Tabatha Abu El-Haj, professor of law at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, co-authored an article, “Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy,” published in Vol. 122 of Columbia Law Review Forum. She and co-author Didi Kuo, senior research scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, discussed their ideas during an interview with Daniel Stid, executive director of Lyceum Labs, at theartofassociation.org.
“The prospects for comprehensive federal political reform are dim,” the authors write in the article. “Myriad electoral and political realities present obstacles to good governance—from the unrelenting flood of money into politics to the flurry of legislation curtailing voting access and extinguishing party competition.”
The solution the authors propose: persuading Americans to “take a second look at parties.” The article explains “why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there.”
The authors write, “The functionality of the American party system…depends on associational party-building. Associational party-building focuses on building up political organizations as intermediaries that link citizens and civic groups to their government. This is a crucial dimension of party strength that is distinct from (but related to) the ability to win elections. Associational party-building offers a path toward rebuilding participatory political parties capable of advancing democratic accountability and responsiveness, and it is essential if party reform efforts are to improve governance.”
In his interview of the authors, published Jan. 29, Stid asked them about their thesis. “It is really a burden on the Democrats to do this associational work,” Abu El-Haj said, “because its membership base has traditionally been unions, and they have atrophied greatly in recent decades, forcing the party to rethink how it operates…Party building takes time. But sooner or later associational parties need to get into power.”