Paul Glover: Green Giant

By Walt Shepperd, Syracuse New Times, August 26 2003

In 1991 Paul Glover invented money. "I understood long ago, that when there was a presumed collision between economics and the environment, the environment had to give way," the Ithaca resident and community organizer reflects. "Economics trumped everything and therefore an environmentalist could take center stage in the economic realm by printing money."

He called what he printed "local tender" and assuming it was illegal at the time, he recalls, was part of the fun. Called Ithaca Hours, Glover's bills were a half-inch narrower than traditional American greenbacks, a quarter-inch taller and significantly more colorful. Instead of dead presidents, the images on the bills were of salamanders and babies, beetles and maps of the Cayuga Lake basin. "Thousands of people, 12 years later, have traded millions of dollars worth of this money," he notes now.

The success of Ithaca Hours and his launching of the Ithaca Health Fund, an alternative health-insurance plan available to individuals for $100 a year, and the Whole Ithaca Stock Exchange, a mutual enterprise system for community development, landed Glover on the Green Party's search list for a 2004 presidential candidate. "They sent out a letter to 40 people, inviting us to consider being a candidate," he says. "Only three people responded. I responded not with any expectation to actually become the candidate but to contribute to the primary discussion of the Green message for 2004."

Ralph Nader, the Green candidate in 2000, responded to the call and will probably be favored to carry the party's banner at its national nominating convention in Milwaukee in June, where the decision will be made. But the spirited, sometimes cumbersome, democratic process most American Greens insist upon will probably create meaningful involvement for others who have since expressed interest: Texas lawyer David Cobb, whose down-home, preacher-style speeches can make a political rally feel like a revival; Lorna Salzman from Long Island, a former head of New York Friends of the Earth; and Cynthia McKinney, an African-American who lost her Atlanta congressional seat when the Democrat Leadership Council campaigned against her because she was critical of Israel's treatment of Palestine.

Howie Hawkins, who organized the Syracuse Green Party and co-founded the national party in 1984, lauds Glover's efforts. "He's not that old," Hawkins observes of the 56-year-old Glover, "but he's like an elder statesperson for Ithaca's progressive community."

For Hawkins, the ideal Green ticket for 2004 would be Nader for president and McKinney for vice president. "Those are the ones who can command the public attention," he says. "McKinney is the poster child for what Democrats do to their progressives. Nader has the organizational capacity to raise millions of dollars, which the others can't."

Says Glover of his anticipated contributions to the primary debate, "My emphasis would be on the practical programs which we could help establish at the grass-roots level, within every bio-region, and ultimately nationally, by which basic needs are met. The highest quality of food produced to strengthen small farm economies. To process the maximum of food produced within a region locally. To retain maximum value added from that processing. To decrease our dependence on automobiles to near zero by reviving municipal and urban rail. Providing safe and separate bike lanes and bike paths. By decentralizing the production and need for fossil fuels, shifting to solar, wind and, most particularly, insulation. The best fuel is no fuel. The least need for fuel makes us most secure."

Glover will definitely walk his talk by campaigning without a car. He flirts with the idea of strolling across the country to spread his message to Greens: "I walked from Boston to California in 1978 in 61/2 months. But my likelier intent is to campaign by Amtrak. You can meet most of America from the back of a train. It's urgent for national security that we revive rail systems. I would go by rail, by bus, by bike and on foot."

While some Greens argue that the party should be looking for cross-endorsements with major parties to actually get people elected who will promote the Green agenda, Glover feels strongly about his party's function. "The early role for a third party is the priority of getting new ideas before the public," he insists. "That's historically been the role of third parties. Many things now accepted as normal policy were advanced by third parties: the Socialist Party with welfare, the eight-hour day, Social Security and Medicaid, all proposed by a bunch of radicals who were considered dangerous at the time. Votes for women. When Virginia Woodhouse ran as the first woman candidate for president in 1876 on a platform of votes for women, she was lampooned by {editorial cartoonist} Thomas Nast as the devil. It's an old story. New ideas are always considered dangerous. Everything that we assume is normal around us today was once a wild idea."

