Challenges that third parties face: The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Third parties are resurgent now. Voters are increasingly unhappy with the two major parties and are looking for alternatives. Maybe you’re already in a third party, or are thinking of joining or maybe even starting one. Give some time to thinking about the structure of the party and how decisions are to be implemented, as this can be all-important in its effectiveness.

I was Co-coordinator of the Green Party of Los Angeles County Council from about 2001-2003 and got to see first-hand what happens when the structure is so loose that decision-making becomes paralyzed. This is not meant to bash the Green Party, but to be viewed as an instructive example of what to avoid and how decisions made with the best possible of intentions can have unfortunate consequences.

My first point. The structure you have when your party is tiny and meeting in someone’s living room will not be able to scale when you have hundreds and then thousands of members, especially after most no longer know each other personally.

Second, and equally important, such overly loose structure can easily be gamed by a determined minority who essentially can take control and block change from happening. Jo Freeman talks about this in her now-classic The Tyranny of Structurelessness.


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