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On The Coming FDL 2012 Scorecard: Weeding Out The Weasels

11:15 pm in Uncategorized by matthewj

I was initially skeptical about the idea of a scorecard. My reluctance is that a scorecard could easily be weak and reflect the candidates campaign rhetoric and promises more than their actual willingness to use power in office to create change. I believe that any candidates affiliated with either legacy party cannot be trusted regardless of what they say or promise on the campaign trail. This is why I proposed the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy which aims to build confidence in the public that the 52% of Americans who want other options in politics can have new choices if they unite their power.

Kelly convinced me to reconsider this by asking what we might expect from candidates who do not affiliate with either party. This is a very good question. Any campaign outside the establishment that is showing signs of success will see attempts to co-opt it or otherwise neuter the growing power. A simple, clear litmus test that shows voters who supports oligarchy and empire could be a very valuable tool. It could also provide a very valuable foundation for FDL’s scorecard.

I would like to propose that the FDL scorecard include criteria which will “weed out the weasels” so to speak. This would identify candidates who support oligarchy and empire and automatically rate them a zero. It would be a litmus test of sorts for candidates who would actually attempt to represent the people who elected them and not the elite and wealthy special interests.

This is a first attempt at identifying simple, clear criteria that would meet this purpose. It is intended to be a starting point for discussion and nothing more. I will break it into two sections – one applying to candidates who have served in office and have a voting record and a second section that can apply to new candidates.


Candidates who have served:

War Votes

Any candidate who has voted to support our wars of aggression including authorizing funds for them is automatically rated a zero

PATRIOT ACT

Any candidate who voted for the PATRIOT ACT or any of its renewals or extensions is automatically rated a zero.

Retroactive Telecom Immunity

Any candidate who voted for retroactive telecom immunity is automatically rated a zero.

Financial Bailouts

Any candidate who voted for the financial bailouts that were opposed by 90% of the public is automatically rated a zero.

Health Care Reform

Any candidate who voted for health care reform with no public option is automatically rated a zero.

Financial Reform

Any candidate who voted for the financial reform that wasn’t is automatically rated a zero.

Audit the Fed

Any candidate who voted against auditing the Fed or watered the bill down in any way is automatically rated a zero.

Rule of Law

Any candidate who has given the executive branch a pass on rule of law issues in any way including through inaction is automatically rated a zero.

Whistleblowing and Leaks

Any candidate who has given the executive branch a pass on rule of law issues in any way including through inaction is automatically rated a zero.


All candidates:

End the Wars

Any candidate who would not do all in their power in office to end our wars of aggression including defunding them is automatically rated a zero.

Military spending

Any candidate who would not dramatically cut military spending down to a sensible level including considerations for affordability and balancing military and domestic spending is automatically rated a zero.

Health Care

Any candidate who would not support a public option as a bare minimum is automatically rated a zero.

Election Reform

Any candidate who would not support election reforms to create competition in the political arena is automatically rated a zero.

Rule of Law

Any candidate who would not do all in their power to restore rule of law in the executive branch including using subpoena power is automatically rated a zero.

Torture and War Crimes

Any candidate who does not support investigations and prosecutions for torture and war crimes committed by U.S. Government officials is automatically rated a zero.

Whistleblowing and Leaks

Any candidate who has supported government action against whistleblowers exposing corruption and incompetence rather than supporting the whistleblowers against the government is automatically rated a zero.

Corporate Rights

Any candidate who supports corporate personhood and / or is not willing to work to severely restrict the rights of corporations as a different class of entity than natural persons is automatically rated a zero.

Institutions vs Individuals

Any candidate who supports the rights of institutions (whether corporate or state) over the civil and human rights of individuals is automatically rated a zero.

Economic and Legal Rights

Any candidate who does not support equal balance of power in contracts (i.e. simple, straightforward contracts instead of incomprehensible legalese, etc) between individuals and institutions is automatically rated a zero.

Legalized Bribery

Any candidate who does not support reforms to end all forms of legalized bribery in all branches of government is automatically rated a zero.

Abuse of Power

Any candidate who does not support strengthening laws against abuses of power and fully prosecuting all abuses of power to the fullest extent of the law is automatically rated a zero.

Net Neutrality and Telecommunications

Any candidate who does not support a competitive, free and open internet allowing direct free speech between individuals to flourish is automatically rated a zero.

Legacy Party Support

Any candidate who refuses to leave the legacy parties which control our political debate and possibilities through their leadership structure and back room dealmaking inside and outside congress is automatically rated a zero.

UPDATE 1:
I want to make it clear that the automatic zeros I mention in this post are for the total FDL score. Any points accumulated via other criteria would be automatically and completely wiped out by any single one of the above criteria. Some folks mention negative points in the comments. If we adopt a “weeding out the weasels” list and also include negative points for some items any candidates meeting the list could be rated below zero. I would be fine with that as long as it is clear that any candidate rated zero or less is not supported in any way by FDL and voters are strongly encouraged to look elsewhere.

