Reader’s Forum – Caroline Donnola on The Independent Voter

In 1960, three political scientists and a social psychologist from the University of Michigan penned a 573-page treatise called The American Voter, which continues to impact the political thinking of our day.1 One of the book’s claims was that most voters cast their votes based on their party identification, and that independents (at that time, only 23 percent of the voting population) are the least attentive to the political process. Partisans have long since referred back to this seminal work, and political scientists and pollsters have insisted ever since that independents aren’t really independent—they’re “leaners.”

Fast forward to 2022, where a new, comprehensive study of contemporary American politics has been published, The Independent Voter. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says in his review on the back cover, “The Independent Voter does a fantastic job chronicling the rise, and the power, of the fastest-growing segment of the electorate in the United States.” And a fascinating and instructive read it is. But just as interesting is who the authors are, and why they came together to write this book.

Thom Reilly is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University, with a distinguished background in public service, including most recently as Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education; Jacqueline Salit is President of Independent Voting, and one of the country’s foremost leaders of the independent voter movement who played a vital role in the presidential campaigns of Lenora Fulani and Ross Perot, and the mayoral campaigns of Michael Bloomberg; and Omar Ali, Dean of Lloyd International Honors College and Professor of African American political history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, whose independent political journey included working as a field organizer on Fulani’s 1992 independent presidential campaign.

Most recently, Reilly and Salit became co-directors of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at ASU, a new opportunity for exploring who the independent voter really is.

Caroline Donnola (l) with Cathy Stewart, Jackie Salit, Omar Ali, and in second row Leah Clifford, Dr. Jessie Fields and Thom Reilly.

These three authors might seem an unlikely partnership, but, it turns out, unlikely partnerships have been key to the history of our movement.
Full disclosure here. I worked behind the scenes on The Independent Voter between August, 2021 and May, 2022. My role included overseeing the benchmarks the authors had to meet to hit all the deadlines; conducting extensive research; creating thousands of endnotes; and copy editing. I got to live and breathe the book in its many iterations. I was immersed in FEC records, surveys and polls, and prior studies. Working closely with my intrepid colleague, David Belmont, we parsed statistics and extrapolated findings from data. I fretted over citations, commas, and conflicting styles from chapter to chapter. Some of the material was new to me and eye-opening; much of it was familiar due to my many years as a field organizer working in the trenches.

Since the book came out, I’ve had the chance to read it from a fresh perspective. One thing that strikes me most is how comprehensive a work it is. The Independent Voter covers the early history of the movement, which historian Omar Ali traces back to the 1840’s; documents study after study of independent voters; highlights the many misrepresentations and misconceptions that have been force-fed to us for generations; and details the nitty-gritty on the many lawsuits, legal challenges, and existing barriers to independent political activity. The book is studious and fact-based (I was one of the fact-checkers!). It also has heart and soul, with a timely foreword by Democrat-turned-independent Andrew Yang, who recently helped instigate the formation of the Forward Party, as well as a stirring afterward and poem by African American doctor and longtime independent activist Jessie Fields.

There are too many highlights from the book to list here, but one of my favorites is the chapter “Independents Speak: ‘We’re not a Party. We’re a Mindset,’” which contains statements by and photos of 23 diverse independents and their allies from around the country. In this chapter you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch the realness (we’re not leaners!) as well as the seriousness of a small but significant sample of diverse individuals who have chosen this path. As the book’s authors put it:

… one hears repeatedly their call for being treated with respect and recognized as independents—neither closet Democrats nor Republicans—and deeply concerned about moving the country forward in inclusive and democratic ways. 2

To paraphrase the famous editorial written in 1897, “Yes, Virginia, there are independent voters!”3

I’m grateful to have been part of producing this important book, and the long journey—with all its twists and turns down the independent road—and I’m ready and eager to participate in the creation of our next chapter.

Caroline Donnola, formerly the Executive Assistant to Jackie Salit, recently retired and is currently a freelance writer and editor.

1 Campbell, A., Converse, P.E., Miller, W.E., and Stokes, D.E. (1960) The American Voter (unabridged edition). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

2 Reilly, Thom, Salit, Jacqueline S., Ali, Omar H. (2023) The Independent Voter. New York: Routledge. Page 91.

3 Church, Francis Pharcellus, “Is There a Santa Claus?,” The Sun, September 21, 1897.

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.


