Converting Potential Energy Into Kinetic Energy
There is clearly a hunger for change in our country’s politics. Consider the state of American politics for the past quarter of a century. Our last six presidents have been George HW Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), George W Bush (R), Barack Obama (D), Donald Trump (R), and Joe Biden (D). Like the pendulum on a grandfather clock, the balance of power in the nation’s highest position keeps swinging back and forth between R and D. Why? I personally believe it’s because our country is desperately seeking some sense of equilibrium, and because all it has to choose from are extremes from the left and right, it tries to create that balance as best as it can by handing the reins over to the opposite party again and again and again. The million-dollar question is this, then. How do we, as independents, give the nation what it craves in a system that’s clearly rigged in favor of a two-party system?
First, we need to provide independent voices a unified place to come together, to be heard, to share their diverse viewpoints, and to feel a sense of belonging and hope for the future. An independent who has no allies quickly becomes a non-voter, and non-voters won’t help independents get a seat at the table in American politics.
Second, we need to begin to change the rules to create a level playing field. We need to fight for reforms such as Final Five voting. We need alternative voting systems that encourage people to vote their conscience without fear of the spoiler effect. Examples include STAR voting, approval voting, and so on. (I’ve avoided mentioning RCV only because I personally oppose it as a viable alternative, but that’s a topic for another discussion.) We need to eliminate big money from politics as much as possible (perhaps through democracy dollars?) so money doesn’t have the death grip it currently has on every aspect of our politics from campaigns to influencing how people vote. We need term limits. Part of our current problem is that our Founding Fathers intended for people to hold office as a short-term act of public service (see George Washington and his reasons for not seeking a third term) but somewhere along the way, politics became a profession. Career politicians are often ambitious, uncompromising, and willing to put their need to maintain power over the needs of the country they’re allegedly serving. There are dozens of other changes in the rules needed, but an exhaustive list would be enough to fill up a book, so I’ll stop here.
Third (and most importantly), we need a tangible plan with measurable metrics. It’s one thing for us as independents to say we’re beginning to see positive change. It’s another thing entirely for us to convert this unique opportunity into something that has a real impact on people’s everyday lives.
In science, there’s the idea of potential energy and the idea of kinetic energy. Potential energy is energy that has the potential to do work but isn’t actively releasing its stored energy or applying force to other objects. An object’s potential energy is based on its position. When potential energy is released, it’s called kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. If an apple is sitting on the floor, it has little potential energy. If I take the apple to the top of a building and hold it off the edge, it has a lot of potential energy. But either way, it has no kinetic energy until its potential energy is released.
Right now independents are like an apple that’s gone from being on the floor to being held over the edge of a building. I believe our next step as independents is to devise a plan to release our potential. Once that happens, like the breaking of a dam, a wave of change will ensue that cannot be stopped. But if we don’t act quickly enough, a new generation of independents will turn into a generation of cynical, apathetic non-voters who have been jaded into believing that change is simply not possible. And if we as independents collectively squander this wonderful opportunity we’ve been afforded, then perhaps the cynics are right. The time to act is now.
In The Independent Voter, Chapter 7 — “Independents Speak: We’re Not a Party, We’re a Mindset” Damien says:
“As independents, we are not undecided; we’re unimpressed. Unimpressed with having to settle for the lesser of two evils, the scare choice in the marketplace of ideas, unimpressed with a system that promotes us versus them, and rewards the demonization of anyone who has a different point of view. Unimpressed with leaders who spew hatred into our discourse and kneel at the altar of partisanship at the expense of those whom they pledge to serve. Unimpressed with a lack of transparency, a lack of accountability, and a lack of solutions year after year after year. We want politicians who are elected for their problem-solving abilities, not their party alliances. We want leaders who are open-minded enough to listen to all sides of an issue. We want those who can bridge the divide between points of view and find real, lasting solutions. We are independents, and we are here to stay.”
Damien Hughes is a software developer, a member of the Virginia Independent Voter Association, and a volunteer Slack community moderator for the cross-partisan, anti-corruption group RepresentUs.