POVERTY, BY AMERICA – What the critics say

The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages? 

In this landmark book, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Those of us who are financially secure exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. We prioritize the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, designing a welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Some lives are made small so that others may grow.

Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.

Penguin Random House

On Tuesday, July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond



“Desmond’s new book is short, smart, and thrilling. The thrill comes from the sheer boldness of Desmond’s argument and his carefully modulated but very real tone of outrage that underlies his words.”

The Rolling Stone

Urgent and accessible . . . It’s refreshing to read a work of social criticism that eschews the easy and often smug allure of abstraction, in favor of plainspoken practicality. Its moral force is a gut punch.

The New Yorker

“Provocative and compelling . . . [Desmond] packs in a sweeping array of examples and numbers to support his thesis and . . . the accumulation has the effect of shifting one’s brain ever so slightly to change the entire frame of reference.”


A fierce polemic on an enduring problem . . . [Desmond] writes movingly about the psychological scars of poverty . . . and his prose can be crisp, elegant, and elegiac.

The Economist

July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion with author Matthew Desmond


Summer Selection – Poverty, By America

Politics for the People welcomes back

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Matthew Desmond

for a Virtual Discussion of


“The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted returns with another paradigm-shifting inquiry into America’s Dark heart.”


Grab your copy today of this New York Times Bestseller and join P4P members across the country as we read, write and explore the issue of poverty in America, the causes, and why we haven’t been able to solve this crisis in the richest country in the world.

On Tuesday, July 25th at 3pm ET

Join our host, Cathy Stewart, for a Virtual Discussion on zoom with author Matthew Desmond



P4P Discussion with the Authors of The Independent Voter

On Wednesday, December 7th, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart for a virtual discussion with the Authors of

The Independent Voter.

You can watch the full discussion below.

Below are upcoming events of interest:

We are now taking applications for Independent Voting’s Spokesperson Training, which will be Monday January 30 at 6:30pm ET.  This is Independent Voting’s flagship program, designed to give independents the tools to talk about why you’re an independent and to go up against the media’s portrayal of us as hidden partisans. The training is part educational, part performance training.  There is a Q&A section with Jackie Salit and you’ll have the opportunity to work with two top notch performance trainers.  The program has received rave reviews from people who have participated.  Spaces are limited so if you’re interested, you can submit your application at tinyurl.com/indytraining or send an email to Gwen Mandell by replying to the invitation you received for today’s event.

Our colleagues at Open Primaries are hosting a virtual discussion on Wednesday, December 14thh at 2 pm ET.  An Alternative Look at the Midterm Elections: a Discussion with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Civil Rights Advocate Danny Ortega. Please register if you would like to join the discussion.

The People is working on a project exploring Americans’ views on the electoral college, making use of an innovative platform, Deliberations.US. There are five sessions this month where you can explore the Electoral College with other folks from across the country. Sign up for the discussions here.

Reader’s Forum – Frank Fear on The Independent Voter

The Independent Mindset, Beyond Politics?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Independent Voter, and I congratulate the co-authors for writing a well-documented, highly readable, and timely volume. I especially appreciate the scholarly attention given to the manuscript. Plenty of literature is reviewed, and that will only help readers deepen their understanding of what may be framed as “the politics of independents.”

I was especially interested in reading Chapter 5, Can Independents Be Key to Bridging the Political Divide? as well as the short section in Chapter 9, The Independent Mindset. Reading both sections gave me pause for thought and reminded me of two experiences—one professional and the other personal. 

I am a retired academic who, years ago, was given the assignment to lead a group of colleagues to design a new and different undergraduate program. We did what you would expect academics to do: we read just about everything we could about undergraduate education and what others were doing to (use a worn word) “innovate” the student space. The review elevated our understanding, but (as we soon discovered) only within the limits of the subject matter we were studying, that is, what others in higher education were investigating, doing, and writing about. 

Frustrated by the feeling of being limited, we reached out to colleagues for advice. One peer encouraged us to expand our frame of reference beyond the literature on higher education—even education writ large—and to explore ideas in other fields that we could apply in our quest. To make a long story short, we did just that and (in the end) found an unfamiliar field to be the most helpful, which was quantum physics. 

That decision pushed us beyond our individual and collective comfort zones. But we plugged away at it, and the new program, which was truly innovative, launched with ideas drawn from a field with which we were heretofore unfamiliar. That was over a quarter-century ago, and while those of us involved back then are no longer associated with a program, today, the endeavor is larger and more vibrant than ever.

