Page 11


The Greek revival pillars and velvet curtains of the high court chamber are a far piece from Gloria Pitchford’s Flatbush apartment, and the courtroom discussion, touching on states’ rights, the history of American elections, and the First Amendment, was rather more rarefied than the conversation at a typical house meeting. According to The New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse, “the argument had the flavor of a political science class giafted onto a constitutional law seminar.” New Party national organizer Dan Cantor called the court session “thrilling,” but went on to note that “reforms in the rules of the game… are irrelevant if you don’t build an organization.” What gives the New Party its momentumand distinguishes it from other third parties and progressive movementsis that it’s going to Flatbush and the Supreme Court simultaneously, promoting immediate, practical aims in local elections, tactical change in the courts, and a broad vision of governance as outlined in its statement of principles. “People are hungry for some sort of sensible progressive politics,” says Cantor, one of the party’s founders and an energetic promoter, “one that is competent, lively and wants to govern.” An experienced fundraiser, Cantor is also media-savvy \(even in dealing with this humble publication: not too long ago when an Observer piece characterized the New Party in passing as “tied up in legal challenges,” he shot back a letter asking us Rogers, meanwhile, is the party’s behind-the-scenes theorist, author of articles and books, and founder of a Wisconsin public-policy think tank. His writings emanate an elegant sort of common sense, the same carefullythought-out pragmatism that fuels the party’s activities on the ground. In an article published in Dissent earlier this year, Rogers responded to a pessimistic analysis of third party prospects by historian Michael Kazin \(who had written in a previous issue that progressives should only work within is usually because they are asking the wrong questions. Kazin’s question is whether progressives should work inside or outside the Democratic party. I think the right question is, Not knowing where the Democratic party is heading, what sort of electoral organization should we be building now to advance our values?” What gets built may or may not end up joining forces with the Democrats, and in the meantime Rogers would like to see progressives put old arguments aside and roll up their sleeves. Here and elsewhere, Rogers is careful to avoid the echo-chamber of liberal debate; he distances himself from big-government liberalism and eschews talk of current issues like welfare or affirmative action or abortion. “There is far more agreement among progressives than we admit,” Rogers has written. It’s that consensus which the New Party hopes to articulate in its principles and represent in elections. There is, in fact, one existing New Party group in Texas though not a full-fledged chapter. Texas A&M Political Science professor and enthusiastic New Party supporter Adolf Gunderson started a campus group last year, and a dozen or so people at tended a series of meetings, though they didn’t join the party. “It’s been on and off,” he says, “more off at this point…. Bryan is not exactly a hotbed of progressivism.” Gunderson would like to form a county chapter of the New Party, one that would campaign for better social services, more efficient government and better repre sentation of minority populationsbut he’s about to take a leave of absence, and though others in the area have expressed interest, he doesn’t sound too optimistic about the short-term prospects for a chapter: “The party’s booming across the country; it’s just not booming here.” Bryan may not be ready for the New Party. But a lot of places are, and with a record of electoral wins and a decent chance of legalizing fusion, the party is well-positioned to keep on growing. In light of the possibilities, a little pushiness doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Observer special correspondent Karen Olsson has covered political organizing from inside the Beltway to the Mexican border. For more information about the New Party, contact Jeff Oryour local ACORN office. The Houston Living Wage Campaign can be contacted at the Harris County AFL-CIO, 2506 Sutherland, Houston DECEMBER 20, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7