back for a moment to last December and January. There was tremendous outrage
over the 5-4 Bush victory in the Supreme Court. Large numbers of people, the
largest since the Vietnam War, demonstrated in D.C. on January 20th,
inauguration day, against the selection of Bush as President. Major stories were
being carried in the mainstream press about Florida and the problems of our
beloved “democracy.” Due to massive grassroots pressure, 42 Democrats found the
political courage to vote against unrepentant right-winger John Ashcroft for
Attorney-General. There was a palpable feeling among many in the progressive
movement that we could make critical strides forward in the critical task of
fundamentally reforming the electoral system.
forward to April and May. Despite the on-going work of a number of progressive
and moderate groups, the issue of electoral reform seemed to be withering on the
two-party political vine. Although there was an unprecedented two-week debate in
the Senate on the McCain-Feingold bill, the bigger stories were about the Bush
tax cut, National Missile Defense, energy policy, withdrawal from the Kyoto
global warming accords, and other bad news. The bi-coastal Voter Marches in D.C.
and San Francisco in mid-May drew no more than a few thousand people and almost
no media coverage. And the media spin put on the initial reports of the press
recount of the Florida ballots made it seem as if Bush junior would have won
Florida even if there had been a recount.
month of June, however, was a very different story, for three reasons: the
release of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on their investigation of
massive voter disenfranchisement in Florida, the Democracy Summer Institute at
Florida A & M in Tallahassee, and the Pro-Democracy Convention in Philadelphia.
In combination with the persistent, under-the-radar, essential grassroots
organizing on electoral justice issues taking place around the country, these
developments, particularly the success of Democracy Summer and the Pro-Democracy
Convention, make it clear that, in this year 2001, an independent electoral
justice movement has emerged onto the political scene.
political significance of this development cannot be overstated, for a number of
would have been demoralizing and a very bad thing if the progressive movement
had been not up to the task of responding to the Republican theft of the
Presidency and the 35-day Florida circus. The fact that scores of
organizations and many hundreds of activists representing tens of thousands of
more came together in June in Tallahassee and Philadelphia, with a commitment
to on-going work, is a hopeful sign.
This pro-democracy movement has emerged *from its beginnings* as a
multi-racial movement with major leadership from people of color. This was not
an accident. It happened because of a commitment to such a movement on the
part of the main organizers, those of color and those not, of Democracy Summer
and the Pro-Democracy Convention.
Those present at the June events included Nader voters, Gore voters and
others, and there were, as far as I know, NO public attacks by one on the
other. This included leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus,
representatives of the National Action Network and Rainbow/PUSH, Green Party
leaders, some representation of labor unions, mainly Black labor, prominent
leaders of the women’s movement, and a diversity of groups on the Left, to
name just a handful.
Over 100 young people from around the country attended the Democracy Summer
Institute, and a number of them went on to Philadelphia to attend the
Pro-Democracy Convention. The pro-democracy movement has gotten off the ground
with young people as major players and a major force.
After 33 years of progressive activism, including 25 as a third party
activist, I have become convinced that there is little hope that we can ever
accomplish our overall pro-justice, programmatic objectives unless we can make
significant inroads with the electoral reform agenda. A two-party,
money-dominated, winner-take-all political system is an eventual graveyard for
progressive movements *because we are denied any consistent
political/electoral expression.* We are kept at the margins, unable to win
enough third party victories to be seen as credible and “players” by most
voters or, more often the reality, reduced to begging of or demanding that the
Democratic Party, by no means a reliable ally, take up our causes. We will not
get out of this situation until we alter enough of the unjust rules of the
game that the electoral playing field is in the process of becoming level and
is not an ordinary political time. There are openings to advance the electoral
reform agenda that we have not had in over 50 years. We should act accordingly
and seize the time.
pro-democracy movement is still at an early stage of development as a political
movement. Over the last six months, particularly because of Democracy Summer and
the Pro-Democracy Convention, the primary thing which has happened is more
frequent and regularized communication among most of the major players in this
movement, at least the progressive sector of it.
important to recognize that many of the ten points of the Voters’ Bill of
Rights, a document endorsed by 120 organizations and which is widely accepted as
the unifying platform of the progressive pro-democracy movement, are also
supported by more moderate and good government groups. Some of its points are
supported by conservative groups, particularly conservative alternative parties
which are also shut out by the two-party duopoly. If this movement is to
accomplish its objectives, we will need to be both principled about our
commitment to a non-racist, genuine democracy and flexible tactically so that on
specific items in our Voters’ Bill of Rights (VBR) agenda, we can ally with
those with whom we share a common, if limited, approach. Examples of the latter
would be issues like easier access to the ballot, media and debates, instant
runoff voting, proportional representation, same-day voter registration, and
independent, professional administration of elections.
is unevenness at present as far as which issues of the VBR are being worked on
at the grassroots level.
Public financing/getting money out of politics is unquestionably the issue
around which there has been the most focused work over the last several years.
