Rethinking Democracy

During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader managed to get on the
ballot as a Green Party-endorsed presidential candidate and have a
major impact on the results. Many Gore voters blamed Nader, and by
extension the Green Party, for Bush’s victory. As a result, third
parties found themselves relegated to the margins, and a number of
organized, progressive voices were muted in 2004.

Looking toward the 2006 election, it turns out there is a way
for third parties to endorse candidates who support their issues,
to have an impact on results, and to avoid being dubbed
‘spoilers.’

It’s called ‘fusion voting’ or ‘ballot fusion,’ and it’s once
again gaining in popularity. The idea is to allow a candidate to be
endorsed by multiple parties and appear on a ballot multiple times,
which, besides giving marginal candidates a better chance of
forming a coalition, allows third parties to strategically support
major-party candidates. By choosing to mark a candidate’s name on a
minor-party line, citizens can both vote for a winner and show
their support for a particular set of issues.

Fusion was legal until the early 1900s, reports Alyssa Katz in
The Nation (Sept. 12, 2005), when the Democratic
and Republican parties erected greater barriers to third parties.
The practice remains legal in seven states, most notably New York,
where the Working Families Party, founded in 1998 by a coalition of
labor unions and community groups, has been using ballot fusion
with remarkable success.

The WFP has recently branched out to Connecticut, another legal
fusion state, and is looking to export fusion to more states. The
party’s Massachusetts chapter has qualified a ballot measure that
would legalize fusion in the Bay State this fall.

On the World Stage, a More Perfect Union

‘Without global democracy, national democracy is impossible,’
argues British author and activist George Monbiot, whose political
essays are archived online at
www.monbiot.com. The reason:
Most of the real power over economics, trade, even environmental
and social policies, has been ceded by national governments to
global institutions like the World Trade Organization, the
International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which are largely
run by unelected rich men. In this flat-earth era of corporate
globalization, nation-states are becoming nearly obsolete.

Yet so many of the problems progressives care about are global
in scope. ‘It is not enough to think globally and act locally,
important as this is,’ Monbiot has written. ‘We must act globally
as well.’

One solution he proposes in his book Manifesto for a New
World Order
(New Press, 2004) is a world parliament, with
600 members elected by citizens around the globe. Representative
districts would straddle national borders, so that elections to the
parliament would reinforce a sense of global citizenship. Monbiot
would locate the institution’s headquarters in the Southern
Hemisphere — possibly Brazil or South Africa — to give the Global
South a symbolic political counterweight to Washington, Brussels,
and Geneva. ‘Our task is not to overthrow globalization,’ he
asserts, ‘but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for
humanity’s first global democratic revolution.’

In Vermont, Secessionists Work to Dilute the
Union

Aristotle posited that no state should be so large that its
governors can’t know their constituents personally. Today, the
average member of the U.S. House of Representatives speaks for
almost 700,000 people. No wonder Congress is so out of touch.

Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale, who founded the Middlebury
Institute think tank in Vermont, became convinced last fall that
Aristotle was onto something. Which is why the two activists posted
a letter on their website
(www.vermontrepublic.org)
urging citizens to ‘place secession on the national political
agenda,’ and ultimately to bring about ‘the peaceful dissolution of
the American empire.’

Separatism, they point out, has been one of the most important
political trends of the past half-century, which saw the breakup of
European empires and the expansion of the United Nations from 51 to
191 members. In many cases, these political movements have been
fueled by nativism or ethnic populism — but times and demographics
are changing. In Quebec, for instance, the separatist Parti
Qu?b?cois has taken a sharp left turn, actively courting
French-speaking immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean since
narrowly losing a 1995 referendum on secession from Canada.

In Naylor and Sale’s dreams, new nations would recruit local
talent to solve local problems and utilize direct democracy. They
point to New England, where citizens attend annual town meetings to
debate and vote on local laws, as one example of what a new world
could look and feel like.

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