Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Tara Ann Thieke
Anywhere USA, circa 2016:
A woman closes her laptop and announces to her husband: "That's the last straw. I can't vote for him. I don't care what everyone we know thinks; he's not a good person. There has to be another way to do things."
A college student looks up from her phone: "Everyone is so angry! I don't think I want to be like that. There has to be more to politics than this sports-team approach...right?"
A man puts down his newspaper. "I can't do it. It's no longer 'safe, legal, and rare.' That was hard enough to stomach, but this party doesn't want my vote. Maybe I won't be able to tell anyone, because of all this name-calling, but there has to be another way."
A young couple leaves a dinner party. The wife turns to her husband as they walk and says: "That wasn't any fun. They kept repeating the same slogans; there's no introspection, no critical thinking. It all seems more complicated than they make it out to be, but it's as if everyone actually enjoys getting so worked up, dividing us into Good vs. Bad. It doesn't make sense to me. I think I have to start looking around to see if anyone is talking about the deeper issues."
Our media and broader culture rely upon division. It's easier (and lucrative) to divide the country up into two teams than to ask questions, some which have neither comfortable nor profitable answers. Each team receives its story, its products, its lifestyle, its brands; suited for battle, they promptly rush upon their neighbor as pundits cheer and check their bank balance.
Despite the constant, shrieking pressure to acquiesce to this narrative and align with Good or Evil, the cracks make themselves more apparent by the hour (thanks especially to the media's creation and subsequent dependence upon a never-ending 24-hour "breaking news" cycle). The internet becomes both blessing and curse: while it may keep us from working in our own communities, it also helps people find like-minded souls and access books and ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure.
As millions of voters shake their heads in disgust and decide they don't fit into the political binary, a third party has to consider what they intend to offer the questioners and wanderers. And here is where the life and death of third parties plays out, over and over and over again.
Since we recognize how the two parties dominate our political landscape through emotional messaging and talking points, we feel pressured to offer our own perfectly baked alternative. Small though our megaphone may be, we want to be taken seriously. The structure that has worked for them should work for us: We want to be professional. We want to have all the answers ready-to-go. We want our menu finished and polished so the citizen who stumbles out of the shopping mall, dazed from years of blazing fluorescent lights and non-stop muzak, can fall into our organic, farm-to-table arms. We want to be ready to catch them and solve every problem. They don't need to think: we've done it for them.
This is the mistake I believe all third parties have been unable to stop themselves from making. It's the trap set up by the structure of the two-party system, and it's nearly irresistible. In the well-meaning effort to be viable, we ignore the needs of the people blinking in the sunlight. Averting our eyes from the slew of third-party failures all around us, we tell ourselves it was the quality of their ideas that kept them on the sidelines and then doomed them to the trash heap. Surely, we dream, we are different. We have Truth. So we lift our megaphone and start shouting at whoever wanders close enough to hear us. It makes sense! We have everything they couldn't find in the two-party system: taste, substance, nutritional value! How can they not rush to embrace us wholeheartedly?
Simple: because people leaving a dogmatic system with all the answers aren't always ready to trade one system for another. Finding themselves outside the mainstream, they begin to ask questions. Rather than immediately pick up a new dogma, many want to see its fruits first. As they fill their lungs with fresh air, they want a moment to think. They leave the Colosseum with the shrill echo of media-pundit combat pounding in their heads. They're hardly eager to replace one set of gladiators for another. Many want something altogether different: a human way of doing things, a way that respects them, that allows them to ask questions and test ideas. We must consider their needs, needs which were once our own as we too wandered the lonely wasteland cast between the elephant-donkey duo and the serene pelican.
If people want a megaphone in their face they may as well go back into the mall which at least soothes the dejected voter with the not-inconsiderable comfort of being miserable with the crowd. No, these new independents want to ask questions. Instead of being sold a brand, they want to participate in a process. They want to become makers, not just buyers. They want community politics, not just committee politics.
Community politics has its dangers, most especially that of becoming a jellyfish washed up by the sea. While third parties which actually achieve ballot status roam the wasteland shouting at anyone who will pause to listen, most don't make it even that far. They fizzle out in an endless stream of arguments where purity tests are constantly issued and personalities become far more important than ideas. Understandable: people expect something in return for taking a risk. If they're going to be ignored by the broader culture and pressured by friends, family, and colleagues to vote a certain way, then they are going to want a say in steering the ship. There's no joy in being ignored among even the misfits.
A viable third party must be open, nimble and principled. While offering answers, it must, must, must be willing to listen. It must permit questions as much as it offers solutions. It must make a commitment to the wanderer, to love them, welcome them, and hear them.
The American Solidarity Party possesses a virtue which could be the key all other third parties have lacked: central to its identity is its belief in the irreplaceable sacredness of every single human being. If you believe all people contain within them the Imago Dei, the image of God, then no person can be a means to an end. No person is only a vote. No person is just a path to power. No strategy is more important than a human being. We are not means to an end: we are ends in ourselves, and the end is greater than mere power.
Thus our party has written into itself a principle which is also a gift: the gift of being able to put down our megaphone and meet the person not just with words on our lips, but with ears to listen. We can encounter human beings as opposed to simply yelling at them. With the most firm and loving of all first principles as its foundation, the American Solidarity Party is better equipped than any party in US history to love their members rather than use them. We have built our party upon something greater than ourselves.
Everyday we struggle with the horror show our collective politics has become and we itch to pick up the megaphone; everyday, as we seek the good, we are tempted to allow discussion to rot into name-calling arguments. The path is narrow but straight, and the remedy for our weakness rests at the core of our party. We must listen. We must treat one another in good faith. We must not label. We must not issue purity tests. We must not harass, bully, or deliberately choose to assume someone acts from malice or hate. We must seek the truth together, recognizing we are all imperfect, acknowledging that we must love our neighbor and (dare I say) maybe even learn from them.
Consider the third party. Consider why so many people look around and sigh, their shoulders sag and their head droops, and they return with weary steps to the shopping mall. Consider the wreckage along the shore, the hundreds of good ideas and years of hard work shattered as the sea hurled them against the land and broke them with the weight of their own personalities, dogmas, and purity tests.
Then there is the pelican. Legend testifies the mother will pierce its own breast in order to feed its young. Rather than squawking like gulls or hovering like a vulture, it observes in silence what is lacking. Then she looks to herself for the change its young cry for in hunger. The pelican exemplifies the "revolution of the heart," seeking the common good before its own. Her sacrifice brings strength and health; its beauty inspires our devotion to community over individual desire, to love over power. We lift our gaze in awe and joy, and are thus transformed.
Consider the pelican.
Tara Ann Thieke