Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Dr. Stephen Beall, former Chair of the ASP
James Baldwin once said, ‘If you know whence you came, there is nowhere you can’t go.’ The American Solidarity Party wants to go places: to city halls, to state capitols, and eventually to Congress and the White House. But as Baldwin pointed out, where we are going is linked to where we have been, because this is the key to our identity. How did the ASP become what it is today?
My own involvement in Solidarism can be traced to 2008. While my friends were caught up in ‘hope’ for a new political culture, I found a depressing sameness in all the major candidates. Over the next few years I read a bit and kept my eyes open. I was especially attracted to the idea of a faith-based, populist movement like the Christian Democratic parties of post-war Europe. On the eve of the 2012 election, I learned that a tiny, internet-based group called the Christian Democratic Party, USA, had endorsed Joe Schriner for President. I cast my first write-in vote that year.
We soon discovered, however, that there was no template for Christian Democrats in the USA. The European CD parties had wandered far from the ideals of their post-war leaders, Alicide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer. They had exchanged the Social Market of autonomous communities for a transnational regime of debt and austerity. We, for our part, insisted on the principle of subsidiarity. In an interview in Christian Democracy, Kirk Morrison (ASP Chairman from 2012 to 2015) put it this way: ‘I think most folks want government to be as close to home as possible. No matter what someone's political stripes are, when someone talks about "Washington" the sense is that government decisions and actions are bureaucratic, complicated, wasteful, distant, and decided by folks unfamiliar from the conditions and lacking understanding. The goal should be to empower (and fund!) government adequately at lower levels, so that they can be the most responsive.’ Subsidiarity was the first piece of our ideological puzzle.
We also came to recognize that the United States has its own tradition of Christian social reform, running through William Jennings Bryan and Martin Luther King. The party’s name after 2012, the American Solidarity Party, more clearly expresses its relationship to its European and American antecedents. It recalls the Polish Solidarity movement, which was inspired by St. John Paul’s call for ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good’. The name also resonates with the long struggle for workers’ and minority rights in our own country. Echoing the motto of the Knights of Labor, Dr. King wrote from the Birmingham Jail: ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ Solidarity was the second piece.
We also had to decide precisely what kind of political community we intended to be. As a member, and eventually Chair, of the National Committee, I was involved in debates about whether the ASP should develop as a think tank or pressure group, or become a caucus in one of the larger parties. Even in 2012, however, Kirk Morrison foresaw the danger of ‘selling out’ for short-term success and pretended influence. The fate of the Tea Party and Democrats For Life of America was very much on our minds. We adopted the long-term strategy of organizing as a party and running our own candidates, in order to present voters with ‘a real, viable alternative by voting (their) conscience.’ Of course, this strategy required faith in the democratic process itself. We did not call ourselves Christian Democrats for nothing.
We also learned that democracy begins at home. We had many disagreements in those days, but we argued as equals. No one pulled rank on other members or claimed a monopoly on political wisdom and experience. A registered member could post directly in the FB group (there was only one), and in the weeks before our first online convention, any participant could propose amendments to the platform. Our first national candidates, Mike Maturen and Juan Munoz, were not professional politicians. So much the better. We wanted to create a political community, not a political class. That was the final piece.
During the campaign, Mike Maturen was often teased for moonlighting as a professional magician, but we soon appreciated his skill as a salesman. In an election season characterized by fear and loathing of ‘the other side’, a small third party was a hard sell. Nevertheless, Mike and Juan began to attract attention. It is interesting to look back at the media coverage of their campaign. In The Imaginative Conservative, Joseph Pearce drew attention to the ASP and its ‘exciting platform, which bears all the hallmarks of the common sense solutions offered by Catholic social teaching, subsidiarity, distributism, and localism, all of which are so sorely needed in our beleaguered society and economy.’ John Conley wrote in America: ‘The platform is a political Rembrandt.... Like the venerable formulations of Adenauer and de Gasperi, the Solidarist ideology leans leftward on economic issues, rightward on social issues, and firmly internationalist in questions of war and peace.’
Some observers regarded the Maturen campaign as the beginning of a significant ideological project. Malloy Owen of The American Conservative wrote: ‘In the age of liberalism’s crisis, the future seems to belong to solidarity. The question is whether the solidarity of the future will look more like Trumpian ethno-nationalism or the ASP’s vision for an economic and cultural localism uncolored by parochial prejudice.’ Writing for First Things, David McPherson addressed the dilemma of conscience-voting: ‘...It is not merely a protest vote, because if we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo. The ASP should thus be understood as seeking primarily to build up a cultural movement, which ideally will come to have political influence.’
Clearly, what attracted all this attention was the ASP’s unabashed proclamation of a different set of values—solidarity, subsidiarity, community—in explicitly religious terms. ASP supporters could vote with pride and optimism, not merely to protest against the status quo, but to lay the groundwork for a new—one might say, revolutionary—politics of conscience.
So where do we stand now, one year into the Trump administration? Are we the same party that pulled in thousands of votes in November 2016? There will always be a temptation to measure our success as other politicians do: by the money in our coffers and the prestige of our donors. We may begin to think that we no longer have the luxury of idealism, or that ‘common sense and common ground’ means the safe middle ground, where a ready-made coalition is presumed to exist. Many parties in the past came to nothing because they lost their sense of purpose and direction. But there is reason to hope for a different future for the ASP, because we are not far removed from our origins as a plucky, grass-roots movement determined, in the words of Mike Maturen, ‘to change the face of American politics.' He added, ‘Our success will be a long and difficult process. But no time is more right than right now.’
Tara Ann Thieke