UPDATE 2:
New items for the list:

Energy Policy

Any candidate who refuses to acknowledge that fossil fuels and nuclear energy are both a national security problem and threaten our survival and / or is not willing to invest heavily in a renewable energy plan is automatically rated a zero.

Criminal Justice Reform

Any candidate who refuses to support reforms to the criminal justice policies (including the war on drugs) that result in the “land of the free” having the highest incarceration rate of any nation in history is automatically rated a zero.

UPDATE 3:
A new item from Liz:

Stock Portfolio

Any candidate who owns stock in government contractors, especially MIC companies is considered to have a conflict of interest and is automatically rated a zero.

UPDATE 4:
Another new idea:

Legally Binding Campaign Promises

Any candidate who is not willing to support a mechanism for legally binding campaign promises where violations of such promises result in an immediately vacant office and a new election is automatically rated a zero.

UPDATE 5:
Kelly has suggested we link as many of these to actual or proposed legislation as possible. Will anyone volunteer to help find the links? Please post them in the comments if you can track them down and I will update the items in the main post.

UPDATE 6:
One more new idea courtesy of ThingsComeUndone:

Lobbying

Any candidate who is not willing to support a mandate that the general public have access to the same mechanism for scheduling meetings with elected representatives or staff and all such meetings must be conducted in public (whether openly or via live internet stream) is automatically rated a zero.

On The Power Of Pledge Based Activism

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by matthewj

Please use the #pledgebasedactivism has tag to discuss this post on Twitter. It will not be automatically added by the tweet button above so you will need to add it manually. Thanks!

Background

Social media has been credited for enabling and helping to facilitate the recent uprisings in the Middle East. While there is some controversy over the degree to which it played a role, there is no doubt that it played a role. Governments would not have gone to the trouble of shutting down the internet if they did not fear its power and potential for direct communication and organizing of the people.

Facebook and Twitter are both decentralized networks of information. This is both a strength and a weakness when using them as tools for activism. The strength is that they help information travel very quickly through social connections. The weakness is that some useful information is distributed throughout the network which makes it more opaque than necessary. There is also lots of potentially useful information that does not exist anywhere in the network.

UK Uncut has done a great job of using these social tools while also providing centralized access to some of the most essential information about their actions. This makes it much easier for people to find out what’s going on and even initiate new actions themselves. Yet it still leaves some critical information untapped and in the minds of potential participants. This is information that if transparent could influence even more people to participate.

The Concept

Pledge Based Activism is a new concept designed to help solve some of the challenges that have traditionally been faced by activists. Foremost among these challenges is getting the general public to participate and this is where Pledge Based Activism can help most. It will collect and make transparent information that will allow the public to make better informed decisions when they consider participating in an action. A similar concept has already been implemented with good results in the space of project fundraising. There is no reason it couldn’t be just as powerful in the world of political activism.

As was discussed in the FDL member webinar last week many people generally support the principle behind any given action, yet are somewhat skeptical as to the impact it will make. This is perfectly reasonable as we only get 24 hours in a day and most people are balancing work, family hobbies and other commitments. Most people already have a very full life before considering participation in any form of activism and are keenly aware of the sacrifice required to participate.

Pledge Based Activism works by dramatically lowering the bar to initial participation and providing much greater assurance of the impact that will be made if they are asked to make the sacrifice necessary to participate in the final action. Initial participation in the action is reduced to little more than a mouse click indicating support for and willingness to participate in the action or campaign if they are joined by enough others to make it meaningful. Activists organizing the action or campaign clearly present what would be required of participants and an analysis of the expected impact at increasing levels of participation. This information allows the public to make an informed decision about what level of participation and expected impact would be sufficient to make their sacrifice worthwhile.

An Example

An example of an “ask” or pledge is described in the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy. In this case the pledge would be to do as follows:

- cast a valid vote in the election they are pledging in (one that must be included in the official tally)
- do not vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate

In this example the fear of “wasting” a vote is reduced because this sacrifice would only be made if enough others pledge to do the same, thus providing some degree of assurance that the expected impact will indeed occur. This specific “ask” has been made by various people throughout the years but confidence of the public has always been lacking. Transparent pledge data would go a long way towards building that missing confidence. Voters would be able to make a pledge with no sacrifice and be free to change their mind on voting day if they were not joined by enough other voters to deem a protest vote meaningful.

The Tool

Here is an example of what a pledge screen might look like:
photo

There are several key elements. First, the name of the campaign or action and a simple concise presentation of what is being pledged are presented. Second, at the right of the screen essential information about the status and number of participants of the campaign is presented. This includes simple english as well as a graphical thermometer. The levels presented would be dynamic based on the campaign or action goals and reasonable expectations. Each level would also be clickable and would present a summary of the impact the organizers expect to make if that level of participation is reached. Finally, there is a simple pledge form allowing participants to specify their intent. This form would include at least an email address and the conditions which will activate the pledge. These conditions may be as simple as the number of other participants but could also include additional factors essential to the participant’s decision about joining (such as who the Democratic and Republican nominees turn out to be in this example).

