Creating a Political Un-Party

by Alan F. Zundel

“Happy un-birthday to you!” the Mad Hatter congratulated Alice. He explained that un-birthdays are better than birthdays because they give you 364 days to celebrate on each year instead of just one.

Nick Brana, a former staffer for Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign, is trying to persuade the Senator to help create a new political party to run with in 2020. For now Bernie seems to be sticking with a strategy of working inside the Democratic Party. His followers are conflicted.

This issue of which party is the best vehicle to carry forward a progressive agenda has been roiling the troops since Bernie lost the 2016 Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party? A new People’s Party? An existing party such as the Green Party or the Working Families Party? Which is most promising?

But why must we all work in the same party? Why not create an un-party instead?

Think of the chief functions of a political party. It gives voters a common identity for their political orientation. It holds an organizational structure to mobilize people to support candidates in elections. And it offers a path to get candidates on the ballot.

All of these can be done without needing everyone to choose a single party or create a new one.

A 501(c)4 “social welfare organization” can engage in activities such as voter education and candidate scorecards, and an affiliated political action committee could organize voters to support particular candidates. This kind of hybrid organization could give members from any or no political party a common identity. It could offer an organizational structure to mobilize voters on behalf of the candidates most in line with their agenda, regardless of the party affiliation of the candidate. And its members could support good candidates in the different party primaries while helping non-affiliated candidates get on the ballot where desired by gathering signatures for them.

The one thing it cannot do, a least in a closed primary state such as Oregon, is get all of its members to vote together for the same candidate in a specific party’s nomination process. But the attempt to get everyone on board with joining the same party is based on a fruitless hope, driving people apart instead of pulling them together. Given the nature of our two-party electoral system and the difficulties of reforming the Democratic Party, people will take different paths on the party question for justifiable reasons.

I propose accepting the reality that people will join different parties and create an un-party so those of us who are willing can work together.

The building blocks of an un-party are a common political orientation, an attractive name that reflects its orientation, a sound organizational structure, and trusted leadership. It is well worth taking the time to attend to these fundamentals so that the un-party can hold up under the inevitable internal and external pressures it will encounter. “Politics ain’t bean bags,” as some wise person once said.

Although at some point in an organization’s growth it will be necessary to raise money, it would be best to maintain a focus on organizing people power with somewhat less emphasis on fund raising. This is because it is harder to divert a committed membership than to divert a pot of money to purposes in conflict with an organization’s founding vision.

So rather than picking one party to engage with and putting all of your energy into that, why not join together and work to elect the best candidates we can regardless of their party? It is worth working to elect progressive Democratic candidates, but it is also worth supporting alternative candidates when a nominated Democrat does not live up to our principles.

Having 364 days to celebrate is better than having just one. And having multiple pathways for moving forward together is better than having just one.

If you are interested in this concept, let’s talk.