The landscape of American politics is in a somewhat unnerving condition. Approval ratings for both parties are bottoming out, suggesting that the voting public has little hope for resolution. In less trying times, the most obvious response might be to reconsider party affiliation, shifting from one candidate to another in a desperate last ditch effort. These days, though, this option seems less appealing.
Nathan Daschle, former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, has a slightly more intriguing suggestion: a transformation of the system as a whole. To this end, he co-created Ruck.us with Ray Glendening, which may be most-aptly defined as non-partisan, political social networking. It’s aim, he said recently, is “to replicate the three core functions of political parties: bringing together like-minded people, allowing them to exchange information, and taking collective action.” In grouping around issues, the American public is able to step beyond the politics so often limiting to the correction of those issues, and it’s able to do so through a network that reaches widely beyond one’s immediate surroundings. “It’s not the fault of those working in politics. They are just responding to the way the system is set up,” Daschle explained. “This is why we need to change the system, starting with the two parties. What's interesting about Ruck.us, at least in my opinion, is that it lets people define themselves and engage around issues instead of party labels.”
Ruck.us, despite its high reach, is refreshingly easy to use: create a profile, select issues that appeal most directly to you, and answer a series of questions intended to further clarify your beliefs. In response, the service generates a personalized “Ruck”, or group of like-minded members with whom you can further your various causes. “To make the experience more contemporary, we decided that rather than ask people to join another group, we would simply introduce them to the crowd of people who share their views,” Daschle explained. “This is a Ruck: an instant, personal, and actionable network for each user.” Each Ruck, furthermore, is in a constant state of change, much like a political landscape that adjusts with time - as more users join and more questions are answered, each issue and response becomes more refined.
Non-partisan political social networking is, in some regards, not entirely new; Facebook, for one, allows users to create issue-based groups around whichever issue they choose. Ruck.us, though, surpasses these alternatives in several regards. With an interface and purpose based strictly upon politics, the network isn’t clogged with the more trivial pursuits of daily life, and it amasses politically-active individuals with whom dialogue is a necessary step in the move toward change. More importantly, though, simply rallying around an issue isn’t the end-point: Ruck.us propels action forward by suggesting responsive action. In Daschel’s experience, he said, “working in party politics certainly illuminated the need for an alternative. In politics, the incentives are to win, not necessarily to make progress, and as the industry has become more professionalized, its gotten better about zeroing in on that singular goal - to the exclusion of all others.”
Response since the September 21-launch has been extremely positive, Daschel said, in part because of the looming 2012 elections, but also because of frustration with a two-party system that has left Americans “ready for a transformational change in how we do our politics.” In many ways, the success of Ruck.us depends largely on the success of its aim to disable and redefine political action as a whole, as activity would then subsist through non-election years. “Politics for most people,” as Daschle notes, “is about issues, both national and local, not just the races.” The success of Ruck.us, in the end, will bring this to light.