A Third Force
T he season of resistance to “eradicate the virus of Trumpism” is unfolding with a fury. The Women’s March on Washington may well be remembered as one of the great moments of resistance and calls for transformation in American history. And Trump’s ill-conceived and awkwardly rolled-out Islamophobic ban on Muslims was met with massive demonstrations at airports and seats of government across the country and the world. Protesters have also filled the halls of Congress, disrupting hearings of the likes of Jeff Sessions, the “anti-justice” nominee for Attorney General, in hopes of stiffening the backbone of Democratic Senators to righteously obstruct the confirmation of right-wing extremists and the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, the Scalia clone Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court. Given the fact that Republicans refused to even give Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, a hearing and the incredible stakes in terms of the ideological direction of the Court, Democrats have every right to block every nominee deemed unfit for the next four years. No matter the outcome of this critical dimension of the struggle, it is imperative that progressives find a way to harness the tremendous energy of the resistance to build a permanent/institutionalized formidable force for transformative change—an independent/third force in American politics. If we believe that the election of Trump by a minority of the popular vote represents the last desperate, dying gasp of the old order, then defeating Trump is not the end, it is a means to an end, the creation of the New America.
Therefore, an independent Third Force must be shaped with that future in mind. It cannot simply be a vehicle focused on electoral politics/elections; an independent Third Force must be multifaceted with the capacity to utilize community organizing, campaigns around issues, protests, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, elections and policy advocacy to advance a vision/mission and agenda for transformative change. It must devise mechanisms to endorse major or third party candidates or run candidates as independents. In this regard, it is in the best interest of a Third Force to advocate for local, state and national policies which make it easier for third party and independent candidates to secure ballot access and processes which not only eliminate barriers to registration and voting but encourage greater voter participation; voter participation policies and processes like same-day on-site registration, making voter registration permanent, election holidays, Ranked Choice/Instant Run-off Voting and public financing of elections.
And, of utmost importance, an independent Third Force must place a premium on participatory processes that build solid relationships with people through engagement with them on issues and struggles that affect their daily lives: conducting civic education forums and workshops; training community organizers and candidates for public office; engaging people and constituencies in community conventions and assemblies to establish political agendas. We must be ever mindful that “elections do not equal democracy, participation is the essence of democracy.” The progressive Third Force I envision must be “independent” of the Democratic Party but function decisively to influence the direction of the Party. Functionally, the Third Force should become on the left what the Tea Party became on the right, obviously with a different vision, values and objectives. The Tea Party was/is an independent structure that nonetheless strove to push the Republican Party to the right by articulating a clear message and endorsing, running and electing candidates to public office. Ultimately, the power of the Tea Party was manifest in the actual election of officials at the local, state and federal level. The Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. Congress was/is a powerful vehicle which dramatically pulled the Republican Party to the far right. Grassroots advocacy, protests and demonstrations helped to put the Tea Party on the map, but the translation of the movement into electoral success is what made it such a potent force. The progressive movement needs a similar strategy. It is an integral component of an “inside/outside” strategy.
The Democratic Party must be reinvented and an independent Third Force is the vehicle which should take on this task. First and foremost, a Third Force must articulate and work for the adoption of a popular/understandable progressive agenda within the Democratic Party, confident that the majority of Americans embrace liberal/progressive policy proposals on vital issues related to jobs, healthcare, education and social programs. For example, it is interesting to note that in the 2014 mid-term elections a state like Arkansas adopted an increase in the minimum wage despite being a “red state.” This suggests potential to educate and organize middle, working class and poor people in red states with well thought-out and executed, culturally-sensitive strategies.
