For most of my life, I have been a political passerby. I registered as a Republican in my 20’s without much thought or conviction. The biggest consequence of this decision was the kind of direct mail I received. Over the years, I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats. Character — the who would you rather have a beer with test — has always been the most important criteria for me.
My interest in politics grew during the 2016 presidential campaign. I marveled at how Trump, with so many clear liabilities and flaws, tore through a crowded primary field. I recoiled from the elitism and institutionalism projected by Clinton. In the end, I easily chose Clinton over Trump, but for me it was a calculation of selecting the far lesser of two poor choices. I had no interest in having a beer with either.
At this moment of my modest political awakening, I got a call from a good friend who expressed his similar dismay. But he, unlike me, had an idea of what to do about it. He wanted to start a new political party that would offer an alternative for the growing number of people, like us, who were now feeling particularly politically homeless. The idea made sense on a practical level — if the two current options got us here, why shouldn’t there be a new choice? His passion was convincing, but what about the dismal record of “third parties” and the general view that they were nothing more than spoilers? We both recognized it was a long shot, but if not now, when? Plus, if I could do something to help move the needle in a more positive direction, I was ready to get off the sidelines.
There were three of us to start. Party-building via e-mail. A start-and-stop exchange of ideas for what a new alternative party should be all about. Developing principles rooted in dignity, liberty, and entrepreneurship. We actually made a lot of progress in a few short months. Over time we met others who were onto a similar idea. We “merged” with them and we joined their convention in Philadelphia in February of 2017, where we built some scale and momentum. The Philadelphia convention inspired a new name for the group — SAM — and a tighter focus on who we were and what we wanted to be. From there, we went to work and experienced what all poorly funded, volunteer-only start-ups do: an everyday struggle to make it work and keep it going.
Four years later, despite some dead ends and do-overs, SAM is more vibrant than ever. We achieved official party status in NY State on the backs of two brave people who carved out many months of their lives to run for Governor (a Democrat) and Lt. Governor (a Republican) on the SAM line and exceeded the vote threshold required for SAM to become a new party across the state. We launched SAM Connecticut, a task force model that has been extremely effective in championing the types of electoral reforms, like ranked choice voting and open primaries, needed to un-rig the voting system which was designed by, and for the exclusive benefit of, the two major parties alone. We have attracted a team of talented and committed full-time staffers who are working hard to take SAM to the next level and ultimately to all 50 states.
What I’ve learned in these four years is that commitment and character are the most critical assets of any start-up organization trying to do the near impossible. There were so many points along the way when even a brief lack of resolve and camaraderie would have been the end of SAM.
Now, the relative tremors that first inspired SAM have become full blown earthquakes. Maybe the idea of a new party rooted in, “truth, tolerance, and transparency” wasn’t such a long shot after all. Not even the most cynical and prescient of us, however, could have predicted the depth and breadth of the current American divide; one that is only made worse by the inflexibility and zero-sum game approach of America’s two major parties.
So where do we go from here? More SAM candidates in more states willing to take a chance on something new, like those who have run on the SAM line in NY. More committed organizers in more states, like the SAM CT team, who see the dire need for electoral reforms before a new party can even be built. More political passersby across the country getting off the sidelines and helping to plant seeds for a new, needed movement in American politics.
In the end, what’s needed most is a complete mindset reboot that takes us in a positive, constructive and hopeful direction. A renewed willingness by many to come together, to work together, to build together and to do what JFK once implored us all to do, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
By Peter Groome, a SAM co-founder and Board member.