The sixth in a series of seven post on Electoral Strategy.
The Alternative: The Imperative
We need the Green Party.
An electoral strategy aiming toward social transformation requires a dramatic shift from the routine ways that we view and contest elections.
We need to reconsider the western theological model that, like it or not, is the deep structure behind so much of contemporary US radicalism. Instead of studying and engaging power, the polemical, moral and ideological life of radical politics mimics an ancient theological model. We feel we must have one god and one god only, and that there is but one way to salvation. To defend our beliefs we joust with other radicals through endless polemics that only serve to divide us and substitute opinions for strategy.
Our system of representation is so compromised that we must look beyond the candidates and their stand on the issues to focus on the power relationships we want to contest. We have to ask: What is going to weaken triangulation: the strategy of the two-party system? What is going to strengthen participatory democracy and the social movements?
We know that people become active in many different ways. Let’s keep all the doors open. We need to conduct a vast experiment in democracy and for the best results we need to put as many possibility to work as we can. “Both/And” approaches allow us to evaluate and discover the strategic value of the actual forces on the ground, while “Either/Or” choices narrow our vision and divides the movement.
If we welcome everyone, honor the path they took to activism, and keep experimenting, perhaps grassroots movements can renew representative democracy. Perhaps we can beat the big money, the corporate media and the masters of war and prison.
This is why we need the Green Party.
The lack of political competition has all too often made two-party system little more than a power sharing system. Sanders is important for introducing dramatic alternatives to routine politics. Sanders’ surge in the polls shows the widespread knowledge that we cannot afford more of the same. He is opening a door the Greens can also walk through.
Political alternatives and opposition parties are essential to an effective strategy and those exist most clearly in the platforms and principles of the Green Party and other third parties. But that is not enough.
Alternative parties need to help us imagine a compelling pathway to power. It’s difficult to commit to a course of action that cannot be imagined. Rhetorical strategy, political strategy and action plans are crucial because visions, plans and projects allow us to imagine alternative futures. People need to see that another world is possible.
For the sake of argument, lets say the national goals of the Green Party in 2016 are achieving the 5% threshold for public funding and shifting the public discourse.
As a starting point it is vitally important that alternative parties exploit their positions as outsiders — outsiders cast out of public debate. We should struggle to be included in debates and forums sponsored by the labor and social movements and eventually by the media. Exclusion from debate is inexcusable and an organizing issue for third parties: an opportunity for protest, education and civil disobedience.
When Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala were arrested at the Hofstra debate in 2012 they were on the right track. Can we find hundreds of people willing to be arrested with candidates locked out of debate? The right to debate may have the potential for popular support. This could become a 1st Amendment campaign, itself something of educational and political value. It is a struggle we can wage and even win.
There is no spoiler.
For an inside/outside strategy to show results it will be necessary for alternative parties to address “spoiler” arguments.
Spoiler arguments are the political analogue to the “austerity” claims enforced so ruthlessly by corporate elites. Under austerity “we are broke.” But, we must add: except for the trillions of dollars in cash that the big corporations and billionaires are sitting on — at the peak of their wealth — in the richest country in the history of the world. This artificial scarcity is then imposed on the people who will have to sacrifice their jobs, incomes, pensions, social services, and security.
In spoiler arguments, the elites insist — and far too many “progressives” concede — there is a scarcity of votes. But, we must add: except for the 70-90 million non-voters that the dismal performance of government, triangulation, and our failure to organize have left disempowered and driven to the sidelines. This artificial scarcity of voters is then imposed on the people who will have to sacrifice their freedom, democracy, and political judgments by yielding to the major parties they no longer believe in.
Since the election of 2000 is the most powerful reference for spoiler argument let’s unpack it.
The horse-race or sports framing for elections and the pro-corporate mission of major media has been incredibly effective in shaping the political outlooks of people who consider themselves progressive or radical. Bush beats Gore “by a nose” in 2000 and we act as if it is the nose and not the horse that won or lost.
We are told that the 2000 election came down to 560 Florida voters that cast ballots for the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. “A vote for the Green party was a vote for the Republican party.”
It was not that Gore lost the votes of tens of thousands of white women who voted Republican by a huge margin of 53 % Bush to 44% Gore. Oh no, it was the 600 or so Nader voters.
It wasn’t that 13% of registered Democrats voted for Bush. It wasn’t that the base deserted the party and gave approximately 300,000 votes to Bush in Florida. No, no it was the 600 Green voters that elected Bush.
It wasn’t the 30-35% of Union members that vote Republican year after year. Nope.
It wasn’t that a near majority of eligible voters stayed home nationwide. Forget the 70 to 90 million voters that decide voting isn’t worth the trouble. Forget, forget.
It was not the failure of the Democrats to commit resources to inspire, register and mobilize non voters and occasional voters. Not that.
It wasn’t the Gore could not win Tennessee, his home state where he served as a Congress-member and Senator for 16 years and where his father Al Gore Sr. had a long and distinguished record. Nah.
It wasn’t that we use an antiquated and antidemocratic electoral college system that Democrats and Republicans refuse to reform. It was the Green 600 for sure.
Or, that the Republicans stole the election. And did again in 2004.
Or that Florida has the most draconian laws in the nation permanently disenfranchising people once convicted of a felony. Not our concern, no.