Readers Forum – Damien Hughes on the Independent Voter

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.

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 – Jeanette Schultz on The Independent Voter

Me and My Shadow Ballot

By Jeanette Schultz

Immediately after the mid-term general elections ended, the discussions on the news programs were about how both Republicans and Democrats will work to win more seats in two years in the meantime; not what the election winners will do for us meanwhile! For the parties it’s always in two or four years, not now or even soon. Our nation cannot keep on waiting for undelivered results from these factious parties.

Inspired by Chapter 3 in The Independent Voter, I wanted to see how I performed on my own Ohio ballot in November. Am I a shadow partisan or truly an Independent? What follows is my ballot’s diagnosis.

There were 24 possible votes to cast on my ballot: 12 at the National/State level; 9 County/Local; 2 State issues; and 1 Tax levy. My results by party this year were skewed by my voting against something again—this year it was against Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which was supposed to eliminate gerrymandering only to fail miserably when the majority Republican members voted down all attempts for fair maps. Even being held in contempt by the Ohio Supreme Court did not move them to action. A red majority isn’t good enough for Ohio Republicans—it has to be a supermajority.

For the 12 National/State votes: 6 D’s; 5 R’s (1 was unopposed); 1 unaffiliated. There’d have been one more Democrat chosen, but the Democrat did not submit answers to journalists or The League of Women Voters, nor did their website give me enough information to confidently vote for that newcomer. Note to Candidates: Votes do not go by attractive websites alone.

For the 9 County/Local votes: 1 D; 4 R’s (3 were unopposed); and 4 unaffiliated Judges.

Overall, I voted for 7 Democrats and 5 Republicans when both were in the same race. Even when I voted against certain Republicans, it was still a pretty even split. Will someone declare this a shadow ballot? Maybe if I cast a bright light on it….

I also voted against 8 incumbents which goes by my “Rule for Incumbents”: If in doubt, throw them out! If you want to have some fun on a partisan Zoom, put that in the chat box… Don’t worry, I have more chat provocations to deploy when the partisans unload. I even convinced a new voter to bypass parties entirely by sending him the link privately after he asked if he had to register for a party in Ohio.

If you check out what I said on page 92 of the book, notice that again I was “voting against something” this year. It’d be so much sweeter to vote for something, but it was my chance to retaliate against Ohio gerrymanderers.

One October day I told another senior guy that I delivered voters guides for the Dayton League of Women Voters. He asked me how I felt about getting people who disagree with me to vote, which would be counter to my vote. I replied that I’m fully aware that not everyone thinks like me or votes like me, but that’s how democracy works, and I’m good with that. The guides provide nonpartisan voter education, and that’s what we all need.

Remember: Whether you vote for or against something, please vote, especially as an Independent.

As a retired IT professional in Dayton, Ohio, Jeanette Schultz now uses her laptop to Zoom in on her interests, such as getting more people to vote and having their votes matter. She can also be found hiking in the woods most often independently—of course!

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 – Darius Holt & Eric Bronner

Eric Bronner and Darius Holt are among the independent voters featured in Chapter 7 — “Independents Speak: We’re Not a Party. We’re a Mindset.” They share some of their thoughts about the book and we have reprinted their comments from The Independent Voter.


Do you want to better understand the fastest growing voting block in almost every state? Then pick-up a copy, today, of The Independent Voter. This outstanding book will give you hope that a legitimate, people-powered movement is gaining real momentum across the country. 

As a Navy veteran—and fiercely independent voter who has never joined or registered with any political party—I’m still taking my orders from our last independent President, General George Washington.  President Washington famously warned us against the “baneful effects of the spirit of party.”  Unfortunately, we witness the baneful effects of our two-party system—and the duopoly they control—on an almost daily basis. Poisonous partisan rhetoric, toxic tribalism and an entire politics industry that takes complex issues and attempts to put everyone and everything into two basic, binary camps. Too many big problems are going unsolved because of our rigged, private, two-party system.  Party insiders will not fix our broken political system, but here’s the good news: we the people are not powerless.  We can take back our Republic, today. Real and lasting change is possible through open, nonpartisan primary elections and voting innovations that will give independent voters more power, and independent candidates a level playing field on which to compete. Read the book, and join our people-powered movement today!