Equally important, progressives must push the Democratic Party to exemplify participatory democracy: a Party that prioritizes working with people and constituencies on issues of concern to them consistently. As previously stated, the tired method of gearing up to mobilize constituents prior to elections is doomed to fail. The Democratic Party, for that matter any Party which aspires to advance a progressive agenda, must build relationships with people, communities and constituencies to succeed. Civic education, involvement in social and community affairs, engagement around issues, creating community-based voter education and mobilizing structures will pave the way to increased voter registration and turn-out in elections. Building a new participatory Democratic Party requires confronting and overcoming old style political machines/organizations, bossism, attitudes and practices of “incumbency protection.” Participatory values, processes and structures must be the order of the day. Absent this approach, it will be virtually impossible to organize the unorganized, the apathetic, alienated and indifferent who are essential to defeating the right-wing extremists who are currently ascendant.
Of necessity, this approach also requires abandoning a reliance on what has become the professional “consultant class” of campaign strategists, pollsters, managers and operatives who are hired from election to election. I have long felt that the focus of the consultant class on “probable voter” models is in direct contradiction to the urgent need for the Democratic party to mobilize/organize the unorganized, the “non-probable” voters. During his tenure on the Democratic National Committee, the late Maynard Jackson strongly urged the Party to invest more resources in expanding its efforts beyond blue and battleground states to states like Georgia with large numbers of African Americans, a sizeable number of White liberal/progressives and a growing immigrant population. Despite having a large voting aged population (VAP), significant numbers of Blacks remain unregistered or fail to vote in states like Georgia. Maynard Jackson argued that investing more human and material resources and effort in educating and engaging “non-probable” voters would eventually bear fruit. Indeed, candidate Trump consistently defied the advice of the Republican “consultant class” by campaigning among non-probable voters in battleground states. His instincts were rewarded with an electoral college map victory.
If the Democrats persist in utilizing the same
old tired methods, they do so at their own peril.
A new Democratic Party must be born if it is to play a significant role in eradicating “Trumpism” and emerging in the forefront of the transformative struggle for a new America. And that means electing representatives to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and a Chairperson who embody and are committed to the transformation of the Party. The creation of a new type of Party will also necessitate serious investment of resources in the participatory strategy, tactics, processes, advocacy campaigns, structures and systems outlined above—including heavy investment in Blacks, a bulwark of the Party that rightfully feels neglected and taken for granted. The Democratic Party must reinvent itself or become irrelevant to the struggle to create a New America.
To conclude, I would like to say a word about the particular role of White progressives and people of African descent in building an independent Third Force. The demographic trends favor success for a Rainbow Coalition that can count on solid support among people of African descent/Blacks coupled with high percentages of Latinos, Asians, other people of color and a minority of Whites from various strata. To ensure prospects for success, the first priority is to solidify the expanding people of color base of this Rainbow Coalition. However, it is also important to solidify and expand support among various strata and constituencies of Whites. I view achieving the latter task as the special role of White progressive strategists, organizers and advocates. A majority of Whites have not voted for a Democratic candidate for President in decades. However, Trumpism attracted a sizeable segment of alienated and disaffected White voters, some of whom were motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigration fever and Islamophobia. Some were also angered by a sense of economic abandonment, a sentiment which also ran deep among Bernie Sanders supporters. I am not willing to attribute the disaffection of all the White voters who supported Trump to racism and bigotry. There is no doubt a substantial number of Whites who will never be converted to support liberal/progressive proposals or formations as long as they perceive them as pandering to “identity politics.” After all, racism has been one of the most effective “divide and exploit” strategies employed by adversaries of progressive change for generations.
I sense that there are Whites in every region of the country, including rural areas and the South, that can be reached by a persuasive, popular/understandable message and platform; one that connects them via economic common ground to their natural allies irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Gaining the support of these reachable/convertible Whites is important in principle, but as a practical matter will create a permanent majority for a progressive Rainbow Coalition dedicated to the creation of the New America. To reiterate, achieving this goal is the special task of White progressives. People of African descent and other people of color who have borne the brunt of racism and white supremacy should not bear the burden of converting and mobilizing/organizing Whites to enlist in the struggle for progressive change.
