May 22

Occupy Debate: It Isn’t Just about Electoral Politics and Third Parties

Occupy

Occupy Wall Street protestors march down Fifth Avenue towards Union Square during a May Day rally in New York City. Photograph: Monika Graff/Getty Images

In an interview with The Real News Network, Jeff Cohen, the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, the founder of the media watchdog FAIR, and the co-founder of RootsAction.org, argued that the Occupy movement–as well as the rest of us–must dismiss third parties and its contempt for the political process outright, and instead focus on fielding and supporting Democratic challengers in primary races across the country. Writer for the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart penned a blog post for the paper in which he essentially mirrored Cohen’s position. Both men held out conservative movements, most recently the so-called Tea Party, as examples of right-wing groups who have succeeded where Occupy falls short.

There is certainly no arguing with the recent Tea Party-Republican-Koch Brothers, et al.’s achievements, as Cohen properly points out.

But the next question—and you raised it—is, if you’re going to also—instead of—you know, you can’t forever be a protest movement. At a certain point, the whole idea is to take some power, to not just protest power, but take power. And when we look at the recent history of our country, like the last 35 years, we see that right-wing social movements, sometimes with corporate money behind them and sometimes not, have seized one of the major parties, the Republican Party. And when we look around us and we see that the military budget is through the roof, wealth disparities are through the roof, battles we thought we’d won years ago, like reproductive rights, separation of church and state, we’re having to refight all that. The reason that the progressives are on the defensive, whether they’re out in the streets protesting or they’re trying to figure out an electoral strategy, we’re on the defensive because right-wing social movements have seized one of the two major political parties and used that power, by controlling the Republican Party, to continually dominate the American debate and move the debate rightward. So while I agree the most important thing is to build independent social movements, I also believe one needs an electoral strategy, and in that electoral strategy I think the right wing has basically shown the way.

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Apr 02

80% of America Can’t be Wrong

While even uttering the words “third party” is widely considered poison to any movement or independent candidate, it appears that this conventional wisdom may need to change.  The term so frightens those interested in challenging the two party system that it is standard practice for any movement or candidate to loudly make clear to anyone and everyone that he or she is not running as, or attempting to grow, a third party. For example, the “nonpartisan” nominating website Americans Elect 2012 goes to great lengths on its pages to reassure readers that it is not a third party movement, but rather a “2nd way” of nominating candidates for the presidency of the United States. The statement itself is laughable, as no serious candidate of the major two parties would forgo party resources or challenge the party apparatus if unsuccessful in the presidential primaries. Unless your name is Joe Lieberman, you would suffer significant retaliation for making life difficult for the two party machine. Your fate would more likely mirror that suffered by Arlen Spector. However, recent polling data suggests that the American public may be ready for a third party challenge to the establishment.

A recent Reason-Rupe poll discussed in detail in an article at reason.com found that:

80% of Americans say they would or might consider voting for an Independent or third-party presidential candidate in the 2012 election. Specifically, 60% said they would consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate, 20% said they might consider, 17% said they would not consider, and 3% said they did not know whether they would consider voting for an Independent or third-party presidential candidate.

Trust in the two-party system is at a historical low, with “neither” party leading the way at 35%, Democrats at 31%, and Republicans at 23% when subjects were asked which party they trust most to govern. It certainly looks as if a true third party challenge could be on the horizon, with neither party in a hurry to serve the needs of the vast majority of Americans. Republicans specifically seem hell bent on creating a situation where the wealthy reap a larger piece of the pie than their actual contribution would dictate, and both parties are content to allow Wall Street to run amok. The public’s breaking point may be near. If nothing else, Americans Elect and the freshly minted Justice Party serve as evidence that “third parties” will no longer simply be places for the fringes of society to reside, the movement may have to be taken seriously going forward. While Rocky Anderson’s 2012 Justice Party has shown growing pains, a better funded, better staffed, more sophisticated effort is likely to emerge sooner than many might believe.