Skunk Party and the Barriers to Entry to Effecting Social/Political Change

Readers have been kind enough to make occasional reference to the Skunk Party, an idea we discussed last November. Even though we used the label “party,” the intent was to define a political position that would operate outside the formal party structure. We thought it was important to create a label for a set of social/political views that was not nor would be likely to be embraced by the mainstream and watered down into near-meaninglessness, as “progressive,” “liberal,” and “left” have been.

The focus of the Skunk Party is to find ways to address the fact that wide spread-corruption is producing governance failures, both in government and in commerce, and that traditional political parties are poor vehicles for addressing deep-seated social problems. We set forth some initial principles and reform ideas.

Readers responded enthusiastically and wanted to create a logo in order to make T-shirts and signs as a way to publicize the idea.

I have to confess I haven’t gone any further because I’ve come up against what one might call barriers to entry to political action. Silly me! Of course society makes it hard for newbies!

Let me identify several hurdles:

Handling money. The minute you do anything that involves money, it raises substantial organizational issues.

Lambert told a story from his being involved with effort in Maine to oppose a local landfill. Someone wanted to give them $200. In the end, thhey were unable to spend it. Why? They needed a non-profit nominee and their own bank account. You may recall that 28% of Americans are unbanked. Banks require minimum balances and levels of activity or the use of other products to pay for “free” checking. In addition, opening an account raises the issue of “What entity will open an account?” Setting up a not-for-profit is considered to be not expensive or hard, but it still costs real money. Worse ongoing reporting and compliance for a not for profit is considerably greater than for a for profit, which entails more cost and effort. To add insult to injury, banks also expect not-for-profitis to carry much higher account balances than for profits. And then you get to “Who is responsible for the money?” And that leads to “And how do we oversee what they are doing to make sure they don’t run off with it?”

In other words, activities that involve raising or spending money suddenly raise a host of operational issues. That means managerial time, both in organizational design and oversight.

I’m not sure where the break point is where forming a not for profit make sense, but for my blog, it doesn’t. I similarly suspect that one of the reasons Rolling Jubilee is not going to continue with their debt purchases once they spend the money they raised in 2012 is that they discovered that not only was debt-buying more complicated and onerous than they anticipated, but also that meeting the requirements of being a not-for-profit and the transparency commitments they had made weren’t workable with an all-volunteer organization.

The left’s antipathy towards paying people. I hate to deal in broad brush characterizations, but a colleague who is a political operative remarks how the left (not the corporatized version that plays identity politics to distract attention from their antipathy towards economic justice) doesn’t believe in paying people. By contrast, when he works with right-wingers (readers may have noticed increasing left-right coalitions on issues such as opposing Obama’s trade deals), he finds them to be far more disciplined and effective, and it’s in no small measure due to a willingness to professionalize political activism.

Now NC readers may howl that that’s opposed to the interest of ordinary citizens. While you are narrowly correct, wanting things to be different does not make them different. This is the reality we live in and denying it is not productive. The impact is that the opposition is not just better resourced; it also has more bench depth in terms of expertise on which to draw.

Coordinating volunteers, aka herding cats. I’ve had very good experiences working with volunteers, for instance, a team of researchers who helped me with my book, and our dedicated and anonymous transcriber who helped with the Bank of America foreclosure review whistleblower interviews. But these were specific tasks where the volunteers had interests and expertise that matched up with my needs.

By contrast, my experience with Occupy Wall Street has given me a keen appreciation for how much time and effort it takes to reach consensus in groups where the leaders (to the extent ones emerge) need to work with the group members to develop agreement on process, priorities, and action plans. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

One reader astutely commented that a lot of local political organizing was formerly done by non-working They’d have time available, and would presumably be meeting with other women of broadly similar backgrounds. By contrast, we now have much more fragmentation socially and politically, and many people are leisure-time-poor, meaning the time they can devote to civic events is limited to nil. These factors also impede grass root organization.

Lambert had a good idea, and I wonder why it hasn’t been tried (or perhaps it has and readers can tell me what became of these efforts): political incubators. A not for profit, for instance, might be able to provide repository services for groups or initiatives that fit its space. It could also serve as a clearinghouse of information (one thing that winds up being onerous for small groups is finding spaces for meetings and presentations; an incubator could serve as a clearing-house of who might be able to provide space and on what dates and times). It could also serve as a locus for people willing to volunteer (for instance, graphic artists, writers, broadcast professionals or techies who’d be willing to support certain types of projects).

If readers know of groups that have had success in finessing these issues, please tell us about them in comments. Thanks!

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  1. JM Hatch

    There is quite a lot of money to be made from the poor, unfortunately for the poor, they don’t control that money. That makes it difficult for them to not only hire professional in the first palce, but to maintain any control over those professional manager of organs that are suppose to be acting on their behalf. Further, consensus being difficult also has allowed professional managers of modern large corporations & trusts to game the system against the best interest of the shareholders, or at least the individual shareholders. It’s impracticable to try to beat the wealthy in their game on their turf, and as WTO, TPA and other devices weaken the function of democracy, it’s not going to get better.

  2. allcoppedout

    Good luck obviously Yves. I thought running my bit of a shipyard tough until my version of this, backed by EU project funding in community safeguarding. In the end I built a bureaucracy that consumed the money with little impact on the identified problem and no rolling snowball effect.

    One of the deep issues concerns change itself. Think of something like ‘broken windows policing’. Sent to find out what this was by bosses imagining it to be an implementation of the death penalty for dropping sweet-wrappers, I returned as a messenger to be shot with details of the first move – getting rid of a third of them. BW was a typical delayering, focus on actual business processes kind of thing.

    What we presumably want is to start a snowball of truth rolling. I do a bit with 2 UK organisations who would share their experience, though in some ways NC already hits more of what I see as important. Nothing seems to be able to move from mailing-list and petition building. Michael Hudson mentions, more or less, the depressive feeling all radical economists can do is write their books – and that from sinecure in the establishment zoo for that matter, It’s actually worse even than this as volunteers on the streets soon find all they get are elections to vote in dictatorships. Even Freud, Horkheimer – and on to something here called the Workers’ Revolutionary Party left money-legacies inspiring bigger fights than that against establishment thinking. My daughter has worked in a number of charities and is sure there is less problem organising the voluntary end than keeping corruption out of those with first use of the finance.

    It doesn’t help much, but years of change management consulting left me with no belief any of it was rational. I would start some way behind the practical organising, rules and technology. How did the campaign against slavery really start and organise? How did something like the Hillsborough campaign organise against massive police and wider establishment lying? General ideas about such are largely fictional. Here we may be about to have a massive turn out in May EU elections for the ludicrous UKIP. University researchers are supposed to do skunk work, but rarely do.

    I’m not sure I know what Skunk is supposed to shift. Hesbollah (and other such we can’t have truck with) are always found ‘doing good work’ in communities (health, welfare) to glean support. I sometimes wonder if we could band together doing soup-kitchen work with the fearless edge of anti-corruption. There will already be models on the admin and money-safeguarding. Actually doing some charity work ourselves might just distinguish our message from accusations of niche exploitation.

    1. vlade

      My feeling on this is that you need someone who’s made it their life goal, willing to make deep personal sacrifices, to drive this. Someone like Sam Plimsol and his load line campaign (which took him 10 years, despite tons of evidence that it was costing lives almost daily, all the while it was a very profitable business running ships with the sole purpose of having them sunk and collecting the insurance). It’s not an atractive proposition.

    2. Synopticist

      “Hesbollah (and other such we can’t have truck with) are always found ‘doing good work’ in communities (health, welfare) to glean support. I sometimes wonder if we could band together doing soup-kitchen work with the fearless edge of anti-corruption.”

      Not a bad place to start actually. It’s a good way to build a base. Sure beats endless e-petions and the like.

  3. psychohistorian

    The existing group that immediately came to my mind is the League of Women Voters. I think they should stand up and say, we are taking back over the local and national political debates, for example.

    Assuming the numbers are correct and 10K boomers are retiring every day, there is another potential group that is experienced and most likely has love for their grandkids and/or the planet they want to enjoy in their retirement. I see the possibility of a group emerging from this cohort.

