It seems an unspoken, unwritten objection among Centrists to getting organized and active is the perceived improbability of success. It would be expected that calls to organize and get active, basically from scratch, would be met with laundry lists of why not to try. These lists would be based on all the barriers to be considered and then overcome or bypassed. But over almost four years of working to get Centrists organized and active, specific objections have been incredibly few and far between. And, frankly, there hasn’t been one expressed that didn’t have a reasonable and workable response.
The far more common responses to the prospect of getting organized and active have been to retreat back into business as usual (i.e. comfortable but failed) strategies, and silence. The idea of a Centrist movement seems to be attractive to most who identify themselves as centrist. But the ability or willingness to buy into or to even discuss deliberate plans, even when they are laid out first, seems to be some sort of taboo.
It seems to be a thought, maybe subconscious, that probably infects most reasonable and pragmatic people who have been paying attention to U.S. politics for the past 10-30 years:
It simply won’t work. There’s just too much in the way and too much that needs to change or be changed first.
Getting organized and active is pie in the sky.
But, clearly, ignoring or walking away from the problem is not an answer. Playing within and perpetuating the broken “two-party system” may be worse. Leaving party politics and becoming an independent is not enough. Expecting and waiting for the groups that caused the problem, and continue to feed it, to fix it is dangerous wishful thinking. Hoping for state or regional parties to rise to the challenge has proved futile, and adding additional divisive parties just adds ways for people to avoid working collaboratively for change.
So what now?
Third Decade Centrist (3DC) is a proposition for a social and political organization and movement to do the work necessary for the absolutely vital change that is needed. The goal of 3DC is to bring together, organize, and activate the growing number of sensible and respectful Americans trapped between the wings, to return to the people effective, collaborative and truly representative government at all levels.
This proposition wasn’t formulated in a vacuum or a dark closet. 3DC takes into account the challenges to be faced. As an acknowledgement of this, and as a service to those who may not be fully aware of what lay ahead, at least some of those challenges are described here.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Essentially, two organizations have maintained the racket of our “two party system” for over 150 years. For the most part, it is all most of us have ever known in the way of politics and government. Holding that much power for so long has resulted in an attitude of entitlement, and in a dysfunctional and destructive system that places defending itself and us-versus-them thinking above meaningful and effective governance. Working within this system simply perpetuates it, while trying something new from outside of it is seen as mentally defective or detached from reality.
STIGMA OF PAST FAILURES
The internet is littered with the remains of groups and individuals who have tried to build some form of Centrist/Moderate party or movement. Anyone searching the internet for options will find at least a dozen sites and pages offering a possible centrist or moderate way forward. Unfortunately, most of these efforts are effectively dead, and the searcher won’t even receive a response to any inquiry. The others are hopelessly bogged down pursing the “blog/forum/website = attention = membership = platform = candidates” formula, or in attempting to raise money, or in endlessly discussing issues and candidates they have no power to influence. All these starts and stops reflect a level of previous failure that future attempts must work against.
Before all else, the “two parties” defend the “two-party system” and actively work to prevent others from rising to the level of having meaningful impact on national policy and politics outside of the “two parties”. Tactics include making it seem that to be successful outsiders must work within one party or the other, which allows the absorbing party to water down and integrate the outsiders until they are unrecognizable or no longer effective as a Centrist movement.
A FORCED BOTTOM-UP APPROACH
Because of the strengths of the “two parties” and their intolerance for competition and collaborative change, any serious, viable, and impactful movement must start at the lowest levels of our politics and society. Change from within the two parties has been attempted many times and is ongoing. But the parties mind, almost exclusively, the business of the mid and upper levels of political power. Here, collaboration outside of the party is effectively unthinkable to the party, and treason to their ideological bases. The “two parties” are large, wealthy and powerful. Breaking in at those higher levels has failed time and again. Any serious and viable movement for change must start, grow, and strengthen at the lowest levels, in the dirt.
DISPERSION OF EFFORT
Fundamental to being reasonable and pragmatic is the ability to consider different ideas, different ways of doing things, and different potential solutions to problems. There is, practically, a “watchdog industry” of various groups and organizations working separately to influence public opinion and public policy, and sometimes even effect change, by calling out just about every real and perceived problem with our government and our politics. There is also a “political and social change industry” attempting many of the same things as the watchdogs and in the same ways, but from more of a grassroots angle. While attempting to get principles and goals that are similar to these groups together under one tent and the personnel pulling in the same direction, an explicitly centrist/moderate organization is going to have to compete for the resources to do so.
THE ELEMENTS OF POWER
The proposal here, for a Centrist organization and movement, is based on three elements of power required to initiate and maintain growth and forward progress. Obtaining an adequate level of one will eventually influence the growth of the other two. Of the three elements (influence, money, and people) we currently hold none. Without question, “people” is the most reasonable and legitimate element to start with. Some might even say we already have that. However, without getting the like-minded people together and working, this element is currently just as hollow as the other two.
First, Centrists may be too philosophical and academic for our own good. We write and talk and read and write and analyze and debate, maybe to exhaustion, with little left in the tank to do much of anything with other than vote.
Second is a strong individualist streak where we look at our own beliefs and values insulated from those of others, realize that “centrist” is an appropriate label for them, and then inherit that label and simply leave it at that. Getting organized might be too close to being put into a box and attached to an ideology that doesn’t adequately reflect what we feel and believe individually.
Similarly, getting organized and active would require participating in activities that the most vocal and active elements of the political and social wings are already active in. Physically putting ourselves out there to be seen and heard might no longer allow us to stay “above the fray”, and might somehow lower us to the level of the zealots.
Third is the Centrists’ form of what amounts to purity tests. Centrists individually hold wide varieties of opinions and positions on issues and ways to address them. Centrists are also, for the most part, understanding and respectful of the opinions and positions of others, and willing to engage others in discussion on opinions and positions. At the same time, Centrists are surprisingly averse to accepting what might become a formal position on something if it doesn’t adequately meet their own personal position. Many people who both identify as centrist and support the formation of some sort of centrist movement or organization will balk at actually joining the effort because they are afraid the final product will not be close enough to what they want it to be.
Fourth, Centrists cannot be conned into thinking that any significant decision is a simple yes/no or ours/theirs proposition. Even if one is convinced that there is no logical and viable alternative to getting organized and active, there is still a lot of convincing that needs to be done for others to come along. (A lot of convincing!)
Finally, there is a disposition with many Centrists that getting organized and active is just too much work with a strong possibility of little or no reward on the other end.
These are the most common challenges to come up in almost four years of trying to convince fellow Centrists of the need for and the viability of an explicitly centrist organization or party to help ignite a Centrist movement for change. As stated previously, the 3DC proposal is not ignorant of these challenges. Nor is it fearful of or dissuaded by them.