Indeed, going back to the Working Group on Electoral Democracy, significant
numbers of organizers have been involved with this issue for roughly a dozen
years, with victories to show for their labor.
Because of what happened in Florida, the issues related to voter
disenfranchisement, particularly enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and voting
rights for ex-prisoners, are much more widely in the public consciousness.
Groups such as the NAACP, the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation
and the Congressional Black Caucus are among the major groups giving leadership
in this area.
Primarily because of the work of the Center for Voting and Democracy and the
Nader campaign, the issues of instant runoff voting (IRV) and, to a lesser
extent, proportional representation (PR), have seen a tremendous increase in
both interest and organizing over the past year. Alaska, Austin, Tx.,
Minneapolis, Mn., Vermont, New Mexico, Eugene, Or. and Berkeley and Oakland, Ca.
are among the places where concrete IRV victories are very possible soon. 12
state legislatures have had IRV bills introduced this year. This is definitely
an area on an upswing.
Various third parties throughout the country continue to hammer away
legislatively and legally to change discriminatory ballot access laws which make
it difficult for independent candidates or third parties to get on the ballot.
Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News continues to be the best source for what is
happening in this regard.
because of Florida, there are possibilities for some progress relatively soon in
the area of making voting easier and more reliable, particularly as far as
improving voting machinery and the training of election workers. However, there
is a big question as to if enough resources will be allocated for these reforms.
There is also on-going discussion within pro-democracy circles about the
relative merits of improved electronic voting equipment versus the
old-fashioned, but less prone to vote-rigging, paper ballot.
are a number of other areas within the Voters’ Bill of Rights that, as of the
present time, do not seem to be major focuses for organizing:
same-day voter registration
making voting easier for students off at school and away from home
making election day a national holiday or on a weekend
easier access to the media and debates for candidates
statehood for the District of Columbia (with the exception of organizing
taking place within the District itself)
abolishing the Electoral College (or proportional representation in the
allocation of electors by states)
independent administration of elections
addition to the on-going work around various aspects of the Voters’ Bill of
Rights, there are several other definite or likely projects that will be
developing in the coming period.
major one is a bigger and better Democracy Summer 2002. The organizers of this
year’s Democracy Summer Institute have already begun discussing this and making
plans for outreach to involve additional organizations. There was much support
for this project expressed at the Pro-Democracy Convention. The thinking is
that, with enough lead time and resources, the summer of 2002 could be a time
when potentially thousands of young people would be involved throughout the
country in a massive voter registration, education, get-out-the-vote and
pro-electoral reform campaign. For reasons that are obvious, such a campaign, if
done well, could have a significant, short-term political impact, while also
strengthening and advancing the longer-term electoral justice movement.
part of the organizing towards Democracy Summer 2002 there is growing interest
in the idea of “freedom rides” prior to Democracy Summer. These traveling road
shows would make historical connections with the freedom rides of the 1960s
while outreaching to young people and students to become active in today’s
Center for Constitutional Rights, the primary organizer of the Pro-Democracy
Convention, is committed to working with co-sponsors and endorsers of the
Convention to hold a series of workshops or mini-conferences in targeted areas
around the country. Some of these could happen this fall.
is one more possible campaign. At this point it is in the active consideration
stage by some of the groups which organized the two June actions. The idea for
this campaign comes from a proposal put forward by Congresswoman Maxine Waters,
speaking at the kick-off session in Tallahassee June 17 of the Democracy
Waters challenged the young people to go back to their communities and really
dig into their local electoral systems. She suggested that they arrange to go to
local election offices to find out how things work—what happens when someone
registers to vote, where does that registration go, how long does it take to be
processed, is the person sent a registration card, how does the office make
preparations for election day, how do they determine how to allocate voting
machines, who oversees the administration of the office, etc.
There’s a lot to recommend this idea.
Election offices are all over the country; there are thousands of them. They are
a public institution; even though they are controlled by representatives of the
two corporate-dominated parties, they are supposed to be exercising their
functions in a relatively transparent and neutral way.
good number of them are inefficient, using outmoded technology, incompetent or
downright corrupt. Again, think back to Katherine Harris and Florida. Throughout
the country, particularly in areas where there are significant concentrations of
people of color, there are big problems with the way they function. This is why
one of the Voters’ Bill of Rights points calls for independent, non-partisan and
professional administration of elections. It’s really just common sense.
campaign led by students to, first, discover how local election offices are
functioning and, second, make demands for reform, can shine a needed spotlight
onto these institutions. In the short-term such a campaign should improve
efficiency and lessen the kinds of problems exposed in the 2000 elections.
Longer-term, it will build broad support for the independent administration
demand, an essential objective. We can’t trust the foxes of either party to
administer the chicken coop of a true democracy. Us chickens have suffered long
enough under fox mis-rule.
pro-democracy movement is a movement whose time has come.
(For more information, go to
www.votersbillofrights.org, or contact IPPN, P.O. Box 1041, Bloomfield,
N.J. 07003, 973-338-5398)
Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics
Network and author of Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society. He
can be reached at [email protected] or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J.