A New Type of Political Party Has Launched and Is Coming to a City Near You
Third parties have long struggled to break through a political system that is explicitly designed to benefit the Republican and Democratic Parties. However, the Forward Party is taking an unprecedented approach to tear down the duopoly’s barriers.
Renew America Movement, Serve America Movement, and the Forward Party – three groups founded by former Republican and Democratic leaders – announced in August that they found a common mission to give voters renewed confidence in elections and the government.
And, on September 24, the new Forward Party kicked off its national building tour in Houston, Texas
Forward Together: A Viable New Path or Impossible Dream?
Renew America, Serve America, and the Forward Party individually made better elections a top priority, but breaking through the two-party duopoly alone is a massive undertaking. Third parties face significant systemic hurdles just to gain recognized party status and ballot access.
And, when presented with any threat that a third party may upset the apple cart, lawmakers loyal to the dominant two parties raise the hurdles higher.
The lack of options in elections is by design. Even though poll after poll after poll have found that most Americans (consistently around 60%) say they are unrepresented by the Republican and Democratic Parties, it has been all but impossible in much of the county for more options to emerge.
For a long-time, third-party groups faced these challenges alone. Many of these parties have their own ideological-based platforms that appeal to niche segments of the voting population, but don’t light up a welcome sign to disenchanted voters at large.
Leaders in what Forward Party National Political Director Joel Searby calls the “New Politics” space understood that a new approach was needed so they met in December 2021 in New York City to discuss how they could better cooperate.
“In that room were people who were a part of Renew America, Serve America, and Forward, as well as other pioneers in the New Politics space,” said Searby in an interview for IVN.
“In that conversation that was originally about collaboration, someone spoke up and asked, ‘Hey, should we be talking about something more formal here?’”
Searby explained that from there the conversation evolved. There were several meetings that happened between these organizations to discuss what they might attempt together to take on the two-party duopoly, and what they could reasonably achieve.
“What became clear is those three organizations – Forward Party, Renew America, and Serve America – were all aiming at the same foundational challenges and fixes for our system,” said Searby, “and it would be a powerful statement if a group from the center-left, from the center-right, and from the center could join forces and pull off a new type of party for America.”
The envisioned party almost seemed like a pipe dream in the current political environment: Leading Republicans, Democrats, and independents coming together to form solution-based strategies for policy and for better elections and a more competitive elections process.
“It was rare for the political space,” remarked Searby, “People were laying aside their egos, there was a lot of humility, a lot of shared mission and vision, and it became apparent over those months that we could pull this off.”
All of these conversations resulted in the August announcement that the three organizations were merging under one banner: Forward.
The Forward Party will be composed of leaders and members from across the political spectrum. All voters and candidates tired of extremism and division are welcome, and do not even have to drop their current party affiliation to be a part of the movement.
Forward aims to be the first national “open party” to give a home to the politically homeless.
Building a Foundation on Shared Values
The first questions on the minds of a lot of voters will be: What is the party’s platform? What does the party stand for? How will the party accommodate a diversity of thought and political philosophies?
It’s a catch-22 situation in some cases. Third parties often fail to attract greater numbers because they adopt a stringent platform based on a single ideology. But at the same time, some people say they don’t want to join a party that doesn’t have detailed policy positions.
“We start on a foundation of our shared values,” said Searby. “There was some early criticism that we don’t stand for anything, and I push back on that quite vehemently.”
He explained that the party’s website clearly states what it stands for and the shared mission of those involved. It also explains how party leaders intend to approach solving problems.
The Forward Party’s website lists three priorities that will unite its broad coalition: Free people, thriving communities, and a vibrant democracy.
- "Free people" means revitalizing “a culture that celebrates difference and individual choice, rejects hate, and removes barriers so that each of us can rise to our full potential.”
- "Thriving communities" means revitalizing “a fair, flourishing economy and open society where everyone can live a good life and is safe in the places where we learn, work, and live.” And,
- "Vibrant democracy" means reforming the republic “to give Americans more choices in elections, more confidence in a government that works, and more say in our future.”
This is the starting point — 3 priorities most Americans can identify with. From there, people can come together and discuss what specific policies will achieve these goals and benefit the most Americans possible.
