of debates this fall. I enjoy working
with my colleagues on issues ranging from preserving old-growth
forests to ending the inane and destructive "war on drugs." But
I now realize that there is a truer politics that portends a new
world that is trying to come into being. This politics, in which
"the individual's voice and experience can be directly heard and
sympathetically felt," must be experienced on a daily basis in intimate,
cooperative community. This is the radical politics of true freedom.
This is the politics that will reshape the world.