|Bucky Fuller said:
ìYou never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsoleteÖI look for what needs to be done. After all, that’s how the universe designs itself.”
The US two-party system needs to be changed — it is dysfunctional. The pandering to right-wing power-brokers going on now by the most-likely 2008 presidential candidates, McCain and Clinton, is disgraceful, a complete betrayal of the principles they alleged to stand for and which their supporters believe in. It is a recognition that the power wielded by those who control the machinery of government in the US now, over both parties, and which has bankrupted the US and corrupted the American democratic process, is insuperable within the existing party structure.
The tools that supported Howard Dean in 2004 were sufficient to mobilize millions to support an outsider and carry him to front-runner status, but not enough (scream notwithstanding) to overcome the party machine and the establishment’s interest in keeping the status quo — two parties that essentially stand for the same policies, offering apparently dramatically different ‘brands’ of what is ultimately the same ‘product’ — laissez-faire corporatist, militarist imperialism, a sell-off of the commons to private interests, and the dismantling of public social services. Even Howard Dean, deliciously tested by Jon Stewart last night, laughed off Stewart’s pointed criticisms of Democratic Party betrayals and incompetence and waffled on all the tough questions.
Canadians and Europeans can show you the way. We introduced third parties in our countries, with great difficulty but successfully, when the two dominant parties failed to offer us any real choice. As a result, although our systems are not perfect (Canada desperately needs proportional representation, for example), our model of democracy is much healthier and more robust than the moribund US model.
And all you need to do is what you did to support Howard Dean in 2004, except with a third party and a set of candidates committed to integrity and change. I would suggest the name Progressive Party for this new movement. And the candidates who I believe could give the party momentum and credibility are Bill Moyers (pictured above) and Dennis Kucinich.
By starting now, this party would have time to build sufficient momentum, visibility and credibility by 2008 to contest not just the presidency, but the federal House and Senate as well. The disenchantment with both existing parties is widespread, and building now will not prevent the Democrats from winning back at least one chamber this fall, and then showing America that they’re not really any different from the Republicans by 2008.
There are two first steps: Organization, and platform development. The platform should not be specific programs but rather unequivocal shared principles, a framework that sets out the common beliefs of progressives and against which proposed party policies and legislation can be assessed. That framework needs to be broad enough to accommodate changing needs but uncompromising in the core principles that all progressives hold dear, principles of democracy, peace, consensus, social justice, equal opportunity, environmental, energy and economic sustainability, stewardship and egalitarianism, principles that assert the joint responsibility of citizens and their communities and governments for the welfare of all. That platform need not even be written; it exists now. It was drafted by the US association of green parties in 2000, it is comprehensive, and it needs only the substitution of the word “progressive” for the word “green”. The only reason for even this change is optics: The green party is perceived (incorrectly) to be a narrow-agenda party, and it is easier just to change the name than to have to struggle to change public perception.
The organization process should be grassroots, designed not to find a single national leader so much as credible progressive candidates in every constituency in the US, and allow the leader to emerge naturally from the local candidates. As the party grows in recognition and credibility it should be prepared to entice leading progressive candidates from other parties to join it, but only if they fully embrace the principles of the Progressive Party, not opportunistically.
The Internet will and must be a key organizational enabler for the party, but the organizational process must recognize that some 80% of Americans are not active online, so other media must be used as well. It probably makes sense to organize the party by creating and linking grassroots cells into organic local party ‘organisms’; the cells would remain the lifeblood and key building block of the party — constituency organizations are too broad and vulnerable to ‘take-over’ by the power-hungry or moneyed interests, and tend to wither between campaigns. Cells would work all-year-round, whether it is an ‘election year’ or not — the purpose of the party is to bring about political change consistent with its principles, by any and all means available, not just to elect candidates. In that sense, the party would be more like some grassroots churches than a traditional political organization.
Having said that, we need to create some momentum for the party. That won’t come from full-page ads in the NYT or dependence on a single charismatic leader. It will require the support of some big names (George Soros and Oprah Winfrey come to mind) but the condition of their support will be that they offer it out of principle and not take a highly visible role within the party itself. I’m not convinced we need coverage or advertising in the mainstream media at all — these media are broadly loathed and distrusted by Americans, and I believe viral communication of our message is more affordable, more effective, and more interesting to voters. Simply by eschewing traditional media and methods we can paradoxically attract more attention and be more credible to voters. This new party, taking its lead from Bucky’s quote above, should not play by the old rules. It should make up and use new, guerrilla rules.
Above all, it needs to start and remain accessible to every citizen. There should be no need to have ‘constituency offices’ and make quadrennial whirlwind door-to-door tours. The elected representatives of the Progressive Party should be among us, highly visible always, passionate about local issues, less concerned about formal, meaningless debates in faraway legislative houses and more concerned with helping each cell achieve meaningful change in their own community. The legislation they introduce should be designed to equalize power, wealth, services and opportunity for all, eliminate pork and corporate welfare, restructure the economy around sustainability instead of growth, exercise social and environmental responsibility and stewardship, and restore the integrity and regulatory discipline of the nation so that the laws apply to all, not just those who can’t afford to buy their way around them.
And to those who are worried that a Progressive Party would ‘split the left’ and allow Republicans to win elections with as little as 34% of the vote, I would argue that the opposite is the case — the Democrats and Republicans can split the vote of those who continue to like pork-barrel, trough-feeding, arrogant, say-one-thing, do-another, back-room politicians who think the status quo is wonderful. We’llsettle for the 90% of the population looking for a New Deal.
What do you think? Hopelessly idealistic? Anyone have a manual for cellular organization? What other spokespeople (not leaders) for the movement would you suggest?
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Preparing for Civilization's End:
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