Hour Town

Even the vaunted progressive community of Ithaca took some convincing before the idea of Glover's new currency caught on. He recalls, "I began by waving Xerox prototypes at my friends, telling them, 'This is going to be money. We'll trade it with each other. Sign up here.' When I got a list of 90 pioneers, I published their offers and requests, initially a hybrid of a barter and a monetary system."

Based on a guaranteed backing in human activity, Ithaca Hours notes proclaim "Time is Money" and "In Ithaca We Trust." Each note "entitles the bearer to receive {a number of hours or fractions of an hour of} labor or its negotiated value in goods or services." One aim of the program, Glover adds, is to recycle the wealth of the community within the community.

"Initially, it was a tough sell," he says. "But I specialize in selling things people never heard of. Asking for people to give me $100 each for the Health Fund was very difficult for the first few years, but now people are joining readily because for $100 a year, it's a very good deal."

The Ithaca Health Fund now has 600 members who can make claims for health-care delivery, depending on how long they have been a member, for up to $3,000 a year for a growing list of services including broken bones, an emergency appendectomy, third-degree burns, stitches, vasectomy and tubal sterilization, programs to quit smoking and several dental services.

Glover started the Health Fund in 1997 after discovering that $50 million a year leaves Cayuga County for health insurance. "What could we do with $50 million a year," he muses. "Our aim is to create a clinic system. Socializing medicine from below in a non-bureaucratic and member-owned manner. We make payments anywhere in the world with any health-care provider. It's a matter of being prudent. We are not feeding investors. We are not building giant buildings, nor are we paying CEOs. We do not have a bureaucracy. We're not only trying to help people with no health insurance--that's 60 million Americans--we're trying to prove that HMOs {health maintenance organizations} are not needed. We usually pay overnight. It's a work in progress. We've only had one our of 600 members max out in a year."

Although his ideas might seem wild when first proposed, Glover's programs have all been based on extensive research. Often investigation for one program leads to an idea for another. "I had written a comprehensive survey of Ithaca's fuel supply system in 1988," he notes, "with maps, diagrams and extensive text showing the sources of Ithaca's fuels, how they're brought here and used and how we could refashion all our regional fuel systems. Based on that I got a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which was intended to enable me to do a similar study of Ithaca's money supply system. I steeped myself in conventional economic theory and compared and contrasted and got distracted and fascinated by all these cool things that could be done to make a community wealthy and to enrich the lives of average people."

The only thing missing from his visionary equation, however, was the money. "Dollars are designed to seek maximum profit," he explains. "They have no other job. They come to town, shake a few hands and then leave to buy rainforest lumber, fight wars, do any number of degrading things. I thought if we had our own money which we controlled, we could apply it in a targeted manner to strengthen nonprofit organizations in our community, many of which were losing federal funding at that time. We could invest in strengthening local agriculture. We could even fund the government. Members of the school board have just asked me for a copy of my pilot program proposal by which the school district could be significantly funded with local currency."

Glover now also attends Ithaca Chamber of Commerce meetings to network with some of the more than 600 businesses within a 20-mile radius of downtown Ithaca. He based the system on the premise that one hour of labor is worth $10 in American currency. "Our national currencies are backed by next to nothing," he maintains, "not by silver or gold, but by the extraction of raw materials faster than they can be replenished, by the exploitation of the cheapest labor available, by full faith in credit and our nation's rusting industry, depleting soil, polluted water and air."

Initially a linkage of people in the area who shared a concern about the environment and about social justice, Glover projects Ithaca Hours will eventually grow to link nationwide to the fullest range of goods and services that people living in an ecological society would need.

He also sees his system as a key to job creation. "There are millions of jobs to be created by literally rebuilding American cities, rebuilding American suburbs and rebuilding farm economies such that they are sustainable," he says. "Most Americans are urban. There are millions of jobs to be made and trillions of dollars to be made for those motivated singularly by profit by rebuilding cities such that neighborhoods are productive to the maximum extent possible. People can have their own food, fuel and services, enjoy work and have more time to relax with family. They should have their needs met within trolley and biking distances, strolling distances. Deliberately rebuilding the United States as an intentional community, yet one where people will have even more privacy and more access to the extent of socializing that they prefer. New kinds of housing which incorporates a greater flexibility. Where streets are so safe that people will be glad to send their kids outdoors."