The thermometer graphic tracks pledges at each level. Activated pledges are green. You’ll notice the next level of pledges to activate is yellow, and so on. The numeric labels are also color coded. When the top of the yellow pledges in the thermometer reaches the associated yellow numeric label the pledges will activate. At that point those pledges would join the green pledges as active and the next level would turn yellow, and so on through the levels. This makes it apparent how close each level is to becoming active all in one simple graphic.

The pledge form could be launched from any web page that presents information about the campaign or action via a pledge button similar to the way people like things on Facebook or tweet them today. Campaign or action status information could also be embedded in any web page as a widget. These would help a Pledge Based Activism tool become an activist optimized form of social media that could be integrated with and used with the more general social media tools that already exist.

In addition to the pledge form and social media integration a Pledge Based Activism tool should also offer a central listing of campaigns and actions that are currently running as well as supporting campaigns like UK Uncut which are coordinated protests that take place locally and on a repeating basis. Participants would be able to find the actions supporting that campaign in their local area and pledge against the local action.

A Pledge Based Activism tool would of course also allow participants to view a list of their pledges and status of the associated campaign or action. This would tell them whether their pledge had been activated or not (although an automatic email would be sent out when the pledge was activated). They would also be able to edit any pledges. The edit function would be critical as campaigns will want to know when participants change their mind.

Closing Thoughts

By reducing the initial sacrifice as much as possible and providing assurance when the public participates the likelihood of participation will be significantly increased. I expect there will also be a feedback cycle as more of the public (not traditionally politically active) pledges, participates, and sees actual impacts occur. Success leads to a sense of empowerment which leads to further participation leading to further success. Campaigns that are not successful in gaining enough pledges will be relatively cost and sacrifice free to the general public and will therefore not necessarily reduce the power of this feedback. In fact it may increase confidence when actions and campaigns that do not have enough support for success are cut short without wasted effort and sacrifice.

While these benefits of Pledge Based Activism are significant in themselves, this is only a fraction of the power Pledge Based Activism has to offer. During our member webinar Jane talked about how carefully she always considers what is involved in asking people to participate or help out in any way. Both the effort and anticipated outcome are considered. Pledge Based Activism can significantly reduce the initial effort required by the public to indicate their general willingness to participate. It provides a tool to gauge public sentiment and without asking too much. By shifting the cost / benefit measure for participants it makes the “ask” easier. This in turn will lead to more actions, more campaigns, and more activism. Most importantly, all of these that gain enough support to move to the next stage of an actual action or event will see a much greater chance of success.

In essence Pledge Based Activism is a tool to help activists to communicate earlier, more transparently, and more effectively with the participating public. Better communication and more information will lead to more successful activism which should and hopefully will lead to a healthier democracy.

Stay tuned for a follow up post where I will discuss challenges and issues to successfully implementing Pledge Based Activism as well as answer commonly asked questions.

If you have a minute please let me know what you think. I would really like to get feedback on this idea. Do you see as much potential in it as I do? Do you think there are insurmountable challenges to making it work? Do you think Facebook and Twitter are good enough and offer all the social tools necessary for net organizing and activism?

FAQ: Answering Common Questions About No Confidence Protest Vote 2012

7:07 am in Uncategorized by matthewj

Please remember to add the #noconfidence2012 hash tag if you tweet this post using the button on this page.

Last Thursday I presented a strategy for a No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 campaign and coalition. If you have not read it yet, please do so. It outlines the strategy in some detail and there is a good discussion in the comments. Several good questions and some misconceptions about what I am proposing arose in that discussion. I will address each of these items in this post, but first a brief recap of the main points of the strategy:

  • (∙) Those who currently hold power will not willingly relinquish it.
  • (∙) The legacy Democratic and Republican parties work together and with the oligarchs to maintain and further consolidate their power.
  • (∙) Therefore change will not come from the Democratic and Republican parties.
  • (∙) Continuing to vote for Democrats and Republicans will lead to our country heading further in the same direction it is heading in now.
  • (∙) The legacy parties are working across the aisle to hold maintain their duopoly and we must work across the aisle to break it if we want change to happen.
  • (∙) We will also need the support of the general public – the non-activist citizens.
  • (∙) Many citizens are afraid of not voting for the lesser of two evils or have reached a level of cynicism that has caused them to stop voting.
  • (∙) Building support will require confidence that enough voters are going to participate to make a meaningful statement.
  • (∙) This confidence can best be built by building a pledge system that allows voters to tell us under what conditions they are willing to vote for a third party, independent, or write in candidate.

