Nichols, John, The Nation
Don't get them wrong, but New Party members have a healthy respect for the Christian Coalition. It's not that the labor union and community activists who form the left-leaning New Party's core admire the government-bashing or the antigay rhetoric generated by evangelist Pat Robertson's favorite political vehicle. But as Ellie Greenwood, New Party member from Missoula, Montana, says, "We've learned from the religious right that there are certain entry points into the system." One of more than 150 party activists from twelve states who gathered here over the weekend of September 23-25 for the New Party's first national leadership conference, Greenwood says "our job is to get progressives on the map in the way that the religious right has gotten itself on the map. The difference, of course, is that we have better ideas than they do about where America should be heading."
Like the Christian Coalition, me New Party has adopted a "local first" strategy, which emphasizes building from the grass roots. "Traditionally, when progressives have tried to build parties, they have started by running someone for President," explained New Party national organizer Dan Cantor. "Of course we want to be a national party with the power to shape the country. But we know we have to start with school board races and city council races."
New Party activists are convinced that their group, with its multiracial membership and support from progressive unionists, will eventually have a far greater impact than the Christian Coalition. "Republicans are moving to the hard right, Democrats are occupying the extreme center," says Cantor. "There's a real vacuum. American populism can go sour, or it can go progressive. We're building the progressive alternative." The failure of the Democratic Party to distinguish itself boldly from the ever more conservative Republicans remains a prime motivator for a great many of the New Party's 3,500 members.
"We are here because the Democratic Party is bankrupt," Jim Cavanaugh, president of Wisconsin's South Central Federation of Labor, told the conference. Cavanaugh was one of a number of union officials and neighborhood activists in attendance. Organizers made no bones about the fact that this is a base they have sought.
"We like unions. We like community organizations," declared Joel Rogers, chairman of the party's interim executive council. "We intend to use government to support those things and we're not embarrassed to say it." That sort of talk may be uncommon at a time when attacking government is the rage. But it has struck a chord and made the New Party what many believe to be the most successful progressive third-party initiative since the 1930s.
Since its founding a little more than two years ago [see Sandy Pope and Joel Rogers, "Out With the Old Politics, In With the New Party," July 20/27, 1992], New Party-backed candidates have won school board, city council, county board and state legislative posts--a total of thirty-nine of the fifty-nine races in which they have run. …