Norman Solomon is scanning some of the literature for his campaign for the 6th California House District being vacated by 10-term Rep. Lynn Woolsey. We are dawdling over lunch at the pleasantly rustic Pine Cone Inn in West Marin’s Point Reyes Station. The Pine Cone is close to the renowned Cowgirl Creamery and just around the corner from the building where Solomon keeps an office.
Solomon, with his handsome, placid, long-jawed John Kerry visage, pulls out what, at first, looks like a postcard. It turns out to be a packet from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company of Mansfield, Mo. In the packet are “a minimum of 25 Lemon Queen non-genetically modified organic sunflowers.” On the front of the seed packet is a glorious full-color painting of the Lemon Queen sunflower in bloom, with a map of the 6th District on the back and the superimposed message, “Norman Solomon for Congress: local roots, national leadership.”
The Solomon for Congress sunflower seeds are the kind of attention-grabber that are helping make the 60-year-old progressive activist a serious contender in the upcoming race. This is particularly true here in West Marin where Solomon lives and works on the various social causes he has helped organize including the Institute for Public Accuracy, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green New Deal and many others.
Solomon has already distributed thousands of the seed packets and he ultimately hopes to pass out 50,000 more. He warns with a laugh that “it is getting late in the season to plant sunflowers.” He does more optimistically note that “if you plant them in spring, they’ll be ready in autumn, when you vote for Norman.”
It is not by accident that the sunflower motif and grab-you campaign techniques remind one of the 1968 “flower-power” anti-Vietnam War Presidential campaign of Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Solomon joined his first picket line, an attempt to desegregate suburban Maryland housing in 1967 when he was a mere 14 years old. For the past 46 years, he has been engaged in causes ranging from anti-nuclear advocacy to opposing the various wars America has fought and is still fighting.
An activist with a sense of the droll, Solomon recalls an autumn 2005 protest in Point Reyes Station when the British heir-apparent, Prince Charles, paid a visit to West Marin ostensibly to study local organic farming. Solomon was there, as he recalled in his latest book Make Love, Got War, that, “while Prince Charles seems like a nice person …” he was in the U.S. “representing the British government that has joined with the U.S. government to launch a war based on deception.” It is not surprising that Made Love, Got War is forwarded by American progressive icon, Daniel Ellsberg, while the corresponding video is narrated by actor Sean Penn.
It is as an anti-war activist that Solomon has won the greatest kudos and with which he may make the greatest inroads in liberal, anti-war Marin. Beyond Made Love, Got War, he has written and produced a video: War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, and books such as Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You.
He has also written 10 other books. Most of these are critiques of the kind of American war and media cultures that he is itching to tackle as a member of Congress. It is this foreign policy experience, which includes trips to Afghanistan and Iraq with Penn and other activists that, Solomon suggests sets him apart “from the people who climb the political rungs locally,” which will allow [him] “to advocate truly progressive positions.”
Solomon says he can distinguish himself from his opponents who are predominantly legislators, suggesting that he has never been “a finger in the wind kind of person.”
“I know what I believe in,” Solomon declares, “and don’t have to ask party leadership what is right.” It is this progressive, independent stance that ties Solomon to such liberal heroes as Rep. Barbara Lee, senators Eugene McCarthy, Wayne Morse and Paul Wellstone. FYI: Morse was the senator from Oregon who was an early critic of the Vietnam War, and Wellstone, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, a giant political talent who could well have been president had he not died in a 2002 plane crash.
Then there is Marin’s political matriarch, Woolsey, who, over the course of her 10 terms in Congress has become both the spiritual and political leader of the progressive House Democratic caucus. Her coveted endorsement will not be forthcoming simply because all three leading candidates, Solomon, Supervisor Susan Adams and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, are also progressive protégés of Woolsey. All were invited to attend her retirement announcement in late June. Solomon, for his part, notes that Woolsey went so far as to invite him to screen his video, War Made Easy, in Washington in front of an audience of progressive House members.
In many ways, Solomon’s run for Congress is the culmination of his near-lifetime in progressive politics. A natural polymath, Solomon might be Marin’s best educated dropout. As a kid who quit a suburban D.C. high school in 1969 at age 18, he was drawn to the world of political confrontation and social action. Finding college stale, Solomon determined to educate himself in ways that have made him a natural progressive leader. While Congress may not have been a childhood dream, for Solomon the process “has been a gradual understanding that my skills and experience have been converging” into a run for the House.
Solomon’s campaign is also in the process of opening an office in downtown San Rafael. “Some people don’t think an office is necessary until later in the campaign,” Solomon observes. He, however, believes that the office “is an important part of a grass roots campaign. A place to meet and build a volunteers organization.”
Solomon is counting on that cadre currently consists of over 300 volunteers, to help him overcome the fundraising advantages of Huffman or Adams.
He contrasts his fundraising with the other campaigns, singling out Huffman for taking contributions from major donors including PG&E, Chevron and Wal-Mart. “These are not friends of the environment,” Solomon says as he highlights his own green bona fides, while he has already raised $120,000 from more than 1,000 contributors.
Solomon says he is pleased about the fact that his campaign has gotten off the mark ahead of the competition.
“We’re on a roll and are extremely happy about it,” Solomon says about the state of the 6th District race. He says a half-decade’s worth of speeches and appearances, especially in the District’s northern counties, mean that the seeds of success have been well planted and that today, at least, “it couldn’t be more to my advantage.”