About a year ago political commentators questioned the survival of our party-dominated political system.
“The two-party system is dying–let’s put it out of its misery” (The Hill, Nov 10, 2017).
“Commentary: Once centers of hope, political parties are dying” (Reuters, Dec.9, 2017).
“John Kasich says U.S. two-party system dying, predicts ‘multi-party’ future” (Washington Times, Feb. 25, 2018).
It’s probably not a coincidence that an NBC poll released Nov. 2, 2017, indicated that both Republicans and Democrats had high negatives–46 and 42 percent–while voter turnout remains in the 60 percent range.
Let’s say you believe that both major parties are broken and third parties are failing, but the survival of the republic–and a democratic society–depends on restoring representation of the people, not moneyed interests.
Where would you start?
United Vision of Idaho/United Action of Idaho (UVI/UAI), which represents 25 Idaho organizations, struggled with that question in 2016. In a recent interview, Executive Director Adrienne Evans’s outlined the organization’s answer.
Shift power to the people. Go door-to-door across the state and ask people what issues are important to them. Listen.
Draft a platform. Focus on what unites us, not on wedge issues. Ask people about it. Listen and revise.
Encourage supporters to organize and talk. Work to lessen the isolation and fear that keep people divided. Encourage communication and coordination in communities and regions.
Find and endorse candidates who support the platform.
Think long-term. Don’t get discouraged and don’t stop.
Now, 18 months into this project, Evans sees encouraging progress. Volunteers have made it possible to canvass thousands of Idahoans, create a platform, organize several local groups, and endorse candidates.
Evans describes the platform as both populist– representing issues of the people–and bipartisan. She sees many planks, like those advocating local control, public education, transparency in government, and care for public lands as appealing to both liberals and conservatives.
Planks on wedge issues are general, as though written to encourage consensus. “True climate justice” and “Gun sense: community & school safety” are not proposals, but starting points for civil conversation, reminders of common concerns.
The health care plank, however, is more specific and calls for Medicaid expansion; volunteers have gone door-to-door encouraging yes votes on proposition 2.
When UVI/UAI asked candidates questions about their stands on platform issues no Republicans responded. The Idaho Republican Party later attacked UVI for the lack of Republican endorsements and claimed it is funded by out-of-state billionaires. Evans says the group receives no out-of-state money. UVI is, however, an affiliate of People’s Action, which facilitates cooperation among populist organizations in many states.
Many Democrats did not reply to UVI/UAI’s 45 questions either, but enough indicated solid support for the platform for the organization’s political arm–Rise Up, Idaho–to endorse four top-of the ballot candidates and 13 legislative ones, including several Ada County candidates and Chris Ho of Nampa.
One thing that sets UVI/UAI apart from groups I’ve worked with is “deep canvassing.” My training has warned against letting trolls eat up your time. Take just two minutes to state who you are and what you stand for and ask for support.
In contrast, UVI/UAI canvassers encourage Idahoans to talk about a number of issues. Listening, rather than time, is the concern.
And, Evans said, canvassing will not end with the November election. The task, she says, is too important to tie to one issue or one election.
Will UVI/UAI help revive the people’s voice in government?
Adrienne Evans has hope. Volunteers and lots of hope.