    If we really proceed towards evolution with a minimalist leader led movement, all that is really needed is forums of effective communication to alert other “cells” that some work needs to be done.

    1. Susan the other

      Yes. Good idea Psycho. Us retirees have time to think about and organize alternative social solutions. Not just creating effective political coalitions, but creating new financial networks. For example, retirees can volunteer time and more than a few can donate money to a fund. It would be a great end run around all the political non-profit finance hurdles to just start a bank and/or trust for social investment. Go straight to the heart of the problem. Help to finance at near zirp things like post-senior high school degrees; mortgages; local transportation; decentralized local agriculture, etc. More or less addressing the problems at the local level with a pool of money from all across the country. It could be dispersed by granting money, like the government and institutions do for college research, etc. Who says our pension money must be handled by the big funds? In politics, money talks.

      1. Susan the other

        In addition to granting money to local entities, there is the 800 lb. gorilla. The military. That is a cause all to its own. The politicians who are dedicated world hegemons will never give up using the military unless they are forced to. Changing that will require a very long term political movement to change the mandate of the US military, and all militaries, to peaceful purposes; stop subsidizing the arms trade, stop subsidizing the destabilization of peaceful countries; stop using the military as a modern-day merchant marine to clear the way for our international corporations. The money we fork over to the current militarists in any given year is at least one trillion dollars by the last budget. If we want a socially responsible political economy we have to change our warmongering, profiteering, planet-destroying model. NC is a good place to continue to do that. One way to pull the rug out from under the current system would be to lobby congress to end international trade since it is really not necessary in a technologically advanced world and continuing to participate in it takes away domestic jobs.

        1. valleyoakie

          Demonstrating its wares around the world is an expensive marketing model–fortunately, defense contractors have the rest of us to foot the bill.

    2. Synopticist

      Not sure about the ” minimalist leader led movement” though.

      Occupy died out (in part) because it imagined they could do stuff without power. Power is what a political movement is about, in the final analysis. You have to understand power, who you’re giving it to, and who you’re taking it away from. And for that, you have to have leaders who are willing and able to lead, and supporters who will back them.

      It doesn’t happen by accident. Anything based on the expectation or hope that eventually things will self-organise isn’t going to work.

      1. BillC

        Synopticist, I agree based on recent experience in Italy, where my wife and I retired so we could keep an eye on her aging mother (a downside of depending on retiring boomers — even financially secure ones — to power volunteer organizations).

        I participated in the founding of a group that, I believed, was well-positioned to effectively market MMT to that portion of the politically-engaged public interested in economic policy. The convenors were intelligent, experienced, well motivated, and pretty well organized (for Italy). But they were true believers in pure democracy and were bound and determined not to be dictatorial within the group about goals or means. Their bylaws incorporated LiquidFeedback, a good software implementation of direct democracy and preferential voting, as the way for this small group, thinly spread over the whole country, to have a permanent “general assembly” for decision-making. The group split within 6 months and the majority of its decision-making since has been over internal organizational issues. Near as I can tell, it has had no significant political impact at any level.

        Lesson for me: direct democracy may work once a cohesive group has formed that shares clearly-defined beliefs, objectives, and methods, but it does not not work in establishing these prerequisites. This seems consistent with my work experience in fairly small IT projects: somebody has to form a team and define a mission before group decision-making is productive.

        Interestingly enough, the departed convenors of this group are trying once again to create an effective MMT sales force … but this time apparently without the democratic trappings. I wish them well.

      2. Andrew Watts

        Politics in the United States is a circus of dysfunctional behavior. There are only two parties in politics; the ins and the outs. Typically liberals/progressives are against any methods of organization that would be required to accomplish this. As a whole they have trouble managing to form political alliances with ideological/political opponents on issues of mutual interest.

  4. Anarcissie

    I know of a nonprofit which lends its various legal statuses and numbers to certain radical groups, but they are rather guarded about who they let into the tent, because they would otherwise be overwhelmed by the needy, and quite possibly targeted as well by IRS and other government agencies for special attention. I will try to find out what I can and if it seems useful, pass it along.

    Money is indeed problematical. One group I work with used to raise modest amounts of cash by giving parties/concerts/dances. The small piles of money netted from these efforts often became bones of contention. In one case all of about $150 led to a bitter dispute which halved the membership of the group. (There may have been some provocation involved — wherever more than two or three are gathered together, at least one is likely to be at least a spy.) The events have ceased for the time being. It seems fairly certain that whoever volunteers to handle the funds and fill out the forms will be rewarded with suspicion, accusation, and vituperation. ‘Whenever the Left wants to form a firing squad, it stands in a circle.’

    Of course I am talking about disreputable, shaggy punk rocker anarchists and the like here. Others types may not have the same problems.

    1. Andrew Watts

      More respectable groups have been destroyed by in-fighting. The Reform Party practically dissolved itself after it’s descent into in-fighting and factionalism.

  5. diptherio

    On the money issue, one thing to consider is the possibility of entering into a “fiscal agent” agreement with an existing non-profit. Basically, another non-profit sponsors your group and is responsible for IRS accounting, in return for which they will usually ask for a percentage of funds raised. There are a number of non-profits which have started this way in my town, and my school-building project also made use of a fiscal agent agreement with a local non-profit. At GEO, we sponsor one, soon to be two, projects as fiscal agent. When it works out, it leads to less work for everyone.

    As for paying people, you are right on. Why should political activism be reserved for those with excess time and money? Doesn’t that make it a luxury for the well-off to engage in? And, as a practical matter, how do you expect to win any battles when you’ve got professionals vs. volunteers? And guess what? There are tons of lefties who need work right now and many foundations are currently flush due to Fed-inflated stock-market returns (at GEO we just got $10,000, unasked for, dropped in our lap when a friendly foundation found itself with considerably more money than usual).

    You don’t have to be Justine “Looney” Tunney to understand that people need to be financially supported if they are to be able to focus on activism. Some people are fortunate enough to get that security from their normal job, but a lot of us aren’t. And a lot of us have already learned to live on practically nothing. A few grand a month directed at an energetic activist to allow her/him to focus on their (our) work can have disproportionate effects. Some on the left find paying people in order to allow them to engage in political activism, rather than having to answer to a boss and/or dumpster-dive to put food on the table, distasteful. These people likely have good paying jobs that allow them to “do what they love,” have a comfortable lifestyle, and don’t have to worry where the next rent check is coming from.

    The Collective I work for has been almost entirely volunteer-run for over 30 years. However, we want to expand and we’re kind of having a hard time. The collective members are mostly busy with their academic posts or their co-op businesses, we solicit writing from co-op practioners, but they are often too busy to spend the time or don’t have the best writing chops. I’m putting together a proposal, therefore, that we start paying for content: hiring a freelance journo or two and paying them to produce high-quality reporting on a regular basis. It’s a slightly different mindset from how things have been done in the past, but I get the feeling that what we’ve done in the past has just about benefited us all it’s going to.

    If the money is available and there are obvious gaps to fill: pay some unemployed activist to fill it.

  6. rur42

    Yes, well, reality sets in: Effecting change is difficult. But then as Spinoza (I think, speaking from memory now) said all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.

    Obviously what Skunk needs is a sugar daddy Warbucks. Well, that’s one idea that can get no purchase with Skunks. Or merge with one of the existing third parties that have similar ideals — I wonder Yves if you researched existing 3rd paries to see what they offered::

    For example, the Working Families Party has done much of the basic organizing, dealing with the structural barriers you outline. But then there are the ideological barriers as well. Consider the criticisms of WFP by other leftist organizations.

    Once Nader opined (again recall, may be faulty) that liberals don’t have the stamina of conservatives. For an example of Nader’s own stamina & organizational background —

    So Yves have you talked with Nader recently? Or any other head of an existing organization that might have some of your (our) ideals in common?

    Finally a major obstacle I think is the name: Skunk Party sounds like a joke, and that may be a major barrier.

    1. Susan the other

      Well, The Skunk Foundation works. If a foundation is backed by a party of like minded people does it upset the IRS – no it does not. Only a party wheeling and dealing worries the IRS. Unless the IRS is controlled by them (Democrats).

  7. allcoppedout

    Given most of us think there is a majority of ‘consumers’ just waiting for the chance to vote in some honest people, it’s surprising some fat capitalist with a big cigar isn’t already running ‘Skunk’.

