Two Points about #BernieOrBust

Almost all the commentary on the #BernieOrBust movement is extremely emotional and superficial. As someone who has thought a lot about the utility and strategy of manipulating the electoral process in unorthodox ways in order to advance a political agenda, I think I'm well positioned to contribute a couple of points of substance to this discussion. 

1. The #BernieOrBust movement is strategically sound. Opponents deride it as “insane,” “pointless,” “petulant,” and “dangerous,” but these assessments are all myopic, considering only the effect on politics for the next four years, and even then, ignoring the possibility that #BernieOrBust could force concessions from the Clinton campaign. More substantive arguments against #BernieOrBust are harder to come by, but should be acknowledged. Principally, the argument that gives me pause is that Trump is an unpredictable fascistic figure who, given state power, can be expected to clamp down at least somewhat on dissent, and perhaps significantly. The potential for a truly catastrophic Trump presidency certainly gives me pause, but determining the precise nastiness is beyond the scope of this piece. In any case, I do think it deserves careful consideration for those considering abandoning the Democratic Party for #BernieOrBust. (Note to #BernieOrBust critics: it’s possible that those calling themselves #BernieOrBust will change their minds when faced with the possibility of a Trump presidency, but calling them “insane” and “petulant” will only heighten their resolve.)

Trump aside, the point is that any analysis of #BernieOrBust that refuses to look beyond four years is inadequate because the main strategic benefits to #BernieOrBust only manifest in the longer term. If the movement were to become strong enough to make the Clinton campaign sweat, it would influence Democratic Party political calculations for decades by showing that Sanders-like politicians are more electable than Clintonites. Candidates would begin to view supporting Sanders-like policies as career opportunities rather than liabilities. More Sanders-like candidates might be emboldened to run for office. These factors combine for a long-term boon for Sanders-like policies.

Meanwhile, the short term consequences of a Trump presidency as compared to a Clinton presidency are not as bad for Sanders supporters as they are made out to be. This isn’t because a Trump presidency would be attractive to Sanders supporters; it’s because a Clinton presidency would be as bad or worse in many ways. Clinton, more than Trump, would entrench the status quo that Sanders supporters are trying to upend, especially in foreign policy, where Clinton can be expected to be a much more adept steward of America’s atrocious foreign policy than Trump would be. A Trump presidency would likely mean that the Republicans would bear the brunt of the blame for the ever-increasing disgust Americans feel for their government. Perhaps most importantly (and rarely mentioned), a Trump presidency would mean that, in four years, there would be another opportunity to nominate a Sanders-like candidate as the Democratic presidential candidate. If Clinton were to occupy the Democratic side of the race in 2020, Sanders supporters would have to wait until 2024 before their movement had another real at the presidency. 

Finally, the #BernieOrBust movement might serve as the foundation for a surprise victory for a Sanders-like politician as soon as this November. Which brings me to my second major point.

2. The #BernieOrBust movement should pledge to vote for the Green Party wherever possible. Although this will alienate the sector of the #BernieOrBust crowd that wants to write in their man Bernie Sanders, the fact remains that write-in votes do not achieve anything but a feeling of righteousness. I don’t want to demean righteousness, but it is much more powerful when it is practiced in solidarity with others. When workers strike against their employers, they do not stay home and congratulate themselves on their righteous victory against the man. No, they organize, forming picket lines and demonstrating their power. If we view #BernieOrBust as a strike against the unacceptable conditions offered by the Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton, then the Green Party is #BernieOrBust’s picket line. Unfortunately, we live in a world that respects power, and in such a world, there is not much use in being righteous in a way that can be easily ignored. Not only would standing together with Green Party voters produce a highly visible protest, it would also heighten the threat of #BernieOrBust to the Democratic party by giving them a very credible alternative in future elections if the Democratic Party does not improve conditions by nominating Sanders-like candidates. This is a serious and viable threat that the Democratic Party could not ignore.

One more point in favor of voting for the Green Party is worth mentioning. Jill Stein could win. I know it sounds crazy to say it, but this is not a year to write off seeming political impossibilities. No, I don’t think she will win. I'd put it at slightly under 1%. But a concerted effort by #BernieOrBust to publicize its intention to back Jill Stein would move this from the realm of the impossible to the very unlikely. A 1% chance of saving humanity, if that is what it a Bernie Sanders-type presidency means to you, is worth fighting for. This year, the major parties are putting forward their most unpopular candidates ever. This is particularly true on the Republican side, where party loyalists are openly declaring their disgust for Donald Trump. This means that whomever positions herself as Trump’s main opponent has an excellent chance at the presidency.

Now imagine that Hillary Clinton gets indicted in August. Again, this is not a likely scenario, but it’s not at all impossible this far into an investigation of a crime that she very likely is guilty of. What would Hillary’s supporters do then? If #BernieOrBust has caused the Green Party to poll at 10% or more at that point (as opposed to their normal 1%), people will view Jill Stein as a viable alternative to Trump. Without this boost, however, Hillary’s supporters will either stay home or drift back to whomever the Democrats put on the ballot.

The #BernieOrBust campaign is about continuing a political revolution. Revolutions are hard work, have negative consequences when they lose, and have to get very lucky to win. A #BernieOrBust movement that unites around the Green Party gives this political revolution a real chance of winning if the right elements fall into place.

Bernie Sanders and the Green Party

With a bit of daring leadership, the Green Party could take a page from the Protest Party playbook and make themselves (and their worldview) quite relevant in 2016. Here’s how it could work:

  1. Party leaders such as Jill Stein announce that if Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic Party nomination, the Green Party will throw their support to him. Most potential Green Party voters are likely thinking of voting for Bernie anyway. American “thought leaders” will respond with think-pieces about what this means for Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic Party generally. With 3.3% of the vote in Ohio in 2014, the Greens are already on the ballot and well positioned to swing a general election. 