The mission– according to the party – is to do, not to divide. Voters are used to top-down policy proposals from the major parties that rarely get to the core of complicated issues and have long succeeded in only dividing Americans.
Searby believes this is exactly what has disenchanted voters. “What we propose is a new kind of policy making,” he said.
“There are outer boundaries outside of which we will not accept extreme policy positions, but inside those boundaries there is a tremendous amount of common ground. What we should be focused on is, where can we actually move the ball forward? Where can we actually get things done around the toughest issues?”
Searby explained that there needs to be a new type of framework for parties at the local level. Not all communities are the same, and so the same approach won’t work for everyone. The candidates who run for state and local parties need to work together in a way that appropriately reflects their communities and their constituents’ needs.
“We don’t have top-down, prescribed platform positions because we largely believe we should build this from the ground-up,” he added.
A National Building Tour is Underway
The Forward Party kicked off its national building tour on September 24 with a rally in Houston, TX. It plans to visit several cities across the US to lay the groundwork for nationwide expansion.
“We’ll be in major cities like New York, LA, and Chicago,” said Searby, “but also in some important cities and states where we are building – places like Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina.”
He added that more midwestern and coastal cities will be included in the tour as well.
The national building tour will give voters an opportunity to hear more about the party, its goals, and what it wants to achieve in the near and long-term futures from party leaders. It will also help the party in its state-by-state registration and ballot access efforts.
Forward’s immediate goal is to gain recognized party status and/or ballot access in 15 states by the end of 2022 – an ambitious undertaking over the next few months. But Searby says the party thinks it has identified where it will be most successful.
“We’ve picked the top 22 more urgent states in which we think we can get some legal status in 15 by the end of this year,” he explained. “In some states that will be full party access. In other states it will be some interim form of that.”
Each state has its own rules for obtaining party status and ballot access. Some states make it as easy as filing the right paperwork, while some make it much harder, and require new parties to jump over stacked hurdles to be recognized as a major party.
Among the states the Forward Party is looking to achieve party status in by the end of 2022 include North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, and Missouri.
Searby noted that party leaders believe the time is right. The market is open to it. Voters want more choice. The pool of voters who are hungry for the type of party they offer is large enough to garner public interest and achieve the party’s goals.
They also believe that a national push – like with the national building tour – is critical because there “needed to be enough energy in the media, in the funding world, in the grassroots world to build the type of energy” that would bring people to the table.
Searby said they are already seeing the fruits of their endeavor.
“We literally had tens of thousands of volunteers in the first two weeks of our publicly-announced launch,” he remarked. Within that same two weeks, Searby said they also reached over 100 million Americans with their earned media.
Important to the party’s effort remains the ground-up approach. Building at this scale requires forming relationships with activists, leaders, and elected officials who are deeply embedded in their communities and relying on local media – which tends to be more trusted among voters.
Searby added that it is on them to quickly follow up with voters who have expressed interest in one way or another. This is how the party will organize.
“I have seen a lot of reform and new politics efforts come and go over the last decade that I have been personally involved in, and I can say with a high degree of confidence and experience that this is a completely different ballgame,” he said.
“We have the level of competency, experience, media reach, funding, and strategic alignment that I have never seen in the reform and new politics space. And, that has been validated by the absolute inundation of volunteers and donors and other exciting momentum that people in the independent and reform space should be really excited about.”
2022 and Beyond
According to Searby, state party leaders have been given the greenlight to begin talking to and looking at candidates to become part of the Forward Party or for endorsement. This can include the 2022 election cycle or cycles in the immediate future.
State parties will consider candidates that strive for the same mission as the Forward Party or would be a perfect fit and will include elected officials looking to switch parties. Searby said there have been several fruitful conversations on this front, especially at the local level.
Other candidates that could be considered include independent and minor party candidates, and even partisan candidates that are (in Searby’s words) “reasonably minded.” who are running against clear extremists.
“None of these options are off the table,” said Searby.
He added that while state and local parties can decide candidate endorsements at their own discretion the focus for 2022 is party building. By next year, though, they intend to have municipal candidates all over the country.
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About the Author
Shawn is an election reform expert and National Editor of IVN.us. He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.