Brand New Congress Promises Much
The exciting new organization “Brand New Congress” (BNC, click here) just held its first meeting in my town. Its provocative electoral program may be the most innovative set of ideas in a century or more. In the 2018 primary elections, they plan to run more than 400 candidates without any regard to political party. The candidates will be people who have contributed to their communities, are good at it, and will uphold a radical progressive program similar to Bernie Sanders’ present campaign.
One of the most interesting twists in the projected scenario is their intention to totally disregard party affiliations. The main speaker said, ““Parties are so 19th century!” Polls are showing that a lot of Democrats and Republicans are not so crazy about their own parties. Youth has been showing its disdain for some time; I recently read that only 19% of Americans 19 to 29 years old voted in 2014!
How It Will Work
The Brand New Congress strategy would have their candidates running mostly as Independents, but, where it’s easier, as Democrats, Republicans, Greens, or anything else that’s useful! In other words, they would use political parties the same way they said Bernie Sanders used the Democratic Party — to get on the various state ballots and to obtain a wider hearing.
Turnout at our meeting was good, but not nearly as good as earlier Bernie meetings. Like the Bernie meetings, diversity was not its strongest characteristic. I’d estimate about 8% African Americans, maybe 10% Latinos, 2% Native American, and 40% women attended. Like the Bernie meetings, they were considerably younger on average than most political gatherings.
It’s worth noting that neither of the two presenters claimed that Bernie Sanders would publicly support this program.
Will It Work?
After having seen the electoral miracles accomplished by the 74 year old socialist from Vermont this year, who is prepared to say that Brand New Congress won’t be successful? Who could say that almost anything couldn’t be done by the younger people around the Bernie campaign? One of the BNC organizers maintained that Bernie had raised $240 million and moved tens of thousands of volunteers!
During the last decades, a growing number of citizens has developed a severe distaste for the status quo and a yearning for something different. Maybe these are the “people with a plan” who bring that change!
On the Other Hand
The idea of such a broadly innovative electoral campaign is breathtaking. But after I resumed regular breathing, my age and experience began to ask questions. In the immediate sense, I didn’t like all of the answers. Hope I’m wrong on every count:
- The strategy is purely electoral and limited to the U.S. Congress. Whenever somebody tells me that a single tactic is going to revolutionize America, I start wondering if they aren’t making a fetish of that tactic. Remember Occupy? A revolutionary program, it seems to me, would have to relate to all forms of struggle.
- Although one of the BNC presenters talked a lot about his views on the economy, little or no mention of the international situation was mentioned. People who think that their country is the only one that matters may be a little bit out of step with the economic situation today.
- Where are the working people in all this? I heard one mention of the term “working class,” but it was parenthetical and in passing. The idea that all Americans can be brought together under a single program seems idealistic to me. Only working people can confront the bosses and beat them, not a vague idea of “everybody.”
- Much worse, I didn’t hear any mention at all of the bosses and how they were going to relate to all this. Do people think that there’s only one side in this fight? There are two sides, and the other side isn’t just sitting around waiting to see what happens. They are really good at all forms of political fighting, especially elections. Also, they blacklist people. They arrest people. They kill people. You can’t expect success with a strategy that ignores them.
- How would we govern? No one would be happier than I to see somebody make gigantic fundamental change in American politics by 2018, but this electoral trick sounds more like a coup than a revolution. In a revolutionary process, people organize themselves by communities, by workplaces, and by their interests. They get better and better at meeting challenges and utilizing opportunities. Leadership develops at every level. Revolutionary struggle is a giant learning process whereby everybody learns more than how to take power, they also learn what to do with it.
Maybe my skepticism has no place as America yearns for improvement. Let’s not condemn, but encourage. Let’s do what we can!
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I can’t speak for BNC, but my answer to most of your questions would be for BNC to be a part of a much larger strategy that involves thousands of local progressive groups of all kinds (some with a narrow focus, some broader) that have strong grassroots support and public input.