Thanks to a number of members who contributed to allowing me to attend the national conference in NYC held by the Committee for a Unified Independent Party.
The conference was well produced and very interesting. It began with a 45 minute presentation by Jackie Salit, President of the CUIP. This presentation on “How the Independent Movement Went Left By Going Right” (what you see here in written form, was the backdrop of a lovely video/sildeshow produced for this event.
There was a very informative panel on the push for open primaries in all 50 states. (As you know, we have open primaries in Texas where voters, every two years, can choose which party primary they wish to vote in, and don’t have to pre-register with a party.) Phil Keisling of Oregon, formerly a secretary of state there, reported on the ballot initiative in 2008, which unfortunately failed, and why. He urged that we focus on organizing and developing new young leaders, and to keep trying to push for these reforms as sometimes it takes multiple efforts (as witnessed, I might add, by the final passage of redistricting reform in California last November.) CUIP attorney, Harry Kresky, led the panel and reported on the recent ruling on the case for open primaries in Idaho, allowing independent’s to intervene in a battle by the Idaho GOP top shut out non-registered Republicans from their primary. During the Q&A, a question came up about why so-called “third parties” oppose open primaries as they believe it under-cuts their party building and identity. It was pointed out that though our concern is to empower the vast majority of independents who do not align particularly with any party, the fact is that open primaries could work in favor of minor parties, depending on how they use them. Jim Mangia of California referenced the non-partisan special election for Governor in California, following the recall. The Greens did extraordinarily well in this situation.
My favorite panel was a report from independents across the country. This was a very lively conversation with panelists from NY, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Idaho, Iowa, Georgia, Connecticut, Illinois and Pennsylvania. (See picture below). The panelists were stressing the importance of “community organizing” — meeting people where they are, of continuing to look for opportunities and openings as our numbers grow, and building from the bottom up. I particularly enjoyed the report from Iowa where Larry Reinsch confronted Hillary Clinton, while campaigning in Iowa was asked, in front of the cameras, whether she would debate with the independent candidates. Her answer was, predictably, a clever yes and no. Also, the NY Independence Party report was truly inspiring as they continue to mobilize young people in the fight for local party control. Wayne Griffin of the Independence Party of South Carolina joked that you could tell there was a paradigm shift underway when his wife actually got involved in the campaign this year — after 20 years of virtual silence! And then there was the report from Connecticut, where independents (the real ones) took over the Connecticut for Leiberman Party! These indies are building a real independent party in land of “full of surprises”.
I thanked CUIP for giving Jim Mangia and IndepedentMovement.org, a speaking position at the CUIP conference. I pointed out that IM.org is different from CUIP’s — though we didn’t really know what we’re doing yet — that is, with the paradigm shift that Salit points out in her piece. The conference gave me more ideas on how we can help “complete” CUIP’s mission — more below.
What was missing at this event? In my opinion, CUIP does a great job at reporting on what’s going on, but they seemed to miss two beats. One was an open tactical discussion on what we do with the fact that our new President has a relationship to independent voters that is significant. As Salit pointed out in her piece, now Prez Obama, mobilized as many indies as did Ross Perot in 1992– 20 million of us! Obama is also calling for significant reform in Washington. What do we do with this? There needed to be lots of discussion on this point with all these people from across the country, who have varied concerns and interests in the independent movement. It was too bad there wasn’t time alloted for discussion, and the last portion of the meeting gave less than 30 minutes for Q&A? What we needed was not the “authorities” sitting on the stage answering questions — they had already done that job, more than adequately. We needed to have things opened up from that point. Admittedly, this is the most difficult thing to organize, so that it doesn’t get bogged down in the minutia of the nuts and bolts of organizing (something that was done the next day with folks who could stay over). What moving forward requires — even more so in a pardigm shift — is much strategy and tactical discussion so as to build a truly unified independent movement going forward.