Why this is the best way
Let us assume that the American people are dissatisfied with their political system and with a government that has launched unprovoked wars, mismanaged the economy, and effectively taken bribes from well-financed interest groups. What can be done about it? Not much can be done through conventional politics featuring the two-party system with heavy media gatekeeping.
If substantial change is to happen, the American people must be convinced. Effective speakers with political credibility must lay out a program of reform that makes sense to people. It then would be put into effect by capturing the government through electoral politics after the proper groundwork has been laid.
Alternatively, the government might be captured through armed insurrection. I rule this out because of its immense cost. A successful revolution of violence against the U.S. government might be expected to devastate the land and cost millions of lives. The American people would not support this, and neither would I. Our democratic form of government offers a more attractive way to bring about change.
Communication is the key to victory. People must receive a message that inspires them to vote a certain way. Enough people must hear the message that voting majorities can be assembled for the government offices needing to make the change. The proponents of change would have to elect a President, majorities in both the House and Senate, and similar results in state governments around the country. In a nation of more than 300 million people, this cannot be done by word of mouth alone. It would have to be done through the media or, at least, through networks of people with sufficient membership or participation.
Years ago, when communication was less highly organized, political rabble rousers might go around the country making speeches to hastily convened groups. People who lived in communities interacted physically with each other more than they do today. Today they are more apt to be watching television. The masses of people drive to and from work in automobiles, having little or no contact with others. There is no opportunity for a political agitator to button-hole someone personally and lay on him a program of change. Such behavior would likely get the communicator arrested.
In theory, the person with a compelling political message might wangle a way to be invited to speak before a community group and have the event covered in the newspaper. If that happens enough times, he might attract a political following. Such a scenario is unrealistic, though, because the major newspapers seldom publish stories of this kind any more. The editors mistrust serious political agendas which might antagonize some of their readers. They prefer to cover attention-grabbing tragedies or else report “good news”. The same considerations apply to local television coverage which often follow the newspapers’ lead. Radio stations, except for talk radio, are largely focused on music, religion, or sports.
There is another reason why the commercial media are an unpromising vehicle for communication. Newspapers are businesses. Many are owned by wealthy individuals or large corporations. They would hardly favor covering politicians who advocated wealth redistribution. Furthermore, while the newspapers do cover election campaigns as a part of their news reporting, they are increasingly reluctant to give “free publicity” to candidates when they could be attracting paid advertisements. And so, the amount of political coverage in the media (especially television) tends to shrink. Those who can afford large advertising campaigns get their message out while the others wilt on the vine.
There are, of course, institutions in society that do offer speaking engagements to persons with a serious message if the message is appealing to their membership. Religious institutions provide such an audience. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in black churches in the South before the media began to cover his activities. Labor unions have an extensive network of local organizations where political discussion takes place. While the type of message embraced by Gold Party should appeal to laboring people, the unions have become slavishly attached to the Democratic party. Their members seem less interested in visions of a better society than in what they can gain in the next contract.
Nevertheless, organizations do exist in America that do invite speakers to address their members. There are the Rotary clubs, Kiwanis, Toastmasters, etc. Whether they would have speakers advocating “Socialism” is, however, problematic. Also, there are organizations that depend on personal solicitation. Women have been personally enlisted to sell Tupperware, Mary Kay cosmetics, or other such products. Multi-level distributorships such as Amway encourage personal recruitment of other sellers by offering points for what the recruit has sold. Also, from time to time, chain letters become all the rage. Individuals decide to participate and they recruit others by imaging the huge payoffs that they would receive if the letter kept going to the fourth or fifth level.
Is it possible to sell a political program by such means? That is an intriguing possibility. For sure, participants in multi-level distribution schemes will not be motivated by idealism alone; they must have a personal reward. Money is usually the best motivator. Therefore, the Gold Party approach includes incentives to recruit other members. It includes a financial payoff for members if the party captures the government. Unlike chain letters that peter out as populations become saturated, Gold Party would actually come closer to its goal if the population became saturated with its members. Electoral majorities would be at hand.
However, a political program needs something that goes beyond a recruiting mechanism. It needs a structure resembling that of a political party. Today’s parties consist mainly of membership lists, meetings and officers, and a brand name. The last is important. When voters go to the polls, they have a rough idea of what the candidate stands for by knowing his or her party affiliation. They may themselves be disposed to vote for candidates on that basis without relying on specific communication about their issues or qualifications. In an era where political communication is a scarce resource, the party brand often decides elections.
Socialism is a negative brand for most Americans. Gold Party hardly exists. So there are two strikes against this proposal even before it gets started. On the other hand, there is an urgent need for its type of program. There is a widespread perception among the American public that our system of government is broken. We now have an even number of balls and strikes. This is not to say that, in baseball parlance, we’re angling for a walk. Let’s hit a home run, instead.
Small talk aside, what needs to be done? The place to begin is to consider what has already been done. What examples do we have of successful political action? We’ll consider two examples. One is known to all Americans; the other is known mainly by me.
First we have the example of Barack Obama’s “miraculous” election as President of the United States. Here was a young man in his forties, a first-term U.S. Senator, an African American, who had to stave off a challenge from Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and then from a formidable Republican campaigner, John McCain, to be elected President. How did he do it?
When he announced for President in Springfield, Obama did, however, have certain advantages. He was an incumbent U.S. Senator. He was a man who had made a name for himself nationally by delivering the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, one which delivered a powerful political message. Obama had also written a best-selling book. He had some able political organizers working for him.
During the 2008 primary season, some other advantages became apparent: Barack Obama was a polished, charismatic speaker - perfect for the television age. He had the advantage of numerous speaking opportunities on television in all the candidate debates held over an extended period. After white voters favored him in the Iowa caucuses, he enjoyed nearly monolithic support from black voters in the primaries. Finally, his reputation and charismatic presence, combined with Internet technology, brought in a record amount of small donations that allowed the Obama campaign to advertising heavily in the latter stages of the campaign.
