My First (Almost) Caucus
Posted by Rebecca Nunziato on March 01, 2016 at 11:45 PM
It was a beautiful sight - hundreds of people pouring in from my neighborhood. Families, young professionals, the grey hairs, couples, friends and strangers all walking into a central location. The line snaked around the block - TWICE. I laughed along with my new queue acquaintances as newcomers walked up, shocked at the amount of people they would sigh and exclaim, “wow, should have come earlier!” or “where the heck is the end of the line?!” It was amusing and magical, I have never minded a line less in my life. After all, in our modern society it is rare that neighbors congregate. Most of us commute to work, enter and leave our homes from behind a garage door and even shop for churches unrestricted by walking distance. Consequently very few of us know our neighbors or attend community gatherings where we experience what our “precinct” actually looks and feels like.
Yes, it was magical. But when I got to the doorway (after standing in line for an hour, talking with my new friends about my work with the Bridge Alliance and my research and editing for a book published today (The Reunited States of America)) I had to turn around.
It was my first almost caucus.
I explained to one of my queue acquaintances that I would be going home because I am an independent voter. He frowned and said, “well so am I… I just made sure to change my registration before January 4th so I could do this.” Right. I know, and I should have done the same… I would have been permitted to enter the middle school gym with hundreds of my neighbors and actually participate in the caucus. It would have been so great! If only I had put “party allegiance” over my personal convictions as an Independent, “unaffiliated” voter.
But is that really what I should do? Should I really have to choose between my right to vote and my right not to affiliate with one of the two parties?
As the Independent Voter Network puts it in a headline tonight: Millions of Voters Disenfranchised on Super ‘Undemocratic’ Tuesday. So here I am. At home on my couch. I am not included in the democratic process tonight because I am an Independent, and as IVN makes clear, I am far from alone. In my state alone, as the Denver Post accounts, “the plurality of Colorado registered voters - 37 percent, or 1.3 million - are unaffiliated with a political party.” WOW. The Post goes on to say, “But the caucuses are run by the political parties, not the state, and restricted to participation of their members. At the core, the caucuses are party building exercises.”
I don’t have the answer, people. I just have questions. But I am fortunate enough to work with an innovative network of smart folks who are actively bridging the partisan divide. (Thank God!)
Here is an excerpt from the aforementioned book, The Reunited States of America, written by my colleague, transpartisan thought leader and activist Mark Gerzon, that explains some of the deepest issues that “endanger” a united America and what we can do about it:
Not surprisingly, party leaders are trying to maintain party control. “Since election law is created by state legislatures,” Linda Killian reminds us, “it is written to benefit the two parties, who operate a virtually closed system in which they make all the rules. Independents have no representation on any of the bodies that regulate elections, from the Federal Election Commission to state and local boards of elections.”
When we are more confident that the first loyalty of officials managing elections will be to their state, not their party, we can also be more like to have confidence in the electoral process itself. That confidence requires that the ballot be open to qualified citizens regardless of whether they are members of the two-party club.
While no single organization represents all independent voters, scores of initiatives share the same objective: amplifying the voice of the invisible non-party-member majority in America. Open primaries mean that all voters, even those who are not registered with a party, can vote in a primary — and the top two vote-winners enter a run-off. Many advocates of these reforms are part of EndPartisanship.org, a remarkable coalition of organizations dedicated to the principle that every voter — even those not affiliated with a political party — have equal rights in the election process. Over 500 Independents and other networks representing non-affiliated voters, for example, gathered in March 2015 in New York City under the auspices of The Reunited States of America IndependentVoting.org. Others use the term “centrist” to describe themselves, and get involved in organizations like The Centrist Project, or Third Way.
Essentially, the system is silencing too many of us! In a previous post of mine I shared some facts and figures of Independent Voters and found that the percentage of independent identification has steadily risen, creating a significant shift in American politics. Today we have the largest number of independents in Gallup's polling history and therefore we have the largest number of people who are being told - make your choice, the right to vote or the right to be unaffiliated.
So independents are a fundamental part of “America the Invisible” and it’s time to start looking for a new strategy that works for all of us. As this AWESOME IVN video shows, the U.S. doesn't have the greatest history in regards to voting rights... it took time to permit people of color, women, poor etc. into the political process. Now it's time to open up our caucuses and primaries so millions of Independent voters can be heard too.
I close my couch-confined evening with this compelling invitation from Mark Gerzon:
...just working to make sure our “side” wins is not enough. We also have to make sure our victory, or our loss, serves more than our party, but ultimately serves to reunite our country.
Let it be so.