1a (Optional.) Try to get the Sanders campaign to agree to endorse the Green Party for President if Sanders is not nominated. This would probably be a non-starter for Bernie, but if it worked it would be a real coup for the Greens. Importantly, it would further diminish Clinton’s perceived “electability” in the general election if a segment of the left pledged not to vote for her. 

2. Capitalize on publicity to play up Bernie’s viability in the general election, especially as compared to Hillary. Make sure primary voters take notice. Even a couple percent bump in the Iowa polls will have the pundits buzzing. The more viable Bernie looks, the more his ideas will be disseminated.

3. Be vocal about your differences. No reason to throw your own views out in supporting Bernie. This is your chance to get your views heard in the mainstream.

4. Follow through. By fall, either you have helped catapult Bernie to the nomination and possibly the presidency, or Clinton has won and you can campaign against her. If you managed to finagle a Bernie endorsement (1a), you’ll likely coast to minor party status in most states.

Green Party voters admirably subscribe to that famous Eugene Debs quote: "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don't want and get it." This is a pithier way of saying “Don’t vote for the lesser of two evils!” The question is, can a Green Party supporter really call a vote for Bernie Sanders “evil”? To be sure, his promise to endorse Clinton and his stances on Palestine, immigration, Snowden, ISIS, and other issues should be troubling to Green voters, but to stand on principle and demand purity here would be to miss a quite real opportunity to change the course of American history in ways that should be quite exciting to the Greens. Ralph Nader said that if Al Gore had wanted the support of the Green Party in 2000, all he had to do was adopt most of the platform of the Green Party. In 2016, hasn’t Sanders done enough to earn at least a tactical partnership?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deez Nuts, Black Lives Matter, Larry Lessig, and More

A judge has ruled that the Pennsylvania ballot-access laws were unfair to small parties. No mention of the fact that first-past-the-post voting rules leave small parties hopeless in the first place.

 

A candidate calling himself “Deez Nuts” polled at 9% against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in North Carolina. The ensuing weeks saw the political views of an Iowa high schooler broadcast around the country and compared, often favorably, with establishment candidates. Respondents’ motivation for saying they would vote for Deez Nuts remains unclear, but we can assume very few people would make such a claim if they were active supporters of either Clinton or Trump. The most important aspect of this story is that it confirms one of the assumptions of the Protest Party strategy: that the media will cover something extensively if it has even the most tenuous relation to the “Presidential Horserace” that Americans are obsessed with. (Maybe because they are thinking “less than two years until things will finally change!”)

 

Speaking of confirming the assumptions made in the Protest Party strategy, consider what the Black Lives Matter movement has proven to us: when you refuse to be taken for granted by your preferred Major Party, they will scramble for your vote. With aggressive and bold tactics, activists were able to convincingly threaten to withhold their votes from Democrats unless Democrats stopped taking them for granted. In less than a week, every Democratic presidential candidate had produced much more comprehensive plans for promoting racial justice. Of course, the Protest Party will not be satisfied by mere promises, but this does show that withholding one’s vote can get some kind of results, at least. (To their credit, many BLM protesters have remained resolute in refusing to be pacified by half-measures.)

 

Larry Lessig is attempting a strategy that embraces much of the logic behind the Protest Party. He has launched a campaign for the presidency that has no intention of actually acting as president, instead focusing on fixing one particular problem. To do so, he intends to actually win the presidency as a Democrat and then do almost nothing until his single (campaign finance) is satisfactorily addressed, at which point he will resign. In my view it’d be much easier to just demand that the major parties do your bidding in exchange for giving them the presidency, although I do respect his gumption and, especially, his fund-raising ability.

 

I am looking into starting a Super-PAC for the Protest Party, because I don’t want corporations to be unable to give us their money if they are so inclined.

Real News Network discusses Bernie Sanders as a Democrat

The Real News Network hosted a discussion of Bernie Sanders' decision to declare his candidacy for President as a Democrat. Jacob Swenson-Lengyel of the National People's Action Campaign says that Sanders is "articulating things that certainly Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party in general doesn't talk about" and suggests that "the Democratic party can become a field of struggle as the new left works to become more powerful."

Meanwhile, Ashley Smith of the Center for Economic Research criticizes Sanders' decision because the Democratic Party "opposes everything he stands for, and has through history shown that it's incapable of being transformed by the left getting involved in the campaign... The left attempt to take over the Democratic party has failed for over a century... I think Hillary Clinton is overjoyed that Bernie Sanders is running in the Democratic party nomination, because it actually re-legitimizes a party that's lost all credibility in the eyes of the vast majority of working-class people. And people in general. Look at all the enthusiasm that Obama mobilized back in 2008, only to become the, really the third and fourth term of the Bush administration."

Smith is right. While it is probably true that Sanders will bring up issues that are important to liberal populists, his ideas will be dismissed as summarily as those of primary challengers like Kucinich and Ron Paul before him. Very few minds, and absolutely no policies, will be changed. A crucial point that Swenson-Lengyel is missing is that what candidates say in their campaigns, especially during the primaries, has little bearing on how the will govern. This is what Smith is alluding to in referring to Obama's 2008 campaign. Sanders' presence will only serve to bolster Clinton's candidacy and allow the Democratic Party to recapture the left.

Then Smith goes on to say, "we need a party of our own. We need to do what the Greek people have done in creating Syriza. To really challenge the political establishment as it exists. We need to do what the Spanish people are doing in creating a new political party called Podemos."

Now Smith is being naive. America does not have the same electoral system as these European countries. To suggest that a minor party can hope to be anything other than humiliated (and their ideas along with them) is to ignore the experiences of the Green and Libertarian Parties, the structural realities of our voting system, and the machinations of the major parties to keep the minor parties under wraps. 

If you want to get a viable minor party, it's first necessary to have the voting system changed, and for that I believe the minor parties need to unite with protest voters, possibly under the banner of the Protest Party.

