Try, try again

A thriv­ing third party isn’t an im­pos­si­bil­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Fran Alexan­der Fran Alexan­der is a Fayet­teville res­i­dent with a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment and an opin­ion on al­most any­thing else. Email her at fran@deane-alexan­

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 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 (ehe­jt­ 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.

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