The Parties Are Over

Here’s a re-post from ally Jacqueline Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org,
a national association of independent voters.

Name a problem — poverty, war, out-of-control spending. The political parties offer themselves as the solution to all of the above, and more. We respond by voting for first one party, then the other, then back again. We want to let the world know we are unhappy, but we haven’t yet developed the creative capacity to rearrange the world around us.

This seemingly eternal passivity is the mother’s milk of political partyism. No wonder the Republicans and Democrats and their auxiliaries — the tea parties, the unions, the media — must whip us into a frenzy. Whether we are Foxites, MSNBCists, bloggers or bored stiff, we’re now implored daily to get out to vote. Why? Not because voting develops our capacity to move the country forward. But because we must put one, or the other, or both, political parties in power — even though separately and together, they brought us to this anxious and crummy place.
This is American politics 101. The cure for whatever ails us is . . . more of the same. Public health advocates tell cautionary tales about diabetics who drink soda, people with high cholesterol who eat burgers and fries, and daughters of breast cancer victims who take hormones. But somehow, no one ever informs us that political parties — and the partisanship they spawn — have clogged our national arteries, fried our national brains and compromised the entire body politic.

But Americans are starting to move beyond the parties, even beyond partyism. That’s the dynamic story unfolding on the edges of the midterm battleground. And if that motion is cultivated by truly nonpartisan innovators, the political parties will have a comeuppance sooner than you might think. Contrary to what some analysts argue — that America is ripe for a third party — the direction Americans are really heading is away from parties altogether.

In June, a little-discussed proposition was passed by California voters with a winning margin of 8 percentage points. Proposition 14 abolished party primaries and unleashed an unpredictable group of voters onto the political playing field: 3.4 million independent voters who’ve declined to state a party allegiance. The result? Political parties will no longer control the first round of voting in that state.
Instead, the voters — all voters — will determine which two contenders, out of an unlimited field of variously aligned (and nonaligned) candidates, proceed to a final round. Denounced as a virtual sin against nature (echoes of the divine right of kings?), Prop 14 was excoriated by all of California’s political parties, major and minor. But the voters, in their post-partisan wisdom, ignored the warnings. They’d simply had enough of party control.

California isn’t alone. In mid-October a federal court judge in Boise, Idaho, heard testimony in the case Republican Party of Idaho vs. Ysursaa crucial test of the parties vs. the people. Idaho has an open primary system, where any voter can cast a ballot in all primary and general elections — voters simply register in Idaho, they do not affiliate with a political party.

The Republican Party sued Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to compel the state to close the primaries and institute partisan registration. There has been a great deal of litigation across the country on open primaries, but in Idaho, for the first time, the judge allowed independent voters (represented by my organization, IndependentVoting.org) to intervene in the litigation, bring their own counsel to the table, and argue that closing primaries grants the parties a political supremacy that gravely curtails the participation of nonpartisan voters, now 40 percent of the country.

The decision is expected in January, and the case is being watched by prominent constitutional law and party-rights experts. The implications of the case are potentially historic. It will delineate — even curtail — the power of political parties to exert their will over what should be a fundamentally public, not partisan, process.

On Tuesday, voters in Florida and California will get another bite at the nonpartisan apple. Redistricting-reform ballot initiatives are offering voters the opportunity to rein in the power of the parties when it comes to the all-important task of drawing district lines.

Earlier this year, here in New York — where we have closed primaries and a legislature legendary for its partisanship — there was an effort by the Independence Party of New York City, the government reform group Citizens Union and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end party primaries in the Big Apple and shift to a nonpartisan election system. But the effort stalled.

Still, the party system in the Empire State is vulnerable. And the underlying trend away from partyism reasonably includes new parties popping up along the way. The Independence Party of New York City, which styles itself as an “anti-party” party, delivered three successive wins to Bloomberg, including a massive exodus of 47 percent of black voters from the Democratic ticket in 2005. On Tuesday, if a sufficient number of voters back the radical African-American City Councilman Charles Barron, his independent bid for governor could result in the creation of the Freedom Party, since 50,000 votes for governor on a party line establishes ballot status. While to date, white voters have shown more party mobility than black voters, we’re now seeing an increase in black voters drawn to ticket-splitting and other forms of defection from the Democratic Party.

These are strange political times. The pundits say this election is a referendum on President Barack Obama, but that doesn’t truly capture the dynamic. More precisely, Tuesday will be a referendum on Obama’s ability to navigate partisan waters. He was elected to change the political game, and he’s found that impossible to do: The parties won’t allow it. Still, the American people, courted, ignored and manipulated by the political parties, are beginning to identify them as the problem.
The parties are so deeply embedded in government and in the structure and design of America’s electoral process that they never have to justify their existence to voters. But at a moment when there is across-the-board dissatisfaction with partisanship, shouldn’t they have to? Shouldn’t we have the opportunity to create alternatives — nonpartisan (rather than bipartisan) governance, campaigns based on healthy debates about new ideas, unorthodox coalitions and an environment that fosters innovation?

Right now the parties stand in the way of all that. That’s why we’re seeing signs that the people want them to stand down. Look for those signs when the returns are in on Tuesday night. They’ll tell you more about where the country is headed than who controls Congress.

Transpartisan Moment

We are living in what Tom Paine would have called “soul-trying” times.

In the face of multiplying crises – economic, ecologic, political and spiritual – it’s becoming more apparent that fundamental change is required. The good news is, what is needed isn’t revolution, but evolution. The other news is, this evolutionary alternative must be clearly expressed, carefully developed, and made tangible to the millions and millions of Americans who see that something is profoundly wrong, but don’t know what to do about it.

