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.
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-workinghttp://management.fortune.cnn.com/2014/01/28/mba-pay-highest-lowest/mothers. 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!