 

Listeners of The Best of the Left podcast seem to be on the verge of re-inventing the Protest Party

The three voicemails and final comments of a recent Best of the Left episode inadvertently do a decent job of walking listeners through the reasoning behind the Protest Party.

Voting for the major parties is futile. The first caller (a conservative who is a regular caller) declared that he was “probably never again” going to vote for a Republican or Democrat because they don’t do their jobs. “I’m going third party... I don’t know who yet.”

Voting for traditional minor parties is futile. With an example from his home province of Alberta, Canada, the second caller explains the strategic pitfalls of voting for minor parties in a First-Past-The-Post electoral system.

Voting for bad candidates is pointless and cowardly. The third caller is from the New York Green Party. “It is better to vote for what you want and maybe not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and know that you are going to get it.” He implores us to be brave in all endeavors, including our votes. While I don’t actually agree that it is pointless to vote for the lesser of two evils if you have no better options, I do think this depressing situation is one of the main selling points of the Protest Party. Voting courageously for what we believe in speaks to our sense of honor. People are looking for something better to do with their votes, and the Minor Parties are simply not viable in a First-Past-The-Post system because of Duverger’s Law. While supporting the Protest Party requires some courage, if it brings about the right systemic changes we will only have to muster that courage for one election cycle .

Which brings us to final comments from Jay (the man behind BotL):

The system is spoiled. An election is said to have been “spoiled” when two similar candidates split the vote and allow a less popular candidate to win. As Jay says, “what I think the spoiler factor is, is neither of the candidates. It’s the system itself that is spoiled. The system is set up to allow elections to become spoiled like that.”

One simple reform could fix the whole system. Jay points out that if we had Instant Runoff Voting (aka Single Transferable Vote, Alternative Vote, Ranked Choice Voting, or Preferential Voting) we could vote for what we want without having to worry about “throwing away” our votes. The need to be brave would be eliminated.

These commentaries lay the groundwork for the idea of the Protest Party. The system is broken: voting for Major Parties is fruitless and unpleasant, but voting for Minor Parties is futile. A simple reform could fix the problem, but how to get the reform passed? This is where the Protest Party comes in. We aim to gain the support of all those voters who already know their votes are essentially useless for systemic reasons and empower them to change that system. Although I agree with Jay that an alternative vote would be a good choice, the Protest Party is flexible enough to make a different demand if its supporters see fit. Our job is to get people to understand this plan so they can help get us on the ballot for 2016. 

 

What we witnessed last week was an "inchoate protest vote." Let's solidify it!

In her post-election analysis, the Nation’s Michelle Goldberg argued that although there was not much support for Democratic candidates nationwide, Americans still largely support policies associated with the platform of the Democratic Party. Given the opportunity to decide for themselves through ballot initiatives, voters eased restrictions on marijuana and other facets of the drug war; increased the minimum wage; and lifted restrictions on abortion. Polls show Americans want more wealth distribution, less war aggression. A majority even say Obamacare was either just right or didn’t go far enough.

Why, then, didn’t people also vote for Democrats?

One reason is that the Democrats represent Barack Obama and the status quo, and, boy, do people ever hate the status quo these days. So, while voters might have a slight preference for the Democrats’ platform, they cannot bring themselves to actually vote for Democrats.

Fair enough, voters decided not to vote for Democrats. The Protest Party supports that. What, then did voters decide to do instead? Many simply stayed home, with voter turnout at its lowest since 1942, partly due to the restrictive voting rules put in place since 2010 that disenfranchised millions of potential voters, but also partly due to lack of interest and disguest with their options. For those who did make it to the polls, lacking anything better to do, they simply voted Republican. Of course, voting Republican to protest ineffective government doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense, but without any other decent “Protest Vote” options, it is understandable. In Nevada, voters are allowed to vote for “None of the Above,” and many of them did. Despite very little strategic value to such a vote, in this year’s Attorney General Contest, The “None of These Candidates” vote (15,643) is more than three times the margin-of-victory for” the election’s Republican winner.  

As Goldberg put it, "Last night, then, was basically a flailing, inchoate protest vote against the status quo."

What would happen if this protest vote were not flailing and inchoate, but shrewd and strategic? What could disgruntled American voters do if they were given a coherent, focused electoral strategy for using their votes, presenting a unified front against the disfunction they see in our government? To find out is the goal of the Protest Party. Will supporters demand an alternative vote? A campaign finance amendment or democracy vouchers? Minor party representation in presidential debates? Something completely different? Help the Protest Party get on the ballot in your state, and you can help decide.

How to wield your vote in 2014

The nascent Protest Party did not field any candidates for the upcoming 2014 midterm elections. Rather than endorse candidates as we had been planning, we would like to provide some guidelines on what to do at the ballot box. 

 

First and foremost, do try to vote. This is your chance to get your opinion heard. While it is a blunt instrument compared to other forms of political speech, it is undeniable that people pay attention about votes and elections. Other forms of speech cost time or money that you probably don’t have. You might argue that voting just shows support for and complicity with the whole corrupt system, and there is some truth to that. However, a non-vote is more often interpreted as indifference to and acceptance of the status quo than with opposition to it.

Second, think about what opinion your vote communicates to analysts, officials, and future candidates. Voting for Republican or Democratic candidates who run on an anti-corruption platform can be defensible, but voting for a minor party candidate is usually a stronger way to signal your opposition to corruption. Regardless of the real reason why you voted for a candidate, your vote will most likely be interpreted by our “thought-leaders” as support for the candidate’s party. Since our goal at this stage is to draw attention to the major parties’ corruptions, it’s best to make sure the statement you make with your vote is an unequivocal “NO!” to the two major parties. Plus, if a minor party reaches certain threshholds (often 1%-5%), they can gain ballot access for the next election or even federal funding if they reach 5% nationally.

