I am going to attempt a rather ambitious series of blog posts which will present and analyze various ongoing efforts to enact political reform and wider participation in the American political system.
• The Fusion Strategy as touted by the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP)
• A takeover of the Democratic Party by Progressive, grassroots activists as described and exemplified by the books Crashing the Gate and Taking on the System
• Structural political reforms championed by the organization FairVote such as Instant Runoff Voting and the National Popular Vote
I chose to focus on these three because I have been observing these efforts for a long time—for a number of years. I have been observing the efforts by the CUIP to organize political independents since I first heard about them in the early 2000s. I have been consistently amazed observing FairVote’s incremental success in enacting IRV and NPV city by city and state by state year after year seemingly under the radar of mainstream political media coverage and public consciousness.
Being a political junkie I am a voracious reader of political books. Two books in particular—Crashing the Gate and Taking on the System—made a deep impression on me. These books led me to start researching and observing the efforts of Progressive, grassroots activists who have used the power of Internet technology and social media to challenge entrenched powers in the Democratic Party to create a powerful and influential niche for themselves in recent years.
Part I: Independents and Fusion
In a recent article at my other blog, An Ordinary Person, I examined a political strategy that is being touted by Independent activists for people who do not belong to or believe in the traditional political parties. This strategy is called Fusion. I contrasted the Fusion approach with the approach of third and minor parties of running candidates in electoral politics:
The third party strategy has failed to bring power back to the people in the American political system. Third party candidates who run in local and national elections, except for some anomalies, routinely post miniscule results. This is primarily the result of structural factors and the lopsided rules by which electoral politics in the US is conducted.
The CUIP asserts that there is absolutely no need to wait for these crucial reforms to happen before independents can start participating as players in American politics. Independents have to find ways to participate in politics and affect the political process now. Independents have to be willing to join in the fray of mainstream politics and be ready to throw its support behind any candidate from any party, major or minor, which represents and speaks out for independents. Salit calls this the fusion strategy.
For political outsiders who view issues and politics outside of the prism of Republican or Democratic perspectives, the CUIP’s fusion strategy presents an intriguing possibility for political outsiders to affect the political process as players instead of marginal participants. Indeed, if Independents act as a unified bloc or an organized group of political actors, whatever agenda they represent can be attractive enough for mainstream political candidates who seek their support to adopt.
This crux of the Fusion approach (and its main weakness) is that political independents can and should act as an organized bloc of voters who will throw their support behind any political candidate or movement which represents their interests. If independents are united and mainstream politicians see the benefit of getting their support, independents can potentially alter power dynamics which have traditionally favored the entrenched two major parties. With more than a third of the American electorate now self-designating as independent, the Fusion approach has real potential to have a major impact.
I say weakness, however, because the job of organizing independents and enacting an agenda that this third of the electorate can rally behind is easier said than done. Absent such a consensus, this approach is still heavily dependent on the major parties to set the agenda of political choices. In addition, independents span the political spectrum left to right and there is not a consensus even within independents what types of reforms, if any, the majority of them favor.
What pretty much unifies independents is their distrust of the traditional major parties and their skepticism of both Democrats and Republicans in addressing and actually solving problems. But is that enough to rally them into an actual, bona-fide movement for political reform?
The ongoing efforts by the CUIP is the only existing effort I know that is attempting to do this. I am not aware of any official outreach within the Democratic or Republican parties to appeal to independents in-between election years.
• We the Purple by Marcia Ford
• Committee for a Unified Independent Party
• Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America by Micah Sifry
• Electoral Fusion (from Wikipedia)