Q. Isn’t it better to focus on getting candidates elected? Protest votes are just wasted votes.

A. We are currently passing through a unique time in American history. A recent poll suggests 52% of Americans want an option outside of the Democratic and Republican parties. They have become extremely cynical and disenchanted with our legacy parties. For those of us who feel this way votes for Democrats and Republicans are wasted votes. We are looking outside the box for ways to influence American politics. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is intended to use the election cycle, associated media attention, and increased general interest in politics that occurs during presidential campaigns to do this. The goal is to change the discussion rather than to win elections in the immediate term.

There are some who have not yet reached the level of cynicism and disenchantment with the Democratic or Republican party to give up voting for them. They believe the system can be transformed from the inside through traditional electoral politics. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is not intended to change their mind or be evangelical in nature. We are focused on building a coalition of voters who are ready for something new. one_outer reminds us of the well known aphorism that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results”. Our coalition will include people from all political views who believe this aphorism applies to traditional electoral politics and the legacy Democratic and Republican parties.

Any of you who do believe the challenges we face and are interested in learning more about why many of us no longer feel that way are encouraged to check out the work of Naomi Wolf and Naomi Klein. Naomi Wolf presents The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot, a wonderful and frightening picture of the what lies ahead of us on the path we are currently following (The End of America on Amazon.com). In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein documents the tactics that have been used by the American (and international) oligarchs elsewhere in the world that are now returning home and increasingly being used domestically.

Q. Why make things so complicated? If you don’t like Republicans and Democrats just vote for a third party or independent candidate of your choice.

A. This is a very good question. The simple fact is that many of us have been doing this for a long time and it hasn’t been working. Not only does it not work, but momentum does not build from election to election. There are several reasons why it doesn’t work in our electoral system. There have been good posts by Jon Walker discussing this. First there are the obvious issues of ballot, media, and debate access. Secondly, voters perceive that these candidates have little to no chance of winning and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Voters are not willing to support the candidate and thus there is no momentum. We never find out how many voters would have supported the candidate had they received sufficient media attention and been perceived as having a chance to win. Lastly, the voters willing to look and think beyond our major parties are splintered across the political spectrum.

This block of voters increasingly looks like it may be large enough to win a plurality if it stands together around the issues held in common (the most obvious one being desire for political choices that are not currently offered). Standing together and building confidence among voters that there are enough of them to have an impact is critical. This what the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy aims to do. Without solidarity and confidence we will remain many small and powerless groups of voters. Together we will be a large and potentially quite powerful block of voters.

Q. What about the outcome of the election? Protest votes will not influence the outcome of the election.

A. Very good question. Many of us looking for another option feel that both legacy parties are taking us in the same unfortunate direction, the only difference being how quickly they want to reach the destination. This is why Barack Obama is considered by many to be more conservative than Richard Nixon and also why his health insurance reform was very reminiscent of earlier plans proposed by Republicans. This is also what makes it very difficult to tell what election outcome is more inline with the long term interests of the majority of Americans. We’re all very familiar with the analogy of a frog in boiling water. When the temperature is raised slow enough the frog stays in the pot and dies, when the temperature is raised quickly enough the frog jumps out of the pot and lives. Whether this analogy applies to the American citizenry today is difficult to tell but it often feels quite compelling.

We ask those who are willing to focus strategically on the need to disrupt the imperial oligarchy even if that means potentially sacrificing our influence over the outcome of the election. While desire to stop the inertia and find a new course is widespread the structure of our legacy electoral system presents serious challenges to any viable alternative. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is designed to work around the limitations of party status, ballot access, debate access, winner-take-all elections, and the diverse opinions held by those looking for an alternative. Only through a very creative grassroots / viral strategy like this or through $1 billion or so in private wealth will it be possible to impact the 2012 election in any way. If anybody has other creative, out of the box ideas about how to impact the election please let us know!

While we do not aim to influence the electoral outcome we do believe this strategy can make an impact. If this campaign receives significant, pledged votes, support through social media, and discussion on the internet there is a point where it will become hard to ignore. We have the ability to measure our own progress and disseminate that information widely. Given enough support, mainstream media will be faced with the choice of either covering our effort or ignoring us and thereby increasing their already growing irrelevance. Either way there would be a significant change in the discussion among activists of all strips and a sense of empowerment that we are not permanently locked into our current party structure. Space will start to open to explore new possibilities.

Q. I am still afraid that not voting for my side will throw the election the other way. Why should I take this chance?

A. This is a good question also. One of the interesting things about the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is that it is non-partisan. Nobody will know prior to the election which side it might draw more votes from. This is not at all trivial. It will not have a traditional spoiler effect in the same way a third party such as a green or libertarian candidate would. Instead it would function as a wild card factor more like a moderate independent. It is just as likely that this coalition will draw votes from the other side as from your side.

