Has the Vermont Progressive Party Managed to Build a Real Alternative to Democrats and Republicans?
It's the question on everyone's lips this election season: will Occupy vote for Obama? Will unions endorse a president who's largely been a disappointment to organized labor (and to working people and the unemployed, for that matter)?
The problem at the national level has been and remains the lack of any true alternative to Democrats or Republicans. Green Party and independent candidates are scorned as "spoilers".
But in a new piece at In These Times, Steve Early looks at one progressive party that's having success, at least on a local level, not only influencing politics but actually electing representatives to local offices and influencing policy--the Vermont Progressive Party. Vermont is, after all, the only state to move toward a real universal, single-payer health care plan, and has long been an outlier in terms of progressive politics. It's also small, northeastern, and quite white, but nevertheless, there are interesting lessons in Early's piece for anyone who's given up on Democrats but hasn't quite given up on the idea of electoral politics.
“We have a homeopathic role in the Vermont body politic,” says Ellen David-Friedman, a former organizer for the Vermont-National Education Association (NEA) and longtime Progressive Party activist. “We’ve managed to create enough of an electoral pole outside of the Democrats to constantly pull them to the left on policy issues, by dispensing an alternative brand of medicine that’s become increasingly popular.”
To maintain its “major party” status under Vermont law, the VPP must field a candidate every two years who garners at least 5 percent of the statewide vote. Progressives rarely perform better in statewide races than Martha Abbott, a tax accountant from Underhill, who received 12 percent in her 2008 campaign for state auditor. To boost its win rate, the party has lately focused on recruiting and supporting viable contenders for legislative seats. “Our strategy of both challenging and working with Democrats … makes us somewhat unique,” says Abbott, who was re-elected VPP chair at a lively party conference in Montpelier in November 2011.
The VPP has strong ties to organized labor in Vermont and has helped provide a place for frustrated rank-and-file workers to go when disappointed with their union's support for the Democrats who continue not to measure up. The whole piece is well worth a read--like the Working Families Party here in New York, the VPP looks to have a strategy for building a third party from the ground up, not to espouse ideological purity, as Early notes, but to have a real impact on public policy.