By Megan Poinski
As national politics slides into ultra-partisan mode, causing endless arguments and political stalemates, what is a frustrated citizen to do in an election year?
Maryland native Ray Glendening is raising a ruckus.
Actually, to be correct, he’s raising a Ruck.us.
Ruck.us is a new for-profit website that lets people meet on a common ground based on their political beliefs, whatever they may be. It allows people who are interested in different issues – but not so much in hewing to strict party ideology – to find people who feel the same way they do, to learn about actions they can take to advance their cause, and maybe even to find candidates who more closely match their ideals.
Glendening said that the goal of Ruck.us is to use technology to strip away the power of the party line and give people a chance to organize on issues that they care about.
“We want to provide a place where like-minded people can find each other and interact,” he said.
From D to I
Glendening may seem an unlikely person to be jumping into a politically centrist venture. His father is former Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat. The younger Glendening followed his father’s partisan path, working as a consultant for Democratic campaigns. From 2008 to 2010, he was the national political director of the Democratic Governors Association, the partisan organization now chaired by Gov. Martin O’Malley..
Glendening’s partner in the site, Nathan Daschle, also comes from a prominent Democratic political family. His father is former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, the longtime Democratic majority leader. The younger Daschle was the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association from 2007 to 2010.
As time went on, Glendening said, he and Daschle both felt that they could not subscribe to 100% the strict platform outlined by the Democratic Party. And the 2010 elections, where scores of Tea Party Republicans beat out established candidates, showed that there were growing groups of people nationwide who were also not satisfied with towing a partisan line.
Both Glendening and Daschle left the Democratic Party (Glendening said that both of them are registered independent voters in Washington, D.C.), left the DGA, and started building a concept that would better serve people who are dissatisfied with the options provided by the two major political parties.
Today, a greater number of people are changing their political affiliations from D or R to I, he said. Being an independent doesn’t mean that a voter believes in odd policies. It just means that he or she isn’t fully satisfied with any of the major party options.
“I think this is the new model of political engagement,” Glendening said. “You don’t have to cede any of your identification to larger institutions. I think larger institutions are on the way out.”
Works like a dating site
Ruck.us works kind of like an online dating site. But instead of finding users’ soul mates, it tries to find people who would agree with them in a political discussion.
Users create profiles, then choose the “big issues” most important to them – things like campaign and political reform, drug policy, job creation, Medicare and Social Security, privacy, and abortion.
Then users can answer questions about the issues – like how they feel about the death penalty, or what they think about Rick Perry’s campaign.
Using the issues and answers, users are matched to one another based on their beliefs. People with close matches are organized into what is called a “ruck,” a rugby term for an informal group of people coming together to get the ball. On the site, a user’s “ruck” is an informal grouping of people with common political purposes – and is in constant flux as people participate more on the site. (So no, the site’s name has nothing to do with a noisy rebellion against the two-party system.)
The issues and answer preferences will also suggest actions that users can take to further the way they feel. They include signing petitions – like asking politicians to reject any budgetary plan that raises (or does not raise) taxes on millionaires -- or making donations to an organization lobbying for education reform, or to support a particular candidate. Glendening said that many of the organizations that recommend actions are ones he and Daschle knew from their days in partisan politics.
Users can also ask their own questions and start discussions. Glendening said that those posts are moderated for appropriateness, but so far all of the discussion has been civil and relevant.
Who uses it?
The site went live in September, and people in all of the 50 states have created profiles. So far, Glendening said, most users are in their late 30s and early 40s. Their political beliefs trend liberal, but there is an active and involved Tea Party group. Most users are on the East Coast. Glendening said he and Daschle are planning to do more outreach as the year goes on, hoping to bring more users from across the nation.
In addition to regular voters, some prominent people have created profiles. (All of them are verified accounts, similar to Twitter.) Some are politicians, like former Louisiana governor and independent presidential candidate Buddy Roemer. (Glendening has not succeeded in getting his father to fill out a profile yet, though a profile exists for a Tom Daschle living in Washington, D.C. None of Maryland’s top elected officials has a profile.)
And some prominent non-politicians have created Ruck.us profiles, too. Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public schools and current CEO of grassroots organization StudentsFirst, has one. And former Nirvana guitarist Krist Novoselic, who has been involved in music industry and electoral reform politics, dubbed the site his “Facebook replacement.”
Primaries, November, and beyond
Glendening said that he knows Ruck.us will play a role in the 2012 election, though he and Daschle are still formulating how it will come into play.
One thing they are doing is reaching out to major candidates nationwide, urging them to create Ruck.us profiles so that site users can engage with them and find out whom they best match up with.
He also hopes that Ruck.us will help drive debates and discussions away from Democrats and Republicans, red states and blue states. Instead, he said, the site facilitates talk about issues.
“Parties will have no choice but to bend and change, and that’s what we are pursuing,” Glendening said.