Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Tara Ann Thieke
Several days ago I spoke with a stranger as we were off to the side of the same event. He asked how I knew a mutual acquaintance.
"The American Solidarity Party," I answered. His eyes stepped back.
"Ah, the magician. I voted for him." I waited to hear what else he wished to say. The gentleman shook his head, and when it became clear I wasn't about to engage in a soliloquy on the virtues or vices of the party (I've saved that for here!), he continued:
"For one brief shining moment in time I was able to say 'Yes' to something. To a political party. To do more than choose between 'No's.' But your platform changed, and the way they talked changed. It became so terrible. Well, that was that. A lost moment." He looked back at me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "You're not the first person to have that reaction." And then I changed the topic, because he wasn't the first person.
Over the past six months I have had some variation of that conversation many, many, many times. The individuals are not combative. They do not wish to participate in the ugly rhetoric far too many indulge in. They are not part of the very small, prolific block which now dominates the discussion pages at all hours. For the main part, they are simply the people who saw something promising in the ASP in the second half of 2016. They cast their vote for a magician and hoped they were voting for more than a glimpse of an alternative, as the gentleman said. Some became very involved; others stayed on the periphery.
What they shared in common was none of them wanted to partake of a long drawn-out fight for the soul of the American Solidarity Party. When the sea-change became clear, they quietly bowed out with dignity (and grief).
If their frustration tells us something, so does the reaction that many of these departures received. When they are referenced, the response is a shrug, a sneer, or outright glee. These reactions also come from the most vocal and prolific online voices, who have all too often engaged in outright slander and celebrated the departure of those who disagreed with them. This is concerning enough, but even more confusing is that faction's loud and repeated commitment to solidarity and creating a "big-tent." How can we possibly build something when people celebrate the departure of so many who came to help carry the weight?
Yes,we have morale and structural problems. In my view they are the result of discord within the party that has two sources. The first source of discord is strong differences of opinion about what the party should stand for, how it should conduct its business, how it should be structured, and how it should orient itself towards our current political system. The second source of discord is personal ill will, a breakdown of trust and good faith among different factions of the party.
The first part of this discord is inevitable. Strong disagreement is inevitable in any political party, and especially a grassroots third party made up of people of different perspectives who all have their own story for turning away from the major parties. Fortunately, the answer to this problem lies right there in our name. Affirming our commitment to solidarity recognizes that we will not always agree, but that we must work through our disagreements in pursuit of the common good.
But while solidarity is the answer to the first type of discord, solidarity is difficult, nearly impossible, in the presence of the second kind of discord. Fortunately, the second type of discord is avoidable. It is avoidable if we treat each other respectfully. Treating each other respectfully means speaking honestly with one another, even when we know our honest sentiments are disagreeable to the listener.
The blog of the DDC is titled "The Kitchen Table" because it is meant to mimic more of a familial atmosphere than typical online spaces. When we sit across from loved ones at the kitchen table we may disagree fiercely and passionately, but we remain bonded by something stronger than our disagreements. We feel a mutual sense of obligation that calls us to something higher than simply winning the argument, something that prevents us from treating the other person as merely a means to an end. I am proud to say that in its short history the Dorothy Day Caucus has lived up to this ideal; not perfectly, since we are all sinners, but to a degree I take great joy in. We have many disagreements, and those disagreements can get heated, but focus stays on the substance of the arguments and not the person making them. We invite anyone to come on our Facebook page to participate in these discussions, asking only that they refrain from personal attacks and spamming.
I will not pretend to be neutral on either the vision for the party or personal conduct within the party. I have a side in these debates, and I believe my side is right.
On the question of party vision, I will be writing a post this weekend for the The Kitchen Table renewing our vision for what the ASP should be and the type of politics we should be practicing (if you're unfamiliar with the DDC and would like some idea right now, you can scroll through our blog or read my recent talk at the ASP Midwestern Conference here).
On the question of personal conduct, I believe the greatest cause of discord on this count is duplicity. People saying one thing in private and something else in public. "Let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no. Anything more is from the evil one."(Matthew 5:37).
Duplicity is wrong in any context, but is especially wrong for a party rooted in solidarity. Solidarity is premised on everyone not getting exactly what they want, but making mutual sacrifices towards the common good. That requires, however, honest discussion about who is making what sacrifices, and what the vision of the common good is. A party rooted in solidarity can have no pawns. A party rooted in solidarity can have no elite guarding their personal mission of the party while conniving how to get the rank and file to follow along.
It is quite possible many will hear that our chair dismisses them as "f'in theocrats" or that the National Committee member chosen to moderate our Facebook operates, by his own admission, under only an "appearance of impartiality," and still conclude that the American Solidarity Party is the best political home for them. That is the choice I make, because I believe the ASP is more than the actions or statements of a few members. It is, however, a choice everyone is entitled to make with open eyes. Everyone deserves to know what they are putting their time and energy towards, and how the people chosen as stewards for the party intend to hear their voices and direct their energies. If a new leadership faction privately believes large sections of the party are undesirable, members deserve to know that information.
It is a good thing, an outright good thing, if multiple persuasions are recruiting like-minded folk into the ASP. Yes, it is good if progressives, centrists, or conservatives are drawing in fellow travelers. The outside political world will be hostile to a third party. We have an uphill battle. If we cannot work with one another then we have already failed. The aim of this self-examination and call for accountability is to make sure we really do work together, we really do listen to one another, we really are aware if good faith disagreement is devolving into slander and private machinations. And if a few people are conspiring to remove or verbally attack anyone who disagrees with them, then we will never be taken seriously. A "real party" brings people together without destroying their differences.
Anyone who wishes to lead this party should speak openly, clearly, and honestly about what their vision for party is and what role they see for people of different views within the party. Anyone who is unwilling to do so should step aside and go work in one of the many political parties built on artifice and tactics (under the guise of realism and professionalism) rather than solidarity. Solidarity is not a brand to be managed, it is a principle to be lived.
Maybe once we live it ourselves, beginning a revolution in our own hearts, then those seeking a party they can say "Yes" to will return.
Tara Ann Thieke