In the process, Glover claims, poverty could be eliminated and the educational system revolutionized. "Poverty is not merely having too few dollars," he observes, "it's having insufficient networks. Rather than merely demanding higher wages, we should be demanding more control of the local economy as well as creating mutual aid networks which meet our needs without relying on the profit treadmill. We would have less of an emphasis on schooling and more on inculcating a lifelong enthusiasm for learning to be applied to the skills of community management."

Radical Plan

Glover credits President Lyndon Johnson with turning him toward radicalism and driving him toward his lifelong passion for the organization and management of communities. "I was 18 when I got a draft notice in 1965," he says. "I had been the kid who made sure the American flag was flown every July 4th. But growing up in Ithaca, I had begun to wonder and to think things that weren't on network television. So I went away and got a degree in marketing at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, then completed a degree in city management at Santa Monica (Calif.) College, where I worked for several years starting an organization called Citizen Planners of Los Angeles, dedicated to democratic ecological urban design. Not utopias that float in the air out of reach but real practical, step-by-step, totally refashioned urban America."

After eight years, however, he came to describe LA as "an entirely featureless nightmare," and returned to his hometown in 1979. "Ithaca is the scale of community that is emotionally coherent to me," he explains.

Glover, married twice and without any children, describes himself as a social entrepreneur working out of his house. "The streets are my main office," he says. "I've been a vegetarian for 32 years. I don't ride in cars. I don't own anything. I rent an apartment paid entirely by Ithaca Hours. I consider myself wealthy if I can appreciate the beauty of the day."

Asked to list his role models, as the "headliner," he cites Green primary rival Nader. He is quick to recite a laundry list of sources documenting that Nader's candidacy in 2000 did not cost Democrat Al Gore the presidential election.

But articulating issues and getting them publicized in the 2004 primary debates with Nader and others, Glover anticipates, will be complicated by the Patriot Act response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Look at the present situation in Iraq," he says. "If the president gave an honest speech he'd say, 'We did it again, suckers. We told you we were going to invade a country for noble reasons, to liberate the people, to protect us from weapons of mass destruction. But now your kids are dead and we've got the oil.' "We will challenge the American people to be discerning. Growling appeals to smash enemies are more popular when people feel economic insecurity, frustration with their jobs, loss of buying power, loss of status, anxiety about their kids' education, about their health insurance, about their old age. Then it's a great way to distract the public, to let people blow off steam without challenging the source of the problem."

Glover claims perspective on the source of current problems from his formal studies and community organization work. "America is already extraordinarily vulnerable to attack," he says. "Our infrastructure, our centralized technologies make it easy, I won't say how easy, but I have a degree in city management. There's no such thing as homeland security which does not incorporate as a prime feature the promotion of a better way of life abroad. At the same time, the cities are being rebuilt and the wealth of the nation is being put into genuinely strengthening the republic, making America available as a decent heritage for future generations, we need to be promoting what we're doing as a new American example all over the world. Already the American example is being broadcast in the most humble houses in the most remote places on the globe through sitcoms and game shows. The consumer fever and the lust for what we have is a virus spread globally. Rather we should be spreading an enthusiasm for building unprecedentedly beautiful cities."

For those who ask what label to apply to his economics, Glover suggests "mutual enterprise system." "It's a system which respects enterprise but links it to the responsibility to community," he says. "Mere profit will destroy even the rich. They cannot barricade themselves far enough from a planet whose air is being poisoned and water is unfit and whose people are so desperate they will climb over those fences. Greens in general have that faith in America that we think Republicans and Democrats have abandoned. When conservatives don't conserve and liberals don't liberate, Greens become centrists because we directly address the central concerns of average Americans for clean and abundant food, for safe and comfortable housing, for creative work, for top-quality health care and education, for time to enjoy family life and for time to relax secure in their old age."

While an attempt to duplicate the Ithaca Hours model in the Westcott Nation in the mid-1990s proved unsuccessful, the more than 800 alternative currencies now in circulation around the world lend credibility to the future of Glover's efforts. "Argentina has several million people trading in local currency since their inflation went through the roof," he notes. But to a degree, for Glover the future is already here: "Ithaca Hours are real money. They are just as taxable as U.S. dollars and it's illegal to counterfeit them."

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