Now, for the personal story. I am drawn to being an Independent for political reasons, and I suspect one reason is not atypical. I tried affiliating with the parties, first with the Republicans, as a Moderate Republican, influenced as I was by politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. After the Republican Party moved more to the political right, I tried being a Democrat for a while, but (again) felt out-of-step with a party that hugged the center as I personally migrated more and more to the left. In each case, I experienced considerable agita from following the party line.

That is the political chapter of my road to being independent. The longer chapter has nothing to do with politics, but it influences my political preferences and choice-making.

I am independent—in spirit and practice—having been disappointed (and burned) multiple times by institutions of all sorts and across all sectors. Being independent means making choices that best meet my preferences and aspirations. While liberating, that choice is not without weighty consequences. I have learned to live with my independent spirit, although doing that has been quite challenging at times.  

Although it may seem that my personal experience over time sealed the deal in my being an Independent politically, I know that is not the primary storyline here. I realize today that I have always had an independent spirit. With pressures and expectations in play, I tried to be what others were, which (for want of a better word) I’ll call “affiliated.” But that never really worked for me, even though part of me wishes that it had because life would have been much easier that way.  

How many can others relate to my story? If there are more than a few, then that conclusion may open the need to explore works of literature that go beyond the traditional boundaries of political preferences and choice-making.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.


Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversation with

Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter




Reader’s Forum – Tiani Coleman on The Independent Voter

The Independent Voter — the Hope for Developing Democracy and a Twenty-First Century Economy

     Do partisan voters, politicians or the media understand what it means to be an independent voter?  No, but that’s starting to change.  Independent voters are often portrayed as people who don’t want to get involved in politics, or as partisans who want to maintain their privacy as to their political opinions, or as people who are “centrist” or “wishy-washy.”  But the recently published book, The Independent Voter, by Thom Reilly, Jacqueline S. Salit and Omar H. Ali, actually opens the curtains as to who we really are . . . people who consciously reject the “us versus them” mentality, reject being plotted one-dimensionally onto the traditional ideological spectrum, and reject the two-party system that we’re boxed into.  We are people who understand that there are better ways of “developing democracy,” and we’re hoping that society can envision with us a new paradigm, and that together we can have the courage to bring it to fruition. 

     The book shows how the political Parties have been able to maintain power and how independent voters, voters not affiliated with a Party, have been misunderstood, ignored, and even suppressed, and how the deck is stacked against independent candidates . . . despite the fact that independent voters represent a greater share of the electorate than either Republicans or Democrats.  Chapter 6, titled, Free the Voters, opens with a 1992 quote by Theodore Lowi:

There is a dirty little secret that sophisticates have been hiding from the masses for three or four decades.  The secret is that the two-party system is dying . . . the two-party system has been kept alive with artificial respiration through state laws biased against third parties and through artificial insemination by federal subsidies and other protections sold to the public as ‘campaign reform.’ The two-party system would collapse in a moment if all the tubes and IVs were pulled out.

     Exploring this idea alone would be a big eye opener for a lot of people who don’t realize the many ways in which the currently arranged structure continues to perpetuate a flawed system that breeds corruption.  There are so many ways in which the Parties have inserted themselves “between the people and their government.”  While we’ve been seeing progress lately, it’s not a quick, steady march to full recognition and equal rights for independent voters.  Every time we start to move the needle, the power dynamics have a way of slowing it down.  The book alludes to how partisan polarization keeps people from opening their eyes at the present time: 

While the Democratic Party reform agenda is built around Protecting the Vote by battling various forms of suppression (real or imagined), and the Republican mantra is to Stop the Steal by combatting fraud (imagined or real), the need to Free the Vote and the Voter from the heavy restraints and manipulations at the hands of institutionalized party politics remains largely ignored.

     So many people are so preoccupied with “the other side” that they fail to see that reforming the system itself is the real answer, that it could create new and healthier dynamics that would go a lot further to solving current issues than our current yo-yo of the back-and-forth full-scale attack.  The keepers of both major parties seem to feel threatened by the rise of independent voters because the only world they know is seen and understood through a partisan lens, and their sole focus is about which party will win control in the next election, and independent voters can’t be predicted or controlled. 

