Electoral politics has always had a special significance in American society. Voting has been considered the essence of democracy in practice. It is supposedly the means by which each citizen controls and directs the government. But the concepts of electoral politics as the essence of democracy in practice, the two party system as evidence of real political choice, and voting as the ultimate realization of political power for every citizen have been erroneous and misleading from the start. The right to vote is only a necessary part of democracy. Electoral politics can be used as a means to obscure the real seat of power in a society, as well as to develop a facade of citizen political power where there is really none at all.
From the beginning, the American system of government was designed to provide political power for a privileged few-propertied white males-while pacifying the powerless masses with lofty platitudes about liberty and equality. Though over time the right to vote has been extended to every adult citizen, the system still only provides for political power for a privileged few-at most the wealthiest 5% of the population. Rather than "one man, one vote" we have "one dollar, one vote." In other words, one's political power is directly tied to one's economic wealth.
We on the left need to be honest with ourselves and the American people about this fact. We need to stop "enabling" the status quo by giving credence to their propaganda that the average citizen's vote in the current electoral system really gives people any significant political power. The 49% turnout in the 1996 election was the lowest in seventy-some years. The non-voters were disproportionately poor, working class, and from oppressed racial and ethnic groups. We cannot increase voter participation of these constituencies by social coercion. The only way to increase their involvement is by recognizing the validity of their arguments about the current system not representing their interests and then actively working to create a really representative system. If we are really serious about creating a society based on social and economic justice; if we really want political power; then we must publicly acknowledge, challenge, and confront our undemocratic political system, aggressively exposing it for the sham that it really is. Then we must develop and advocate for truly democratic alternatives to our present political system. This is where independent politics comes in.
Then we must develop and advocate for truly democratic alternatives to our present political system. This is where independent politics comes in.
If the right to vote is the "d" in democracy, the right to a multiple party system is the "e." In other words, in a true democracy diverse constituencies should be able to represent themselves in government through parties solely accountable to them.
Proportional representation is the "m" in democracy. In order for each person's vote to really count, the proportion of seats that a party has in any legislative body should be determined by the strength of the vote that party received. This would facilitate a broader representation of our diverse society at the political table, as well as facilitate a broader range of public debate. The current "winner take all" system actually disenfranchises the majority of voters, since those who voted for the losing candidates will have no representation in government.
Equitable public financing of all parties is the "o" in democracy. This ensures that all parties have equal public access; and that the electorate, in turn, has equal access to a broad range of ideas in the public debate.
As important as all these concepts are in "spelling" out democracy, the "word" is still incomplete. We need to continue to strive to develop a complete and comprehensive vision of what it means to have a truly democratic society that ensures the political power of the citizenry as opposed to an elite wealthy, racial privileged group.
CNT believes that any successful effort to gain political power on the left will have to involve a central leadership role by African Americans and other people of color.
I am supportive of all the progressive independent political parties and efforts. But my major affiliation is to the Campaign for a New Tomorrow (CNT), a Black and people of color lead effort to build a third party. CNT believes that any successful effort to gain political power on the left will have to involve a central leadership role by African Americans and other people of color. We believe "those who have been most victimized by the racist and exploitative capitalist system in this nation must take the lead in building a new progressive political party."
CNT was formed in 1992 out of the Ron Daniel's Independent Presidential Campaign. It is the smallest and most resource poor of the recent progressive efforts to form broad-based political parties. We currently have chapters in New York City, Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh, PA. There are also small groups of members in Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Trenton, NJ, Albany, NY, and Akron, OH. Although we have an elected National Steering Committee, our strength lies in our local chapters, with Pittsburgh having the strongest chapter. In Pittsburgh, we are mobilizing to create a political party in Allegheny County in 1997. We have a grassroots mobilizing approach to party building. Our motto is "We are the leaders we've been looking for." We see the task of progressive third party efforts in the next four years as grassroots organizing on the local level to build third parties.
. . . in the foreseeable future, unity among left independent political efforts will more realistically mean some kind of alliance of such parties.
Due to the current fragmentation of the left, we realize that in the foreseeable future, unity among left independent political efforts will more realistically mean some kind of alliance of such parties. Indeed, we believe such unity is crucial if left efforts to build a multi-party system in the United States are to be successful. Our strong perspective on this led to our collaborating with the Greens, the National Committee for Independent Political Action (NCIPA), and other interested groups in forming the Independent Progressive Politics Network (IPPN) in August 1995. A model for such a working alliance might be the New Zealand Alliance, an electoral alliance of five progressive parties which enabled them to gain significant political power.
But we do have control over building political structures for people to channel their energies when they finally decide to move for fundamental change.
Finally, any successful effort at building a multi party electoral system in the United States must have a long term perspective. The Christian Right mobilized for 20 years before it gained public prominence. Leftist activists are too often impatient in their quests for fundamental change. History shows that the struggle to bring about real political change is often a protracted one. I have heard many people say that conditions are reaching such a crisis that we can't wait. But, if time is of the essence, that is all the more reason why we must begin serious organizing now. We have no control over when the masses will reach their breaking point. But we do have control over building political structures for people to channel their energies when they finally decide to move for fundamental change. If we don't build such structures, we will repeat what happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe. When people finally revolted against the tyrannical bureaucracies, the left was caught with its pants down, unorganized, thus unable to present a credible alternative to the demagogues and reactionary forces that then took power.
Thus, we must focus on grassroots organizing among our constituencies on the local level, building a deep as well as broad base. We cannot force unification into one party at this time; but we must find ways to work in coalition towards common goals and to minimize competition which could destroy all our efforts by fragmenting us further. The IPPN is certainly a reasonable vehicle for such an alliance. People of color must play a central leadership role in building progressive politics. In addition, we must aggressively pursue electoral reforms (such as campaign financing and proportional representation) that put all political parties on an equal footing in pursuing political power. Last, but not least, we must have a long term vision and strategy, maybe even 20 or 30 years with realistic goals and timelines.