As an independent candidate for president in the 2016 election cycle, I travelled 20 months and over 70,000 miles around America. As a Green Party candidate for Congress in upstate New York, I now travel the 15,000 square miles and twelve different counties of NY-21 that stretch from Vermont in the east, Canada to the north, Fort Drum in the west, Saratoga to the south, and all of it generally in and around the Adirondack Mountains.
As our team talked with voters and collected signatures to get on the November 2018 ballot, I listened. What’s changed? What’s the same?
We heard the same basic concerns we all know about – easier access to health care, finding good-paying jobs, sending our kids to quality and safe schools, protecting the environment (especially our 3,000 lakes and ponds), and our 30,000 miles of rivers and streams.
Yet again, I talked with veterans who have seen far too little improvements in promised health care. I spoke with the spouses of active duty military and heard heartening stories of pride in service to America along with disturbing accounts of institutional disregard for individual and family health and safety.
More often than expected, people nodded in agreement regarding the problems and damages inflicted by family court and profit-driven foster care. And more often than expected, I encountered people and organizations struggling to find solutions for domestic violence.
In a district that is 92% white, I heard little about racism and incarceration, much more about lack of opportunity. Our district is losing population. As young people move out, our district is getting older.
The convoluted geography of wellbeing and poverty struck me visually and emotionally. Our district contains pockets of vibrant and growing economies that do attract new businesses and new residents especially those who want the mountain and lake lifestyle.
Round the bend, we found many communities clearly struggling with poverty.
One set of conversations were jolting: Americans are losing hope. More than a few voters who signed my petition would look up and say: “I’ll sign even though I’ve lost all hope in our future as a nation.”
Ben Lapham, Warren County (NY) Green Party member, heard this too:
“I found a lot of people who are profoundly dissatisfied by the main political parties. Talking with people, there’s a lot anger: about the eroding economy, about the President, about healthcare. People feel abandoned by our politicians and our political system.”
As a political candidate, I have heard and written about the anger in America and the pain and despair under all that anger. What we are hearing in this 2018 election cycle is different:
Americans without faith that we can save our Republic and repair our democracy. Americans more than worried about the nation and planet we will hand off to our children and grandchildren. Americans that see no way out of growing divisiveness, a downward spiral in our cultural norms, and forever warfare here at home and around the world. Americans who believe the continuous attacks on what is true and fair – attacks on the very intentions and values of our Constitution and our Republic – only deepen that loss of hope.
My response is a call to action for my fellow independent and third party candidates and activists. This is on us. If we are to be the alternative, if we are to light the path toward healing and peace-building, we have to be the change not just talk about change.
That means stop competing with each other and instead build on each other’s ideas and experiences. That means moving past our individual ego. That means offering a vision of a coalition government in America and actually being that partnership.
America is in trouble. We have run out of time. I do not believe the two corporate-funded parties can rise to the challenge. Only the choices and actions of a grand coalition of independents can restore hope and faith in America.