    I’m afraid most of my investigation of charities concerned bent ones – amazingly difficult years ago to get even those spending 98% via family credit cards to court. My guess, partly informed from practice, is that the admin set-up of a not-for-profit is easy enough. Last time I heard, the cost of each seeing-eye-dog here was about £55K, hardly a figure we’d think we couldn’t beat via an enterprise solution.

    Weber had it that charismatic leadership was either religious or force based. It didn’t matter what the objective status of what was promulgated was, just what the followership believed. Finance was largely by gift or booty. Is there any evidence of bottom-up revolutions or rational influence? Our academics are funded beyond the hilt, but produce little. The Nazis were preposterous and quasi-religious. The Marxists were ruthless on unlicensed brain-work. We may have the wrong ideas about the working of truth. What gifts or booty can we offer?

    We had a comic here called ‘Viz’ – filthy, funny for two weeks, lasted years. Even if we had a television channel, one can imagine the audience deserting just as we were explaining life, the universe and everything because of the breaking news of a royal baby.

    1. HotFlash

      I am currently engaged with a local and (IMHO) moribund ‘transition’ organization. So far the problem seems to me not to be lack of leadership — got lots of passionate, energetic, smart, dedicated, tactful and truly humble leaders, and srsly engaging projects — but lack of followership. Why?

      Not available? Non-working women, the former source of good quality free help, now in short supply, having been subsumed into paying jobs in “the economy” as mentioned above. Can’t engage/keep them entertained? Not sure — what level of entertainment is expected? But we have had various demographics wander off after two or three meetings (and it is not as if we don’t ask what they are wanting!) — middle-aged residents, retirees, students, ‘ youth at risk’. Can’t pay them — ding! Everyone now pretty well has a serious need (not desire, but *need*) for money. Cannot depend on gift economy or barter for electricity, internet, phone, water, taxes. Whatever. So how *do* we do this?

      And I have just had a brouhaha with a (totally excellent and extremely dedicated) project leader abt approaching local and greenie kind of businesses for volunteer help. She finds it, I don’t know, impure or something. So, if you are well-paid (no matter from what source) enough to volunteer your time, that is fine, but if you are engaged in greening enough to devote/risk your career, and your and your familiy’s livelihood in a green(ish) business, you are not welcome. Sigh.

      Don’t know where to toss the responsibility on this one. I went last night to a meeting of a similar org to ask for input/interest/volunteers for a short-term project, got nada, although everyone agrees that ‘partnerships” are what everyone wants and ‘my’ project agreed with 2/3 of their 1 to 3 year plan. Well. They are volunteered up to the wazoo and straining, so can put some to lack of ergs/jouls/dynes/volunteer hours. The gift economy is a wonderful thing, and may get your walk shovelled or some jars of jam. But until it happens in totality, we who have to pay money for stuff have to do a fine balancing act.

      To complete the picture, got a postcard from my NDP MP
      today complaining (OK, stating), “Conservatives have no problem finding money for well-connected insiders.” Well, duh! That’s where the money is!

      And that is not a coincidence. Yet another way the mid and lower classes are disenfranchised.

  8. Thorstein

    I could write a book. Indeed, as soon as I got to 1,000 words, I figured I should just post my comment out here on this old, abandoned test blog site. Because a lot of the issues involve internal left-wing politics and infighting, I discuss them pseudonymously, but I suspect my experiences are similar to those of many other left-wing startups; specific names are irrelevant.

    As a preview, the linked post is a brief history of our grassroots start-up group’s opposition to the equivalent of fracking in the Everglades, adjacent to Naples, Florida.

  9. bluntobj

    A co-worker of mine told me of his experience working with our local occupy group. He had financial savvy and skills, and had worked as the accountant for the group, handling donations and the mechanics of money. He left the group due to the factional infighting among inflexible cliques that took the “my way or the highway” approach.

    The inflexibility of the occupy groups reminds me of extreme religious dogmatism often adopted in religious practice where emotionalism, shallow knowledge, and social conformity pressures govern daily life.

    I think this is why there is a shift toward painting the right side of the political spectrum as the “future enemy,” not because of an ideological preference of outcome by .gov, but rather that the right side of the political spectrum will be far more likely to organize and co-operate in any serious challenge to .gov. The left side of the spectrum will require “herding cats,” and can be co-opted or disrupted at leisure, thus representing much less of a focus priority.
    This is just idle speculation, of course. You don’t see homeland security preparing drills against small leftist groups.

    1. Thorstein

      Certainly agree that on the left, “emotionalism, shallow knowledge, and social conformity pressures” can “govern daily life”, but I think this is equally true on the right. Government was perfectly willing to identify the Black Panthers as the “future enemy” back when they were the militia du jour. And “Eco-terrorism” is very much a “future enemy” to many branches of state and federal government in the U.S. and we see police-state preparations against these small leftist groups way out of proportion to their potential for inciting violent uprising.

      The infighting is characteristic of any quasi-chaotic process that is short of critical mass and resonance.

  10. Dan Kervick

    Maybe its the bad effect of the internet on my brain; or maybe its the consequences of aging; or maybe I’ve just got a minuscule made-in-America attention span. But when I go back to read that original skunk party manifesto, the first thing that jumps out at me is that one has to slog through paragraph after paragraph after paragraph before getting to the policy agenda meat. And then when you get to that meat it is hard to understand at first reading and difficult to retain a a few simple takeaways. The presentation is intellectually coherent but lacks emotional clarity and impact, and the central unifying idea doesn’t come through all that strongly. I suppose if I had to sum it up I would say, “It’s an anti-corruption agenda.”

    I have no experience with politically organizing anything, so this should be taken with a grain of salt: but it seems to me that writing essays on the internet and writing a manifesto and agenda for political action are completely different enterprises. In the first case it is fine for the emphasis to be on diatribe: all of the things one is against or hates, and you can ventilate those feelings at length, augmented with colorful embellishments and writerly flourishes. And you succeed if you induce people to sit on their butts in at least a temporarily sedentary way, read your whole piece and rant along with you at all the things that are bad.

    But political action is about organizing people to get off their butts and do something. The motivating goals have to be clear, stated in big bold letters, and correlated with concrete practical steps.

    1. human

      The Left/liberals/progressives generally argue from an intellectual point of view. The Right/conservatives argue from an emotional point of view. At our base, we are driven by emotion.

      Larwrence Lessig has a very good self-reflection on this: How I Lost the Big One

      1. Teejay

        I too had Lessig’s name pop up as well as Ralph Nader who teamed up with Toby Moffett to start CCAG the Connecticut Citizen’s Action Group. Started in 1970 they’re
        still around today 44 years later. These seem like people to have conversations with.

      2. bluntobj

        “The Left/liberals/progressives generally argue from an intellectual point of view.”
        From a historical perspective, I would agree with you, but no longer. Emotionalism and dogma in leftward arguments these days suppresses anything not considered canon with derision or shame, including anything that intellectually might threaten their Doctrinal cathedral.

        “Right/conservatives argue from an emotional point of view.”
        And here the positions are reversed, as the right uses philosophy, history, and a variety of principles (depending on your flavor of rightist) to evoke emotions. That’s why you hear appeals to honor, liberty, pride, etc. that are sourced from historical documents and ideas.

        Both sides will freely use shame and guilt, but the left offers the individual the illusion of gaining power, while the right offers the illusion of gaining freedom/independence. The real question is which emotion generating ideas will people be attracted to in the longer term?

      3. Kurt Sperry

        I find that arguing from a moral perspective is sometimes the most effective. Outrage, moral indignation and even mockery are powerful emotional triggers. Not in a detached rhetorical way though; it has to be heartfelt. The left has powerful moral arguments that can be brought to bear.

        1. bluntobj

          Whose morals?

          Morals require judgement. The left making definitive judgmental arguments is fail, because equality.

    2. Carla

      In Ohio, we are off our butts. So far, Ohioans have put citizens initiatives on the ballot in four very different communities. Each one stated clearly that the voters want a Constitutional Amendment stating that Corporations Are Not People, and Money Is Not Speech. And we won at the polls each time.