Third, the Protest Party is throwing its support behind the Mayday PAC candidates and local Move to Amend initiatives. If you live in an area that has a Move to Amend initiative on the ballot, be sure to vote for it. If you live in Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, or Arizona, check Mayday’s website for information about the seven candidates they are backing. Kansas is especially important, as Mayday’s only non-Major Party candidate, Greg Orman, has a 51% chance of winning a Senate seat, according to FiveThirtyEight.

 

Brendan Nyhan predicts a boom in third-party speculation

In the New York Times yesterday, political scientist Brendan Nyhan predicted that we would soon start to see many political commentators naively speculating that 2016 would see a viable Third-Party presidential candidate. This is not based on his belief that this year is somehow special; every election season inspires poorly-thought-out columns predicting the impossible. For quite a few years now, Nyhan has been documenting these predictions on his web page. In any case, I see these articles as an opportunity to publicize the Protest Party, so please alert me if you find them so I can comment in a timely manner. (Or, better yet, leave a comment yourself!) As for Nyhan's article, I left the following comment under the name "ProtestParty": 

Those who want to see a viable third party need to acknowledge that this is not possible in the face of the obstacles that Nyhan references in this article. If they want to be taken at all seriously, minor parties need to unite in a temporary coalition to dismantle these unfair barriers. If it can get on the ballot for 2016, the Protest Party would be an ideal vehicle for such a union.

Endorsing Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu in the Democratic Primary for Governor and Lt. Gov. in New York

Until the Protest Party has candidates and a demand, we will be identifying candidates from across the nation who champion anti-corruption policies, especially candidates whose opponents are particularly corrupt. Typically, these will be candidates from minor parties, because the insidious nature of the corruption of the Democratic and Republican parties makes it impossible to associate oneself with either party without being complicit with this corruption. However, in extreme cases, a major party candidate may be so much more attractive on corruption issues than their opponent that we feel compelled to endorse them.

Today, New Yorkers are choosing between one Gubernatorial candidate whose corruption is so brazen that it has attracted a Federal investigation, and another candidate whose platform centers around cleaning up state politics. I'm speaking, of course, of incumbent Andrew Cuomo and his challenger Zephyr Teachout. I delayed this endorsement in part because I would not typically endorse casting a ballot in the Democratic Primary at all, for it can be interpreted as support for the party in general. However, the media narrative around Teachout's anti-corruption stance has grown to a point where a vote for her will resonate more as a rebuke to the corruption of the Democratic Party than as staunch support for the Democratic Party with just some minor policy disagreement. As the New York Times editorial board explained when they declined to endorse Cuomo, "those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout...that impulse could send a powerful message to the governor and the many other entrenched incumbents in Albany that a shake-up is overdue." While the Times did not consider their own argument to be a compelling enough reason to endorse Teachout outright, the Protest Party does. Vote Teachout. (Today! September 9.)

Meanwhile, the Times did endorse Teachout's running mate, Tim Wu, over Cuomo's, Kathy Hochul, and the Protest Party follows suit. Like Teachout, Wu has the potential to be a passionate voice for combating corruption. Considering the relatively weak corrupting force of the powerless office of Lieutenant Governor, the inventor of the term "net neutrality" seems somewhat less likely than previous Democrats to abandon his ideology once in office. Wielding an endorsement from the Times, Wu also stands a much better chance than his running mate of actually winning this election. While his willingness to run as a Democrat concerns us, the benefits here outweigh the risks in our view. Vote Wu! (Today, Sept 9.)

While we are excited to have candidates like Teachout and Wu to endorse in the Democratic Primary, this endorsement should not be interpreted to extend to the general election, should Wu or Teachout win their primaries. That endorsement is more likely to go to a minor party candidate.

Gil Fulbright and Candidate Endorsements

We missed the deadline for 2014 ballot access ourselves, but there are plenty of candidates for various offices nationwide who understand that fundamental changes are needed in order for the people to regain power over their government.  In the coming weeks, The Protest Party will begin endorsing such candidates across the country for their 2014 campaigns. FreeandEqual.org has put together a very handy "Election Assistant," which should be quite useful in finding worthy candidates.

In the meantime, meet Gil Fulbright, a fake candidate in the 2014 Kentucky Senatorial race, put forth by the represent.us campaign. He's not a real person and thus would probably be ineligible for official endorsement by the Protest Party, but he represents one possibility for the sort of candidate I envision running for the Protest Party in the future.

Imagine the intrigue that would be caused if Fulbright were on the official ballot and had a simple demand like "Allow equal time for a third party in all debates," or "Adopt an alternative voting system," or some other simple reform that would enable alternative viewpoints to be heard. That's the idea behind the Protest Party. 

Stay tuned for Official Endorsements in a few weeks, and please email us with any suggestions.

A short new pitch for the Protest Party

I put this on the back of some business cards I printed up:

Finally, a way to use your vote that can actually make a difference.
The existing minor parties feebly attempt to win at a rigged game. The major parties have perfected corruption, and the one thing they still need from us is our votes. The Protest Party is designed to wrench power back from the corrupt system by holding our votes hostage until our anti-corruption demands are met.
United against corruption and wielding the power of our unified votes, we will set the major parties against each other by demanding that they take action - or lose elections.

I've found I get some eye rolls at the mention of starting a new party. This message establishes common ground with these skeptics of minor parties and explains why the Protest Party will be fundamentally different. That's the idea, anyway.

Time for Americans who view their government as illegitimate to give it an ultimatum

In 2012, over 98% of voters voted for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, despite there being six other candidates running for president. Looking at these results, one might come to the conclusion that Americans are reasonably happy with their choice of voting for either Democrats or Republicans. However, this is the wrong way to interpret the strong showing at the polls for our two major parties. Even a perfunctory look below the surface suggests a much more dire and troubling reality.