And, the list goes on. Spoiler is scapegoating. So when someone raises the spoiler argument here is what I hear them really saying.
“Given our failure to organize the unorganized and motivate non-voters, we blame the opposition party to cover our shame.”
“Given my failure to contest power, I will blame whoever I have been told to blame so I blame the opposition.”
Pathetic. The liberals doth protest too much, methinks.
Still I expect to continue to hear spoiler arguments even as it passes into absurdity. When Green Party candidate James Lane ran for congress in 2015 in NYC he was attacked as a spoiler. The voter turnout was only 11%. 89% of the eligible voters stay home and still we are told that a vote for an opposition party is a vote for the reactionary party.
Obviously, the main function of spoiler arguments is to keep people from voting for opposition candidates. But, a real opposition party is essential to changing the system. And, while there are important differences between the Democrats and Republicans, under no conditions can either party be considered an opposition party.
That honor belongs to the Green Party.
The current two-party system will maintain a monopoly until the logic and power of that system is fundamentally altered or abolished. I have heard the collapse of the Republican party predicted over and over but always they return. We will never rid ourselves of this power sharing arrangement until the balance is upset and for that we need real opposition parties and real opposition candidates.
Kudos to the Greens for giving the opposition a voice. And, for raising expectations.
There is no spoiler no matter how many times the corporate media trumpets these claims. There is nothing but our failure to contest power.
Bring on the Competition.
In the pursuit of the 5% necessary to gain major party status, the economic strategy articulated by Gar Alperovitz is a helpful tool. Alperovitz argues that the barriers to appropriating the wealth of the ruling elite are currently so formidable that producing new wealth and is a more winning strategy. The same holds true with votes to some degree. And creating new voters weakens triangulation even more forcefully than competing for lesser of two evils voters.
But the Sander’s surge does mean that a lot is up for grabs. What is the fate of the huge number of real opposition voters supporting Sanders? If Clinton wins the nomination, the Green Party stands to convert millions of voters. Let’s start the welcome now by honoring Sanders supporters, not insulting their intelligence, softening polemical attacks, avoiding self-righteousness and pointing out the many, many common concerns and political positions between the Green Party and the Sanders’ surge. Most important, we need to concentrate on all the positive ideas that makes the Green Party so valuable. The Green Party offers the full-on critique and robust revolutionary program that Sanders introduces.
If Sanders wins the presidency his program will be stalled by the corporate power and the two-party system. Can the Green Party ride the tide of discontent and frustration to elect real revolutionaries to congress and other important positions? A President Sanders will need Green members of congress.
If Sanders wins the nomination and loses the general election all hell will break loose. The social and environmental crisis will intensify and the social movements will face desperate challenges. Green Party leadership could well become indispensable to reigniting resistance and opposition.
The Sanders surge means that something big is changing and that change is opportunity for a principled and skillful opposition.
But in the long run, beyond 2016, the creation of new constituencies out of discouraged voters or independents would be the proof positive that there is no zero-sum game, no spoiler, no wasted vote. Even partial success will draw significant numbers of lesser of two evil voters. New voters are an “outside” force tailor-made to pull the “inside” toward the people.
Can the Green Party become a center for registering new voters? Can third parties become a force for reversing voter suppression? Maximizing vote totals might require focus on some states and not others without regard for how this helps or hurts the Democrats. Similarly it may be productive to focus energy on states that are easier targets for electoral reforms.
The criteria is: how do actions strengthen the standing of the Green Party or third party as an outside actor able to weaken the governing strategy of power. And, since we do not currently have the resources or people to confront power everywhere — the goal is to raise an army of activists and voters — well trained and equipped.
Until that day dawns our first and most important audience is the people, not the government; the social movements, not the two-party system; except inasmuch as demands on power are a means of organizing.
This is so simple to say and so hard to do.
But, If we think that logic, reason, facts, a good argument alone — that principled politics and high moral values alone will lead to power — we are wrong. In any event, the Green Party already has all those resources and while principles are absolutely required they are far, far from sufficient. Strategy and organizing are key to building a vigorous opposition and a credible threat of exit for others.
We need the promise of power. And we need the movement.
Next: The Movement and 2016
Very interesting. Besides a recent Yes! interview exploring common ground connecting across progressive and conservative positions, I recently moved to a region that is politically conservative and extremely environment aware. The potential for meaningful conversation is definitely there. Some I’m having sure beat ones for productivity that I’ve had with ‘my way or nothing’ activist colleagues.
The beauty of the IOS is that it encourages people to find the political value in positions they do not completely agree with. It also embodies organizing wisdom that places the highest importance on dialogue. And you cannot have a dialogue unless you find some point of common interest to start from. Find the point of contact and move the point. Otherwise we are stuck with the same dead end common to the sectarian impulse: the self-righteous and aggressively polemical style that — like theological arguments — seeks to draw a bright line between the saved from the damned and finds the path to social change (salvation) by joining the right organization with the correct line, or more commonly (given our Protestant heritage) by being an individual disconnected from collective struggle but with a bright shining radical identity. In my view the polemical approach has been a near total failure in part because it displaces strategy and real political thinking, with moral or ideological fervor alone.
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And — to complicate matters — not in the same way in all parts of the country. You might find Colin Woodard’s American Nations interesting and relevant.