In the run-up to the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, the first ever held in the United States, when asked what it would take to make the game catch fire as a major league sport in this country, one commentator replied, "working class people."
Think about it. That majority segment of the global population is the reason soccer is the most popular sport on the planet. It's played by the hardscrabble denizens of the toughest economies across the world, on dirt fields, concrete back lots and weed choked patches of grass. Its greatest heroes come from the humblest roots. In the US, soccer is an upper-middle-class rite of passage, played on glistening expanses of pristine suburban lawn. That's alien to the Americans who shape culture, especially those in the inner cities and far rural corners of the heartland.
And yet proof of the working-class maxim is right in front of us here in the States: all the biggest sports in America are the province of blue collar dreamers — football, basketball, baseball and hockey. These are cultural forces ruled and propagated not by a privileged elite, but by regular people in the toughest neighborhoods in America. They're the cultural grassroots that germinate and gather strength in the proving ground of the sandlots, the school ice rinks, the frozen ponds, the playground courts.
Find a way to capture their devotion, and you will capture the country.
So it goes with preened and booksmart greenies: the movement will live or die by the participation of those who are not classically green. Which is why Good Old Boy T. Boone Pickens may be the Wayne Gretzky of the movement.
The Texan oilman's pedigree is maybe the most shocking and delightful boost the green movement could have hoped for. You expect Al Gore to make hay with with the college-educated middle class. But a self-made billionaire born in a dusty little Oklahoma hamlet is the guy who just might connect with regular folks in a way that Planet Green and Leo DiCaprio simply can't. Watch this video. You want to have a beer with this guy and listen to his stories. But then, he's a product of working class America. Rich as hell, yes, and so is Brett Favre, and look how many Americans are standing by him even as he squeezes the Jets for millions.
Pickens's entrée into this space holds a lot lessons for anyone trying to scratch out mainstream acceptance of their ideas. One of my favorites is the fact that he's got a Facebook page; if an 80-year-old oilman is talking environmentalism in this medium, shouldn't you?
The biggest lesson, though, is that the success of a green makeover for this country rests not in the hands of its traditional allies, but in those of the Americans Pickens represents. It will be interesting to see if others catch on. I for one hope like hell they do.