While national telephone polling does not provide a representative sample of American opinions, it does give us some sense of what the public is thinking about its government.  Polling shows congressional approval at an abysmal 16%, with less than 10% saying Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Only about 20% of respondents even think the Federal government has the consent of the governed, quite a damning assessment of the government’s legitimacy. Even from this exceptionally low starting point, between 23% and  30% of Americans say the country is heading in the right direction. About the same percentage says that they think their representatives deserve re-election.

If Americans are not happy with their choices -- if, indeed, they are so unhappy with their choices that four-fifths do not even think their elected government is legitimate -- what explains the overwhelming percentage of votes going to the two major parties that overwhelmingly comprise this government? I think the answer is that most Americans do not think they have any choice except to either vote for one of those two parties or not vote at all (and over 40% of eligible voters did indeed decide not to vote in 2012). In one important way, they are not wrong. In today’s political landscape, to vote for a minor party candidate is to remove yourself from the process of deciding who represents you in government. I would still advocate voting for minor party candidates because it does provide some intangible benefits, and strong support for a minor party can push representatives to behave somewhat differently, but these factors either do not occur to most voters or are overwhelmed by the (supposed) importance of influencing the election’s outcome.

The Protest Party aims to change this dynamic. Whereas voting for one of the existing minor parties is viewed as Utopian dreaming, a vote for the Protest Party would be both sober and prudent. We do not aspire to win an election, which is all but impossible at this point. This means we do not have to support an idealistic and divisive platform. Instead, we aim to harness the intensifying discontent of the American voters, giving them an outlet for their disgust with the ruling class in a way that does not simply waste their votes. If the major parties want our votes, they will have to listen to a demand put forth by Protest Party supporters. Not a platform, but an ultimatum. This is the party that I want to vote for, and if there is any validity to the polling, I do not think I will be alone. Please help us get on the ballot in your state.

Morality, Honor, and Pragmatism Converge

The reason I am optimistic and excited about the Protest Party catching on to an extent that it can make a real impact is that it should appeal to people for several powerful reasons. Three primary reasons are morality, honor, and pragmatism.

The Protest Party should appeal to many Americans for moral reasons. Americans adhere to various conceptions of morality, but those of us who base our morality on something like a universal application of human decency are appalled by the machinations of both our major parties. Even those Americans who put no conscious thought into their own moral code can usually identify when something is wrong: corruption, deception, hypocrisy, and oppression are nearly universally viewed as dirty or suspect. It is no secret that America’s two major parties regularly transgress on all of these counts. Decent Americans of almost all moral persuasions should be looking for alternatives to complicity with these depravities. That’s not to say that I necessarily think people should never be willing to vote for the “lesser-of-two-evils”. Less evil is preferable to more evil, but only when they are truly our only choices. While the existing Minor Parties do provide a moral alternative, voting for them is of limited strategic value. The Protest Party aims to provide an alternative that is both moral and strategic.

Even people who are not overly concerned with leading moral lives should be able to sympathize with the need for self-respect. It should be embarrassing to keep voting for the two Major Parties each election. These two parties have become masters of deceit; each election, the winner seems to be whoever most effectively convinces their supporters that they are different from the last guy. American voters have a peculiar tolerance for this sort of abuse. We are the Charlie Browns to our parties’ Lucy, allowing ourselves to be talked into trying to kick their damn football time after time. Simply based on self-respect, voters should be unwilling to keep voting for either of the two systematic betrayal machines that comprise the Republican and Democratic Parties. Honor demands that we stand up to these insults. Whether this means voting for an existing Minor Party or for the Protest Party, finally refusing to try to kick that football is a truly cathartic act. If the vote is for the Protest Party, as opposed to one of the other Minor Parties, the catharsis can be made all the sweeter through the knowledge that you are not throwing away your vote. Quite the contrary: The Protest Party is designed to leverage our votes to garner support for our agendas when the Major Parties ignore us.

The appeal of the Protest Party should extend beyond those voters interested in preserving their moral fiber and defending their honor. The strategic impetus of the Protest Party is to consolidate voter’s political power in a way that can challenge money’s political power. Once it reaches a critical mass of support and power, the Protest Party will start to become appealing even to those with purely pragmatic political inclinations; on many issues, the two Major Parties have absolutely no differences, and for people that care primarily about such issues, the only viable electoral strategy would be to support the Protest Party. Whereas the Major Parties can be expected to continue ignoring the interests of those without significant financial means, the Protest Party will be interjecting new ideas into the national discourse, and by showing solidarity and uniting under the Protest Party banner, the supporters of various special interest groups (those without significant lobbying clout) can support each other’s efforts to get their agendas recognized. (See the Protest Party Philosophy page for more information.) This may be frustrating for those whose agendas are not initially put forth as the party’s “demand,” but no more frustrating than waiting for the two Major Parties to start caring about interests that don’t contribute money to their campaigns. If one of the Major Parties siphons off some Protest Party support by adopting the agenda of one of the Protest Party’s frustrated minor factions, well, then, mission accomplished! This would be a way of achieving the Protest Party’s primary goal of garnering support for the political agendas of party supporters.

If it were to achieve ballot access, the Protest Party would provide the strategic platform necessary to make it worthwhile to vote in accordance with your morality, your self-respect, and your political pragmatism. By uniting under a single banner, voters of all political persuasions who are sick of being debased, insulted, and ignored by the two Major Parties may find that their votes are finally have some clout. We will work to agree on a single demand and put our collective force behind getting that demand codified. Unlike the existing Minor Parties and their unrealistic stated goal of getting elected, the Protest Party takes the more pragmatic approach of working to force the entrenched Major Parties to adopt out agendas. What we need now is more support so we can get on the ballot in as many states as possible. Take a look around this website and learn how you can get involved.

 

What's on the agenda for our first Meetup

Our First Meetup is happening in less than two weeks. We will of course want to discuss strategy and politics, but what I think we really need to discuss is how to garner more support for the movement.

