The Origins of United States Open Source Party

First Concept

In November of 2007, I wrote a proposal for the foundation of an Open Source Party.  Political noise was being generated about the 2008 presidential election and it looked to be a dreary affair.  Most of the essential policy changes that the US desperately needed then (more desperate now) would be ignored. More importantly, systemic questions about how much power US citizens actually have to effect and carry out the policies they would prefer would not be asked.

I saw open source — with its emphasis on the transparency of “the program” — as the best popular (at least among the technologically versed) metaphor for challenging top-down politics.  We were (and are) clearly in a system in which representation is, at least, vaguely democratic (we want it more democratic), but policy and legislation is the exclusive domain of the political class and their revolving door of “expert” operatives who drift back and forth between big finance, corporate law and political “service.” These bureaucrats and consultants would continue to serve the moneyed interests and their lobbyists and the vast interlocking state/private complexes (military-industrial, big oil, prison-industrial ad infinitum). These various power centers (there are probably about a dozen of them) have so much power that the US political process was (is) in a state of abject paralysis (I refer here not to the paralysis in which the bought-and-sold politicians from the big parties fail to pass legislation, but the paralysis of the entire body politic crippled by ingrained, legacy, interlocking power centers.).

With a bit of educational assistance from Jon Lebkowsky (coeditor of the 2005 book Extreme Democracy), I also saw that open source politics need not be a mere metaphor but could be an implementable solution, with a plethora of usable tools already available and more being hacked together all the time.

In my 2007 proposal, I noted that their were two ways to go with this party: One way would be to just throw it open to everybody. Everyone gets to pour their ideas into the maelstrom whether they’re anarchists or fascists, conservatives or moderates — or if they just miss Ross Perot.” The other way would be to have a few broad platform points. These were, in my estimation, the essential things that needed to be challenged.

I expand on these ideas in the proposal, but for my purposes here, I’ll just list them:

1: Let’s Have a Democracy

A: One Person One Vote. Direct elections. Make it easy to vote. 

B: Equal Access to the Political Process for non-Republicans and non-Democrats.

2: Let’s Have Civil Liberties and a Bill of Rights

3: Let’s End the Imperial Foreign Policy

A:  we should no longer invade or attack sovereign nation states, either directly or indirectly, that haven’t attacked us by force of arms.

4: A New “Energy Task Force”

5: Let’s Explore the Possibility of an Open Source Monetary System

6: Let My Web People Go

A:  It’s urgent that we find a way to maintain the sharing, p2p culture of the net while also finding a way to make it less the purview of the privileged and that sufficiently rewards “content creators.”

Although I would change a bit of that today, lots of people seemed to like that vision and joined us on a dedicated website on the (long since abandoned) MondoGlobo network.

However, it was not my intention at that time to bust my ass trying to put together a political party. I’d already tried that with the Revolution Party in 1999-2000 and found that people like to wave their hands around and volunteer service, but don’t actually do much.  My attitude was… here’s a proposal. If some of you want to make it happen, take responsibility for it.  You do it! I’ll be part of it. If it’s supposed to emerge, it will.

And so the concept floundered. There was (is) a Facebook group, a google group, a Wiki… but without hard charging leadership and a specific action agenda, nothing really happened.

The Krist Novoselic Version

Then, about a year ago, someone informed me that Krist Novoselic, former Nirvana bass player, had also offered a proposal for an Open Source Party. Krist’s concept noted the potential for generational change as people who have always lived with the internet — and who have views that are divergent from the usual political categories — look for ways to express and implement types of political association that would be separate and distinct from the Democrat/Republican duopoly. In a second entry, Krist suggested ways to implement this idea.

I contacted Krist to let him know about my version. He was friendly. I then stuck the notion in my mental file cabinet as a possible reason to take another shot at doing this thing.

Motivator: Water and Governor Jerry Brown

Then came the news that my home state of California was literally running out of water (or so they say). It struck me that I knew a few people who were working on various solutions to water shortages and that I knew lots of other people who were part of mainstream/alternative crossover policy and solution seeking groups who probably would have novel, even feasible, ideas about how to resolve this crisis or at least make a good start at it.

