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 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.