Almost any group advocating fundamental democratic reforms, or any group that has seen its interests swept aside by the system because of the lack of such reforms, should be seen as likely supporters. The Protest Party could be a very useful electoral arm of many movements, including Represent.us, MayOne, Free and Equal, Common Cause, and The Sunlight Foundation. If the Protest Party can gain some traction, these and other organizations will want their concerns to be represented by the party.  By allying themselves with the Protest Party, they signal to those the Major Parties that votes can be had by taking their agenda more seriously. However, before engaging with the Protest Party is seen as worth any amount of time for these movements, we need to establish more of a presence. How to accomplish this? Here are a few ideas:

Be on the lookout for major columnists writing about their wish for a third party. Write directly to the columnists and submit responses to their newspaper’s editors.

Write letters to editors about systemic corruption, which is always timely.

Comment on Reddit. One of my comments has already brought several hundred Redditors to TheProtestParty.com, and I try to keep my eye out for more opportunities like this.

Launch a Facebook page. Someone else will probably have to do this, as I cannot bring myself to log onto that site these days.

Work on local outreach. The Meetup Group is my first effort, but we should be spreading the word at local events. The local Revolution Books bookstore agreed to take my Tear-Off Flyer for the Meetup Group, but no new members have joined since then. Perhaps we can get a booth in a farmer’s market or something. I could stand on a street corner with a “Join the Protest Party” sign. I’ve become involved in a local movement against a Sin Tax in Cleveland, which has put me in contact with several politically active people in the area.

At the Meetup, I hope to elicit more ideas for outreach and get some commitment from attendees to become a little more active in recruiting supporters. Maybe someone will even agree to make a Protest Party Facebook page.

 

 

 

A much-needed safety valve for American democracy

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. - John F Kennedy, 1962.

The Protest Party can be seen as an alternative to violent revolution. As I like to point out, the British Monarchy enjoyed more support in the American Colonies at the time of our revolution than our congress has among Americans today. One major difference between America today and the colonies of the 18th century is that the America of today is designed to have all sorts of “safety valves” (as Dan Carlin put it in his recent Common Sense podcast that inspired this post) to let off revolutionary steam. Chief among these are the First Amendment and the vote. The idea behind these safety valves is that if we think the government is unbearable, there are real and effective alternatives to revolution: our First Amendment ostensibly guarantees that we can shout our grievances from the rooftops without fear of reprisal from the government. And the right to vote, which is (today) guaranteed for most Americans, ostensibly empowers the people to elect representatives who are capable of enacting new laws to address the people’s grievances.

Neither of these safety valves are functioning properly. Consider the stakes involved in the decision to join a street protest in America today. The recent militarization of America’s police forces, which was most clearly on display during the shutdown of Boston during the search for the marathon bomber, was also put into action to violently quell the Occupy Wall Street protests and other street demonstrations. Meanwhile, with the COINTELPRO scandal in its rearview mirror, the FBI has resumed systematically and egregiously abusing its powers in the surveillance of activists of all sorts. Local police also routinely send undercover cops to infiltrate activist groups, which means that if you are a new member in an activist group, all the regulars will be suspicious of you, and if you are a regular you must always stay on guard around your friends. Worse, these cops are under a lot of pressure to make a case, and have been known to fabricate quotes to incriminate protesters. Perhaps worst of all, activists who are accused of committing crimes, especially animal-rights activists, are being charged under terrorism statutes. All things considered, for most Americans, the personal risks associated with protesting vastly outweigh any small hope of getting noticed or changing policy. So much for that safety valve.

So the Free Speech Pressure Valve is out of order, but at least we can still depend on the Electoral Valve to relieve the revolutionary pressure, right? If people have grievances, all they have to do is to elect the representatives who promise to address them. Unfortunately, this is a nice story that does not bear much of a resemblance to reality any more (if it ever did), and it goes well beyond the recent spat of voter suppression efforts. The fundamental problem is well documented in books like Larry Lessig’s Republic Lost: The people in power are profiting from the current system of campaign finance, enabling them to further consolidate their power. Those of us who cannot afford to play this game are left powerless. Until last week, there was still hope that some legislative solution could be found that would curtail the “Dependency Corruption” caused by our current lobbying system, but the Majority Opinion in McCutcheon vs FEC bluntly stated that any such attempts would be deemed unconstitutional by the Roberts Court. Writing for the Majority, Chief Justice Roberts put it in no uncertain terms, (beginning with Roberts quoting from Justice Kennedy’s 2010 Citizen’s United opinion):

“Ingratiation and access ... are not corruption” ...

They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. Any regulation must instead target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance.

That’s right: unless a bag of money is accepted in exchange for an official act, the Roberts Court thinks our institutionalized corruption is actually “a central feature of democracy.” More to the point, the Roberts Court makes clear that it would strike down any future attempts to circumvent the corruption that disempowers us, because apparently this process is essential to democracy.

Whether you agree with the McCutcheon decision or not, John Roberts’s comments quash the Electoral Safety Valve. Meanwhile, The First Amendment Safety Valve also has been suppressed. What options are left? I agree with Dan Carlin when he says he would rather not relive the revolutionary unrest of the late 1960’s, and I shudder to imagine the (extremely remote) possibility of a revolution in America akin to the Arab Spring or Ukraine. As much as I admire the courage and dedication of those who join public protests, I’d much rather take a more judicious approach to fixing our democracy while one is still available. That’s why we need the Protest Party.

The Protest Party Coalition

In my view, of course, every eligible American voter should be voting for the Protest Party. Here’s a list of the factions I think could make up the broad coalition of Protest Party voters. If you fall into one of these categories, let me know if you agree with my assessment.

