Three lessons for independent and third-party candidates and activists will determine the future of our nation and our shared planet.
My position is simple: We are the answer. Our nation and our democracy are in trouble. We need more than enthusiasm from the independent movement. Candidates and activists must sit at the same physical or digital table, debate specific problems, agree on a framework for specific solution sets, then move on to the next problem.
Examples of such dialog began early in 2016. Here are three lessons from a coalition of independent and third party presidential candidates:
1. You Have to Show Up
Eight candidates sat at the table facing the moderator at the January 2016 Independent Presidential Forum in Lake Charles, Louisiana. About halfway through the three-hour debate, four of us went from competitors focused on our individual message to political candidates who recognized policy agreements with each other in real time.
Suggestions of a coalition among four candidates began that night at dinner, then continued over breakfast. Through emails and phone calls over the next 30 days, we wrote out and finally announced what we might work on together:
- While still competing with each other as presidential candidates, we would create a new alliance to inform Americans about credible and experienced independent presidential candidates.
- We agreed that Big Money and a broken 2-party system have pushed America far away from the ideals that led to the founding of our nation.
- We agreed we could strengthen the independent political movement in America by respectfully debating each other on the issues, avoiding all personal attacks, and emphasizing independent alternatives to traditional “bought and sold” politicians.
- We understood we represented at least some elements of multiple third parties including the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, the Reform Party and the Veterans Party of America.
- We would look for other debates and forums where we could participate together.
These relationships have continued as we reach out and maintain our personal connections.
2. Each point of view is a piece of the whole.
Listening to a competitor for understanding and agreement takes effort since our debate instincts are to actually debate. Those moments of open minds allow us to represent the views of more Americans.
At the May 2016 Independent Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, sponsored by Veterans in Politics, International, listeners heard repeatedly: “I agree with everything just said and I want to add this.”
We were building on each others ideas!
Listening to a competitor for understanding and agreement takes effort since our debate instincts are to actually debate.Dr. Lynn S. Kahn, IVN Editorial Voice
We could add examples to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Rhett R Smith’s railings about the overreach of government. We could marvel at Green Party presidential candidate Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyowasifza-Curry eloquent plea to save our planet for our children and their children. We could nod with respect when Chris Keniston, the presidential nominee of the Veterans Party of America, reminded us there are no easy answers to the complex realities of America and today’s world.
As the sometimes wonky Government Mechanic, I felt support each time I offered strategic plans and solutions sets to look under the hood of agencies and frame new and more effective forms of governance.
3. Let go of your ego.
In April 2016, Sedinam drove from Los Angeles to Oakland to support me at the presidential debate of the three woman competing on the June 7 California presidential primary to be the nominee of the Peace and Freedom Party. She gave me great advice about stage presence and engaging the audience.
The next night, I was the best I’d ever been on stage. I highlighted my experiences in justice reform, interacted directly with the audience and described the mess to be found when looking under the hood of government.
My biggest lesson from Sedinam came early in our 6-hour drive from Oakland South to Los Angeles. I had wanted to correct other candidates when their statements showed how little they understood about how the federal government actually operates.
For example, helping our veterans does not mean “[w]e must demand that the Department of Defense takes better care of our veterans.” Those demands are better made of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
In the context of mutual respect, we could struggle together to define clear solutions to veterans issues, violence in America, environmental damages, poverty, unemployment, healthcare...Dr. Lynn S. Kahn, IVN Editorial Voice
Sedinam listened and challenged me:
“No, don’t do that. You do not know what they know and you certainly do not know about lives confronted every day with racism, classism and every other “ism” in this our divided nation. Be yourself. Do not compete and be generous with what you know.”
We went on to talk about white privilege, racial tensions in America, the stunning physical beauty of America, and the adventures and misadventures of campaigning. Her ideas about political candidates both competing and together creating new solutions stayed with me.
This new reality of competing candidates building on each other’s ideas emerged again at the Presidential Forum in September 2016, in Flint, Michigan, hosted by Mott Community College and the Tom Sumner Radio Program.
In the context of mutual respect, we could struggle together to define clear solutions to veterans issues, violence in America, environmental damages, poverty, unemployment, healthcare and – given the Flint setting – the failures of government, the vulnerabilities of our water systems and institutional racism.
Even the moderators commented that the depth of the discussions and the absence of trash-talking surprised them.
Within days, the next decision point became obvious. Would competing independent and third party candidates endorse each other as a strategy to win enough states to change the mathematics of the upcoming Electoral College?
As an unaffiliated candidate, I could make those decisions on my own, and I ultimately endorsed presidential and congressional candidates in 23 different states. The difficulty for candidates representing specific parties was perfectly voiced by Chris Keniston:
“I’m committed to growing the Veterans Party of America. Our executive board has to weigh in on any endorsement of other candidates.”
In 2016, the independent and third party movement ran out of time to join together and change the dynamics of a democracy owned by a broken two-party system.
We have time to join forces for the 2018 and 2020 elections. We only need to show up together, recognize that the whole is the sum of all of us, and get past our individual egos.