John Perry Barlow (to your health!), for example, was (is) part of algae systems, a group working on treating municipal wastewater. Then there’s Jamais Cascio and Alex Steffen, both of whom edited and organized the impressive 2006 book Worldchanging: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century which looked at technological, behavioral and policy ideas, then-current activities, and tools for making better use of our resources, both discovered and undiscovered. And there’s people like Peter Diamandas and Steven Kotler, who proposed technological solutions to the water situation in their popular book Abundance.

Take a few influential folks deciding this is a legitimate good thing, add a second degree of separation, and I could really envision a very influential conference indeed. Bringing together experts, many of whom are not often heard during political policy discussions, with more established experts and other interested citizens and activists for talks and workshops, could lead to productive proposals and a cross pollination that could benefit those already engaged in activities.

My first thought was to give the idea to California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown has often been open to creative thinking and to ideas from the “fringe.” And if anyone could call a conference in California and have it be influential…

But just as I was ruminating on this possibility, Brown, in a high handed and authoritarian manner, announced a new policy of mandatory radical reductions in water usage, aimed entirely at individuals, with no mention of such giant water users as fracking and almond farming.  Big agribusiness and oil were off the hook.

More to the open source point, Governor Brown made his decisions in private, without any open public discourse. His pronouncement was sketchy…  without sharing much data, never mind implying that their could be other approaches. It was clear to me that the Governor was not out to foster democratic discourse and data sharing and would find a close examination of the water crisis and its solutions by diverse people an unattractive proposition. So never mind Jerry Brown

A Very Brief Consideration of the Transhumanist Party

Then, on March 21 of this year, I attended a “Transhuman Strategies” conference in San Jose. There was much talk at this gathering about the creation of the “Transhumanist Party.” The party’s presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, was one of the speakers. Now, to be honest (and brief…  this could be a topic for another essay), I found the discussions around pushing hard for a transhumanist political agenda a bit insane. But out of sheer political boredom, I decided to offer up the idea to Mr. Istvan. Zoltan graciously offered that I could organize such a conference myself in the name of the Transhumanist Party.

I didn’t want to do that.  For one thing, I thought that we would need to get other sponsors, because transhumanism makes a lot of likely and knowledgeable participants from the worlds of science, technology and environmentalism uncomfortable (to put it mildly.) 

Open Source Party… And That’s Where We Are Today

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, it hit me that this would make a great Open Source Party project.  Open source…  transparency and the sharing of information…  is probably a positive for almost everybody familiar with it who isn’t in power or doesn’t hate democracy.  Leftists, centrists and libertarians; scientists and technologists, class warriors and well paid “techies;” most have a positive feeling about open source.

And so I contacted Jon Lebkowsky and Krist Novoselic and a few other folks to see if they wanted to get serious about doing this thing.

And that’s where we are today. We’ve set up a website (you’re here) and a Facebook group. We’ve been grappling with a charter, to make this the real thing and Krist has already blogged a couple of pieces prior to this one. We’re investigating the best tools to use for this process and how to implement open and democratic participation.

As we organize our charter and become a legal political party, we ask that people check out the basic principles of the party as posted here .    There is also our Original Statement of Purpose, which is a work in progress and open to suggestions   In the next week or so, we will offer a way that people can sign a letter of agreement while we all await the completion of the legal process that will allow us to take in members. (In the meantime, you can always comment here about your interest.)

And what about this water conference thing?  As I did with my original Open Source proposal, I’ll just wait and see if there’s substantial and substantive interest.

Open Source Party — Many Purposes

For me, the Open Source Party is more than an advocacy group – although it is that. And it’s more than an electoral party – although it will be that as well. It’s a medium through which a lively discourse and a lively process can take place that might actually conjure solutions to a lot of problems. It’s a place where people can imagine what actually having the power to democratically decide on policies might be like, and then, try to implement that power. It’s a place that might produce proposals that hybridize ideas from some of our finest minds, both relatively known and unknown.  And it’s a place where people can put aside some of the distractions of cultural wars to find areas that we agree require big change — locally, nationally and globally. This is just a start.

One thought on “The Origins of United States Open Source Party”

Comments are closed.