     The book provides an example of the political prism of independent voters: 

Whereas Democratic Party activists tend to see the corporate sector as the pinnacle of corruption, many independents believe that while Wall Street is guilty of many sins, the political system itself produces the most pernicious and actionable corruption.  On the other side of the aisle, Republicans often preach that Big Government represents the fundamental evil in US society.  Independents have a strong libertarian streak.  But they also see a particular and necessary role for government in redressing the overreach of capitalism.

     We can’t create something better if we’re boxed into a corner that we can’t get out of.  The book quotes Pat Choate (Ross Perot’s vice presidential running mate) in Saving Capitalism (2009): 

We are at an in-between time – a tumultuous moment when free market absolutism is dying, but a widely acceptable form of sustainable twenty-first-century capitalism has not yet been born.

     Choate’s quote seems even more true today than it was then, and we urgently need to implement the kinds of reforms that will “free the voter” and allow us to develop a twenty-first century economy.  This book — its authors, collaborators, and the work they’ve done and are doing — represents the Hope that it can be done.  And it’s a joy to see more and more people understanding and joining the movement.        

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.


Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversation with

Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter




Reader’s Forum – David Belmont & Julie Leak on The Independent Voter

The Independent Voter is simply the best book on American politics I’ve ever read. Seamlessly combining the perspectives and locations of its authors, the book tells the story of the American political system from the vantage of point of the future, of what is (hopefully) becoming. Or to put it another way, it is written from a complete historical perspective. Simultaneously looking back and forward while being rooted in the current situation. It troubles the unidirectionality of time. Kurt Gödel would be proud!

And it’s a great read. Reilly, Salit and Ali write clear and engaging stories and analyses that give us insights into what makes the American political culture tick – a story buried by the partisanship of traditional or social media – and what independents are getting organized to transform. The book explores this from a variety of angles and vantage points. A must read.

David Belmont is a multi-media artist, community organizer and long-time political reform activist. He was Ballot Access Coordinator for Dr. Lenora Fulani’s 1988 presidential campaign and is currently a researcher for Independent Voting.

Who is the Independent Voter?

Can only speak for myself — a black woman (senior citizen) who is registered Unaffiliated in North Carolina but who was a Democrat until 2016. There I am in the James Baldwin’ quote: …profound assumptions on the part of the people…

Along with many others I had accepted the idea that black folk were Democrats and lived by that assumption. I did not wake up one morning with the idea of voting Green. It happened over a period of time as I beame politically educated about politics in this country. The final straw was the Democrats ignoring the will of the people and deciding who would be the candidate in 2016. This year those Democrats went to extreme lengths to keep Matthew Hoh off the ballot in North Carolina. 

Having supported Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and this year Matt Hoh, it was a refreshing change to work as a volunteer and then to have a candidate on the ballot that I could vote For and Not Against! We need candidates who are committed to the people and not to corporate donors.  

I believe this duopoly must be upended but I have stopped short of actually joining a third party.  I would like to see parties abolished as I see little hope if money is not removed from our political system. It seems more reasonable to concentrate on local races and in those states with ballot initiatives where change is actually possible. I would like to know the authors opinion in this regard.

Juliette Leak lives in North Carolina and describes herself  as “an Independent finding her voice”.  

Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversation with

Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter

Tomorrow, December 7th at 3 pm ET.


The Independent Voter – Afterword by Dr. Jessie Fields

Difference Without Separability1

Denise Ferreira da Silva

Reilly, Salit, and Ali have produced a thoroughly well-documented harbinger of a transformative movement of voters outside of the moribund but still dominant US two-party system. Their analysis reflects the multidimensional diversity of those American voters who choose to affiliate other than with the two major political parties. Independents whose emergence defies ideological categorization are outside the political establishment but at the core of creating cutting-edge unorthodox processes for ordinary people to drive a broad expansion and revitalization of American democracy.

From L to R: Andrew Yang, Dr. Jessie Fields, Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit, and Omar H. Ali

Independents have been catalysts for change throughout American history, and two major parties have consolidated their control of politics and elections such that today partisanship is constitutive of government. About 40-50 percent of the electorate, 70 million people, are independent voters. Independents are shut out by party control. The inclusion of independent voters requires more democracy, it requires opening the primaries, it requires a redistricting process not based on a balance between the two major parties but based on a nonpartisan process led by ordinary citizens. Independents are calling for nothing less than a total rebirth and renewal of American democracy.

