Next Steps for Electoral Action Conference

by Matt Hoke on June 27, 2015

continue the focus on forging a substantial national network

continue the focus on forging a substantial national network


  1. A national common name & label, so that local efforts can be part of something larger
  2. Structures and forums which empower all participants, regardless of organizational affiliation or lack thereof; the power of group representatives should be present, but balanced by the power of an individual-membership component
  3. An extremely short list of common demands, to give the network a clear political content as opposed to being a free-for-all with no boundaries, and also to help bring the Left’s critical wedge issues to the national stage in a coordinated fashion
  4. Systematize the collection & display of educational materials for mutual support

Immediate Conference Aftermath

Already rumors begin to circulate that the Left Electoral conference was a “one-off conference” instead of the beginning of a network.  I think that is a bit unfair, but it’s also a bit inevitable.  The network is currently structured around a “Continuations Committee,” which is a fine name in my opinion (because it is an accurate name for the committee), but is also a closed committee structure of about 12 people with no clear means for participation by the attendees or others who support the conference’s goals.

The committee has promised to be responsive and give conference participants a voice in the process, by seeing how we respond to various actions and statements, etc, like the email it just sent out.  I believe they are sincere.  But this very need for bureaucratic responsiveness is itself a product of the fact that the mass of conference attendees only have a voice, but not a vote.

We all have lives, and everyone on the committee splits their time between working on this network, and being leaders in their own groups.  For this reason, little public communication besides a recent email has occurred since the conference, giving some an impression of drift and disintegration.  (Notably, this email highlighted some actions that participants can take, like supporting Sawant or attending the Green Party’s national congress, but gave no direction as to how to actually continue or forge the national network itself.  This article will attempt to provide some possible ways forward.)

However we already know the broad strokes of what the Continuations Committee stands for as a minimum for moving forward, because they said as much at the conference itself.  It includes:

  • Keep a continuations committee
  • Forge a national electoral network, as an ongoing process (with no clear deadline, or even clear purpose?)
  • Include more local forces, local candidates & campaign teams we missed the first time
  • Mobilize national support for Kshama Sawant’s re-election (made me very happy)
  • Keep website for exchange of opinion on next steps
  • Keep website for exchange of education materials for running campaigns
  • Keep website for any actual coordinated next steps by the network
  • There was a promise to continue the process at the US Social Forum but I do not think this has been followed up on yet
  • Several forces spoke of some kind of united intervention at DNC 2016 in Philadelphia

But of course, it also makes sense to move beyond a minimum.  It makes sense to imagine what it would take for this network to be more than a nice gesture, and to actually become something substantial.

Why the rush?  Am I chomping at the bit to turn this thing into the American SYRIZA?  Well…maybe a little, but that is not my sole logic.  Instead, I am mainly concerned with the law of diminishing returns.  A thing either grows or it dies.  If you do not advance something to its next stage and keep its progression moving, people don’t see the point of giving it their time.   In the world of activism, momentum is the easiest possible thing to lose.

So the questions are posed right from the start, not because I pose them, but because the dynamics of the situation compel it: Are we building an electoral network, or not?  What does it do?  Are we ultimately trying to create some kind of electoral front coalition?  And if we’re not taking up that critical task, then why did we bother with this in the first place?

Everyone at the conference agreed that we need better independent electoral presence and cooperation on the Left, or they would not have been there.  There was some agreement, and some disagreement, about the idea that the USA is ready for some kind of third pole of attraction to the left of the Democrats, some debate about whether this is possible now or premature, and whether the conference was the moment we could launch it, or if more of a buildup process was necessary.

But if all our network is really trying to do is share some educational materials about how to run elections, was it really necessary to have a conference to achieve that?  Can’t you just put that on a website without bothering with all the coalition-building?  Wasn’t the point to bring together various forces, in the hope that they might become something more substantive?

What about the Green Party?

When discussing the network, a common refrain is “Why don’t you all just join the Green Party?”

Anyone asking this is kind of missing the point of why we even had a conference.  If everyone joining the Green Party is how things could have worked, we would have skipped the Left & Independent conference and just had a Green Party conference.  Obviously, there are people who fall under the umbrella of “Left/Independent,” who have various reasons for not running Green.