In this regard, I strongly disagree with those who believe that to attract greater support among Whites, the progressive movement and the Democratic Party must de-emphasize targeted policy proposals or “identity politics.” Blacks, in particular, have seen this movie before, the proverbial downplaying or sacrifice of issues/concerns/matters or race and racism on the altar of class or the interests of the working class as “the primary contradiction.” Race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation and religion matter and the concerns that arise from them must be addressed in their particularity in any meaningful progressive program, platform and formation. Intersectionality and inclusiveness must be the order of the day in terms of forging and acting on a progressive agenda for transformative change. At our best, African Americans have long served as a bastion of resistance to oppression and the conscience of this country in terms of advocating for transformative change, not only for Black people but all oppressed people. This vision/mission is captured in the Preamble of the Black Political Agenda adopted at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana in 1972. That document reads, in part: “If we are serious, the Black politics of Gary must accept major responsibility for creating both the atmosphere and the program for fundamental, far-ranging change in America. Such a responsibility is ours because it is our people who are most deeply hurt and ravaged by the present systems of society…It is the challenge to consolidate and organize our own Black role as the vanguard in the struggle for a new society.”
People of African descent/Black people in America must play a central role in the struggle for a new society. The issues, grievances and concerns of the oppressed, the most “affected” must be at the center of a progressive agenda for change. And, the most affected, particularly people of African descent and other people of color, must be substantially in the leadership of the struggle for transformative change. The reality of ingrained, structural racism and the historical tendency of White progressives to minimize racial oppression to advance issues of class, demands that people of African descent and other people of color be in the forefront of movements, organizations, agencies and institutions engaged in the struggle for a new society.
People of African descent can also “lead” by devising models of participatory engagement that can be replicated throughout the progressive movement. For example, there is a critical need to reinstitute the principles and practice of convening broad-based district, city-wide and state Black Agenda Conferences to adopt Black Agendas as an outgrowth of the input of constituencies in communities. Ideally, Black Agenda Conferences would be organized and convened by Independent Political Organizations whose memberships are reflective/representative of the community. Black Agendas adopted by the people in Agenda Conferences should be the basis for running or endorsing candidates for public office. It is by embracing principles of participatory democracy, building Independent Political Organizations and convening Black Agenda Conferences that Malcolm X’s exhortation that Black people “control the politics and politicians of our community” can be achieved.
As a new generation of Black leaders emerges, it is my hope that the Movement for Black Lives and similar formations will revisit the lessons of the Gary Black Political Convention and the teachings of Malcolm X and boldly push for a new politics in Black America: a politics grounded in movement and institution-building, participatory engagement in Black communities, the election of thousands of “servant leaders” to public office, and a Black politics dedicated to vigorously advancing the vision/mission of creating the New America which must become if there is ever to be a more perfect union on these shores. Heeding the charge in the Preamble of the Black Political Agenda from Gary, Black people must assume a leadership role in building a progressive, independent Third Force to undertake this vital mission.
While the struggle to create a new society is our ultimate goal, the immediate task for the progressive movement is to eradicate the virus of Trumpism.
Creating an independent Third Force in American politics that can implement an inside/outside strategy is key to accomplishing this crucial short-term task. A progressive Third Force can be the engine pushing the Democratic Party to reinvent itself in ways I have suggested while simultaneously engaging with other progressive Parties and formations to galvanize and energize a permanent majority to seize the reins of electoral power at all levels. Indeed, one of the most encouraging outcomes of the Women’s March on Washington was that hundreds of women have signed up to undergo training to run for public office. This is a good sign.
The alarming contradictions and crises precipitated by the election of Trump and the temporary ascendancy of Trumpism must be viewed as a major opportunity to engage the unengaged, organize the unorganized, give hope to those who have lost hope and build a powerful multifaceted movement that will ultimately create the New America. The question is, will progressives take advantage of this moment? The fate of the Union may rest on the answer.
Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.