Gays and Independents

A
classmate of mine at Northeastern School of Law, Greg Huff, recently
died. At his memorial, a professor read some of his legal work. To paraphrase
one of Greg’s powerful essays from memory, he explained that he was
a strong advocate of gay rights because he “forcefully endorsed an
individual’s right to choose to define themselves rather than conform
to a culturally manufactured [and thus fallacious] binary choice”.

Sound familiar, independent voters? Though Greg was referring to a context
of sexuality, his theories speak to a larger framework of inclusion
that can be applied to voters as well.

Independent
voters and non-straight (gay, for short, noting that the term “gay”
is narrow) people have much in common. They are both struggling for
a voice; for cultural acceptance; for a community. In the latter sense,
non-straight people have a larger advantage through gay communities
and culture that has established itself in different parts of the country.

Yet not all non-straights relate to gays. Gays, like independents, fall
on a spectrum of sexuality akin to the range independent voters’ occupy
on a spectrum of politics. Few people are flaming gay or solidly straight;
few Democrats are socialists and rare are the Republican who supported
the Bush II decade. Extremes punctuate both ends of the spectrum, and
then most people fall somewhere along the line.

Though
independents and gays have overlapping interests regarding not fitting
an accepted dichotomy, gays have done one crucial thing differently
and better than independents: they asserted themselves. During the 90s
and 00s, non-straight people have mobilized, forming communities that
raised capital, candidates and charisma. Gay politicians began to run
and win. Gay entrepreneurs made millions. Gay celebrities won
Oscars and strolled down the red carpet photo line. While it is culturally
acceptable in many parts of the US to “come out of the closet” as
a gay, thereby seizing the power of self identity- being both gay, and
whatever else: old, young, famous, rich, attractive, etc- independent
voters are mostly still in the closet. One gets the feeling many independent
voters may not even know that they are independent, or, in denial, voting
for one party or the other.

Gays
asserted themselves culturally and defined their platform. This is what
independent voters need to do. What do independent voters stand for?
Nothing in particular comes to my wonkish mind. The gay agenda is generally
more established: they seek equal rights in various activities, protection
from discrimination, and other legal powers that yield political and
cultural power.

In
the same way, independent voters need to figure out what can be done
legally to validate the group culturally; for example, stronger third
party rights in debates; campaign finance reform laws that “level”
the party playing field; stricter equal-time media laws that apply to
third parties. At the same time, Independents need to “come out”.
As more and more Independents emerge publicly, common characteristics
help define the community. The community can then choose define themselves
in various ways, for example through political action and media.

Being
titled “Independent” implies a level of individuality that serves
to fracture any group formation. However, the term can come to stand
for values; it can take on a meaning of its own. Independent could mean
independent of Republicans or Democrats. It could mean many things.
However, someone or some people need to lead the redefinition, the fleshing
out, of the word and concept “Independent” the way that many gays
have bravely created a movement on their own behalf.

Below are 10 steps Independents should take to advance their growth:

1. Hold a well planned, organized
national convention where the goals of the party are “set”. Ensure
mass media coverage.

2. Encourage Independents to
“come out” and talk about why they vote Independent.

3. Establish policy goals and
pursue them aggressively.

4. Find Independent celebrities
and recruit them for publicity.

5. Run exciting, interesting
and realistic candidates seriously for high-level positions.

6. Recruit young people.

7. Incorporate Independent
voter roles into television and other media.

8. Take advantage of social
networking options to quickly assemble communities.

9. Equip Independent Voters
with tools for organizing locally.

10. Raise money!

The
formula for press coverage is not very complicated; the formula for
social change is more so. Independent voters will continue to lack serious
power until they choose to define themselves with a movement the way
gays have.