More importantly this strategy is mostly aimed at voters who are fed up with both major parties and the current oligarchical party system. On both sides we see parties that are not responsive to the voters they are supposed represent. Continuing to vote for them sends the message that this is ok. It tells them that they do not need to respond to their constituents in order to be re-elected as long as they believe they can convince the voters that the other side is worse. This is not a healthy political culture and it is destroying our country. We the people need to take back our power by ceasing to enable the policies we oppose which will never change as long as the legacy parties remain in control.

Q. Do you really think the other side would join with you?

A. Certainly not everyone on the other side (whichever side happens to be the other side for you!) will join. But many of them are just as frustrated and hungry for change as we are. There is a general feeling in the country that our political system is not working and that everyday Americans are not listened to or represented in most major policy decisions. Some of us have ideas about where we think the country needs to go and others are not quite sure but certainly know something is wrong. There are many people of all political persuasions who are ready to move beyond the legacy parties. This strategy is a way to do that and will attract any voter who is ready to demand different choices than we are being given by the legacy parties.

Q. Just because folks on both sides think government is broken does not mean they want the same solution. Why should they work together?

A. This is possibly one of the best questions that has been asked. Part of the answer is that empire and corporatist oligarchy are reviled by a large and quickly growing segment of these frustrated Americans. On policy questions related to these issues there will be much agreement. More importantly though, everyone is looking for choices that are not offered today. While we are not all looking for the same thing we would all like to see a broader and more responsive political menu. This is simply not ever going to be available if we do not break the political duopoly and create a truly competitive market for political leaders.

If we want a truly competitive political market that responds to the actual values and opinions of its citizenry it is absolutely imperative that we work together and demand this. By working together we can create the space for this change to take place. If this strategy works it will help to foster growth of new ideas, coalitions, movements, and possibly parties. All of our votes would need to go to somebody. New leaders will emerge looking to receive those votes and take the country in a new direction. Elections may not be won immediately, but by sustaining this movement through the next few elections cycles they will eventually be won by candidates with dramatically different policies than are currently on offer.

Q. Why should I (and my political allies) support this campaign / issue when there are so many other important issues?

A. I think history speaks loud and clear here. There has been a sustained, long term trend in the direction of American policy. Issues that do not directly conflict with the economic and imperial objectives of the elite have occasionally seen progress, the rest not so much. This trend will not change until the oligarchs and the legacy parties are removed from power. If you have any ideas about how to make this happen please share them with all of us. If you do not, then please consider supporting this movement.

Q. Would this really send the intended message? Wouldn’t people just see a few votes going to lots of unknown candidates?

A. It would certainly be possible to spin the results on election day many ways. The very existence of the need for spin would be a clear sign that our message was received by the legacy parties and mainstream media. Spin is a sign of fear and an attempt at regaining control.

The strategy of building a grassroots / viral campaign and collecting pledges throughout the election cycle would reduce the effectiveness of that spin. If we are able to raise general awareness of our coalition and our campaign it will be hard to explain why an unprecedented number of votes went to the “other” category without referencing our efforts. People who are paying attention will understood what has happened and will understand that we do have the power to make change happen if we stand together.

Q. You don’t really think mainstream media would ever cover something like this do you? And if they did cover it wouldn’t they just ridicule it?

A. Ghandi once said “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. If we build enough support for this campaign it will place the media in a very tough spot. Their preference is certainly be to ignore any electoral effort outside the mainstream parties. However, with enough support their their credibility (I know… what credibility!) will begin to be challenged unless they cover it. If we were to gather a million or more pledges and many Americans are aware of this they will notice and wonder when the media is not talking about it. Either we get coverage or mainstream media loses credibility. Either way we see progress. As for the second question, I will again reference Ghandi and point out that ridicule is a step in the right direction when you’re coming from the place of being ignored. The old saying is “any news is good news”.

Q. American voters are increasingly apathetic. Cynicism usually leads to staying home. What makes you think significant numbers who are ready for this idea will actually go to the polls and vote?

A. This makes a very good point and it is certainly right that many will simply stay home. I think it is important to notice however that voters have never before been offered the choice of an organized vote of no confidence. Since this actually mirrors how they feel and is not simply the lesser of two evils I believe many will be more motivated to vote than in previous election cycles. There simply isn’t a good historical precedent to compare to.

Young voters more than any other age group often want to see real change and not just tinkering. This is how Obama tricked them. He subsequently betrayed them and they will not be fooled so easily next time. We have never before seen an election cycle where so many young voters got their hopes up, supported a candidate, and were then betrayed. I believe an option of no confidence they will turnout again to send the message that our system is severely broken when there can be such a dramatic difference between what a candidate says and promises on the campaign trail (and in the occasional presidential speech) and the policies actually adopted as president. Many, many youth voters are ready to say “no more!”.

Q. Can we really expect an accurate count of the votes in this age of electronic voting machines?

A. I won’t pretend to have a good answer here. What I can say is that an accurate counting of the votes is the very foundation of the legitimacy of government. If you do not believe votes will be counted accurately enough to at least produce results in the right ballpark you are more cynical than I am and change is needed even more badly than many of us already believe. In any case, if this campaign were to be successful enough to really have an impact it may be big enough to coordinate election monitors to help address this issue.