      Our proposed amendment was also introduced in Congress as House Joint Resolution 29 on February 14, 2013. ( It will be re-introduced in the current Congress.

      This is an entirely grassroots, nonpartisan movement. In Nov. 2012, we won with 52% of the vote in Brecksville, OH (which went 67% for Romney, BTW), and 73% in Newburgh Heights. In Nov. 2013, we won with 77% of the vote in very liberal Cleveland Heights, and 67% of the vote in considerably more conservative Defiance, OH.

      The Move to Amend will be on the ballot in three or four more Ohio cities in 2014. Anyone in a state and locality that permits citizens to put issues on the ballot can do this, and most states and localities do. Get some people together and hit the streets. In Cleveland Heights, the most remarkable thing was how often people THANKED us for giving them a chance to sign our petition.

    3. rur42

      See Upton Sinclair’s EPIC (End Poverty in California) campaign for Governor in 1934. A manifesto & political action.

      Interesting that Sinclair decided that 3rd party politicking had no chance, so he abandoned his socialist persona and became… a Democrat.

      (In a classic exercise in political hubris, Sinclair detailed his EPIC plan in a book published in 1933, with the confident title “I, Governor of California And How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future.” Following the election he would publish another book with the humbled title “I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked.”)

      According to Greg Mitchell and others the campaign invented the modern political campaign.

      Upton Sinclair’s EPIC plan is online :

      1. Carla

        You know, if Sinclair invented the modern political campaign, that is not exactly a compliment to him.

        And if he decided in 1934 that a third party had no chance, perhaps in 2014 it is time to change that trajectory.

        First of all, we need a SECOND party. Then a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. Or, we can just meekly and quietly descend into feudalism, as Michael Hudson predicts elsewhere in today’s NC posts.

    4. Ken Simpson

      Dan, you are correct. A program in bullet points, the fewer the better, is the only effective way to create an organization that wants to grow from a small embryo. For example: “We demand the 30 hour work week to create jobs for all”. I am not proposing this bullet point/demand for this group but this bullet point is good example of how a program is put together. It says, what we want and what it will do. “We want this because it will do this.”

      Fledgling organizations should be incubated inside larger entities, if possible, and with freely given assistance by the larger organization. If the means providing office space, meeting rooms or methods of handling money all the better.

      Professionalism must be the ultimate goal. It would be nice if we could do everything on a volunteer basis. Volunteerism is critical for growing an organization and a movement, but professionalism is a higher level of organizational activity. Do not without professionalism is the tie one hand behind one’s back.

      Leaders are absolutely necessary. Without a leader that stands up and says “we should do this, this and this because of this and vote on this tonight” and another person to stand up and say “I second the motion” and present a procedural motion that we limit discussion to this this amount of time and this amount of speakers, everything turns into an endless talk shop of aimless chatters.

      Occupy was a nightmare of endless, unorganized discussion. This was a result of a lack or organized leadership and defined program. It was like the student left in the sixties only worse. The professional organizations like the unions, etc. kept Occupy alive with their resources.

      1. HotFlash

        Please remember that the Occupy movement was heavily infiltrated, do not overlook the possibility of sabotage. We need to be able to refute and neutralize this bullshit. I personally don’t know how to do it, but I have seen really good community leaders do this in meetings. Is there a central repository of such methods? Would be good to know.

  11. Skeptic

    Perhaps one might look to Italy and Beppe Grillo for some ideas. I remember first hearing about Grillo and his caustic comedy about the 1%. I certainly never thought he would become a political power in Italy.

    I believe one of Grillo’s strategies is that you do not negotiate with criminals. As I understand it, he is now waiting for things to get so bad and people so fed up in Italy that they will finally turn to real alternatives and solutions. For those of us who feel we have continually been sold out by politicians this idea resonates. Decades of compromises is what has gotten us to where we are today.

    On the personal scale, one can do a lot. One of them is to try in your personal economy and lifestyle to support small, independent business. Try to disconnect from all the mammoth corporations and their products as much as possible. I started by throwing out the TV thirty-two years ago.

    1. Kurt Sperry

      The unconventional, shoestring and astonishing electoral success of Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle or M5S in an impressively brief time has gone almost completely unnoticed and unappreciated by the American left. Charisma being seen as unpalatable here, the nucleation of the movement around Beppe Grillo (and his éminence grise Gianroberto Casaleggio) is as an object lesson a direct challenge to the “leaderless movement” American orthodoxy. The fact that it was largely done using the internet and actually shunning the mainstream media is a hard thing for Americans to even comprehend. One can trot out prefabricated reasons why the template won’t export across the ocean such as cultural stereotypes or asserting the model only applies to more dynamic multi-party parliamentary systems but I don’t think either argument gains much traction. You organize something like 25% of the electorate into a radical and cohesive bloc and any system will be rocked.

      You need a leader (ducks).

        1. HotFlash

          Occupational hazard. Other people with this problem include Joan of Arc, G Washington and those other guys (“Gentlemen, we must hang together, or we shall all hang separately.”, Big Annie, Joe Hill, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, my great-grandparents who came out of Ireland and the other set, who came out of Germany, me in Ohio in 1970, any US (or anywhere) armed services draftee or recruit ever, and anyone else whose life is worth living. And my response is, “So?”

          1. Kurt Sperry

            Amen. If it ain’t worth dying for, it ain’t worth anything at all. Any putative leader who would or could be dissuaded by threats or for fear of their personal safety would inevitably be the same kind of person who could easily be manipulated and controlled by other means. It’s called courage and having principles. I’ll bet there is hardly a so-called leader in either half of the American duopoly who possesses either, in fact the way they prostrate themselves and perform demeaning stunts for any billionaire waving a wad of cash pretty much proves they don’t.

      1. hunkerdown

        That would require Americans to respond to leadership rather than authority, and the stars (and most of the twentysomethings with whom I am personally acquainted) don’t seem well-aligned for that.

  12. Jim

    Congratulations Yves on attempting to launch a much needed discussion/debate on the internal dynamics and barriers to the creation of social movements.

    In the most general sense, one of the reasons such discussions rarely take place is that radicals/protestors of all political strips, tend to use the same analytical frameworks as the elites when attempting to understand political insurgency( using categories of description such as “the workers,” the masses, the bourgeoise etc.). These habits of social description don’t seem to get at the true nature of the actual social activity(and the diversity of participants) that lurks beneath these categories.

    For example, the agrarian revolt in late 19th century American, in its most concrete terms, was made up primarily of Southern and Western farmers that was unusually well-organized through a far-flung base of production and marketing cooperatives that eventually extended to 40 states. This insurgency was years in the making but eventually connected with over two million recruits that managed to articulate a serious political agenda that evolved out of the specific economic/political struggles(with railroads, banks and supply houses) over creating this cooperative movement.

    Questions of funding, recruitment, salaries and message will demand much experimentation and many defeats, but it will only be the psychological impact of actual organizing achievements that eventually create the social circumstance which can transform perceptions of political possibility.

  13. Noni Mausa

    Absolutely! This reluctance to pay and to organize effectively has infuriated me for years.

    I headed up a small political organization once, which was handicapped (still is, I believe) by the ball and chain concepts of poverty, consensus, and reasonable discourse as it’s primary tool. In a staff meeting once, trying to get across the idea of effectiveness as being kind of important, I said that an organization wanting to promote democracy probably would function better if it was itself not democratically run. Someone in the group gasped at this heretical idea, and I did not have the organizational skills, money and bloody-mindedness to create a working group out of this cluster of well meaning idealists. They still exist, happily ineffective but without my participation. Sigh.

    Incubators sound grand. We are late to the party, but we have to start sometime.

  14. RanDomino

    To some extent I’m delighted by the incompatibility of money with positive social movements. If we are operating prefiguratively then anything which shouldn’t exist SHOULD be an irritant.
    The “inflexibility” of various people and sub-groups in Occupy is not a bad thing, but one which is resolved through proper implementation of Consensus, which was practically never done in Occupy. Consensus doesn’t mean everyone has to agree, a Block is not a veto, etc… I’ve said all this a million times. Consensus can only happen on a Confederation structure, meaning each individual/group making up the larger organization is autonomous, only part of the organization under specific conditions, and free to leave. We don’t have to have EVERYBODY!!!!11 on board, and that’s okay.
    As for the problems of party/movement-building, there need to be intermediary goals, the successful overcoming of which display strength. That’s how you convince people to get on board.
    By contrast, we can look at the repeated failure of the Green Party. Rather than try to cultivate a base by winning small local elections, they keep trying these Quixotic presidential runs. I suspect it’s because that’s what brings in the donations. See point 1.

