Difference Without Separability1Denise 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.
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.
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.
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.