I’d like to share a crazy idea I’ve been discussing with friends for the past few weeks. I offer it mostly as a distraction from the nauseating day-to-day news of late February of 2020. I’m wondering about a way to leverage (literally!) the failures of our current political system to drive our progressive agenda.
There seems to be a reasonably strong consensus about a few unfortunate facts of life regarding America in 2020:
1. Citizens United is the law of the land and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Sadly, money is both power and speech. I don’t know anybody who likes that, but it’s still true.
2. The electoral college is the law of the land and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. We might nibble around the edges, but the fact remains that progressive voters in some states have a relatively loud voice, and in some other states have effectively no voice. I consider myself a progressive, I live in Massachusetts, and my vote for president is utterly and completely meaningless. Massachusetts will ALWAYS vote for the Democratic nominee (Ronald Reagan being the exception that proves the rule).
3. Our traditional and historic mechanisms for choosing our government are woefully obsolete, broken, and are already being brazenly manipulated by the forces of darkness (Vladimir Putin, corrupt Trumpists, white supremacists, and so on). Our continued reliance on these mechanisms is a prescription for catastrophe.
So — what if we radically reshaped our national organization, from the ground up. Not an old-school to-the-barricades call to arms like we’ve been hearing about from one candidate since 2016, but something truly radical.
What if …
1. What if we transformed the party into a quasi-public national entity with money (from real estate) and power (from money, from members, and from communications expertise)?
2. What if a national organization maintained modern state-by-state information systems that correlated political power, housing availability, and mortgage money down to the neighborhood (local school committee) level?
3. What if young, mobile, and passionate progressives living in a state like Massachusetts where the marginal power of their vote is relatively small could be subsidized by a national organization to move to neighborhoods in battleground states like Michigan, where they could put their passion into practice in ways that exponentially multiply their marginal power? The Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that no state may impose a residency requirement greater than 30 days. Web sources suggest that all 50 states comply.
4. What if modern financial tools were put to use to leverage the operation of this entity in a way that generated, rather than consumed, cash for use in political and even government programs?
Let me offer a crazy scenario/example:
1. Subsidized short-term housing in Detroit (chosen as an example). Housing in Detroit is dirt-cheap. Collapsing voter turnout in Detroit in 2016 is a major factor in the election outcome. The same is true of Milwaukee and urban centers of PA. What if the national party could purchase apartments in places like Detroit, renovate them, and encourage passionate young progressive voters in places like Massachusetts to live in them for short periods?
2. What if contributions could be used to create leveraged mortgage instruments so that gains resulting from actual improvement in local property values created by sane and rational national and local policies were used to fund program expansions?
3. What if some sort of airbnb-style sharing arrangement were used to generate rental income from these properties?
4. What if this national entity could act as a non-profit source or guarantor of low-interest loans for small businesses, enabling program participants to regrow struggling local economies throughout red America?
I know that I’m talking about — literally — old-time carpetbaggers.
We know that a majority of Americans support our agenda. On some issues, a large majority. We know that the GOP has been using gerrymandering and voter suppression techniques to blunt the political power of that majority. Importantly — we know that the most red areas of the nation are also the most affordable areas.
What if we remade the national organization into an entity explicitly designed to temporarily or permanently move activists from deep blue areas to selectively targeted deep red areas?
What if we creatively find ways to transform the greatest faults of our current system into weapons used to eliminate those faults?
How long would Citizens United stand if the 99% effectively used it to clawback (I use the word intentionally) wealth from the 1%? How long would red America allow depressed areas like Detroit to fester if they saw that the result was ever-growing blue power?