Many of us have spent time and resources over the years supporting causes we believe will create a better world. Until now, the vast majority of well-meaning organizations have either worked within the system, or worked around it. It is now time to confront the elephant – and the donkey – in the living room. The bipolar insanity of a fiercely divided body politic has largely paralyzed us in the face of huge problems, as we have devolved into an orgy of impotent blame and dogmatic positioning.

There is now a unique opportunity to seize the time, and take advantage of what we are playfully – yet seriously – calling “an evolutionary upwising.” All across America and all across the political spectrum, people are waking up and wising up to recognize that neither political party truly represents them. And as people are awakening from the partisan trance, there is a growing Transpartisan movement, not to be confused with “bipartisanism.”

Transpartisan and bipartisan are two different things. The corporatist elitist element at the “center” of both parties – Brad Blanton calls them “Dempublicrats” – are now scrambling to channel the discontent with partisanship into a “bipartisan” rule that will further narrow the scope of conversation and increasingly enforce top down rules “for our own good.” Or, as conservative activist Grover Norquist puts it: “Bipartisan means the Democrats and Republicans getting together to screw the American people.”

We the people of America – and indeed the world – are at a crossroads now. There is disheartenment in the heartland. In the past, a discontented populace would rise up to overthrow its government in a revolution. Today we are called upon to wise up and overgrow the corporate-state in an evolution. And there is very good news in this regard. Thanks to the work of pioneers like Tom Atlee and Jim Rough, and the very recent work done in Seattle through the Transpartisan Alliance, we now have the tools to use the existent polarities to activate the collective intelligence and wisdom in any community. In other words, We, the people, are finding that we have access to something “the system” lacks, wisdom.

For the past eight months, we have been convening a bi-weekly prototype Transpartisan meet-up in Seattle that began with 4 people and now has 71 from all “tribes.” This meet-up has served as a focus group to refine a meeting format that will keep people from all political stripes engaged on a sustained basis (allowing the group to move, month by month, through stages of empowerment from problem identification to “choice creating”). Over the course of the months, we have expressed our differences loudly and clearly – on everything from guns to health care to the role of government – but inside the container of a mutual desire to have a happier, healthier community. In Native American circles, they say, “we just speak until there is nothing left but the obvious truth.” And so it has been in our circle. After exhausting ideological positions, having expressed every emotion, having soberly recognized that we all agree the current system is unworkable, one question emerged:

“So what? So what can we do about it?”

With this key question came the spark of evolution. Political “children” and “adolescents” (relying on “parental corporate-government” to take care of them, rebelling when it doesn’t) began to evolve into political adults. Together we came to the same realization: “It’s up to us.”

We are at a pivotal moment now, at the beginning of a movement to reunite America – but not around worn out clichés masking the same old same old. We have the opportunity to reunite America around its true heart and soul – the “heart virtues” and values that the vast majority of us, regardless of political affiliation, agree on.

As an example of the kind of wisdom that can be generated using the energy of opposing polarities, here are some of the things that ordinary citizens – right, left and center – have agreed upon:

  • We don’t support corporate or government structures that encourage predatory behavior
  • The democratic system is no longer representing us
  • We don’t want taxation without equal, full representation
  • We agree that a local response is most empowering
  • We need to balance rights with responsibility to appeal to left and right
  • We all want to build a sense of neighborhood, tribe
  • We all have common needs: love, autonomy, fairness, safety, basic services

During the next two years these conversations will extend to every part of the country in the form of Chautauquas – a revival of the famous 19th Century community meetings of citizen policy makers – where people step away from the TV and internet, and come together on the “outernet.” In coming face to face with one another outside of the bipolar, bipartisan divide-and-conquer game, the long lost moral authority of “we the people” will come to the fore. This is the only thing that can counterbalance the weight of money, and the power of money that seems to make all the decisions in this society.

The first prototype Transpartisan Chautauqua will take place in Seattle on Dec. 4. It is co-hosted by three political parties and groups as diverse at Campaign for Liberty and Transition Seattle. We are also planning another in the series of Reuniting America transpartisan national leadership retreats (eight between 2004 and 2007…see alumnae.) The purpose this next retreat, planned for May 2011, is to engage leaders of national networks in seeking practical, safe, creative ways to engage their local members in self-organized meet-ups and Chautauquas in search of bottom up solutions (i.e. citizen created policy options that become attractive to officials because 80% plus can say “Yes!” to them.)

We are also in the process of writing a series of e-books (that will become print books) that will serve as a manifesto to move the “up-wising” forward. Reuniting America: A Call to Evolution is designed to weave together the narratives of both left and right to enable us to come front and center to “face the music and dance together.” Addressing the questions, “what’s so, so what and now what,” this book offers the practical experience and toolkit for transpartisan organizing. A second book, Heartland Security: From Ideal to Real Deal, is a practical guide intended to inspire deeper cross-pollinization and weaving of the various green/progressive and libertarian/conservative economic re-localization efforts.

We are asking you to financially support this movement at a moment when it can make all the difference in the world. Will our children and their children grow up in a world that is healthier and more free than the one we have now? What happens in the next two or three years may very well determine whether civilization evolves to greater heart intelligence and wisdom, or whether we dissolve into neo-feudalism. If you are in a position to make a tax deductible year end gift it will fuel our writing and organizing efforts (please make checks payable to our 501c3 fiscal sponsor, Empowerment Works, Memo: Transpartisan Upwising, 1801 Lincoln Blvd., #138, Venice, CA 90291.) Alternatively, Chip-in whatever amount works for you via PayPal. NOTE: All contributors will receive a free download of our first e-book when published in early 2011.

In supporting this endeavor to bring awakening, awareness, courage and functionality to our body politic, you are playing a significant role in the history of our species and civilization. We hope you will join the “upwising!”

With faith in us all,

Joseph McCormick and Steve Bhaerman