July 20, 2016
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Persistence of vision

One Party Nation, Indivisible

by Jed Oelbaum, www.good.is

If, like me, news of the inescapable 2016 election season too often leaves you wincing, alienated by what has become a depressing circus of ugly political rhetoric, you’ve surely thought to yourself, “This is madness. There must be a better way.” Apparently Andrew W.K.—the early aught’s king of partying hard—agrees.

Last week, in what was initially dismissed as an April Fool’s joke, the musician, columnist, club owner, and motivational guru threw his hat into the political ring when he announced the formation of the Party Party, intended to “free the American people from the dysfunction that is our two-party system.”

My initial investigation of the Party Party’s site proved intriguing. “The party for the rest of us,” reads the opening tagline. “The rest of us? Hey, that’s me,” I thought. I read on:

The Party Party aims to provide an alternative to the divisive labeling of our current system. Most people have become too caught up in the bickering of our news cycles to realize that we ultimately desire the exact same things: reliable access to education, healthcare, and a sense of social equality.”

But why politics? Why now? W.K. staked his early career on songs like “It’s Time to Party,” and “Party Til You Puke,” and though he’s gone on to write surprisingly nuanced columns for outlets like the Village Voice, it was hard to tell if the Party Party was supposed to be taken seriously. Still, W.K. released a statement Monday insisting that it’s very real—part of his “vision of unifying joy” in an “often distressing political landscape.”

And that’s the thing about W.K. Despite his silly songs, brick-smashed faces, andMy Little Pony convention appearances, his body of work seems genuinely united by a sincere, big-hearted, and even occasionally coherent philosophy. To see how his party-centric worldview might play out in the political sphere, I contacted W.K. for more details about the Party Party’s platform. We spoke by phone Tuesday afternoon.

In your interview with Larry King last year, you said that governmental politics hadn’t interested you in the past. Why get into it now?

I wanted to find a way to participate in the atmosphere of politics in a way that didn’t force me to compromise any of my party principles. So I wanted to add something that’s really celebratory and uplifting and relatable, but didn’t promote a particular agenda, that invited as many people as possible to party together despite their particular political views.

How does this tie into the political system then? Will the Party Party be running candidates for office?

We’ve gotten more people signing up, more interest, than I’d even think we’d get at all. So, with this kind of enthusiasm, I won’t rule out anything. Unfortunately, it’s just not in my power to control. This comes down to the State Department, this comes down to the federal regulators, and there’re a lot of institutional forces working against this kind of party…

A positive mindset isn’t the type of thing that’s encouraged in typical two-party politics.

In some ways I think it should be this hard, and in other ways I think anyone should be able to start whatever party they want. That is the spirit of partying… The beautiful thing is that the spirit that the [Party Party] represents possibly transcends the political system entirely. And maybe that would be even more meaningful, more powerful, if we could affect the political landscape without even having to lower ourselves into it.

So how might that happen, in a practical way? How might that spirit influence politics in, say, the 2016 presidential election?

My hope really is that people can engage even more deeply than they already are from a place of positivity. That can sound quaint, and a lot of people scoff and roll their eyes, when you mention something like that—a positive mindset. It’s not the type of thing that’s encouraged, or even allowed in typical two-party politics.

Have you ever thought about running for office?

I was asked once before, and thought about running for city hall in New York, but as I got closer to that world, seeing it from the inside, I realized it takes a very certain type of person to summon the strength and power to do something that seems so futile on so many levels. And that’s why I really admire any politician, just in terms of sheer energy…the amount of work and effort enters into the realm of subhuman or superhuman… I don’t think a normal person should ever get involved in politics. And maybe that’s part of the problem.

So I’m looking at the Party Party site. There’s the sort of grid of[diverse] faces up there. I see your face in the upper right hand corner and next to you is this guy with dirt, or blood or something on his face. He’s sort of giving us the side-eye. What’s up with that guy?

Good question. You’d probably have to ask him yourself, though. I could probably get a contact. A lot of people up there I met while producing the project, but him I did not meet.

It says on the Party Party site, “We must protect and respect each other, no matter how hard it feels.” Why does it sometimes feel so hard to do those things?

I don’t know! I think a lot of it has to do with human nature. That your instinct is to take care of yourself first, and I think that is healthy and natural, and then your immediate friends and family. And then your immediate surrounding neighborhood and community, and that’s a little more challenging, but still relatable, natural.

I like the idea of extending that mindset to the entire country—that we are one people…That truth—of being in it together—is one of the things that actually distresses people, so we have to think of it as a positive instead of a negative. It can be our greatest strength, instead of something that keeps us at odds with each other.

Why the framework of a political party for the partying philosophy, though? Are there specific Party Party policies that you thought up while putting this thing together? Like, what would a Party Party foreign policy look like?

To party as hard as possible with as many people around the world as possible.

I think the framework of the political party is appealing because it allows people to apply the [partying] mindset in an area where they wouldn’t otherwise consider it to be useful. … The frustration that I have felt, the disappointment ... is certainly nothing new. For a long time, people have been talking about the shortcomings of a two-party system, which is designed that way for potentially nefarious reasons. [It] is worth addressing … with a sense of joy and levity.

What do you think about the 2016 elections? Is there a candidate you support?

One thing I really like to encourage is [the idea] that when there’s an overwhelming, confusing, perplexing, overexciting, overstimulating, political atmosphere that’s almost seemed to have veered into a sports-like kind of entertainment, we don’t have to have opinions about all this stuff. We are asked to. More than asked, we are demanded to have opinions. … One big point, I would like the Party Party to remind people ... that we don’t have to have an opinion, including when people tell us it’s [a matter of] life and death. … Those opinions don’t define who we really are, deep down inside.

I would like the Party Party to remind people that we don’t have to have an opinion, including when people tell us it’s irresponsible not to.

Look, let’s say you have two beautiful kittens. And you’re in a room with them and someone says, ‘Ok, well, which is the better kitten?’ Immediately your mind goes to work, examining the kittens, comparing and contrasting them, debating which one’s better. And your mind won’t rest until it has come to some kind of conclusion about which kitten is better and why. Instead of just being able to be in a room with two kittens and appreciating them both. The heart—as opposed to the mind—would just love both kittens. Now kittens are very different than politicians, thank goodness. But in many ways, we owe it ourselves, to work a little more from the heart in these situations.

I feel like none of these candidates will really do anything—no candidate reallycould do anything—to fix the country, to fix the world. We have to do that. And we give [politicians] way too much power, for better or for worse—oftentimes for the worse—thinking that they can do the heavy lifting. It has to come from inside of each one of us. We each have to be our own president.

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