    1. oregoncharles

      You misrepresent the Green Party’s approach. In reality, our main focus is on local offices; this is especially true in Oregon, where most local offices are non-partisan and much easier to get into. The purpose is to build up a roster of people with political credentials, as well as to work on local policy (local control is one of the 10 Key Values).
      On the other hand, running for national office turns out to be obligatory. The biggest reasons are psychological:
      1) A lot of our issues are national – like peace;
      2) It’s a legitimate test of seriousness;
      3) It’s when people are paying attention – that’s why you think we mainly run for the Presidency. That, and you’re NOT really paying attention, or you’re in the wrong place.
      Then there are technical reasons – in some states, it’s required for ballot access. And it’s a valuable organizing tool. In 2012, Jill Stein’s campaign got us organized in states we never had been before.
      Your comment seems to be a Democratic Party talking point; I’ve seen it before. You might want to watch out for those.

  15. Noni Mausa

    “…To some extent I’m delighted by the incompatibility of money with positive social movements…”

    We keep thinking of money as a possession, a power in itself. We are wrong. We must not forget that money is a proxy for human effort. Thus, any group that disdains that proxy is left with only the effort we ourselves can source and direct, the economic equivalent of subsistence farming.

    1. RanDomino

      That is not true. There are plenty of ways of pooling efforts and specializing without having to rely on tools whose use perpetuates the systems we’re fighting against.

  16. Oregoncharles

    There IS an existing political party available for this sort of purpose: the Green Party, While it (we) could use a far more extensive infrastructure, it’s an existing entity with bank accounts, etc., in most states. And yes, the factors Yves brings up are very much issues for the party. We usually don’t pay people because we just don’t have much money – you don’t, when you’re anti-corporate. In Oregon, where I’ve been an officer of the party, we have two employes, our treasurer/fundraiser and our phonebanker. Both receive a pretty paltry salary – it’s vital to have another income.

    If you want a well-funded left, the Green Party would be a good place to drop some money.
    More to the point: the biggest barrier to new parties, or almost any new political initiative, is less money than the media, and most of all, people’s habits and preconceptions.

    So, Yves, I’m addressing this directly to you, and I’ll look for an answer: you have a medium, this website, and considerable exposure. You’re taken seriously, or damn well should we – I’m a fan. The Green Party needs YOU.

    And no, this isn’t exactly your “Skunk Party” idea,which I rather like, and I don’t think it conflicts with actual party politics. But it is responsive to your “barriers to entry.” The groundwork is mostly done, and no, it wasn’t easy. There are only a few states with no active Green Party; our last presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, was on 85% of ballots nationwide – all the big states, and some are very difficult.

    Our next challenge is to create some sort of band-wagon effect. That has to start with people who are on the right side and already have some standing. Like Yves Smith.

    1. Jess

      Oh, please, spare me the Green Party bullshit. I’ve been a registered voter for 46 years and voted in every election during that time. (Even local municipal and school board-type run-offs.) And I have NEVER received a canvassing call from the Green Party, never had a candidate or their representative show up at my door, and never received a campaign mailer from any Green Party candidate for any office at any level. The Green Party is a toy for dilettantes. And on a practical level, even if it was taken over by great motivated organizers it still would not have widespread success as long as it was called the Green Party, for two reasons:

      a) Since there is a global Green Party movement, opponents would portray the US version as merely an arm of a great global conspiracy to undermine our sovereignty. (A little ridiculous except when you look at the corporate oligarchy’s attempt to do just that, but suspicions would abound.)

      b) To many, esp. in the red states but also in blue states with economic problems, “Green” implies environment to the detriment of all else, esp. jobs. The Green Party platform from the 2012 election has all the right goals, but unfortunately in an era in which branding is ultra-critical, too many people would never get that far.

      1. Oregoncharles

        It would help to know what state you’re in. In a way, I already answered your first paragraph in my post, but I’ll be more specific:
        You’re complaining that we aren’t a major party with lots of money. That’s tantamount to saying you won’t help because we need help so badly. If you want “all the right goals” represented in our elections, you, and a lot of people like you, are going to have to quit making excuses and put some time and money into it.

        The name isn’t going to change. That’s partly because of objection a) (we are, indeed, part of an international movement), and partly because environmentalism is our strongest selling point, especially with young people – and I, personally, am sick of looking at gray hair (like mine). Some of us are getting tired.

        We’re also getting tired of hearing silly excuses. Sorry to be harsh, but this kind of Catch-22 comes up all the time, and my patience is worn out.

        1. realregularguy

          That was actually still really nice. I think you have a long ways to go to reaching the all-caps level. But the poster is right about the GP being bogged down by an institutional stasis. The Libertarian Party actually has much more energy currently than do the Greens, especially among the youth.

        2. RanDomino

          The Green Party is strategically mismanaged by careerists and attention-seekers. When you all give up on Presidential ambitions any sooner than two or three decades away and start pouring resources into oh let’s say three or four county/parish board, small-town mayor, sheriff, or dog catcher races in the entire country, then you might be able to start racking up enough wins to gain momentum.

          You know what people think you are when you lose all the time? A bunch of losers. Who’s going to join up with that?

      2. Carla

        “I’ve been a registered voter for 46 years and voted in every election during that time. (Even local municipal and school board-type run-offs.) And I have NEVER received a canvassing call from the Green Party, never had a candidate or their representative show up at my door, and never received a campaign mailer from any Green Party candidate for any office at any level. The Green Party is a toy for dilettantes.”

        Jess, have you ever received a canvassing call or a knock on the door from the Libertarians or the Constitution Party, either?

        I think the most toxic corporate entities in the U.S. today are the Democrat and Republican Parties. They share a monopoly, and believe you me, they intend to keep it that way. Forget gerrymandering, that’s small potatoes. They have written all the election law to ensure their utter dominance of the entire political sphere, now and forever. The corporate parties reign!

        And if I were going to try to spit at the line that separates them, I’d never be able to do it. And neither would you.

  17. allcoppedout

    I would vote again if I could vote Skunk. The ‘iron cage of bureaucracy’ applies and we’d want to stop Skunk Zano-PF. The real issues seem to come before any manifesto. There already is a hegemony that can stop even forming a set of issues we want to vote for. It would be easy enough to ask a representative sample whether they agreed with Skunk to get an understanding of how many would in principle.. If this is a lot as we suspect … the rest is obvious. There is intimidation in our system. We know this I guess, but I’ve seen no research we could toss on the table.

  18. Ulysses

    I agree that having somebody paid to devote themselves to the cause is a good thing. Pete Meyers scored a small grant that allowed him to work full-time for a few months on promoting the living wage movement in Ithaca, and Tompkins County, New York. Now, years later, the community has rallied behind him and the Tompkins County Workers Center has its own space– and plays an important role for a wide array of upstate activists:

    One out of town visitor was so impressed that he proposes the TCWC as a model for reviving labor activism in the deeply downtrodden “right-to-work (for less)” South:

    We could surely get some small Skunk Party community centers off the ground as hotbeds of anti-corruption activism here in the U.S.!

  19. Adam Eran

    Gar Alperovitz, a fellow who knows politics, suggests integrating the politics into the structure of organizations: especially coops. We already have plenty of these (Credit Unions, for one example), and even very large ones: e.g. Mondragon in Spain.

    See here, for one example of him making his point.

    Part of the problem too is addressing the problem of markets v. culture. Throughout most of human history, culture controlled markets, not vice-versa. The predator state is a phenomenon of market-driven culture. In traditional societies, even the “markets” of international trade looked more like piracy than exercises in honest dealing, and locals took care to insulate themselves and their culture of redistribution and reciprocity from the pernicious focus of markets on gain and cut-throat competition. (See Polanyi’s The Great Transformation)

  20. Carla

    Yves: established non-profits serve as fiscal agents for small grassroots groups all the time. Here in NE Ohio, Jobs with Justice did so for Occupy Cleveland.

