[seminar] Paraparty cooperatives

In August, interfluidity (hi!) hosted a seminar over Zoom, which I enjoyed very much. The main problem was that I talked too %$@&*-ing much. So, this time, I propose a bit of a different experiment.

I propose we try a “random seminar”. I’ve written a little app to draw names from a metaphorical hat, and then show a timer. Rather any kind of presentation, or the jungle hierarchy of who chimes in, or discretionary moderation, I thought it’d be fun to choose a topic, and let who-speaks-when be random. You can decline, if you don’t know what to say or prefer just to listen. (We’d love to hear from you though!) In parallel, there will be the more ordinary, discretionary conversation that Zoom encourages in the comments.

I’ll rig the game by framing a topic, see the overlong diatribe below. But the written piece is it. I won’t present in any fashion. I’ll just run the clock and be a participant.

If you’re interested, we’ll try on Friday, October 16, 2020 at 4 pm Eastern / 1 pm Pacific / 8 pm UTC.

If you participated last time around, or indicated an interest to participate in the comments there, I’ll spam you with an e-mail with the zoom link later this week. Otherwise, please leave a comment to this post and supply your real e-mail (which won’t be published) and I will add you to the list. Thank you!

Ryan Cooper had a great piece on a “paraparty cooperative” in Rhode Island that sat both on the inside and the outside of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, and worked to reform and substantially replace it.

In the context of our current electoral system, which favors two major parties and makes third-party factionalism largely self-defeating, intra-party and para-party politics are the primary means of effecting change. I am one of those people who detests both American political parties, one for being outright terrible, the other for (in my view, rightly or wrongly) often betraying my values and interests while pretending to represent them, both together for constituting an industry of a piece with American corruption. So for me, this fact that under status quo political institutions, the path to change lies through these abysmal organizations rather than around them is a very bitter pill. Altering our electoral system to encourage the formation of more, better parties is one of my core priorities. But in the meantime, we have to operate through these corpses. Solidaristic paraparty organizations are, I think, the way.

“Solidaristic” is a word. Cooper quotes Cynthia Mendes, one of the primary candidates successfully supported by the Rhode Island cooperative: “They do what the political parties used to do for their candidates…show up with volunteers, a shared platform, training.” Unions famously used to look after the material well-interests of their workers, both in their formal role (collective bargaining, advocating for workers in disputes), but also informally, organizing support for members who met with some mischance, and bringing “locals” together socially in ways that reinforced a tangible political identity. Churches, much more within the Republican than the Democratic coalition, also serve this kind of role. Fraternal organization were once important sources of material security, social identity, and political activism. The “Tea Party” movement — whatever you think of them, and yes, fertilized by plutocratic subsidy — blurred the social and the political and effected massive change within Republican politics. Its successor, QAnon, steals a page from the fraternals and then scrawls Zodiac symbols all over it. As the fraternals used wacky rituals, QAnon uses adherence to beliefs mocked and disdained by the broader culture as a mark and measure of belonging. Those beliefs are mistaken and malignant, but QAnon has become a political force within the Republican coalition in part because its practices engender solidarity. (One hopes solidarity is achievable without insularity. Or at least without batshit lunacy.)

I now donate hundreds of dollars I can’t really afford each election cycle via Act Blue. Sometimes I donate to 501(c)(3) organizations that solicit my funds for various causes. Again, no criticism, no apologies, we do what we can in the world as it is. But increasingly I think of both of these paths as neoliberal activism, in a pejorative sense. Distant campaigns and organizations present themselves to me in a competitive marketplace of professionally-organized virtue, “effective altruism” if you will. My role is analogous to that of a consumer, to spend my dollars wisely, get the most virtue done for the buck. The relationship is fundamentally transactional. We are isolated, atomized, coordinating only through the offerings providers choose to make available. I worry that these donations are somewhat analogous to masturbation in the Proud Boys’ ontology, that they represent a kind of leakage of energy that could be put to more fruitful use. Act Blue has raised more than three billion dollars this election cycle, to be mostly spent within the politics industry. What if some of those billions had gone to solidaristic, activist organizations to move the Democratic coalition? 501(c)(3) nonprofits collect hundreds of billions of dollars in donations annually, many of which do go to politically active solidaristic organizations, those churches that profoundly influence politics within the Republican coalition. The existence of GoFundMe is a sad, grifty, paean to a desperate need for solidaristic mutual aid, which might be levered towards political change that renders such improvisations less necessary.

So, I think that, politically, the way forward is solidaristic paraparty organizations that are overtly political within the two party coalitions. Their role would be to force representation of interests and values currently eclipsed by the cadres who dominate both parties, professionals for whom constituents are purses to shake, attached to voting habits that impose constraints they have become adept at loosening. These “paraparty cooperatives” would adopt both “outside” strategies (primarying incumbents who don’t represent them, sometimes challenging bad general election candidates despite the risk of spoiling) and “inside” strategies (securing roles within party committees, think-tanks, etc while maintaining solidaristic connections to discourage them from entirely “going native”).

If this is of interest to you, please participate in the seminar on Friday!


4 Responses to “[seminar] Paraparty cooperatives”

  1. Detroit Dan writes:

    Unfortunately, I have a commitment at 4:30. But I’ll plan on attending for the first 1/2 hour. I really like the idea of thinking and talking constructively, and the idea of the app to facilitate such behavior.

  2. I’m in for this!

  3. Mark Kinnucan writes:

    I’d like to participate in the seminar.

    The Rhode Island Political Cooperaive has precedents. One that I have been reading up on is the Nonpaartisan League, a progressive organization that took control of the North Dakota state government between 1916 and 1920 and enacted several reforms, many of which targeted the corporate power (banks, railroads, flour mills) that bedeviled the farmers of North Dakota. The NPL succeeded first by organizing — signing up tens of thousands of farmers as dues-paying members, then by primarying the establishment office-holders in the Republican Party. (A few NPL candidates were elected through Democratic primaries; hence, the name of the organization.)

    Most of the NPL’s accomplishments were either reversed when they lost power or were absorbed into the New Deal, but two that remain to this day are the North Dakota State Bank and the North Dakota State Mill and Elevator. Two of the NPL’s leaders, Lynn Frazier and William Langer, later served, succesively, as progressive and anti-war voices in the US Senate from 1925 to 1959.

  4. Detroit Dan writes:

    I enjoyed the discussion, and am sorry I couldn’t stay for the entire seminar. I look forward to hearing more about the direction the discussion took.