I didn't know what to make of the Forward Party.
I'm just going to say that straight out. After years of clamoring for a third party, Forward was not what I had in mind. As a NeverTrump ex-Republican, I was expecting something different—ideally, a socially liberal but fiscally conservative party with a Reaganesque foreign policy. Instead, Forward was…what exactly? I couldn't really say. My understanding of it was limited to the fact that it was founded by Andrew Yang, a disillusioned Democrat, who deserted the party with which I've increasingly made common cause for the past six years. That was disconcerting. However flawed the Democratic Party may be, why leave it now, when it's the only one of the two major parties defending American democracy?
So to say I had mixed feelings was an understatement. But unlike other Americans, I couldn’t just write off Forward if I chose to. As a comms staffer at the Renew America Movement, I was about to become a full-fledged member, when my organization, along with the Serve America Movement (SAM Party), merged with the party. A little personal background: I’m no political mercenary. I didn’t even begin working in politics until midlife, after a long career in education communications—and only then because I firmly believed there was a country to save, and if I could contribute in some small way to that effort, I would. That meant I needed to learn more about our new organization, to find out if I truly could support and even embrace it. For those of you with the same misgivings I have, here’s what I’ve learned.
Is Forward just Andrew Yang’s 2024 campaign?
This, by far, was my biggest concern from day one. The last thing I wanted to be involved in was any campaign that could potentially put Donald Trump back in the White House. I’ve voted Democrat in the last two presidential elections specifically to prevent Trump from being anywhere near the reins of power. Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, I don’t need to explain why. With all that’s happened since then (the attempted coup, the Jan. 6 insurrection, the documented theft of classified materials), 2024 may be even more critical to the future of American democracy than 2016 and 2020 were. And we all know how a third-party candidate can serve as a spoiler in a high-stakes election.
But that’s kind of the problem in a nutshell, right? Voting shouldn’t feel like a life-or-death situation. And yet, it has for quite a while now. So the first mission of Forward is to change that, by advancing reforms that improve how we vote in order to give us more and better choices at the ballot box. Innovations like nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting, already being used in some states and municipalities, incentivize candidates to appeal to a broad range of voters, rather than a narrow, extremist base, while virtually eliminating the spoiler effect.
Fix that problem first, and the fears of a third party (or many parties, for that matter) dissipate. The way to accomplish that is by hitting grounders—working at the state and local level to put candidates in place who support and can pass these reforms—rather than swinging for the Oval Office fence. As for Andrew Yang, he has assured us that he has no plans to run in 2024. I am holding him to that.
Why is there no platform?
This really bugged me too. After all, as a former Republican, one of my biggest critiques of the Trump-era GOP is that the party tossed its platform in favor of “whatever Trump says goes.” Yet, that’s actually the epitome of a top-down platform taken to its furthest extreme, isn’t it? A party with such a platform can be conforming; it doesn’t invite creativity and it definitely doesn’t encourage dissent. Just ask Liz Cheney.
Forward has a number of former government officials and policy experts advising it. And yes, they could gather in a conference room and hammer out a platform. In some ways, that would be a lot easier. But what if a party starts with people first, then builds a platform based on their needs, community by community, instead? It sounds strange because it’s new; that doesn’t mean it can’t work.
Forward’s initial electoral focus is on the hundreds of thousands of state and local offices, many of them uncontested, that don’t get nearly as much attention as the presidential race but affect our daily lives just as much—if not more—than the national races. You don’t build the roof of a house first; you start with the foundation. And there’s a lot to learn at that level of American life. That’s the point where Forward is right now. It will be interesting to watch how it plays out in real time.
What is the actual point then?
Ask just about any American if the country is in a good place right now, and the answer will be a resounding “no!” President Biden admitted as much in his recent speech at Independence Hall. There is plenty of blame to go around, but one thing is clear: if the existing system brought us here, it stands to reason that it’s not likely to get us out.
Think of it this way: why didn’t Donald Trump run as an independent in 2016? Because even he knew that he would’ve had no shot. As it stands, he only won the GOP nomination because of winner-take-all plurality voting and closed primaries that only turn out a small fraction of the base. Now imagine if nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting had been in place throughout the country in 2016.
The fact is, the two-party system is failing us. I know one party is the much bigger threat at this moment. I’m not both-sidesing or equivocating here. But until there are other choices, millions of voters feel that they have to sacrifice policy for principle—or principle for policy. Why? It simply doesn’t make sense to go on that way in a country of 330 million people.
The problem is even worse when it comes to governing—congressional stalemates, disregard for democratic norms, refusal to compromise, putting electoral outcomes ahead of legislative accomplishment. We can complain about these things all we want, but until we actually try to change them, we’re just screaming into the void. Only a party outside the dueling system has any hope of breaking through decades of spite and partisan baggage and helping those within the two-party system who actually give a damn to move the country forward.
Will the Forward Party work?
That is up to the American people. I am rooting for it to succeed, because anything that helps provide more choice, lower the temperature of the country, and increase government functionality would be a welcome and sorely needed change. I encourage you to look past the critiques and check it out for yourself. And if you can, please get involved. Let your voice be heard in this process. Your country needs you.
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