    #2 Democracy is messy and hard. Always has been, always will be. Who ever said it was supposed to be efficient and easy?

    What the financial fascists have brought us to is going to be harder and messier for 99% of us eventually.

  21. Code Name D

    What a great subject Yves. You should bring it up more often.

    Last time I shared something called the dynamic manifesto. This is a method of building, maintaining, and using a political platform that makes strong used of the scientific method and open debate. But as it has already been said, building a platform and learning how to carry it out is not the same thing. Truer words are rarely spoken.

    Having direct experience with political organizing – including watching my efforts crash and burn, I can also expand on some of the barriers the Skunk Party will encounter. And believe me, money issues are the least of them. Here is my list.

    [B]Raising and handling money[/B] – already covered by Smyth

    [B]Effective use of resources[/B] – There are a lot of books out that they allege to give step-by-step instruction on how to build political activism. I won’t say that all of them are wrong as each book will probably have some good advice. The problem is that all of them focus on social activism, but beyond “calling your congressmen” they never manage to connect the transition to the drive wheel. Effective activism manifests itself with the enacting of legislation and policy. Any thing short of that is just a waste of time.

    With progressive activism however, long term goals are always set short of actual policy. For example, a group will pop campaign corks upon delivering a large petition to a representative, regardless if said representative will head that petition or not. They are too quick to support democrats, even if they openly oppose their platform.

    I can’t really say what an effective use would actually involve. But one also need to remember that there is no one solution, and even what works today may not be as effective tomorrow.

    [B]Hostile, parasitic, and corrupting agents[/B] – Another lesson I had to learn the hard way. Liberals and progressive tend to be very naïve about the motivations of others. Because they tend to be accepting of all perspectives, especially perspectives that don’t agree with them, they fail to recognize when personal agendas begin to be destructive.

    It’s a good thing to be open minded about differing or even hostile prospective. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon your skepticism and give them the keys to the inner sanctum either.

    And I am not talking about neo-conservatives who might come in with the intention of sabotaging your operation either. I have tried several times to start a you-tube channel to critical discuses economic issues, specifically to express criticism of free markets. But when I set out to recruit people into the operation, the Socialists are always first in line, and their view point are just as crazy and ideological as the libertarians are. Radical feminists have also been accused of bringing down the Occupy Movement as well as Atheism Plus for much the same reasons. For Move On and Democracy for America, the parasite was the Democratic Party itself, which manage to recruit both organizations, effectively dismantling its capacity for criticism of the Democratic Party and converting them into free labor and fundraising pools.

    [B]The Protocol Pathogen [/B]- Every now and then here in Kansas, I will get an e-mail from the Progressive Party. However, when I have attended their meetings, they are constantly bickering about the by-laws. Specifically, they want the by-laws to be as inclusive and democratic as possible. But this always makes the organization susceptible to hostile and parasitic agents.

    While good ground rules are good to have, there is no need to reinvent the where here. Robert’s Rules of Order are reasonably complete and can work well with open democratic organizing. But some one needs to be in change – even if only to carry out the duties and make the sampler decision. (Occupy Wichita once had a bitter brewha between different face book pages, and even couldn’t move the meetings ahead one hour once daylight savings kicked in so we could keep meeting in the park while we had daylight.)

    [B]The Social Media Activism myth [/B]- There is a pervasive myth out that social media is powerful tool for organizing. Face book, tumbler, twitter, Meet-up, Google, to name a few make organizing easy. But there isn’t really a lot of evidence to back up the myth, and some evidence to suggest that social media may actually harm organizing and mobilization.

    There are three major problems with social media. First is its poor capacity to recruit. It’s a great tool for organizing those who are already a member of the movement, but can’t actually recruit new members to the movement. This is because social media can not openly broadcast to an external audience to which all new recruits would have to come from. You end up preaching to the quire because no one knows you are out there.

    Second is the growing fractious nature of social media. There are now dozens of social org sights. Keeping up with just one or two can be a daunting task, even for the technically savvy. But to keep up with all of them is nearly impossible for just one or two people.

    And third has to do with converting such organization into effective action. More often than not, the only sort of activism that manages to get done are based on the tools that social media itself produces. This gives the elusion of productivity.

    [B]Risk averse [/B] – This is another big one. In order to get any thing done, you have to take risks in order to do it. Part of this is the fact that the current political landscape is absolutely saturated in free market orthodoxy which penalizes more cautious approaches. It also has to do that activist can not afford such risks and have no choice but to play it cautiously.

    But even setting aside those two issues, any thing worth doing demands confronting the risk of failure.

    1. Gerru

      re the Social Media myth: I suspect there’s something to that, especially the lack of “open broadcast.”
      During Occupy I looked into local tv ad rates, on a whim. (a group here did occupy ads on buses) I noticed low-budget tv ads running for local clothes stores and smoke shops/head shops actually. How many people are aware that you can get 30 second ads during local rerun type broadcasts, as early as 10pm, not to mention during the daytime, for ten or twenty bucks a pop? This is in a metro area, population around a million. TV people!!

    2. bwilli123

      I think the Left’s major problem for the past 50 years has been it’s concentration on it’s social agenda at the expense of it’s traditional economic rationale. The division into multifarious competing “identity” tribes versus the former unique banner of “class” has allowed the Right to divide and rule with near impunity on economic issues, plundering the majority, whilst handing back equality in small doses, and where it barely matters to the broad majority of people.
      My belief is that any Left group that wants to extend beyond it’s self imposed ideological ghettos needs to forget about guns,sex and religious issues until it gets it’s economic agenda front and centre.

      1. Code Name D

        I disagree.

        Any group that basses its activism on an ideology is bound to face splintering an any ideology is bound to evolve over time into differing modes of nonsensical, ineffective, or inaccurate thinking. This is the primary reason why I place such a strong emphases on a dynamic manifesto which uses the scientific method to establish the veracity of the claims made in the platform.

        I have no problem with a social agenda at the exclusion to an economic philosophy, but it has to be consistent with a demonstrable rational, which means it must remain consistent with demonstrable economic principles, even if it is to come from a more social perspective.

        The problem with “the left” is that it tends to accept uncritically claims made by free market orthodoxy. The left tend scratches their heads in trying to figure out why their social agenda doesn’t seem to be working under free market theory. Case in point would be Obamacare.

        There is absolutely no attempt to verify any of the lefts position, or to practice any skepticism with any of the ideas it considers. This is why we see “the left” looking more and more like “the right” all the time. Progressives find them selves compiled to defend and promote ideas that just a few years ago they would have railed against.

        1. rur42

          ‘The problem with “the left” is that it tends to accept uncritically claims made by free market orthodoxy.’

          I don’t know any leftie who accepts uncritically claims made free market orthodoxy. It seems to me that those who lean toward “the left” universally believe in regulated markets, and fight against deregulation.

          That some of us, perhaps erroneously, accept compromises merely means that we think half a loaf is better than none. So it goes in the political arena.

          It’s easy to be uncompromising online.

          1. Code Name D

            Advocating for a regulated market by no means demonstrates skepticism of free markets in general. Democrats advocate that the state has a role in regulating for the advancement of free markets. Often this is done under the language of “investing”, “innovating”, “helping consumers”, or “competition”.

            The Affordable Healthcare Act is a prime example where the state steps in and created “exchanges” intended to facilitate the free market process. There are some additional regulations put into place to check against some of the worse abuses. But the motivations that cause these abuses are not only permitted, but enshrined in the law under the notion that a healthy free market will prevent these abuses from returning, or new abuses from being developed.

            But it’s important to note that not all free market ideas are tied to markets directly. Obama’s Race to the Top program is an example of this. A central idea to RTT is to encage school districts to “innovate” new ways of educating that are both better and cheaper. But there is no direct attempt to discern weather these new innovations will work or not. Instead, the nature of the law promotes competition between school districts. Those districts that fall behind in test scores will be penalized for their poor performance, whole those who advance will win more and more of the remaining resources. It is simply assumed that failing schools will eventually adopt winning methods used by the more successful schools – hence the words “race to the top.”

