In response to a recent post about the cruelty of the GOP’s plan to cut food stamps, a Facebook friend dismissed my opinion as propaganda and smugly commented, “I’m so glad I’m an independent and don’t get caught up with all this left wing right wing bullshit.” Like many voters who are registered as independents, he obviously feels superior to those of us who have chosen to take sides in our nation’s political discourse.
But, as holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
For me, the cruel plans of our current administration have brought us to one such moment.
Moreover, I would point out that those who claim superiority by refusing to takes sides are cloaking themselves with a false sense of political purity. Though refusing to participate in our two-party system is certainly one’s right, those who refuse to register as a member of a political party are seldom truly independent and very few are moderate. Most consistently lean toward one party’s candidates, have their own political agendas or simply refuse to participate in our electoral process. For example, in Arizona, a large percentage of so-called independents are libertarians who dislike the federal government. And some are part of the Sovereign Citizen movement which refuses to acknowledge any government.
I can attest to that from my own experience.
For most of my life, I was an independent who was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I had chosen not to take sides because neither party fully represented my views. Moreover, I disdained the business of party politics…the precinct meetings, the caucuses, the state meetings, the platform discussions, the primary battles, the get-out-the-vote efforts. Finally, in 2006, I changed my registration when I realized that I could never again vote for a candidate that represented a political party that led us into a war on false pretenses. A party committed to robbing from the poor to give to the rich. A party that discriminates against minorities, obstructs opposition voters and despises the very government it wants to lead. A party I now consider morally and ethically bankrupt – the GOP.
It was only after I registered as a Democrat that I realized that, far from staking out a position of purity and superiority, being an independent is really a cop-out. As an independent, I was not fully participating in our democracy. By merely voting in the general elections, often griping about the poor quality of candidates put forward by the two parties, and by occasionally voicing my opinion in the media, I was in essence, letting others control our political process, and by default, our government.
The flaw of being independent should have been made abundantly clear during the 2016 election cycle. Sen. Bernie Sanders may have enjoyed the most widespread support of all the presidential candidates. He was supported by many Democrats (myself included) and a great many independents. Yet he overwhelming lost the Democratic primaries. Why? He was a Democrat only for the sake of his presidential run. Though he has always caucused with Democrats in the Senate, he is an independent. That meant that he had not established a great deal of support within the party he hoped to represent. On the other hand, Clinton was a long-time Democrat who had cultivated close relationships with leaders at every level of the party. More important, the independents who supported Sanders could not vote for him in many of the state primaries without first registering as a Democrat. Then, when Sanders lost, many of the independents refused to vote or voted for minority party candidates.
As a result, we have a person in the Oval Office who is the very opposite of Sanders. One who is dismantling almost everything Sen. Sanders has supported during his entire tenure in office!
Now, you may want to fault the system for that. But you should also look in the mirror. The system is the system. And it’s all but impossible to change the system from the outside. You have to be part of it. You have to get your hands dirty to change it. You have to build coalitions. You have to rally others to your cause. You have to make phone calls. You have to connect on social media. You have to walk the neighborhoods and knock on doors.
If you think that’s asking too much, consider the students of Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. By reaching out, even as they are hurting; by speaking out through their tears; by refusing to take no for an answer; by organizing, they have accomplished in a few days what many of us adults have failed to do in a lifetime. If they are willing to stay the course as they promise, they can not only reduce gun violence. They can change the world.