Beyond the Midterms: Independents in History
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am an independent who believes that at this moment of partisan dysfunction and division that the health of American democracy depends on the capacity of the American people to come together, to grow and to develop.
While the media is saturating us with a focus on the results of who won and who lost in the midterm elections, my attention is drawn to signs of the emergence of a bottom up nonpartisan developmental politic in our country that breaks through partisan divisions and allows for new possibilities and new kinds of alliances.
Bright spots in the midterms were the various independent candidates running for office in different states and reaching out to build the independent movement and to strengthen the power of independent voters, such as the independent gubernatorial candidates: Greg Orman in Kansas, Terry Hayes in Maine and Oz Griebel in Connecticut.
In New York State one such independent candidacy was that of Stephanie A. Miner -- a registered Democrat -- for governor on the Serve America Movement ticket with Michael J. Volpe, a registered Republican, for lieutenant governor. After serving two terms as mayor of Syracuse, Miner ran for governor as an independent to call out the political corruption that has corroded public policy in our state for too long.
Miner and Volpe succeeded in gaining ballot status for the Serve America Movement as a third party in New York State.
Despite the domination of American politics by the two parties, 44% of American voters, voters who are from every community and every age group, self-identify as independents. These independents are demanding inclusion in all aspects of elections, including the primary and efforts to open the primaries to independent voters are underway in Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and other states.
Nonpartisan citizen-based redistricting initiatives passed in Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri. Florida voters passed an initiative to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people who had served time as felons.
Two-party domination of the electoral process has produced the divisive politics we see today. Racially charged and anti-immigrant rhetoric has been used to help politicians win elections. The propaganda is untrue, toxic, hurtful, and clearly dangerous.
President Donald Trump casts immigrants as criminals and outsiders to American society, to be segregated as a caste without rights and foreign to U.S. law and government. He calls the migrant caravan from Central America "an invasion."
In his book “Dog Whistle Politics,” Law Professor Ian Haney Lopez writes:
“Research shows that undocumented immigrants from Latin America commit far fewer depredations, not far more, than citizens…Notwithstanding its departure from reality, the ‘illegal alien’ rhetoric is highly popular with racial demagogues. Stressing illegality provides a way to seed racial fears without directly referencing race….As the Republicans agitated voters with dire warnings of “illegals”, Democrats responded by adopting the same discourse, and often by offering their own draconian policies.”
In a November 3 issue of The Hill, an article by Jordain Carney reported on several Democratic Senate candidates running for election in so called red states who have joined in the Trump anti-immigrant rhetoric. Real leadership that puts the interests of the country over political interests in winning elections is off limits when the parties are in control.
President Trump is calling for an end to birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to non-citizen parents; he has also criticized birthright citizenship many times in the past. He initially said he planned to issue an executive order for the government to refuse to recognize the citizenship of such children. But in the face of criticism that an executive order would be unconstitutional, the president now says he wants to enact this policy through legislation in Congress.
Such legislation would not only violate the U.S. Constitution, it would violate the long history of the movements for progress in America. This attempt to redefine American citizenship strikes at the very roots of America’s ongoing struggle to overcome racism and to affirm a government of, by, and for the people.
Rather than reverse the instruments of American progress, we should act to further develop them, fusing the tool with the result.
In 1857, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that Dred Scott, an enslaved black man who had resided in free states, did not have standing and could not be a citizen because of his race and that black people had no legal rights in America.
This decision, announced just 2 days after the inauguration of President James Buchanan, was a decision that Buchanan had supported in order to end the slavery controversy but the decision only further inflamed a country deeply divided over slavery.
The long struggle for African American citizenship rights came to define what citizenship means for all Americans. This year is the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 14th Amendment which reversed the Dred Scott decision and states:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
And it calls for the equal protection of the law for all citizens of the United States.
The 14th Amendment could never have been enacted until after the emancipation that it affirms with citizenship rights. The 14th Amendment is a repudiation of slavery and racial inequality at the end of the over four score and seven years from the American Revolution to the Civil War.
Many historians such as Professor David Blight call the Civil War period and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments the Second American Founding.
In a speech delivered on Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass said:
“Out of a full heart and with sacred emotion, I congratulate you my friends and fellow citizens, on the high and hopeful condition of the cause of human freedom and the cause of our common country, for these two causes are now one and inseparable and must stand or fall together.”
It was a moment deeply felt and one of great promise and possibility. However, it was followed thereafter by the sorrow of devastating disappointment, and suffering; the consolidation of the two political parties and the ultimate abandonment of the freed people led to a long period of Jim Crow segregation, violence, lynching, and discrimination.
It has taken the long civil rights and ongoing voting rights movements to make equal voting rights a reality for African Americans and other people of color. Today, those rights are being threatened by voter suppression. And the independent movement faces the challenge of making equal voting rights a reality for voters who are independent of the parties.
Today’s challenge is, how do we the people come together across ideological and partisan divides for the rule of the people to overcome the rule of the parties? Independents are important leaders in bridging these divides.
Immigration is one of the issues the partisans use to stay in power and to do the dividing.
I believe that in these times of displacement, turmoil, and violence we have to start with the common humanity we share with that of others, including those from around the world. How we address immigration is really a question of who we are as a country.
George Washington wrote, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions.”
To me, the caravan of Central American migrants calls to mind the familiar Old Testament story of a people’s Exodus in search of a better life.