Regardless of the official vote count, we would be tracking pledges ourselves. These pledges will give us early and continuous insight into the success of the campaign. These results will begin speaking well before election day. In the event that official results diverge quite significantly from our expected results (based on pledges) we could develop contingency strategies of various kinds. I’m sure many of you may have ideas about what could be done here.

Q. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on electoral reform issues (campaign finance reform being the leading issue here, with alternate electoral systems such as IRV and Approval Voting also making a good show)?

A. The current electoral system strongly benefits the empire, the oligarchs, and the legacy parties. Nobody with real power in America has any incentive to change this. If you are passionate about these issues I encourage you to do what you can, but consider also supporting our campaign. It will work inside the rules but outside the box. This seems to me to have the best chance of success, certainly a much better chance than trying to change the rules in a way that takes power away from the oligarchs.

Q. Change doesn’t seem to come through elections. Shouldn’t we focus on non-electoral strategies of change?

A. It is possible that non-electoral strategies may indeed be better. If you have ideas please share them. In my opinion there are several paths to the significant kind of change that is necessary in American political structures. The least disruptive of these paths is through electoral strategies and thus electoral strategies have the best chance for success. What is necessary is an electoral strategy specifically designed to break the duopoly of the oligarchy that is the legacy Republican and Democratic parties. That is what I have presented. Additional strategies and ideas in this direction are very welcome.

Q. Your strategy aims to tear down rather than build up. Why don’t you present solutions and work to implement them instead?

A. This is a matter of perspective. In physics there is a law of conservation of energy. Capitalists often speak of creative destruction. Often times it is simply not possible to create something new without simultaneously breaking down the old structures. While the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is superficially a destructive one that protests against the status quo it is more substantially a creative one. It is creative in the sense that it’s primary goal is to create the space for new ideas and facilitate a new discussion about the direction our country should go in.

The feeling that America in 10 or 20 years will look dramatically different than it does today is palpable. There is a sense that we are at a turning point and the question is what direction do we go. The space for an honest discussion is sorely needed. Without this space and this discussion I fear that change may not come in a civil manner nor lead us in a desirable direction. Creating this space and fostering this discussion is one of the most optimistic and hopeful acts we could undertake. My sense is that party busting is the only way to make this possible. Maybe I am wrong, but I really don’t think so (and if I am, please prove me wrong – I would be very happy to see this space open up by any just and moral means possible).

Finally, I will say that it is easy to ask for solutions and much more difficult to offer the right ones. We have only just begun debating the serious fundamental and structural issues facing us as Americans. It will take time for the best answers to emerge. In the meantime, facilitating and fostering this discussion will move us in the right direction. We are facing unique and daunting challenges as a country. Anybody claiming to have all the answers probably doesn’t have any that would serve us well in the long run.

This post was also cross posted over at the Daily Paul site in attempt to start getting libertarians involved.

UPDATE:
darms provided some interesting information that I think plays into our hands:

‘Other’ – 1%
‘White’ (D) – 13%
‘Perry’ (R) – 15%
registered but not voting – 45%
not registered but eligible – 27%

The 45% registered but not voting is the most interesting segment. Nobody has ever tried to organize the cynical and disenchanted into a revolution at the voting booth that supports not a candidate but a reformed system where their voice will actually be heard. Certainly some are just apathetic but my guess is most of the 45% are just cynical and disenchanted and don’t see any option that’s going to make much difference to them. The 27% is probably more representative of the truly apathetic. I think we can motivate a large portion of the 45% to go out and vote for no confidence assuming I am right that no confidence is truly what their opinion is.

UPDATE:
My latest post covers Pledge Based Activism in detail. This is a concept for a powerful new tool for internet organizing and social media activism. This tool is central to the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy.

No Confidence Protest Vote 2012

1:55 pm in Uncategorized by matthewj

Democracy is broken in America.  As Jon Walker said in the member webinar last night, our political system is controlled by legalized bribery of various forms.  Politicians feel free to act in their own interests after getting elected rather than actually representing the people who elected them.  More and more Americans from all across the political spectrum are waking up to this fact.  This is leading to both cynicism and sometimes a sense of hopelessness.

I strongly believe the first step we need to take as a citizenry is to join together in a way that sends a strong and clear message to our country and the world that says Americans want a government that is actually responsive to the people that are governed.  We need to stand up and say we want a legitimate and true democracy.  We need to do this in a way that cannot be ignored by the politicians, the media, or the world.  Most importantly we need to do it in a way that speaks to each of us as citizens and demonstrates the power we have when we act together.