At the nation’s founding African Americans were constitutionally excluded from citizenship in the country which was largely build on their enslaved bodies. But there were those enslaved and free, of color and white, who spoke out and petitioned to combine opposition to slavery with the cause of American Independence 2. It took a Civil War to end slavery and then a Civil Rights Movement to begin to dismantle structural racism and fully integrate African Americans within the American nation – a purpose and promise still unfulfilled. A fundamental question remains as to whether independents can lead reform of our democracy for the full participation of all. Independent movements and leaders, as the authors detail, are trying to answer that question in the affirmative.

The methodology of independents Bridging the Political Divide is explored. The two parties divide the American people but quickly join together in direct opposition to any threat to their mutual vested interest in controlling the political mainstream. The phone conversations by Independent Voting volunteer callers, who consider themselves progressives, to independents who had voted from Donald Trump in the 2020 election were examples of the kind of bridge building to cross ideological divides. One of the callers pointed out that “Listening is learning. I am not aware of a more transformative tool for escaping the painful abyss of our current political environment. Without it, we have nowhere to go.” Indeed, such qualitative listening and dialogue creates the possibility of moving beyond ideology and coming together to build an inclusive American community.

In the United States, the sacred fact of the voter as a nonviolent tool has meaning beyond preference for a particular candidate or party, as Taylor Branch writes in At Canaan’s Edge America in the King Years 1965-68, “the most basic element of free government – the vote… Every ballot is a piece of nonviolence, signifying hard-won consent to raise politics above firepower and bloody conquest.” The African-American community’s long fight for full voting rights continues in the face of voter suppression today, independent voters join in demanding full and equal voting rights in all rounds of elections including the primaries. No person should be required to join a political party to exercise the right to vote.

The crisis in American democracy of governmental dysfunction, political polarization, voter suppression, closed primaries, restricted ballot access, closed debates, and gerrymandered districts extend into matters of life and death of the American people. We have experienced the ongoing crisis from the pandemic, which is occurring in the midst of a crisis in access to decent housing, quality education, employment, and the so-called diseases of despair – alcoholism, depression, and drug use. Millions have died due to the lack of quality health for all. A massive infusion of nonpartisanship into all aspects of government to prioritize the health and well-being of the American people over partisan self-interest is needed. Independents are an important force to bring about such better possibilities for our country meant for all.

American Dream

All to make impossibly possible

Political emancipation abstract able to fly

Standing on the cold concrete city streets

Near high rise projects and elite stores

And muddy back roads and farms of small towns

Petitioning with people from all over and back then

At Lexington and Concord at Philadelphia at Gettysburg

At Selma still. Are they free yet? Can we Be?

All the declarations and intentions gone awry

Like the plants unable to breathe die

Like the last best hope she could only whisper dissent

Like the wind take her up listen ensemble sing.

Day begins again let us all begin again with none left behind

Where all the dead except everywhere.

Can we end violence? Dr. King believed and was killed

What are we to do now? War everywhere and within.

Fragments fear, hard as the broken pieces breaking broke promises

Somehow we can write the country together anew

Even after all we have been through together it all for all.

-Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, and a Board member at Independent Voting and Open Primaries.


1 Ferreira da Silva, D., On Difference Without Separability, Fundaca Bienal de Sao Paulo, 2016, pp. 57-65.

2 Ali, O., In the Balance of Power Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements in the United States, Ohio University Press, 2020, pp. 14-17; Ortiz, P., An African American Latinx History of the United States, Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 14-18.


Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversation


Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter

December 7th at 3 pm ET.


Reader’s Forum – Steve Richardson on The Independent Voter

The Independent Voter is a concise, creative, and comprehensive story of how Independent voters, despite having grown in number to exceed those of either major political party, remain in the shadows.  As my friend and fellow Virginian Damien Hughes noted in his post a couple of days ago, we have enormous potential energy just waiting to become kinetic – a force that transforms democracy in America.  I’ve been politically independent for three decades now after Ross Perot woke me up in his campaign for President.  As they say, it’s darkest before the dawn, and I’m not the only one who can see that despite (or maybe because of) some very discouraging events in the last several years, we are witnessing an awakening of sorts by millions of voters to the fact that they have the power to improve our elections and their foundation – the way we engage in political dialogue.  This book is a tremendous and timely contribution to that effort because on the one hand, it is written for people interested enough in the phenomenon portrayed by the media to hear our side of the story, and on the other hand, it features extensive documentation of research to satisfy anyone skeptical yet open-minded enough to consider that it may be time to shine a light on our concerns and proposed solutions.