I would have to say that little of this applies to the political situation faced by Gold Party unless, of course, Barack Obama is the President by which its program becomes realized. Gold Party is not tied to an existing political party that would host a televised national convention. Its events would have little of the media coverage that Obama received. Even if Gold Party candidates were included in televised debates, they would not be asked the types of questions needed to communicate the party’s program to voters. Internet technology does suggest an opening, but this in itself is insufficient to fuel a political movement. The sale is made by personal contact, not by publishing a proposal on the Internet.
So we will turn to the second example which has inspired my own political thinking. This is the example of an activist landlord group in Minneapolis called Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee (MPRAC). I was an integral party of this group during and after its glory days. In the period between 1997 and 2001, this group with a core of 20 or 30 active members, and perhaps 60 who regularly showed up for meetings, was able to change the political climate in Minneapolis, a city of almost 300,000 residents. This was a pariah group - “slumlords” if you will - who were disparaged or ignored by the city’s only commercial newspaper, the Star Tribune, except for evenhanded articles from a single reporter who left the paper in 1999. The group’s influence became apparent in the 2001 municipal elections when the mayor and half the city council were replaced. The landlords were especially influential in defeating the City Council President.
Keep in mind that MPRAC was founded in 1994. It did not enjoy support from any other organization. There were no grants or large financial gifts. Mainly this group began as a group of landlords suing the city. The early members recruited other members by personal solicitation at hardware stores, Housing Court, and other places frequented by landlords. Then, twice a month, they met in a landlord’s office on Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis to swap stories of bad treatment by city government and to plot strategy. The discussion leader was Charlie Disney, a charismatic individual who had been a champion table-tennis player and entrepreneur. It was he who gave the group its message and fighting spirit. Disney was the communicator in chief; and that’s how the group grew in size of membership and in focus.
To explain how MPRAC had an impact on Minneapolis politics, we would have to tell how this group, now comprising a number of dedicated members, moved its meetings to a community center and began videotaping these meetings and airing the tapes on cable television. The broader public was now exposed to its message. Also, a member began publishing a free-circulation newspaper, adding another communication vehicle. The group also held public demonstrations to protest city policies. Guests at its televised meetings included persons seeking election to the Minneapolis city council and to the office of mayor. In this phase, the landlords were affecting public opinion. There was not yet a scorecard to show how well its message had been received.
Finally, there was the fateful year of 2001. Charlie Disney ran for mayor of Minneapolis, had a heart attack, and dropped out of the race. I ran in his place. During a campaign lasting a week or two, I distributed several thousand pieces of literature to strangers on the street. The result was a mere 143 votes received in the September primary. The results were better in the November general election when the mayor and the City Council President were defeated at the polls, replaced by persons who had attended our televised meetings. Keep in mind that Minneapolis is a one-party town. It was not a particular party but other persons and groups, including the landlords, who had produced this result.
the case of the City Council President, who was
her defeat was
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with the way she had conducted
herself in office. Additionally,
landlord and group member compiled
a list of twenty-one questions
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as a campaign flier. ACORN, a
hand-delivered the flier
the ward. On election day, two
worked as campaign volunteers
for the Council President’s opponent.
Some drove voters to the polls.
Some were poll watchers. One
landlord rented a sound truck that
circulated through the ward urging
people to vote. The opponent,
a Green Party member, narrowly won
First, it shows how a group of political activists can be built from scratch. There needs to be a compelling cause, a person or two who will start the organization, and then a practice of recruiting other members through personal solicitation.
Second, there need to be regular meetings of the members to build a cohesive organization. There needs to be a leader like Charlie Disney who is in regular communication with the members and presides over the meetings. (In Charlie’s view, his success as a leader is due to having made “thousands of phone calls”.) He is the one who assigns others to particular roles.
Third, there needs to be a way of communicating with the broader public. In this case, MPRAC televised its meetings for later broadcast on cable television. The free-circulation newspaper attracted a group of readers. The direct-action events also put the landlords in touch with others in the Minneapolis community.
Finally, the group’s activism needs to find an outlet in electoral politics. Its impact on public opinion, though important, would lack a tangible result were it not for the scorecard provided by elections to public office. One could only guess how effective the group had been.
Notice that an element in the landlord group’s success was not that it had a good reputation or was well liked. On the contrary, MPRAC members were disliked as a group. They were “slumlords” who deserved their ill treatment by Minneapolis city government in the eyes of mainstream political opinion. Also, the group did not enjoy favorable press coverage. The Star Tribune newspaper ignored its activities. That’s why the landlords had to acquire their own media capability. Gold Party can expect the same media treatment. It, too, needs its own capability of communicating with the public.
Admittedly, the challenge of overturning the U.S. plutocracy is of a different order of difficulty than that of turning a handful of Minneapolis city officials out of office. A single core of members cannot accomplish that task. Even so, the most difficult part is getting started. Gold Party’s success will depend on whether that first, second, or third person can be persuaded to join. Once a successful group is established in a particular community, it can serve as a model for others around the country. The key is finding the right formula for the group. Don’t be immediately concerned with size. If the group is successfully put together in a single instance, replication should be no problem.
Some of the particular issues for Gold Party are the following:
In summary, communication and motivation are the keys to the success of Gold Party. Its victory will not come through conventional politics but through a creative grassroots movement that enlists the talents of all members. Such a movement can overpower the commercial media and the paid political advertising. The group’s own messages will have greater credibility with its members than what the jaded journalists and negative-message advertisers produce.
Here is a unique opportunity to be a participant in an event of historic importance. Many talk revolution but only a few can produce.