Such a message will build solidarity and hope in our country.  The road to reforming our democracy is a long and hard one.  It is one that we can only walk together as a people and we can only do that if enough people feel it is possible.  We will need support and participation of every day Americans who are not political activists.  We will also need support and participation of disenchanted Americans from all across the political spectrum.  Reforming our democracy cannot be a partisan issue or a partisan process.  We are all citizens and all want a fair chance to have our voices and ideas heard.

I spoke briefly and rather inelegantly last night during the FDL member webinar about an idea I have about a way to send this message.  In this post I will lay out a strategy that I believe is pragmatic, practical, and has a reasonable chance to work.  The basic idea is to run a campaign not for a particular candidate but instead against both the Democratic and Republican parties.  The genesis for this idea is that both parties are rather hopelessly corrupt and non-responsive to the citizens at this time, yet the structure of our system does not offer meaningful opportunity for 3rd party or independent candidates.

According to Wikipedia a protest vote “is often considered to be a clear sign of the lack of popular legitimacy and roots of representative democracy, as depressed voter turnout endangers the credibility of the whole voting system” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protest_vote).  To my knowledge there has never been a coordinated protest vote (or no confidence) campaign (please share in the comments if you are aware of such a movement).  This would be a new experiment in grassroots democracy.  A coordinated protest vote campaign would encourage as many voters as possible to cast protest votes for actual people, but people who are not affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties.  Rather than promoting a specific candidate such a campaign would encourage voters to cast a protest vote for any 3rd party, independent, or write in candidate they wish.  It would be extremely important that these votes are valid and counted.

The goal  of this campaign would be an unprecedented number of votes in the “other” category and as few votes for the winner as possible.  In the unlikely (i.e. impossible) dream scenario the “other” category would actually “win” a plurality and the winner of the election would end up with less than 33% of the vote.  This would essentially be a vote of no confidence by the population at large.  This is not likely to happen but I don’t believe it is necessary to make a strong statement either.  Even 10-15% of the vote going to the “other” category would be an amazing accomplishment.  This would unprecedented and would be very hard for the media and the world to ignore and would provide a foundation to build on in the future.

In order to make something like this work we will need to ease fears many people will have about wasting their vote.  We cannot send people to the polls blind.  Most voters will need some assurance that their vote is going to have the intended effect in order to consider vote for a candidate that will not win.  The best way I have thought of to do this is a pledge system.  Kickstarter is a model we could look at (www.kickstarter.com).

If we attempt a 2012 election strategy using a pledge system we will want to think deeply about how to design the most effective pledge system we can.  Some initial thoughts I have follow.

First, I think a campaign goal would be very important.  We could target 1 million votes, 10 million votes, etc.  There are many here at FDL who would be much better at identifying an achievable, yet ambitious goal.

Second, in order to bring as many pledges into the system as early as possible and collect as much information as possible from interested voters we will want to allow conditional pledges.  A conditional pledge would allow a voter to make a pledge to vote for a 3rd party, independent, or write in only if enough other voters join them or if certain candidates were not nominated by one of the legacy parties.  They would state in their pledge how many others they feel are required in order to make their protest vote worthwhile.  This would allow us to get a pulse for both how many people are willing to cast a protest vote if they feel it is meaningful and at what level people feel makes their protest vote meaningful.  This could be very powerful information to have.

Third, the pledge is not a vote so we will need to allow the pledge to be modified if a voter changes their mind and is willing to tell us.  The more realistic information we have the better off we would be.

Finally, in addition to pledging votes, such a system could also allow for pledging of donations – both immediate and donations that only kick in after a specified level of funding is reached.  This would be one method of raising funds for the campaign.

With enough pledging this campaign has the potential to dramatically affect voter turnout.  In the past many voters who are not happy with the mainstream candidates they are presented with decide voting is not worth their time.  Many will certainly still feel this way, yet a coordinated campaign presenting them with an option to say the oligarchs do not represent them may be compelling.  I believe this campaign could motivate many non-traditional voters, especially youth voters.  There is so much cynicism in America today that needs a way to be heard.

There are obviously many issues that would need to be worked out to make such a pledge system practical.  Pledge spam is an obvious potential issue.  Pledges that fall through in the voting booth is another.  I am confident that we can work through these issues and identify workably mitigation strategies.  For example, we can probably come up with a statistical model that would be in the right ballpark in converting pledges to votes.

There are many additional questions to consider.  What elections would we target?  I would propose focusing on the presidential election as most symbolic but also encouraging or possibly facilitating pledging and protest votes for congressional and state elections.  Others here may have a better insight into where this kind of protest vote campaign could be most effective and send the strongest message.  This decision should be made using the collective wisdom of the community.  We could coordinate with independent and 3rd party candidates in these elections as they would stand to gain from the protest vote movement.  If this campaign were to really take off debates and possibly even a convention could be organized next year during the election cycle to bring even more attention to the movement.

