Third Parties and Social Change: The Need for Independent Third Parties

From the June 2012 PNL # 815

Barbara Humphrey

Noam Chomsky recently wrote, “There has always been a gap between public policy and public will, but it just grew astronomically.” (Nation of Change, 5/9/12) He offers one example: Washington is obsessed by the debt, while the majority of us are advocating for jobs, higher taxes on the wealthy, and preservation of social benefits. But the list of examples is seemingly endless: there is majority support to end the war in Afghanistan that Congress continues to fund and the President continues to wage; popular advocacy for bailouts on Main Street results in bailouts to Wall Street; universal healthcare was prohibited from Affordable Care Act deliberations despite support for this option; and on and on.

Looking at the two major political parties, whose members are being elected to branches of government at all levels, it shouldn’t surprise us that this is the case. As Chomsky points out, a growing concentration of wealth since the 1970s has bought political power, giving rise to bipartisan legislation. The results are new fiscal policies and tax changes that benefit the wealthy, deregulation via corporate governance in the executive branch, and rulings like Citizens United from the judiciary.

Where does hope lie? Where is the change we can believe in?

For me it can only come from independent third parties—parties that are not owned and controlled by the wealthy, military-industrial power elite that finances the candidacies of the two major parties; parties that accept limited donations from individuals only; parties owned and controlled by the people who elect candidates to carry out the people’s will.

Independent third parties, such as the Green Party, that meet these thresholds must have the capacity to form, organize and grow in order to successfully compete with the two major corporately-owned and financed parties at the ballot box. One of the most viable paths to electoral competitiveness is to run candidates; first, candidates who will use the bully pulpit to reach people with their party’s message, and then candidates who will run to win.

The Syracuse Greens have been using this model to build capacity for many years. This year we endorsed Ursula Rozum to challenge incumbent Republican Ann Marie Buerkle and former congressman Democrat Dan Maffei. Rozum‘s Green New Deal platform is designed to give voters a true choice in November by engaging them in the key issues facing our country—endless war, an economy teetering on depression, a heating planet ready to go up in flames.

Major parties, committed to maintaining their positions of power, will do what they can to discourage this kind of third party competition. Often they will try to co-opt the parties and, when not successful, to accuse third party candidates of spoiling their ability to elect their candidates and thus causing the election of the worse, not the lesser, of two evils.

The Democrats and their supporters have already begun their “spoiler attack,” but when you look at the two major party candidates—their sources of donations, the votes they have taken—it is obvious that the Green Party offers the only non-corporatist option. If elected, Rozum’s obligation would be to the people of the new NY24 Congressional District, not the corporations generously endowing her opponents.

Independent third parties deserve an environment that supports their formation and growth. Let’s give the people the audacity to hope that when we go to the ballot box, we have the option of voting for and electing candidates who will create a genuine people’s government where there is no gap between public policy and public will


Barbara, a long term activist with the Syracuse Peace Council, gave up her Democratic Committee membership in 2011 to work for the Council candidacy of Howie Hawkins. She later enrolled in the Green Party, and is now supporting the candidacy of Ursula Rozum for Congress.