      2. F. Beard

        My belief is that any Left group that wants to extend beyond it’s self imposed ideological ghettos needs to forget about guns,sex and religious issues until it gets it’s economic agenda front and center. bwilli123

        Here hear! Because:
        1) Who but moral monsters believe in late term abortions unless the mother’s health is seriously threatened?
        2) Who but total a**holes believe the right to commit sodomy IN PUBLIC* trumps all else?

        *The Bible requires TWO OR MORE witnesses before anyone can be convicted.

  22. TheCatSaid

    There’s the Pirate Party gaining ground in Europe and elsewhere. I looked at the constitution for the Pirate Party in Ireland. It focuses on transparency, which makes sense. Lots of problems can be solved by people once there is transparency.

  23. kimyo

    as a thought experiment, let’s say that from today forward, every single election is won by a skunk party candidate.

    taking an optimistic view, in 6 – 10 years, the skunk party gains enough control of the apparatus to begin steering the vessel.

    probably they will find that their first order of business is to dismantle large portions of the apparatus they now control (for starters: nsa, tsa, irs, fda, epa, aca, fcc, sec, close most military bases overseas). this takes another 6 – 10 years.

    and let’s say that similar progress occurs across the globe, europe, asia, africa, oceania, middle east all now running governments ‘by the people, for the people’.

    many of today’s issues would be resolved. there is an exception, though.

    water is the pre-eminent crisis, and requires immediate action. if the right decisions are not taken by today’s government there will be no apparatus to seize control of.

    thus, we need a different solution. voting cannot deliver the required results in the time alloted.

    our current government must be forced to represent the will of the people. the use of water for fracking, tar sands and corn-based ethanol must stop immediately.

  24. psychohistorian

    I didn’t reply to individual commenters but read a number of examples of what I was trying to call “cells” in my comment early on. I think that there a lot of small groups that are currently making a difference in our world. Those differences need to be made available for others to copy or modify to fit their local but similar situation….like getting a big chunk of states to reject “Citizens United” or corporations as people.

    This cellular approach is harder to kill/co-opt….and can bring about small and larger change.

  25. Robert Frances

    Timely discussion. Given the power of the internet to communicate across state borders, including international borders, it’s surprising I haven’t come across more websites where informed people are trying to come to a consensus about new or different laws that should be enacted to address the myriad of economic issues we face. Across the globe people face many of the same economic challenges – employment; tax laws; government budget deficits; monetary policy; international trade; etc. The proposed solutions for many countries are often similar too, which can be used to leverage people across the globe if concrete, effective policy proposals can ever be broadly agreed to by a group debating the proposal.

    Following another link recently, I came across the Citizen Network X Party (in Spain?). (Apologies if they have been previously discussed.) I haven’t read their platform, but I liked the way they present a list of political and economic “demands,” which are directly and concisely stated. Their consensus process begins with an initial write-up of a policy proposal by one of the group members (or noted 3rd party) who has knowledge of a particular issue. The group then debates and massages it on-line. The active members’ diverse backgrounds are impressive.

    Open-ended discussion forums often don’t come up with meaningful output, but a subscription based model that allows people to discuss and debate policy proposals might help focus results. An annual fee of $50 – $100, for example, to post on the discussion board for those who could afford it, and a fee of $15-$35 for low-income, youth and seniors, would raise some money for a web-page and perhaps occasional web support. If some of the webhosting and moderating tasks could be simplified, volunteers could provide support as well. As stated by an earlier commenter, 10,000 boomers a day are leaving the workforce who represent a sizable pool of potential volunteers.

    If possible (I don’t have any website knowledge), perhaps NC could experiment with a separate webpage, linked from the homepage for a week or so, where an on-going discussion could take place, about a specific policy proposal or two for the Skunk Party platform. If the ad-hoc discussion forum shows potential results, the idea could be expanded.

  26. Paul Niemi

    Yves, you are exactly the person I would encourage to keep working for change. Your point of view is terrific. I cannot, however, agree that “traditional political parties are poor vehicles for addressing deep-seated social problems.” Political action in the traditional parties has resulted in huge social changes over the years. What must be remembered is that the parties are organized from the bottom up, not the top down, with ideas flowing up from the grassroots; and political movements always begin in someone’s living room with a group of neighbors discussing the issues, not in a boardroom or an ivory tower. Let me tell you a story to illustrate how this works.

    In 1986, I was a 24-year-old, living on a farm in rural, eastern Washington state. I had a pet idea that a particular law I disliked should be repealed. I attended my local precinct caucus and presented the idea. My neighbors thought the idea had no chance of success, but they elected me a delegate to my county convention, and I obtained a seat on the platform committee. I defended my idea there, and it was adopted in the county platform. The local daily paper editorialized against the idea, using it as an illustration that my party could not be taken seriously. I was then elected a delegate to my state convention, and defended the idea in the platform committee there. The state platform committee chair told me I needed to modify my idea, that total repeal of this particular law was not practical, so I rewrote my plank to advocate a specific change in the law that I thought had some chance to succeed, and my plank was added to the state platform. I was unsurprised when the largest newspapers in the state editorialized against my idea, but after the convention, my national committeewoman asked me to give her a copy of my plank, typed and signed on nice paper, and I complied, not knowing how significant that would turn out to be.

    I had no part in the rest that happened. Later I learned that my national committeewoman had handed the copy of my platform plank to President Ronald Reagan, when he greeted members of the Republican National Committee. She told me he had read it and liked it, and he had passed it on to his friend, the chair of the RNC platform committee at the time, whom I believe I remember was Sen. Alan Simpson. It was added to the national platform, and it was very controversial. Most major newsmagazines and newspapers dismissed the idea as preposterous. It was reported about with undisguised derision. Nevertheless, the idea was attached as a rider to another bill in the next congress, and it was signed into law by president Reagan in 1987. What was it? It repealed the national 55 mph speed limit for rural interstate highways. States were then free to set their own speed limits for highways outside urban areas without threat of losing federal highway funds. Later, in 1995, Congress repealed the 55 mph speed limit altogether, because evidence showed a significant decrease in traffic accidents where speed limits had been increased. The argument I had used to support my plank in 1986 had predicted that. What did I get? I got Christmas cards from the White House from 1987 through 1992.

    Yeah, so what? Well, what I think this story shows is that the political party process works, if you can respect it and persist. If you want to advocate an idea, writing about it is nice, but to be taken seriously you have to be willing to stand up in rooms full of people and defend your viewpoint in person. I’m no longer associated with the Republican party (I didn’t leave them, they left me), but given an issue for which I could summon passion today, I would take it to a Democratic party caucus to get the ball rolling. There is no barrier to entry, if you are willing to start at the bottom, and you have to start somewhere.

    1. hu

      Well, what I think this story shows is that the political party process works, if you can respect it and persist.

      Just like any other Horatio Alger story. I’m unmoved. If you do not respect the process because it is broken by design to benefit the rich, then what?

      1. Paul Niemi

        Read the laws in your state governing the organization of political parties and elections. It’s pretty simple and straightforward stuff. If you don’t respect the process, if it is too cumbersome for you, if you think voting is a waste of your time, then don’t participate. Doing nothing is an effective endorsement of the status quo.

    2. Code Name D

      “Political parties are orgnized from the bottom up.”

      Sorry, but this is pattenly false. And the perpetuation of this myth is one of the barriors to effecting change. Both Republican and Democratic party are orgnized to serve the intrests with money, not their contiuents

    3. Andrew Watts


      I bet all your detractors at the local, county, and state level became the strongest supporters you had when the issue made it successfully onto the national stage. It’s weird, isn’t it?

      By the way, don’t be shy about being a Republican. That really isn’t anything to be ashamed of in the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, populists/socialists have traditionally allied themselves with the local Republican Party. Long serving Republican pols representing the state at the federal level (ie; Charles McNary, Mark Hatfield, etc.) and local level (ie; Tom McCall) have consistently cultivated and earned the support of egalitarian minded people.

      1. Paul Niemi

        In retrospect, getting rid of 55mph was one of the most popular things the Gipper ever did. After the law changed in ‘87, political and media support for 55 disappeared. I do consider myself a populist, but I quit the GOP in 2005.