Minor Party Voters. Nobody knows better than frustrated third-party voters just how corrupt the system is, because nobody is more familiar with the suppression tactics the two major parties engage in. One major problem with getting minor party voters to support the Protest Party is that many of these minor party voters are likely to have intense loyalty to their party. These core supporters maintain perennial optimism that this could be the year that they finally make a breakthrough. Moreover, they work really hard each year just to get on the ballot and each year hope to get over the voting threshold their state sets in order to get onto the next election’s ballot. (In Ohio the threshold is now at 3%.) On the other hand, many minor party voters are not dedicated and optimistic “core” members and might be looking for a better alternative to the Big Two.

Reluctant Major Party Voters. These are the pragmatic “lesser of two evil”-type voters. They are frustrated with the two Major Parties, but they don’t see the Minor Parties as viable alternatives. Perhaps these voters don’t subscribe to any one of the Minor Parties’ agendas, or perhaps they simply recognize that these parties are hopeless, generally viewed as ideological oddities peripheral to the real election. The Protest Party may be a bit of an oddity itself, but its agenda is clear and it has not, as yet, been proven hopeless. The trick here will be to convince these voters first that the two Major Parties are more similar than they think (and even worse than they think); and second, that the Protest Party is not hopeless.

Those actively opposed to voting. I like to point out that the US government’s claim to legitimacy is precarious: support for Congress is about one-third as strong as support was for the King of England at the time of our revolution. And that’s for a directly elected and relatively transparent body - in contrast to many arms of our government that act in complete secrecy (or try to), outside the view not only of the people but even of those who are charged with overseeing them. Some argue that by voting we offer undeserved legitimacy to the whole system. Well, I think if you vote for something called The Protest Party, it would not be viewed as condoning the system at all. To the contrary, it’s a clear and emphatic declaration of protestation. Contrast that with how people interpret non-voters: “Oh, they are just not very engaged with politics. Maybe they just don’t care.” The Protest Party resists such misinterpretations, makes its disapproval clear, and, moreover, organically unites a coalition of like-minded Americans.

Protest Voters. Traditionally, people who want to cast a protest vote go to the polls and vote for “Mickey Mouse” or some other clear non-compliant choice. In Nevada you can even choose “None of the Above,” an option that is being explored for ballots in New Hampshire, as well. The Protest Party takes this a step further by effortlessly uniting these protest voters, empowering them to actually make some difference, or, at least, to be noticed.

Those who don’t vote because they are fed up with the system. It’s easy to become frustrated and feel powerless in our democracy. Economists will even tell you that it’s not worth your time to bother voting. The Protest Party is, for now at least, a small and novel group upon which each supporter can have a real and tangible influence. Compared to attending street protests, which means risking getting arrested, pepper sprayed, surveilled and raided by the FBI, or even brain damaged by the police, sending in an early voting ballot is ridiculously easy and, hopefully, rewarding.

[This post borrow heavily from a post I wrote for skepolitical.com.]

Why America needs The Protest Party

I won’t use this space to try to convince you that the status quo of American governance is a horror show. There are plenty of other places on the internet to find such information, and besides, if you are reading this you probably already know that the current system is unacceptable. Instead, I will briefly explain why whatever you are doing to help the situation (if anything) is not as worthwhile as supporting the Protest Party.

Individual Americans exercising their right to vote have a vanishingly small chance of affecting the outcome of a presidential or even congressional election. Worse, it is rare for the two major candidates to disagree on many of the most significant issues facing the country. Even on those issues where they do disagree, mysterious forces seem to hold sway, preventing our elected officials from enacting their agendas. (Well, these forces are not really so mysterious when you consider how electoral campaigns work.) These factors combine to make voting an exercise in futility.

Meanwhile, alternative modes of affecting federal policy are similarly ineffectual. Some of us participate in advocacy groups, pouring enormous amounts of our time and energy into producing some small chance of improving one of a plethora of urgent situations. Meanwhile, the system remains corrupt, producing new horrors faster than advocacy groups can suppress them. Some of us blog or post our opinions to Facebook, but these become echo chambers. Either we are preaching to the choir or our “Friends,” who roll their eyes and scroll past our posts. Even prominent pundits get tuned out by nearly everyone except those who already agree with them. A few of us go a step further and join street demonstrations or protests. These are roundly ignored by the media unless there is some violence or arrests - a mighty high price to pay for some small chance of making a tiny difference in the country’s governance. As with voting, the rational course of action is probably to simply stay at home. And this is exactly what Americans tend to do.

And yet America is supposed to be a Democracy, a government of, by, and for the People. If we Americans are mostly abandoning our roles as the legitimizing and guiding forces behind our government, then who or what exactly is guiding our policy in our stead? And what type of government are we living under?

With 10% congressional approval, America is on the precipice of a crisis of legitimacy. Strikingly, the thing that keeps us from going over the edge is that we Americans don’t appreciate our role in this story. If we ever bother to glance at our putrid government, we simply shrug and ask, “What’s that got to do with me?” Well, collectively, we are our government.

Our votes, individually, do not carry much weight. Collectively, though, our votes carry more weight than the hundreds of millions of dollars that pour into campaigns. Our elected officials fret over their polling data and are always looking for ways to capture the votes of new segments of society. The system is set up to poach large segments of the vote regardless of the consequences. The Protest Party is designed to use these forces to its advantage. We will form a coalition of voters and agree on a demand. When the system comes looking for votes, we will tell them what they need to do to get them. Until we threaten to withhold the one thing we have left that the system still respects us for, we should expect to be ignored. Like always.

To do nothing is to abandon our democracy. To vote for the existing parties is to get more of the same. To protest in the streets is, for most of us, simply not worth the physical, mental, and financial costs. To vote for the Protest Party, however, is to give our democracy one last fighting chance without any of the high costs associated with demonstrating on the streets. All you need to do is vote. But first, we need to get the Protest Party on the ballot in as many states as possible (particularly in swing states where the system values votes most highly). Click on the “Get Involved” tab to learn how you can help.

