Introducing the United States Open Source Party

by Jon Lebkowsky, R. U. Sirius, and Krist Novoselic

An interestingly diverse group — musician, techno/countercultural author, Internet maven, and former political consultant turned sports blogger — is forming the basis for an Open Source Political Party that will ultimately be co-created, like any Open Source project, by collaborative participants from all walks of life.

This sounds suspiciously like an attempt to create democracy within a party structure. One downside of democracy is the difficulty scaling participation to effective governance. A goal of the United States Open Source Party is to create a successful,, open organization that will propose as well as model a participatory governance structure that actually works, in the way that open source software projects — if not democracy itself — have worked: imperfectly, but well enough to deliver ongoing value.

The United States Open Source Party is based on simple but powerful principles:

Laws, policies, and political processes are seen as a body of code.

The code, and any changes to the code, are visible and understandable: i.e., transparency is a fundamental.

The code is accessible and modifiable.

Anyone who shares our needs and values can access the code and propose modifications, which may be accepted by democratic consensus, or by executive decision in a framework decided democratically.

Our effort is meant to have a democratizing transformative effect that is fair to all. We’re committed to uses of technology to create platforms that will support our mission.

How does Open Source governance work?

The point of the Open Source Party is to create a context for bringing open source thinking to the process of governance through a specifically political channel. This new party will be a success if it facilitates a robust new politics of open engagement and distributed power, and part of that process will be the collaborative creation of frameworks, methods, and policies that will be practical and practicable at scale.

Open Source Software was a reaction to barriers and constraints that came with the concept of intellectual property: the idea that the developer of valuable code “owns” the algorithm and can restrict its use and development by others, essentially putting a conceptual lock on it. Ownership is seen as an incentive to create, and much that is great and wonderful in this world has resulted from this incentivization. The sense of ownership and profit is inherent in a culture controlled and divided according to interests, i.e. a culture that is built on concepts of capital gain and private property.

However Open Source has emerged as an alternative approach that is commons-based, that is based on a sense of common ownership not (or little) constrained by proprietary interest.

We can already see that the proprietary and open perspectives can coexist, as they do in the world of software development. We can derive value as a society from individual incentive and private enterprise, and we can also derive value from the commons, and from commons-based production.

A commons is public and owned in common by all, as with parks and roads and public utilities. This should inherently be true of government, however government in the United States today is proprietary in the sense that special interests can use money and power to influence policy. Today’s proprietary governance consists of a series of overlapping power centers that gain special access to the political process not only via donations and lobbying, but via their legacy as institutions, businesses and well connected pressure groups that we’ve come to rely on; and by the perceived centrality of their interests to the general interests of the nation and its people.

What this all means is there is an inherent tension between proprietorship and the commons. The Open Source Party recognizes this uneasy marriage and that it has always existed in our country. Accepting this reality establishes our approach to political thinking and also grounds our rejection of visceral, dehumanizing political rhetoric.

As we watch the ongoing partisan battles and adhere to one or another partisan position or platform, we may fail to note the evolving privatization of governance, or proprietary ownership of government influence.

Increasingly, governance strategies on all sides are set to maximize profit and ownership for some, without prioritizing the greater good of all citizens. As the saying goes, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” There’s an erosion of the healthy and prosperous middle class that made this country great, and there is a focus on individual profit over the health, future, and safety of all.

In contrast, Open Source Party members in government would let everybody inside the tent. Imagine a political party that videos its strategy sessions and publishes all of its policy and platform discussions in full so that all can read the arguments for or against. Imagine a mayor, a state senator, a congressman, or a president who videos all his or her strategy sessions; who insists that randomly selected citizens and journalists sit in on meetings with bank executives, oil executives, union reps, international leaders and diplomats, fellow politicians ad infinitum. Imagine (for example) the Pentagon budget fully explicated and explored by thousands of citizen researchers. Imagine open bidding on all government projects, with cronies unable to sneak past the rest of us to whisper sweet deals into the ears of our representatives. Imagine a democratic and transparent Federal Reserve.

An open approach to governance will have, as its broadest goal, the transformation of the existing system of governance to be closer to the ideals of its authors: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Social technologies have been used by political organizations since the early 2000s, but no political party has fully leveraged the democratizing potential of social network platforms. Social networking is connecting people as never before. The key with the party is to fuse two similar concepts — social networking and political association.

While the Open Source concept comes from the tech culture, we do not want to be viewed as another clever app that, by its very nature, promises to transform the world. We recognize that making social and political change is inherently messy and extremely complex. Additionally, we do not want to be viewed exclusively as a “techie” project. We intend to be inclusive and accessible to all. Nevertheless, with approximately 75% of US citizens (according to the 2013 census) now having regular online access, we intend to use the internet as our organizing platform and our social commons.

The size, diversity and dynamism of social media platforms allow people to connect and form social movements outside the existing political channels far more quickly and easily than ever before. New social movements are emerging using social media, and challenging existing parties in a way unthinkable a decade ago. The English Defence League in the UK, the Pirate Party in Germany, and the Occupy movement are all examples of movements that have employed social media to grow rapidly and create a significant political and social impact — all in the last three years.

We encourage all interested persons who agree with the fundamental principles of the United States Open Source Party to join us, informally, by signing up here. In the coming days, weeks and months we will be establishing various ways for people to participate in discussions of policies, positions, platforms and strategies and we will be establishing ourselves as a legal political organization and party. And by all means, bring your already existing political affiliations with you. They are welcome here.

Let’s join together to enhance state and financial transparency, increased democratic participation and individual civil liberties, and in doing so, bring real political power to the people of the United States. Join the United States Open Source Party.