    4. RanDomino
      “Results. We found a 3.2% increase in road fatalities attributable to the raised speed limits on all road types in the United States. The highest increases were on rural interstates (9.1%) and urban interstates (4.0%). We estimated that 12 545 deaths (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8739, 16 352) and 36 583 injuries in fatal crashes (95% CI = 29 322, 43 844) were attributable to increases in speed limits across the United States.”

  27. Steve H.

    How did Colorado and Washington start selling a Federal Schedule-1 substance to just anyone who wanted to buy it?

    There are two large civil-rights campaigns being waged successfully. Gay marraige has strong backing from interests with money, a cross-the-aisle bridge with gay conservatives, and the young adult cohort who doesn’t see what the problem is. The campaign has been well-coordinated in a ‘full-spectrum’ sense (see the pre-Sochi ‘repressive Russians don’t love freedom’ articles). It has suppressed the opposition (yesterday Indiana HJR-23 was passed, but without the civil unions ban).

    Marijuana had a defined path it was following. Medical marijuana had a moneyed institution vying for a control function (the AMA). It had a cross-the-aisle issue of prison population (civil rights for the left, fiscal frugality for the right). The opposition was being dampened by the implication that you had to admit something was wrong with you to get it (pariah class).

    But then two states went “smoke ’em if you got ’em” and trended to eight-figure tax revenues. Suddenly many other states (including the very conservative Gulf Coast) are falling over themselves to decriminalize. Pressure is building for the Federal government to deschedule so conservative politicians can save face and still get the cash.

    This looks like grassroots organizing subverting the institutional control path. Is this actually the case?

  28. JohnB

    Money is the problem really isn’t it. It’s what you need to create the political movement to seek reform, and it’s also the reform you’re seeking (reform of the monetary system itself).

    It’s an uphill battle in my view, unless/until you find a very wealthy backer – and even then there’s a limit to the funds available, if you really want to get the message out on a really wide scale.

    So, maybe another way to do it, is this:
    Start by enacting the reforms you’re seeking, by creating a centrally controlled digital currency (or potentially many of them, tailored to local areas), actually employ and pay people within your political movement, and get them to do trade with this currency (making sure they prefer spending rather than holding onto it, in case it is shut down) – then take the unemployed and underemployed people, and don’t just tell them that recovery is possible, but show them by directly creating work.

    This is illegal, so it would have to be an act of civil disobedience: When it is shut down though, you will have involved a lot of people in the political movement, just by them doing work/trade within it – and when it is shut down, many of them will be unemployed again, and finding it very hard to gain employment again and buy needed goods.

    They will be very pissed off at this, and they will then understand (even if previously completely politically passive) the importance and gravity of what is at stake, probably better than anyone could ever explain to them – creating a whole community of dedicated supporters.

    If the government (of any country) is mismanaging its economy, failing to provide the money needed for adequate employment, and failing to provide people with the work they need to live a decent life, then can’t really blame people for taking that back into their own hands.

  29. Ted Baumann

    When I lived and worked full-time in South Africa, my NGO gradually evolved over time into precisely the model you describe. Instead of a traditional non-profit with “programs”, it became an umbrella structure for individuals and small community groups who wanted to pursue ideas for change but didn’t have the heft to do it alone. This worked pretty well as it went, but there are some challenges too.
    1. The costs of compliance and governance are still borne by the umbrella organization, and that requires substantial resources of staff, time, and therefore, money. Most donors, however (a) don’t want to fund a projectless umbrella directly and (b) won’t allow individual grant recipients using the umbrella structure to use a portion of their project budgets to support the umbrella. So the financing of the umbrella, which performs a very substantial value-add, becomes a constant battle.

    2. Accountability and ideological struggles don’t end under an umbrella structure, but the power structure shifts. Because of the variety of players wanting to gain access to the umbrella, its leadership holds a lot of gatekeeping power. Moreover, because of its unusual structure, it takes an exceptionally skilful umbrella leader to negotiate with donors, and he or he can easily become a mini-dictator.

    3. Long-term relationships with donors often require the appointment of board members to placate donors. That introduces an element of contestation between leadership and board that can destabilize the enterprise.

  30. michael gandy

    Yves, thanks for being blunt and no-non-sense. I think you touch on important points about hidden costs of non-profits, volunteers, and the gap between knowing and doing. You have hit on a longstanding dysfunctionality that is both systemic and individual. There is paralysis, from fear, that keeps us from speaking of the naked emperor, fear of being the first lonely one-eyed on the block of turn-a-blind eyed, Fear of not knowing what the hell to do, and not sure if we can do it. Paralysis is a depressing outcome for many drifting in the paradox of the official American corporate cowboy dream world. Sometimes a fallout from a lack of a “locus of control” is depression, whose keynote symptom is procrastination, an underminer of willpower and good intentions.

    What are we doing? To fight the virtual depressing official lie, create an interactive virtual lie detection game that produces “freedom fighters”..

    I thus suggest where a diagnosis might lie, and a proposed treatment. Virtual games that bridge the land of learning and dreaming to the hand’s on reality of “doing”. Pragmatists who expect dreams of change to be actionable encounter so many dreamers who have not found the grit to git goin’ and persevere. Or “see no evil” wishy-washy wistful wishfullness of the purposefully naive, unaccustomed to making (sure there is) a difference, who will not commit or risk the “inconvenience” of long-term hard-road realities of change. To be fair, they want peace, as an abstraction, but are unwilling to face up to the incentives to injustice.

    There are at least seven common beliefs about power that were seen by Claire Graves, a sociologist. These also reflect differences in the moral and linguistic universe of humans researchers such as Jonathon Haidt and cognitive scientist George Lakoff explore .

    These issues and how they line up with Willpower is our terrain for exploration by way of games for political-economic-ecological-social re-envisioning. In the game worlds of dilemma and demand we want to create has goals but not stifling fear of censure or fear of making mistakes to free the mind first in order to free the will to effective action.

    Couch observers and armchair critics can become savvy trained strategic implementer s that spark specific and measurable goals (see Jane McGonigal–Reality is Broken, also her TED talk). To do this we are going to try the B Corp model and define “profit” as gain in all four of overarching forms of profit as defined in Natural Capitalism. The virtual worlds, past, present, and future blur into a model of the “real” world. The game becomes an hypotheses testing laboratory for crowd intelligence and creativity to emerge. With role for the creators and the destroyers (fitness and robustness testers).

    Part of intelligence is acting based on long-term consequences. In that sense, modern capitalism is idiotic. Killing the planet necessary for our survival isn’t smart…but it does play to a hominids need to pay attention to the immediate and urgent. If we are to claim a “sapiens” distinction from our chimp brothers, we damn well need to learn how to turn damaging footprints into tracks to thrivable economic-ecology. We know gaining a a locus of control can free the immobilized talkers to act. A responsive virtual world, where system dynamics are more transparent, can teach what and how to act. A moral universe can help a person explore why they act and thus find the will to do.

    Funding is tough. It is expensive for a non-profit to get donations. For our Corp B, at least the administration of earning and putting money to good work is a built-in cost of turning a for-profit into 4 profit, or 4Cap profit, where not just financial and productive capital must prosper, but natural and social capital as well. .

  31. washunate

    Well said on the money challenges.

    On nonprofit governance specifically, I would suggest that the place governance can get more complicated is where organizations are soliciting wealthy patrons with the carrot of tax deductible contributions under the Internal Revenue Code section 501c3 (and other tax credits like LIHTC or New Markets or NAP or whatever). That requires a level of compliance with government regulation as well as fiscal policies and outside audits to prove to the donors that their money is being handled well. As others have commented, there are fiscal sponsor and fiscal agent relationships designed to handle small and/or temporary needs until such time as a group is ready to become its own 501c3. There can be some FEC requirements in addition to IRS requirements for political organizations under section 527.

    So the main question is strategic, not operational. If there’s already an organization in existence running the website – Aurora Advisors – why worry about creating a new company? Why not just have a new division or project or whatever lingo is preferred under the corporate umbrella?

    If there is a desire for new organization outside the website of significant scale*, then the best structure follows from the purpose of the group, with the main options probably being 501c3 (public charity), 501c4 (social welfare), and 527 (electing candidates). Basically, the tradeoffs are amongst tax deductibility, legislative advocacy, candidate advocacy, and public advocacy.

    *This is an important detail because a small organization can be incorporated and managed pretty easily.

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