Try, try again
A thriving third party isn’t an impossibility
The main thing that can go terribly wrong with realism is that it can quash idealism. Yet, all real change, hope and getting off one’s hindquarters requires some idealism, the kind that doesn’t go off the rails into fantasy. So when you hear “Draft Bernie,” don’t just dismiss the words out of hand before finding out what “draft” means in this context.
The folks behind a petition at DraftBernie.org are not necessarily pushing him to run again for president. Their effort is trying instead to convince him there is enough support for creating a People’s Party that reflects much of his 2016 presidential platform for the Democratic nomination. Third-party efforts have historically had a rough time challenging the near monopoly enjoyed by the two major parties, but the times are a-changing in more ways than one.
Things haven’t been working out so well for the Democrats due in part to dark money furnished by folks like the Koch brothers, who have built an elaborate system of organizations that can sway every facet of government from the local dog catcher to the nation’s presidency. (Read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer to understand the extent of their reach.) The Democrats have also held off their truly progressive wing for years. And, their super delegate system virtually assures that it’s the party’s powerful, not its diverse participants with other issues and candidate choices, who determine who is nominated for president.
Those organizing the effort for a People’s Party believe Bernie Sanders’ following is strong enough to capture a large number of the independents and disenchanted party voters in the country who did not vote in 2016 or who are tired of holding their noses. The website explains, “At a time when Americans are leaving the establishment parties, we shouldn’t be swimming against the progressive populist current in a fruitless attempt to reform the corporate party that created this mess. The people are leading the way to an independent alternative.”
Is a major third party possible? Nick Brana, a former outreach coordinator in Sanders’ campaign, points to historic precedence (Van Buren and Lincoln) in the evolution of parties, saying, “A popular politician builds a large following in the establishment party by representing a neglected majority … then he takes that majority and forms a new party.”
It is painfully evident that neither of the current major parties can or will be able to let go of the corporate interests that determine their policies. In contrast, the most vital thing Sanders gave the country in his primary race was to prove that campaigns can be run without corporate and Wall Street money, the funding principle of a People’s Party’s as well. Until people as individuals determine whom their candidates will be and support them as they did Sanders, our political system and its participants will remain corrupted by big money.
The appeal of his platform, certainly not based on his looks or age, garnered Sanders stadiums filled with thousands upon thousands of people at rallies across the country. Among the issues he pushed were more taxes on the billionaire class, single-payer Medicare for all, free or reduced public college tuition, reduced military spending, ending for-profit private prisons, campaign reform, immigration reform, and, of course, dealing with global climate change.
The movement for this new party aims at a 50- state strategy and includes recruiting candidates to run in local, state and national elections in 2018. Edward Hejtmanek (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Fayetteville and Jill and Ray Ballaster of Russellville are leading the campaign in Arkansas. The primary goal now is getting petitions signed on the website and writing Sanders directly to ask him to help form this party. In Fayetteville, informational meetings in July will be held on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 in the boardroom of the Fayetteville Public Library and every other Thursday in August and September. Discussions of platform development and issues will be the main focus.
To Hejtmanek this is personal. “We stand at a turning point in American history. We need a party that will fight for the future of our children and our children’s children. To me this campaign represents the opportunity to create a fairer and more just society, to prevent environmental catastrophe, and to restore from the brink of absolute corporate control a democracy for the people, by the people and of the people.”
That democracy idea was not a fantasy for the Founding Fathers. Our job is to not let it be a fantasy for us.