Grassroots Politics and Economic Democracy

The Citizens Party Story



















The inability of United States governments to resolve significant problems constantly facing American citizens changes the political discourse from “a third Party can succeed in America” to “a third Party must succeed in America.”

Citizens are disenchanted with the American political system and bewildered at the lack of permanent challenges to the major political Parties. Alternative Parties, which are often more movements than political Parties, have attempted to bring changes to corrupt and inefficient government. Not since the Republican Party won the 1860 presidential election, have any of them permanently succeeded as a national Party. Why, in contrast to other democratic Western countries, does the United States have only two national political Parties? Why has a third nationwide political Party not been able to establish itself as a permanent force and suitable challenge to the Democrats and Republicans in America?

A principal reason for this failure is the inability of newly organized political Parties to scrutinize the organization, structure, accomplishments, strengths, and weaknesses of earlier and relatively short-lived political Parties. Each new political Party creates itself as if a past never existed, seemingly oblivious that the new political Party can benefit its operations, and save finances, time and energy by absorbing the details of previous political movements. Movements become lost to history rather than having history reveal them. Due to this failure, new generations succumb to the contemporary forces of the two major political Parties.

Describing the birth, formation, growth and demise of a previously well-organized and partially accepted CITIZENS PARTY, adds extensive knowledge to the workings of the political system. This progressive political Party ran environmentalist Barry Commoner as the Party nominee for U.S. president, and LaDonna Harris, Executive Director of Americans for Indian Opportunity, as vice-president in the 1980 election. It also had candidates in the 1984 presidential elections.

The Party attracted many known figures from all strata of American society, organized itself at the grassroots and had chapters in almost every state. Its entire membership participated in the platform and constitution preparations. The principal platform plank, Economic Democracy, arose from the concept that the country had political democracy and needed workplace democracy. The platform also highlighted a strong push for energy conservation and solar energy, guaranteed jobs for all willing to work, and human rights at home and abroad.

In national campaigns, third Party candidates cannot show much success, only a few senators and some representatives, usually running as Independents, have won elections. Nevertheless, several presidential candidates received substantial popular votes. “Teddy” Roosevelt (23.7% in 1912), Eugene V. Debs (6% in 1912), Robert LaFollette (16.6% in 1924), George Wallace (13.5% in 1968), John Anderson (6.6% in 1980), and H. Ross Perot (18.9% in 1992), have been formidable challengers to the established political Parties. Only Eugene V. Debs’ Socialist Party continued the efforts in subsequent campaigns, each time with diminishing results. The reason for the others not being able to capitalize on their impressive tallies is obvious; they did not have any organized political Party to carry forward. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the electorate has had mainly the Libertarians and the Greens as alternatives. Both have remained stagnant, been perceived as spoilers, and attract a well-needed protest vote.

Political pundits cite the nature of the American political system, a republic form of government, as the principal reason for denying entry of a third Party into the political system. Analysis of this phenomenon shows that a proportional representation system encourages a multitude of Parties, while the demands for compromise in a pluralistic democracy limit the number. In addition, presidential elections require majority vote from the Electoral College for victory. Because the House of Representatives decides the election when no candidate gains a majority, the unwanted possibility gives the electorate an additional reason to turn away from third Party candidates.

The view that another political Party will lead to legislative stagnation and create anarchy in the pluralistic system is a one-sided reason for maintaining a two Party system. The other side of the issue begs the questions: Why have governments stagnated on many occasions, not fulfilled their campaign pledges, and brought the country to economic and moral collapse? Why are there continuous counter-productive foreign policies that bring on successive wars, causing death and mayhem and rarely answering to the original reasons for the initiatives? What is needed to prevent the continuous governmental failures? The answer points to a new and progressive third Party that challenges the entrenched Parties.

Another complication is that the major political Parties control the ballot box, the entry door to the salons, where established groups struggle for the distribution of America's vast resources. Restricted political knowledge guarantees restricted control of the ballot box. Unrestricted political knowledge allows acquaintance with the forces that contend the two major parties. The knowledge drives action. The action drives change and a new direction for the electorate.

The major political parties and a media that caters to victors tend to portray the programs of alternative parties as ultra-radical, impossible to implement, intended to benefit only a disenchanted minority, and directed to dividing and stalemating the country. This characterization distracts the electorate. Like treasures in sunken ships, previous alternative political parties contain in their vaults fresh, original and practical solutions for the many problems that confront American society, and have continued without resolution, year after year. Some of the previous alternative political parties were composed of more than documents registered with the Federal Elections Commission. They were composed of dedicated people, well-founded organizational principles, platforms that allowed expression for voices stilled by the conventional parties, and ideas hidden from the electorate. Those who are not familiar with many of the alternative parties have denied themselves access to vital information on the American political system. If a well-organized third party is not familiar to the electorate, it might not be the fault of the Third party. It might be due to a desultory political attitude that refuses to search for new directions that enable alternative and more successful actions.

The Citizens Party story is not primarily about the Citizens Party. It is about the formation of an alternative political Party, the trials and tribulations, the satisfactions and sorrows. The chronicle of the Citizens Party details the organization of a political party from concept to constitution, to electoral pursuits, to presidential ambitions.


It describes the initial thoughts that lead to formation.

It clarifies the legal challenges, and defines their resolution.

It defines the organization frame for administering a political party.

It presents the party documents that are required for governing the party.

It shows how to attract an electorate and membership to the party.

It demonstrates how the established parties and media prevent the formation of a new competing party.

It describes the conflicts that impede success.

It vividly portrays the problems that confront any new political party.


There is more.

This Party is the first to organize itself at the grassroots. Chapters existed throughout the nation, and members participated in Party processes. Participatory democracy, an often used word, and frequently discussed concept that rarely finds practice, saw a light when members prepared the platform and constitution, and local, regional and national meetings shared in decisions and distributed information and knowledge to all. Democratic procedure was the rule, but not without provoking challenges. The major issue became the conflict between those who promoted immediate electoral politics and those who favored a slow Party building before national exposure. The problems became a challenge. A well-organized and well-documented Citizens Party faced the challenge by creating elements that can serve as an organizing model for future national political parties.

The story of the Citizens Party relates an interesting tale of personal struggles and accomplishments. It is high drama, complete with intrigue, suffering, struggle, and heroism. Members made great sacrifices, and many suffered, physically, economically and morally. As in a Shakespeare play, alliances, personal favoritism, and misconceptions bewildered the rank-and-file and hindered operations. Macbeths, Hamlets, and King Lears walked the many stages of the Citizens Party. Hopefully, its words and story will reawaken an interest in its organization, concepts and programs. Knowledge of its past will teach followers to avoid pitfalls and smooth the path to success.

The Citizens Party left a legacy that demands study, analysis, and entry into political thought.