 

Influencing "Thought Leaders" to help break America's election-season Bunker Mentality

In past election seasons, well-meaning liberals and conservatives alike have found themselves saying things they will later regret, such as “I’m excited about John Kerry!” or “George Bush understands things!” You don’t even believe these things. So why did you ever say it?

 

Tribalism and bunker mentality reign supreme during election season. Dreading the consequences of a victory by the “other” guy, both liberals and conservatives fall victim to their psychological defense mechanisms, and voters of every stripe forget their principles. Whether you’re a liberal worried about climate change or a conservative fed up with government corruption, you understand that our government has lost its ability to put good ideas into action - if it ever had such an ability. Approval of congress hovers around 9%-13%. For comparison, King George III had 15%-35% support in America at the start of our revolution. We hate our government, but sometimes we hate the other party even more.

During election season, most of the energy of the “Thought Leaders” in our mainstream media - TV pundits and newspaper op-ed columnists - goes into crafting polemics against the opponents of each Thought Leader’s favored candidate. To be sure, there is always plenty that is offensive and worth decrying in any prominent political candidate: somewhere along the line, the system weeds out any and all candidates who aren’t corrupt. The problem with these commentaries is that they give the impression that maybe only one of the two candidates is corrupt. They encourage us to embrace our tribalist tendencies. The bunker mentality soon follows. In this way, Americans are distracted from a crucial and fundamental truth in American politics: all our politicians are corrupt and will continue to be corrupt until their bosses - us, the voters -  make it unprofitable for them. Each election season that voters turn a blind eye to their preferred candidate’s corruption, corrupt practices become more and more normalized. The result is an America that is a thoroughly corrupt - an America that I, for one, cannot continue to support in good conscience. In the light of day, Americans seem to agree, as reflected in the 10% support of congress. Without a Protest Party, though, there is not much one can do.

While most Thought Leaders take a partisan stance that ignores the fundamental truth of American corruption, there’s another strain of punditry each election season. Quite a few commentators over the years have gotten so fed up with the system that they declare their desire - or even their expectation - for a viable third party to emerge. However, our system is designed to marginalize all minor parties in ways that simply cannot be overcome (more on this in a future column). Some commentators who have recognized this fact have written that they still won’t vote for a major party; their consciences simply won’t allow them to vote at all. This sentiment might appear unseemly to those who are in the grips of the tribalist partisanship that infects our electorate each election season. However, utter disgust with our government is not at all a fringe sentiment in an America where only one person in ten approves of our congress.

Despite their disapproval, over half of eligible voters vote in presidential elections, and over 95% of them vote for one of the two major parties. This is not surprising when one considers the futility of doing anything else. Voting for a minor party has proven ineffectual, and while declining to vote may feel like a good way to declare the system illegitimate, in reality nothing is more disempowering than not voting. I think people will be excited for the opportunity to cast a vote that is both strategically sound and true to their principles. What could be more satisfying than telling off our corrupt political parties while amplifying our voices?

The Protest Party, with its appealing simplicity, intriguing versatility, and “Kingmaker” potential, is designed to capture the imaginations of the commentariat and to create a compelling storyline that the media will find profitable to cover (profitability being key for corporate media). What we as supporters of the Protest Party need to do this year is to ensure that, when an op-ed columnist inevitably sits down to research his anti-Partisan “This System is Broken” column, they will notice existence of The Protest Party idea, take a minute to consider it, and mention it in their column. The recent creation of this blog and website is a big step in that direction, but I will need a lot more grass-roots support to ensure that the Protest Party will not go unnoticed. I hope you’ll help. 

 

Introducing The Protest Party

(Originally posted at skepolitical.com on October 18, 2013.)

I have an idea that I have been delaying now for over a year. For almost that long, I’ve been working on a post explaining exactly why I think this would be worthwhile and how it would work. Just getting this post together has turned out to be a very big project, and I want to get the ball rolling, so let me state this proposal as simply as possible and use future posts to explain my reasoning. I am soliciting advice and criticism which can be given privately or here on the blog. Without further ado, here is my “mission statement.” 

I will be working on creating a new political party that I provisionally call the “Protest Party.” I like the name because unlike a blank or Third-Party vote, its purpose of being a Protest Vote is unmistakable. The explicit point of the Protest Party will not be to elect candidates to political posts, but rather to use the media attention afforded to the Presidential Election to help give voice to a political agenda. (The possibility of electing officials to state legislatures may also be explored peripherally.) The exact political agenda of the Protest Party will be decided each election during the primary season.

Strategically, the Protest Party will promise to throw its support behind whichever of the two leading parties adopts its (very clear and simple) agenda. So, for example, if the Protest Party is polling at 1% in Ohio and the two major parties are vying for that state, it may be attractive to one of the parties to incorporate the Protest Party’s demand into its platform. Knowing the mainstream media, I think this is just the sort of simple yet compelling storyline they would not be able to resist.

The agenda can be pretty much anything, but it should serve a few purposes. It should be something that is under-discussed in the mainstream media. It should be very uncomfortable for either of the two major parties. It should be inoffensive to a wide swath of non-partisan voters. It should be something that, if actually embraced by one (or both) parties, will go a long way towards improving our political system. I imagine something like the following:

A) States must adopt Alternative Voting in all elections. This has the advantage of being very attractive to voters who are already voting Third Party, but it’s a little wonky and might be difficult to judge whether one of the Major Parties has adequately “acceded” to the “demand.”

B) At least one third-party candidate must be allowed in all Presidential Debates and given equal time.

C) Insist on some anti-corruption reforms, such as more evenly distributed Federal Campaign Funding.

That’s it for now. To those who think that using votes strategically corrupts our democracy even further, let me just say that if you don’t realize that other people are already gaming the system, then you are already being outplayed and your interests are being undermined. The mechanics of our voting system are inherently unfair, and the two major parties rig the game further to ensure no serious challenges from third parties.

In any case, I think something needs to be done and nobody else has figured out a good solution. It’s time to take the reins.