Monday, March 16, 2009

Role of Political Parties (3/16/09)

La Raza Unida is an independent group building a democratic organization that can promote policies that serve democracy, fairness, and freedom. This will be a challenge given the system we have now, but it can be done. It will take participation from many, many people over a good period of time. But the option is more of the same failures we've endured for decades.

Political Parties play an important role in any modern society. When parties and politicians fail to meet their role, people become disillusioned. Some still believe in democracy but give up on parties and politicians as a result. That look many people give when you say the word "politics" is the result of this dynamic.

In some of the progressive movements people say that they "don't do politics" or that they are past doing politics. This itself is fairly self-delusional as parties are who organize a great deal of our society by enacting the policies we deal with. Parties and politicians are who we lobby when we want change.

It is time to improve this situation. We need to understand the role of political parties. We need to understand the role of the political process. And we need to understand our role in democracy.

Four functions that political parties play are 1) developing policies and government programs, 2) pick up demands from constituents and create a cohesive platform, 3) recruit, select, and train people for positions in government and elected office, 4) to oversee and control government. These are important roles that we have often tried to fill from the non-profit sector, thinking that somehow that was "cleaner." This is often behind the illusion of "non-partisanship" or "bipartisanship."

The non-profit sector can support democracy but cannot replace it. The fact that it is beholden to funders automatically limits it. Even though there is a range allowable for advocacy, there are laws that will limit how much change can happen directly from the non-profit sector.

The functions that parties play also feed into their fundamental roles. For a party truly outside there are very distinct roles as the "opposition." Developing alternatives, gaining support for change, and building a pool of competent people. We saw some of this in the last election. We also saw some limitations because of our two-party system.

Political systems characterized by individuals rather than parties cannot provide an institutional memory of previous policies and politics. Ross Perot is a classic example of this. Other parties also lean on individuals as opposed to party building as their ticket to power.

Parties can have some standard goals. For example, three easily identifiable goals are 1) maximize votes, 2) obtain as many elected officials as possible, 3) push a specific policy agenda. There is a link but enough difference between them to consider them separately.

The party system we have now has often been detached from citizens' concerns and without creative answers to our problems. This has led to low turnouts because people are tired of that. More and more people are registering independant or "decline to state" party.

La Raza Unida is working with people interested in creating more democracy, healthier democracy, and more responsive government. La Raza Unida is pushing an agenda for healthier politics. La Raza Unida is building an organization that will be responsive to social, political, environmental, and economic justice needs of our communities.

We look forward to working with you on this.

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