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Are Political Parties Still Important? And Issues for the Future

Are political parties still important?

Political parties are still important because they remain – transactionally, but not relationally - the central vehicle through which ideological and political intent is exercised and measured. They exist to find, develop, fund and get elected winnable incumbents and challengers. They raise money and organize conventions, rallies, and various media platforms. The elected leaders who represent the two major political parties in government are the instruments through which legislatively relevant political will is advanced and/or repressed.

In the normal warp and woof of daily life, I find – generally speaking – that a rarified group of megadonors exert an outsize influence on the ideological positions and legislative agendas of candidates and politicians. To the DNC: Tom Steyer - $91 million; Paul Singer - $26 million; and Michael Bloomberg - $23 million, and to the RNC: Sheldon Adelson - $82 million; Robert Mercer - $25 million; John Ricketts - $15 million), among many others. These persons and their singular interests hold inordinate sway over the legislative and political agendas of the two major political parties. Meanwhile, the interests of parents who children are addicted to drugs, alcohol, technology are minimally attended to; the safety and security needs of persons who want to live gun-free are suppressed and mocked; the need for affordable housing for middle and lower-class workers is subverted by race and class biases that ultimately increase homelessness, poverty, and suffering.

In the normal warp and woof of daily life, I find – generally speaking - that civic (civil, NGOs, non-profits, foundations) groups are far more important to the vitality and dynamism of the larger polis and to the development of an educated citizenry than are traditional political parties. I think for example about the (sustained) power and efficacy of the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to advance and protect the interests of African Americans; American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for strategically advancing the conservative interests of corporations, politicians, and groups; Southern Poverty Law Center for educating the nation about hate groups and terrorists in our midst; and Emily’s List for finding, developing, and helping viable female candidates win elective office.

In the normal warp and woof of daily life, I find that – generally speaking – grassroots organizing groups are actually performing the work of developing an informed and active citizenry through their regularly scheduled intensive training sessions, through finding and developing leaders and potential leaders, through forming relational rather than transactional models of power, and through the time and labor-intensive process of moving from problem to issue to winning on those issues. These processes tend to produce stronger mothers and fathers, children proud to see their parents standing up for important issues and forgotten people, and congregations come alive by seeing their deepest values powerfully enacted in the larger public discussions about how we will live together – nonviolently.

Ultimately, these processes and practices are still not enough. We need to reform how campaigns are financed, we need to organize new political parties – beginning in the states, and we need to radically expand the idea and practices of citizenship – up to and including running for elective office. Grassroots organizing groups are incubators for these kinds of initiatives and movements.

If there is to be justice, which is at the center of God’s will, churches and congregations will fundamentally rethink their role in society as less benevolent and more powerful. Charity and maintenance of an unjust status quo happen when congregations refuse to use their power to change cruel people, evil laws, crooked patterns, corrupt values, and death-dealing actions. A measure of justice can happen when congregations realize that we are part of the polis – the people, that the gospel has reach into all spheres of human life, and that the fundamental purpose of religion (religio) is to transform the world. Transforming the world means taking our seat at the tables of significant decision-making in our communities, speaking and organizing as full citizens who’ve taken up the responsibility of governing – along with business and government.

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