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Context 2012: The Mosaic of Independent Politics

Shared Media Cooperative and politicalcontext.org will presently launch Context 2012, a media project providing interviews with, debates among, and a constant stream of news about electoral political activity among independent and third party candidates in the United States, running from now until the general election in 2012.

Strategies to confront the colonization of the public sphere will fail if they remain trapped in the two-party paradigm. Leading Democrats have little reason to rock the boat and are willing to sell out their rank and file in order to consolidate their beltway power. Republican leaders and candidates seek to outdo one another in their appeal to their ever-shrinking old-world constituents, or recruit new voters by appealing to the lowest common argumentative denominators. If politics is to have a future as a means of improving our lives and overcoming our antagonisms, it must begin with the foundational ideas and innovative policies found in independent and third party candidates, and those within the Democratic Party who are dissatisfied with its ever-increasing loyalty to corporate money.

The challenges currently facing candidates and parties who are not (R) or (D) are daunting. In some cases, the hurdles put in front of parties by states even push the boundaries of international norms. From Pennsylvania to Nevada, access laws are restrictive and discouraging. North Dakota hasn’t had a third party candidate on its general election ballot in 25 years. When things do get better, as they recently have in New York and North Carolina, it’s because people have struggled hard to make it happen. Those struggles continue.

Then there is the ongoing debate about whether progressive third party candidates make things worse by hurting lesser-of-two-evil Democrats. We all remember the hatred leveled against Ralph Nader. More recently, Michele Bachmann “has been helped in each of her three congressional races by the presence of a third-party candidate who has siphoned votes from her Democratic opponent. That help was crucial in 2008. She was reelected with a plurality of the vote thanks to the third-party candidate.” This is a debate that needs to actually and explicitly take place, not one that ought to be treated with innuendo, accusations of ulterior motives, or the use of questionable data.

The threat of insurgent candidates does not cut both ways. The “Tea Party” (whatever, ultimately it is) has done the GOP more harm than good electorally, but this is unlikely to affect the presidential election. Although much has been made of the apparent division among tea party leaders as to whether that faux-populist movement will support the GOP or a third party purist, such talk assumes Republicans are critical and reflective. In fact, most will back any GOP candidate; the myth of them “staying home” didn’t bear out in the last two presidential elections, and their hatred of Obama is sure to overcome their reticence to vote for a milquetoast like Romney. What is likely to continue, however, is the success in primaries of liability candidates for U.S. House or Senate.

Another assumption that may undermine the effort to change political perceptions of third parties is the notion that groups like the Greens are great for local races, but not for national politics. While it’s true that having Greens hold city council seats is good for those cities, the result of exclusivizing this assumption is that we will never have a serious policy conversation about the Greens’ (or others’) bigger visions. All politics is not local. Changes in foreign policy and domestic economic policy paradigms may be the key to preventing the collapse of civilization. While local and personal changes are certainly necessary to help remake the world in more sustainable ways, they aren’t enough to deal with macro-issues like climate change, war and international monetary policy. And with labor unions taking a hard look at the Greens, we may be on the brink of a sea-change in left politics.

The libertarians — small or big “L” — whose interests sometimes coincide with those of progressives, are treated shabbily by the corporate media. Libertarians are seen by establishment commentators as having “lost their way.”  Foundationally, libertarianism itself is in flux and the Libertarian Party’s definition and principles subject to intense internal debate. Our own interview in 2008 with Wayne Allyn Root revealed that the philosophy means different things to different people, particularly where conservative interpretations of border enforcement or abortion are concerned.

We are not concerned with the renegade millionaire or billionaire who runs as a spoiler, to attract attention to himself, often with half-baked and oversold ideas. Instead, we are interested in the best that independent and radical politics has to offer, and in helping to overcome the challenges such politics face. Third Parties and smaller political groups often do a good job of getting their message out, but an inconsistent job of speaking with and debating one another. With some notable exceptions (like the recent cooperation between the Socialist Party and the Green Party), third parties do not join together to impact elections often enough.

The left side of the Democratic Party is engaged in the wrong debate with the wrong opponent. Progressive Democrats shouldn’t be debating against Republicans, but speaking with, and debating, Greens and socialists. Likewise, Libertarians have found more success reaching leftward on key civil liberties and government transparency issues than they have with their internicene rivals in the GOP. Independent progressives, Greens, and socialists, along with independent labor activists and even some anarchists, have achieved positive things when they’ve joined together, and have languished when they did not.

Third parties are uniquely aware of the corrupting, antidemocratic influence of corporate spending in the electoral process, and their candidates often offer critical, system-level explanations for the corruption. At this point in our political story, whether those explanations are anti-capitalist, anti-statist, or even reformist is less important than allowing all of those explanations, and their accompanying solutions, be heard far and wide. Context 2012 aims at fostering dialogue and debate, inviting partnerships, and encouraging joint political strategies by America’s third parties and independent political groups. Context 2012 will invert the corporate media hierarchy that favors the GOP and conservative Democrats; we will offer the broadest space possible to those groups least likely to be invited onto the stools at CNN or MSNBC, let alone Fox News or the networks.

The Context 2012 Election Series will include:

–in-depth interviews with party leaders and candidates

–alternative debates between third parties as well as progressive Democrats

–ongoing news coverage of third party campaigns from the inside: convention news, internal party debates, news of schisms and reconciliations

Our project is necessarily nonpartisan in that we welcome any third party to the project, excluding only explicitly racist or fascist groups. The Constitution Party is welcome, as is the Reform Party and the Socialist Workers Party. In our space, they will be the chief analysts, political personalities, and idea-makers.

In addition to inviting the largest and broadest readership possible, we also need your support and involvement. We will be soliciting small donations to cover our technology and staffing needs. We need writers and interviewers, and people committed to spreading the word.  If you’re an independent progressive, a libertarian, or a progressive Democrat, this project can only strengthen your cause. We need your help to make that happen. We are in the process of personally contacting dozens of parties and organizations, and in the next few days, visitors to politicalcontext.org will notice some changes on the site to reflect our new, unique news and interview content. The new content will need to be sustained through small donations and the efforts of more writers and staff members.

American politics has been, and is, more than the corporate media and big business has represented it to be in the last several decades. America is the unfinished revolution. The current economic crisis and beltway deadlock offers a unique opportunity to open up the space to voices many Americans haven’t yet heard. More than anything, Context 2012 is about opening up space. We look forward to doing this, and hope everyone reading this can be a part of it.

To learn more about how you can participate in Context 2012, contact us.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.