I don’t want to get in the debate over Green vs. not-Green here, since it would detract from the overall focus.  However, the fact that our conference included people taking a path other than the Green Party is something we cannot avoid, and we must work to include everyone.  But for one quick example — why should we all be obligated to run Green, when Kshama Sawant running as a Socialist worked so well?  So there are valid reasons.

This is not to say that the Green Party shouldn’t be included – it should!  Rather, the Green Party should not be the common name or common umbrella under which we are all obligated to organize.  Instead the network should continue its inclusive, non-monopolistic project, which of course includes Left Greens.

Common name

A common name is needed, however.  This is a contentious part because it implies that we actually are something, and something collective, instead of meeting as individuals.  But it is precisely through our collective identification that we will be able to create a growing center of gravity first within the Left, and eventually at the national stage.

The point would be to create a common name that campaigns could organize under.  But this name would be additional, not overriding; participants and affiliates could freely announce their primary identities and affiliations foremost, while also making mention of their membership in this common effort.  It could have a prosaic, descriptive name (like “Independent Left National Network”), or it could have something more evocative, but it would need to be a name held in common by all.

Creating an electoral common name does not require a belief that this effort will immediately become a mass party in the short term.  Instead, it merely requires the belief that an inclusive, collectivizing effort is a healthy development for the Left in the present, and would advances the process of getting us closer to a mass party someday.

It should also be noted that focusing on an independent Left common name, built primarily out of local campaigns, does not requires us to splinter our network over Presidential politics (Green vs. SPUSA vs. Sanders, etc).  Local candidates can use a national common name as a way to utilize 2016’s energy without collapsing into its divisions, and the network can continue and survive, despite our divergence over Presidential campaigns.

Groups AND individuals: participatory, open structure

The conference succeeded because of groups and campaigns coming together, whether local independent phenomena or national groupings.  The conference’s other success was in attracting activists and youth who had little strong affiliations, or were mainly non-electoral activists, but who might be inspired by international party developments.  The coming-together of groups achieves not only a greater cooperation of established forces, but creates an atmosphere which attracts completely new individuals.

However, no pole of attraction will emerge in the USA without being an open, participatory process, controlled from below, which the newly-interested, previously-unaffiliated membership feels genuine ownership over, as a result of having real voting power.  Yet it would be a loss to jettison the participation of organizations.  Thus a group-and-individual structure is optimal.

How exactly do we set this up?  (1) We need a system for participant discussion.  This can be anything from just using the website as a forum, an email list, a documents bulletin, and as a supplement more informal things like Facebook.  (2) We need a system by which participants can raise motions, and the entire body of conference participants (and others we add to the process?) can vote on these motions, even across a distance.  This is a bit trickier.  It requires a bit more attention to parliamentary procedure than many of us on the Left have yet pursued.  This also necessitates some kind of online voting mechanism.  Such mechanisms do exist — Doodle, PollEverywhere, and the inappropriately informal and yet surprisingly robust Facebook polls.  But we need to somehow make a call and choose one.  Whether this will happen through the Continuations Committee selecting one, or some chaotic online open letter campaign which settles on one as opposed to others, isn’t important, as long as it gets done.

Extremely short list of demands

If all we had was a common name and some educational materials providing mutual support, it would be an important step forward.  However the network could remain somewhat amorphous without more definition.  This is scary, because definition determines who is in, and who is out.

It’s still necessary.  We want the network to have actual substance.  Also, definition can help prevent abuse by individuals who have no real commitment to the network, a filter we will need if we allow individual participation.

Because the conference was not based on ideological labels, they don’t work for the network, but a list of demands may be a solution.  It is often remarked “we on the Left agree about 95% of politics, and we spend so much time fighting over the other 5%.”  Therefore it might make sense for our network, besides being broadly Left & independent, to also take up the slogans which the vast majority of the Left already enthusiastically supports, as our defining trait.