Members of P4P will not need convincing, and many of us have seen some or even most of the ideas in this book before.  However, it offers a great reference for our ongoing efforts to inform and persuade other voters who have not yet declared their independence or seek solutions to problems they experience in their own states.  I bookmarked a number of good quotes, but my favorite is the list in the Conclusion of Chapter 10.  In response to the question, “How can we free American voters from the corrosive control of political parties?” the authors propose “separation between the institutions of government and the functions of political parties” by the following rules:

  1. Any and all offices that govern, adjudicate, or administer any aspects of the electoral process must be elected without party affiliation.
  2. Appointees must be independent of party designation.
  3. Any and all elections for public office should include all voters, regardless of their stated affiliations.
  4. No American shall be required to join a political party or organization as a condition of voting.
  5. No taxpayer dollars should be used for party business, including primaries, if the parties decide to hold them as a means of endorsing a candidate.
  6. No constraints on voter or candidate mobility should be permitted.
  7. Sore-loser laws, which are in effect in 47 states, and currently bar candidates from running as an independent if they lose a primary, should be abolished.
  8. Anti-fusion laws in place in 42 states that prevent polticial coalitions from forming, should be abolished.
  9. Any and all laws and regulations enacted by the parties to protect their incumbency, control, or advantage should be declared unconstitutional.
  10. Ballot access laws should be fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory against independents.
  11. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring federal government approval of changes to election law or practice) should be restored.
  12. Voter registration should be automatic and nonpartisan.

This is a very ambitious manifesto that I am proud to endorse.  Our movement has been about four decades in the making, but as the book explains, the principles and events that justify these changes go back much, much further in our history.  I hope this publication marks the beginning of our emergence from the shadow into the sunlight.

Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association. Steve was a member of the Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet.

Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversation with

Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter

December 7th at 3 pm ET.


Reader’s Forum – Al Bell on The Independent Voter

The Independent Voter: Chapter 2-Independents in American History
By Al Bell, Arizona Independent Voter’s Network

It is clear that Independent Voters have been making a difference in election outcomes for some time at national and states levels. Yet, mainstream political commentators don’t understand who these pivotal voters really are. That is not surprising; a lack of information and a surplus of disinformation, combined with a large dose of elitist arrogance, conceal this important sector of Americana from accurate appraisal.

Fortunately, that is changing. The Independent Voter sheds a fresh light of clarity on these citizens. I have been asked to comment on Chapter 2: Independents in American History.

If you are going to remember but once sentence from Chapter 2, make it this one:

Insofar as the United States of America has been an invention, independents have been its revolutionary driving force, reimagining it over and again through their political action.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

We learn early on that President Washington was not a fan of parties. He was a master of understatement. Throughout reconstruction, independent movements, including rarely visited collaboration between Black and White poor American farmers, emerged, faded, and reemerged again. This early history reflects the first of two important threads throughout the book: an emphasis on the seldom-told story of Black Independents who sought electoral parity and scored significant achievements.

Later, with a different cast of characters, a similar grasp of the interdependence underpinning our society took hold. “Independent” remains a supreme irony of terms, given that the label we have accepted for ourselves is anchored in reference to those wily parties. Beyond ironic, actually.

Chapter 2 reveals a rocky path toward the 21st Century that did not anticipate the recent exhilarating leap in visibility of Americans who choose to continue that troublesome habit of thinking for themselves. They own a proud, though painful, heritage. Attention, analysis, and invention are now on steroids regarding these Americans. I think the major reason, as revealed in the ahistorical 2022 elections, is the tragically incompetent governance delivered by the duopoly. They behave like two scorpions in a bottle. And the people finally noticed. Mostly, but not only, Independents.

The book’s second pathway, set up by Chapter 2, tracks a major component of the independent movement centered on independentvoting.org and its earlier incarnations.

There are many other important players in the drama, but none with such an unbroken record in modern times.

Which leads to my final observation. Our Great American Experiment is a worthwhile experiment. This book and the chapter reviewed here offer dynamic evidence that thoughtful, dedicated patriots, acting without high-powered allies, have made a powerful difference. As I said before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is a co-founder, with Richard Sinclair, of the recently initiated Arizona Independent Voter’s Network, designed to link the Independent Voting community for greater effectiveness. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

Register below and join the virtual conversation with the Authors of The Independent Voter on ZOOM

December 7th, at 3pm ET

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