In today’s America, the concept of change and the structure of political parties seem to pull in polar opposite directions. But a political party on the progressive left, the Working Families Party, is an interesting case study in how a small group can (slowly) pull once fringe ideas into the mainstream.
Founded in New York in 1998, it is having an impact on local and state politics around the country. In July, we covered an innovative pilot project that it's behind in Oregon, which would create a debt-free college of sorts, where students would pay back loans at rates proportional to their income after graduation. The state legislature endorsed the fresh idea swiftly and unanimously--a rarity for an idea that would bring real progress to the increasingly pressing issue of crushing student debt. And in New York City, which is going through a major election cycle, the Working Families Party is at its strongest ever and could send a number of candidates to the City Council in November.
We spoke with the Working Families Party to understand how it has built a strong third-party movement.
1: MAKE ENDORSEMENTS MATTER
The Working Families Party is a “minor party,” and instead of running its own candidates, they usually deal in endorsements. In New York, where the party was formed, it’s at its strongest, in part because it has the strongest form of “fusion voting.” It lets voters select WFP-endorsed candidates and explicitly vote for them on the minor party (WFP) line, as opposed to the major party line. After 15 years of building its progressive brand, the WFP endorsement has clout in primaries, too. “In New York City, we're on track to elect a dozen new progressive members to the City Council, who all won hotly contested Democratic primaries, often against a flood of real estate money,” says Jessy Tolkan, a strategist who is helping to grow the Working Families Party across the country.