This is a list of actions to take and organizations to join if one is interested in transforming American politics from two-party dominance. This list is pretty much one individual’s perspective—mine. I am sure others will have points to disagree with and will have items to add or subtract. I made this list primarily as a mental exercise to help myself think through some of the issues one faces as a citizen interested in participatory democracy and who finds the current political choices in mainstream American politics lacking.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive. It is designed as a starting point for discussion on answering the question “What can an individual DO about it?”
1. Join one of the two major political parties and work to change the party from within. I’m not kidding. There is absolutely nothing holding you back from actually contacting and join the local chapters of either the Republican or Democratic parties and being active in your local chapter. Develop your political resume and reputation by learning the ins and outs of politics within the party by volunteering, attending meetings and showing up for events.
For a Progressive, this may also include joining grassroots organizations such as Democracy for America and MoveOn which center their activism on Progressive reform of the Democratic Party. Do this for a while and with enough savvy and you might end up becoming an important figure in mainstream politics as a party officer, precinct captain, party leader, or heck, even a candidate for electoral office! How’s that for becoming the change you can believe in?
Essential reading if you want to take this route: Taking on the System by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
2. If your views are pretty non-mainstream and you can’t imagine joining either of the Democratic or Republican parties, you can join one of the existing and active minor parties such as the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Working Families Party, the Socialist Party or the Democratic Socialists of America. The goal of third parties generally is to provide an alternative for voters to the two major parties in the electoral arena and to affect policy by influencing debates on issues important to the public.
One important thing to note: the vast majority of minor party candidates, with VERY few exceptions, routinely post miniscule results in elections. Very rarely does a candidate from outside the two major parties win elections anywhere in the U.S. You have to be prepared to accept that as part of the territory in getting involved in minor party politics. But this may be the route to take if you don’t want to compromise or water down your ideology and beliefs which can potentially happen if you take the route of working within the major parties. Also, some states are more conducive to organizing for third parties because of less restrictive ballot access laws and policies which encourage third-party political activity such as electoral fusion.
Essential readings if you want to take this route:
3. Be active in the organizing effort among political independents. This effort is most visibly spearheaded by the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP). The aim of the CUIP is to harness the power of the numbers of the third of the electorate who are political independents to affect the policies of the two major parties. One thing to note about the CUIP: as an organization, its leaders has ties and a history with Ross Perot’s Reform Party movement in the 1990s. Their main organizing efforts at the moment are for open primaries, a growing nationwide public education campaign and supporting the candidacy of Michael Bloomberg for mayor in New York City’s mayoral elections. And they have their fair share of controversy and detractors. But if you count yourself an independent you need to at least check this group out because they are the only organization I am aware of that is actually doing public education campaigns, consciousness-raising and yes, organizing, serving as a resource for, and linking up independent activists throughout the country.
Essential reading if you want to take this route: We the Purple by Marcia Ford
4. Become active in a social issue that holds sway within the major parties. On the Democratic side these can be labor, immigration, the environment, gay rights, women’s rights, etc. Work or volunteer for a nonpartisan organization that does lobbying, advocacy and organizing centered on these issues as a way to learn the ropes and establish your reputation in reform circles. You will be surprised what you will learn and the contacts you will make after a year of working for or volunteering for such an organization.
For example, to get in the labor movement, you can join your local union. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition are the two largest union organizations in the U.S. United Professionals is the advocacy organization for white-collar workers in the labor movement. Working America is the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO for non-union households.
5. Join and become active in efforts to reform the electoral system and ease restrictive ballot access laws. Organizations such as Free and Equal Elections and FairVote are the most visible examples of organizations in the U.S which lobby, advocate and educate the public about electoral reform. If these issues interest you, you absolutely have to be a regular reader of the newsletter Ballot Access News by Richard Winger.
Essential reading if you want to take this route: Grand Illusion by Theresa Amato
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