Last week, Americans Elect, the not-a-political-party political party which achieved party status in Rhode Island, announced that it was ending its nomination process for President and Vice President of the United States. American Elect attempted to use an online nominating process to run a third-party ticket for the White House. Unfortunately, beyond its long process for determining delegates, it was also largely established by hedge fund managers closely tied to Wall Street and its interests. Indeed, some of its most vocal supporters (such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) basically were advocating for a “centrist” president; someone who wouldn’t be mean to Wall Street, yet would also be socially liberal.
Now that the dream of electing a not-Barack Obama is over, it’s time that Rhode Islanders considered what it means for us. There are twelve people registered as Americans Elect voters as of March 29th in Rhode Island. And despite the fact that it was almost entirely focused on electing a president, it still counts as a political party for local purposes. Let’s occupy it.
I don’t want to rehash arguments about Occupy Providence that I’ve already made, so I’ll just say this. Camping in Burnside Park was not the same as occupying a piece of Wall Street. But Americans Elect is a piece of Wall Street, created and funded by Wall Streeters. Could there be a sweeter victory than taking it over and turning it against its creators?
Affecting change requires a political program. If you’re looking for more diversity in Rhode Island’s politics, Americans Elect essentially blew a bus-sized hole in the two-party system. A completely undefined political party, one with no real pre-determined identity (beyond the wishes of its funders). All that is required is that someone drive the bus through. Rhode Island’s political dissidents should consider the possibility here: register as an Americans Elect candidate for state senator or representative.
An occupied Americans Elect could become Rhode Island’s version of the Pirate Party. To have any chance of survival, it would have to be. It would have to fill a missing gap in Rhode Island politics; in this case, adopting the Pirate Party’s message of radical governmental transparency with the demand for social justice. Both demands are present within Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots.
One of the most interesting things about Occupy Wall Street was the way it was so highly public in its process. While maintaining that openness was a struggle from the beginning for Occupy Providence, it would’ve provided a nice counterpoint to the General Assembly, which will soon begin its deliberations over how the budget will be shaped behind closed doors. Taking over Americans Elect, and making its reformation be highly open and accessible would lend strength to the takeover as both a protest movement, and a reform movement.
No party can force a voter to disaffiliate, according to Rob Rock at the Secretary of State’s office. So far, I can’t find anything within Title 17 (Elections) of Rhode Island state law that says that a party can block a candidate affiliated with their party from running under the party’s banner. I suppose the party’s state committee could raise an objection to the candidate’s nomination papers, but it’s unclear whether that would be enough. At time of writing, the Board of Elections has not responded to my queries.
However, it’s unclear to me whether Americans Elect even has a state committee to create bylaws for the party. It once had a Northeast Regional Director, former Operations Director of the Moderate Party Kathryn Cantwell, the Brown grad student who is now an unpaid intern in Governor Chafee’s communications office. Ms. Cantwell is no longer with Americans Elect. Between the lack of a regional director and the unsuccessful end of its nomination process, I believe now is the time to strike.
This shouldn’t even be an “Occupy Thing”, this should be a pissed-off people thing. I’ve been down on the movement before, and one of its big problems is a failure to realize that politics is important. You can’t always affect change by throwing stones and waving flags outside of the halls of power. What that can do is create a siege mentality among those inside, that the forces outside can’t be bargained with, and must be waited out.
Alternatively, political action not only paints a movement as one willing to engage in government, it also deprives the opponents of said movement a place from which to attack. Every seat that’s seized from a conservative Democrat or Republican, or a so-called “pragmatic” politician in favor of the status quo, is a seat that can be used to push for change and apply political pressure more directly.
Failure to engage in politics is a failure to engage in autonomy. One of the large reasons Pirate Parties have been successful in parts of Europe is that rather than merely protest the heavy-handedness of their governments’ crackdowns on internet piracy, they followed those protests up with a political vehicle.
Americans Elect is a vehicle without a driver, the keys in the ignition, and the door unlocked. All we have to do is get behind the wheel and put our foot on the gas.