One of the first steps in making this happen will be building a broad coalition of grassroots activists and bloggers from across the political spectrum.  The good news here is that FDL has some experience in non-partisan activism.  We can build on that and work to identify grassroots communities (not astroturf!) across the political spectrum with whom we can work on this campaign.  I believe there are many here and elsewhere willing to set aside partisan differences to send the message that we are tired of the corrupt Kabuki democracy that exists in America today.  I mostly participate here and am not too familiar with the broader political blogosphere.  I’m hoping some of you can mention grassroots political blogs or communities of any leaning that might be a good partners in this campaign.  Please don’t be shy in the comment thread!  Let’s get the discussion going about who else may be interested in collaborating with us on this kind of campaign.

If the community here and elsewhere likes this idea we go ahead with it we will need a coordinated media strategy as well.  I would not expect much media coverage in the beginning, but there is a long runway before the 2012 elections.  There is lots of time to plan and to start building pledges.  The more interest we can generate on the net the harder it will be for the media to ignore.  We may also find interest among some celebrities who could help promote the campaign.  One obvious example here would be Jesse Ventura.  He has been advocating a strong protest vote for a long time.  If we start doing the legwork to build protest vote campaign I think it is very likely that he would get involved and help us get exposure in the media.  Regardless of how anybody feels about him or his policies he does have the ability to get onto mainstream media and supports this kind of strategy.

Finally, on election day we would need election monitors to ensure that valid protest votes are actually counted and reported correctly.  I assume there are folks here who have experience with this sort of thing.  Hopefully you can comment on the feasibility of doing this when it is valid protest votes cast for independent, 3rd party, or write in candidates we care about and not votes for specific candidates.

In summary, I believe the first step to restoring true democracy is gaining the recognition that there are millions of us who feel that this is necessary, are fed up with corruption, and are willing to use the power we were granted by the constitution (our votes) to say this.  I believe a pledge system can work to provide reassurance that votes will not be wasted.  I also believe that if we are able to gather enough pledges they alone will send a message and may have the potential of become a topic of discussion in the mainstream campaigns.  It will also tell the world clearly that the oligarchs do not represent the regular folks in America.

I know I am not alone when I say that failure and restoration of democracy is the largest issue we face and should be the focus of our campaign efforts in 2012.  If we can force this issue into the mainstream discussion it may be the beginning of change we really can believe in.

UPDATE:
I came across an interesting link about protest voting in Russia from RT.

UPDATE 2:
Thanks to the suggestion of one_outer I have cross posted over at Daily Paul to gauge the libertarian reaction to this idea. Head on over if you’re curious to see what they think and help encourage them to consider joining us in a coalition…

UPDATE 3:
Ok, first lesson from the Ron Paul site. They are very sensitive to the difference between the words democracy and republic. They understand democracy as tyranny of the majority where 51% can take constitutional rights away from 49%. We will need to be sensitive to this. They are strong believers in individual freedom and constitutionally protected civil rights. That is the reason they are passionate about the difference they perceive between democracy (as they define it) and republic. If any of you head over there please be aware of this and try not to stir up this distraction. Let’s try to stay focused on our shared objectives (getting rid of the oligarchy).

UPDATE 4:
Please use the twitter hash #noconfidence2012 to discuss if you’re on twitter. There have been lots of tweets and nobody has used this hash tag yet. Using the hash tag will help to start a discussion on Twitter as well so please do this!

UPDATE 5:
I submitted this post to reddit this morning. Please help it out here.

UPDATE 6:
greenwarrior has provided another interesting link. This one regarding protest votes for non-human candidates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-human_electoral_candidates.

UPDATE 7:
JZ has provided us with another interesting link about the None of the Above voting option. It turns out that this is a valid ballot action in some jurisdictions. Most interesting here to me was the U.K. NOTA party which was formed to get around their lack of this ballot option.

UPDATE 8:
OhioGringo has provided us with some great historical info about how our current parties and the New Deal came to be. I have not fact checked it so please let me know if OhioGringo was in error in any way.

The Democratic Party under Andrew Jackson started out as protest votes against the remnants of the Federalist party and the then invincible Democratic-Republican Party. The Republican Party started out with protest votes against the pro-slavery Democrats and Whigs. The Populist Party was a protest vote against the excesses of capitalism that led to early 20th Century Progressive reforms. The one million votes that Communist candidates for President got in 1932 were protest votes that forced the Democrats to actually implement the New Deal.

UPDATE 9:
This post is currently doing pretty well in the Democratic Socialists, Green Party, Election Reform, and US Politics categories on reddit. Please head over there and help it out. The reddit button on this page only votes for it on the main reddit page, not the topic sub sections.

UPDATE 10:
I have answered commonly asked questions about this idea here.

UPDATE 11:
My latest post covers Pledge Based Activism in detail. This is a concept for a powerful new tool for internet organizing and social media activism. This tool is central to the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy.

UPDATE 12:
I took a stab at a list of criteria that could help to separate truly independent candidates from those who would support empire and oligarchy despite being independent from the legacy parties.