Thoughts on working for a Presidential Campaign that I don't intend to vote for.

[what follows is a rough draft/work in progress]

I have a confession to make: I'm working for Ralph Nader's 2008 Presidential Campaign.

There! I finally said it. On recent proposals for projects, I've referred to it as the “name withheld” Presidential Campaign, partly because I had not yet been given the OK to talk publicly about our involvement in the campaign and partly because I fear the reaction from people. I really do think that there are groups that would be happy to work with us who will decide to work with someone else because of our involvement in the Campaign. We live in a very polarized society.

Not since Openflows had a brief contract in 2002 working for a company doing PR in the pharmaceutical industry have I had to explain so often why we decided to take on a project. By the level of hostility from some folks, you'd think we had decided to help the Department of Homeland Security spy illegally on citizens or had spent a weekend in a California spa with executives of AIG.

Even our coders living in Canada have been subject to accusations about being responsible for the fact that George W. Bush is president of the US. Even where they have a parliamentary system with proportional representation, the inevitability that the US has only two parties worth paying attention to holds strong.

To address the primary argument that we hear: Let's be honest, Ralph Nader did not cost Al Gore the election in 2000. The Democrats all by themselves both lost the election and allowed the election to be stolen from them. Had Gore been able to win his own home state, the theft of Florida would not have put Bush into power, the Supreme Court would not have been in the position of selecting the winner.

When there were similar electoral inconsistencies and manipulation in the Ukraine, those that were wronged did not follow Gore's example and keep silent, there was a non-violent revolution.

I have my own criticism of Ralph Nader, My criticism is more related to my concerns, going back to my participation in the early days of the Greens in the US, that it was foolish for the Green Party to run a presidential candidate until there was a larger body of Greens elected to more local positions. Act local, don't divert funds to a presidential campaign that you know is hopeless. Nader was most productive when he was an activist working on issues, not as a candidate for office.

In general, I have little faith in the electoral system. With the unprecedented (and quite possibly unconstitutional) consolidation of power in the Executive Branch over the past 8 years, I feel some level of urgency that the Republican Party not retain power. Since I live in New York, and I know that the State is going to go for Obama, I might do what I did last time -- vote on local races and statewide propositions and simply not pull any lever for President.

So, the question is this. Why would a group of technologists, who all share a belief in social change, who's work is primarily done with Unions, who work in a Union shop, in an election where Unions are all behind the Democratic candidate, take on the project of setting up and maintaining the technology necessary for a third party candidate?

The answer is simple: By using Free Software to run a national presidential campaign we are helping to develop tools that will enable those with little funding from corporations to run a campaign in the future.

Ralph Nader has said that one of the primary reasons he is running is to make it possible for third party candidates in general to be taken seriously in the future. We have taken that a step further and used the funding of the Nader campaign to experiment with, add features to, and report bugs to the primary developers of a number of Free/Open Source tools that have rarely if ever had the chance to be used on this level. In that, there is power. Power not for any specific party or candidate, but thanks to the GPL, power for anyone that might decide to use it.

While I have been told by the Campaign that I am free to write whatever I want about from a political perspective, until the campaign is over I've been asked to not go into detail about what tools we are using for what parts of the campaign. When the campaign is over, we will release that information, discussing the tools used, problems we had with them, issues that have been resolved and thoughts in general about the use of Free Software in such a campaign.

The bottom line is this, we've been able to run a 50 state campaign of paid staff and volunteers using Free Software. The labor costs to configure and maintain the tools are less than what the Nader Campaign spent in their 2004 campaign on proprietary software and online service licensing fees. By removing the need for proprietary software within campaigns, we add a little bit of freedom and democracy back into the process.

Not proportional

Just to clarify, we unfortunately don't use a proportional representation system federally or provincially in Canada, although an upcoming referendum in British Columbia might change that. We use the first-past-the-post voting method in each federal electoral district, and the leader of whichever party takes the most seats becomes the head of state (in the parliamentary system there's no separate vote for Prime Minister). But at least we don't have a de facto two-party system (last night four parties won seats in Parliament, plus two independents).

ah. I'll edit the post

Thanks for the lesson on Canadian politics. I'll edit the post to clear up my misunderstanding of how things work up there.


I accidentally read your post while surfing and i really take your lessons on Canadian Politics. Your confession is very gentle. Thank you for sharing this info.