It should not be a lengthy program, but just a few shared priorities and initiatives.  One example set would be a $15 wage or class struggle broadly, supporting Black Lives Matter, and a Green New Deal.  This is just an example set; rather than agreeing on exactly what to support, the issue here is more that we should consider collectively taking up the 95% the Left already agrees on, but in a focused way as demonstrated by the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s “wedge issue” model rather than an exhaustive laundry list that says a lot but which nobody actually reads.


Finally as far as creating educational materials, this is obvious and the Continuations Committee already agrees to it, but it needs to be systematized, it needs its own committee to locate and centralize the materials that were already brought to the conference, it needs to be subject to popular vote by the attendees, etc.

But this is a pivotal moment.  Obviously the world is torn between progression and collapse — but in fact, so are we as a Left.  Our old method of cloistering ourselves in tiny organizations with ultra-specific party line boundaries does not work, and has mainly led to dwindling.  It is true that tiny groups can become mass groups, but they usually pass through a phase of broad & electoral participation before this occurs, especially in advanced economies and representative democracies.

And yet there will be a strong temptation to half-ass this effort, to let it wither on the vine.  Why?  Because the track record thus far, hopefully being broken now, is that many organizations have been more interested in building themselves solely, and are happy to let the rest of the Left burn, as long as they can rule the ashes.  This is a competitive model often resembling contention over market share and leveraging established resources in cycles of investment and return, the literal opposite of solidarity.

We must conclude that it is more important for a Left to exist in a broad & mass scale, so that we may contend within it with our more specific theories and organizations, than to neglect the task of building that coalition in the name of our own sectarian construction.  There is no point in your faction winning, if it is a tiny faction of a mass party that never happened.

Therefore continuing the process initiated by the Electoral Action Conference, building a network that can stand on its own legs with its own name, while respecting the integrity of its participants, allowing full direct-democratic control by its membership while having enough of a clear identity to retain stability and resist disintegration, is literally one of the most important tasks faced by the US Left today and as such plays a critical role in determining the fate of the planet, now and forever.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

new yorker June 29, 2015 at 2:55 pm



Michael Cavlan June 29, 2015 at 3:36 pm

You guys frigging ROCK. thank You

Michael Cavlan RN
Former Green party US Senate Candidate
Minnesota Green party.
and a very severe critic of the national Green Party


Jon Hoch July 2, 2015 at 10:40 am

Good for you for keeping on this. Wish I had the patience.


Deran July 5, 2015 at 1:01 pm

I wonder how much of the clumsiness and hesitancy to include denocratic structures in the contiunations effort has to do with many of the participating orgs being Leninist? By that I mean, Leninism is not known for active direct participation from the membership. Rather activists/members are expected to be motivated and directed by the cadre leadership. No directly elected representation or direct recall or veto of decisions by org leadership. While I think the Leninist orgs will play a major role (look at the Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant), I do think theycan be an impediment, unless they can see them selves as a part of something, rather than the self appointed leaders. (I could be all wrong abt this, I am not informed as to who is directing the continuations efforts)

I agree about the Green Party. It is not a socialist political party, look at their programme and their “Ten Key Values”. But, like the Leninists, I think the US GP has a major role to play in a broader Left coalition.


Illin_Spree July 6, 2015 at 2:12 pm

With regard to a “participatory, open structure”, I’d like to see more leftist-oriented groups experiment with “liquid democracy” as a means of organization. LiquidFeedback is an existing platform but perhaps we could think about creating our own platform.

While participating in a recent Green Party state meeting, where lots of resolutions were adopted but there was little time for debating them, I couldn’t help wondering whether we would be making better decisions (with far better quality deliberation) if we had a system of online liquid democracy where we can read and debate resolutions weeks in advance, and where every party member has an equal voice in decision-making.

So I think the founders and supporters of the EAC should seriously consider liquid democracy as an organizing tool for a nationwide organization. This might be the piece of technology that socialists need to transform from quibbling M-L sects to a populist libertarian socialist movement based on principles of freedom of speech and direct democracy. I personally am not interested in joining an M-L sect, but I would enthusiastically support a new socialist organization based on direct (that is, delagative) democracy.


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