'No Labels' Movement Promotes Bipartisanship

A new political advocacy group was born in New York City Monday. The new group is called No Labels because it doesn't want to be pigeonholed as conservative or liberal. The goal of the new group is to promote bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems.

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DON GONYEA, host:

A new political advocacy group was born yesterday in New York City. Now, this is normally the point when we would tell you whether that organization is conservative or liberal. But this new group is called No Labels. And no surprise, they don't want to be pigeonholed. Their goal is to promote bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems. NPR's Robert Smith was there.

ROBERT SMITH: Imagine a moderate version of a Tea Party protest, but instead of, say, the National Mall, about 1,000 people gather at an Ivy League school.

Ms. CAMILLE HENDERSON: Columbia University.

SMITH: And the only tea is in the cup of Camille Henderson.

Ms. HENDERSON: Cinnamon apple by Lipton.

SMITH: And forget the adopted Tea Party slogan, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. Eric Istagah(ph) from Connecticut has a better one.

Mr. ERIC ISTAGAH: I'm concerned for this country as heck and I'm going to work together to solve it. I mean, there's no really catchy...

SMITH: You see, that's not a good slogan.

Mr. ISTAGAH: There's no catchy way to say it.

SMITH: But that didn't stop political activists and a handful of centrist politicians from trying. For six hours, speaker after speaker talked about the frustration and the gridlock that came from partisan bickering and negativity. But it was harder for them to define exactly what No Labels might be. They spent a lot of time talking about what it isn't.

One of the organizers is John Cowan, who worked in the Clinton administration.

Mr. JOHN COWAN: No Labels is not about the center. It's not about moderate. It's not about left, right or center. It's about whether we can pressure our politicians, of both parties, to come together, find common sense, common ground solutions and solve the country's problems.

Mr. MARK MCKINNON: Well, welcome to our little Woodstock of democracy here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Republican political strategist Mark McKinnon is another one of the founders. He helped run campaigns for George Bush and John McCain. And, yes, there was a little of the trippiness(ph) of Woodstock. The stage featured images of animals - penguins, giraffes, snails, a moose - each one half red and half blue. They even had their own anthem, written by R&B superstar Akon.

(Soundbite of music)

AKON (Singer): He's a Democrat. He's Republican. There's a place in the race. Who's going to win? I wish they didn't have no labels.

SMITH: After the musical interlude I spoke with McKinnon. He said the first plan is to sign up a million people, representing all 435 congressional districts. Then there'll be meet-ups and organizing and talks with politicians.

Mr. MCKINNON: Well, there was a time when people actually talked to each other in Washington.

SMITH: Well, there seems like a lot of talking. Where does this really engage the political system? You're not running candidates, are you?

Mr. MACKINNON: Well, we're not now, but we may be. We may be.

SMITH: Running political ads?

Mr. MCKINNON: Possible. Possible.

SMITH: Donating money to candidates?

Mr. MCKINNON: Possible. Yeah. I mean, we may set up a PAC. It's very possible that we'll help support candidates who reflect the No Labels message in the next primary.

SMITH: We got a sneak preview of what those candidates might look like. There was retiring Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana - he spoke. Also, a few Republicans who lost their races in the last election to Tea Party candidates. One-time GOP stars like Mike Castle from Delaware and Charlie Crist from Florida. But the man with the buzz was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

No Labels has been accused of being a front group for an independent bid for the White House by Bloomberg. The mayor denies it. And, in fact, he spent his time here arguing that a third party wouldn't be successful.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): In the end, when you have an independent candidate - not always, but almost always - it is the two major parties that get most of the votes.

SMITH: That's why the organizers of No Labels say they want to influence the current party system rather than destroy it. Mark McKinnon says that if the Tea Party can shake up the Republicans and the liberal group MoveOn can make the Democrats quake, there's no reason the middle can't make itself felt, too.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

GONYEA: This is NPR News.

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