In Chapter 7 — Independents Speak, Eric shares:

“I’m a navy veteran, and supposedly about 49 percent of veterans identify as independent or unaffiliated, and I think there’s a reason for that. When we commit to serving our country, we all swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We don’t swear an oath to political party or a political leader. Our duty and our obligation is to the Constitution, and that is what we want to continue serving. And, unfortunately, in our current system, as an independent voter, our options are all too often far too limited.”

Eric Bronner is the Founder and COO of Veterans for Political Innovation.


The Independent Voter gives an excellent overview of the rise of independent voters in the 21st century. It analyzes the history behind these voters and how their independent mindset could reshape American politics. While there are still some people who have no full understanding of what makes these voters independent; this book will give them a better view of who these American citizens truly are. I say this book is worth a read!

In Chapter 7 — Independents Speak, Darius comments:

“I think that Americans need to know that independents believe in bold yet practical solutions. We independents want to be more included in the election systems and want to be getting more involved in the political process in a more fair and accessible way.”

Darius Holt (Maryland) is a Co-founder and executive member of the independent Voters of Maryland, advocating for open primaries in the state. Darius currently works as a librarian technician in Washington DC. He graduated from the College of Southern Maryland with a General Studies degree related to Political Science.

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.


ASU Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy

A celebration of the launch of the Center and the release of The Independent Voter.

On October 19th at the ASU Barrett and O’Connor Washington Center

The ASU Center for An Independent and Sustainable Democracy



Who are they? What do they want?

Can they move the country to nonpartisan Politics?

You can watch the full event below. Featuring remarks from: Dean Cynthia Lietz; Dr. Michael Crow, President of ASU; Co-directors of the Center, Thom Reilly and Jackie Salit; Dr. Jessie Fields; Omar Ali; John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst and anchor; and Andrew Yang, Co-chair Forward Party and author.

Posted here with special permission from the ASU Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy

To learn more about the Center’s work, visit their website.


  • 0:00 Opening Remarks, Dean Cynthia Lietz, ASU Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions
  • 3:40 Remarks by Dr. Michael Crow, President ASU
  • 7:37 Thom Reilly, Co-director CISD
  • 13:23 Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting, Co-director CISD
  • 22:58 Dr. Jessie Fields, MD
  • 28:30 Omar Ali, Dean of Lloyd International Honors College, UNC Greensboro
  • 37:30 John Avlon, Anchor, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • 46:16 Andrew Yang, Co-Chair Forward Party
  • 53:45 Panel discussion and Q and A moderated by Jackie Salit

Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversations with Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter

December 7th at 3 pm ET.


Reader’s Forum – Leah Clifford on The Independent Voter

Diving into Independents in American History, Chapter 2

By Leah M. Clifford

The Independent Voter delves deeply into not only the current state of politics through the eyes of the independent voter, but also tells the tale of how partisan politics have been undermining our democracy ever since the founding of our nation. This book examines the political party history of our nation, beginning in the 1880s, and creates a map of how political parties have fought for control over the past 130 years.

Understanding how we arrived at the current political climate today requires knowledge of our history. It is crucial to understand how enduring political institutions have consistently eliminated independent candidates and stifled the emergence of new parties. Millions of newly freed slaves struggled to integrate into society during and after the Reconstruction Era, which included participation in politics. The Populist movement got its start with the emergence of new parties like the Liberty Party and Greenback Labor Party. African Americans were not the only ones fighting against the political establishment. Women and poor white communities began to organize as well. Because the parties of the time were unable to meet their needs, marginalized groups from this era serve as excellent examples of how to organize and create systemic change.

This is a common theme in American political history. The Independent Voter explores this story moving to the Great Depression’s economic collapse, then shifts to the civil rights movement, bringing us to the contemporary political climate. We observe the same pattern of conflict amongst the Democrats and Republicans, who also exclude and obstruct any “outsiders” from bringing about constructive change.

The Independent Voter demonstrates the steps that Independent Voters are taking to end this entrenched duopoly. Independents are uniting and repositioning the discussion to show that we are not an outsider group. Although the media and influential Republicans and Democrats try to minimize or misrepresent us as “hidden leaners,” we can see that Independent Voters are increasingly becoming the majority, and we are fed up. This book serves as both a historical overview of Independent Voters and a reminder of the growing demand for an Independent political upheaval of the US duopoly.

Leah Clifford lives in Saratoga Springs, NY and is an Administrative Assistant at Independent Voting.

Join Cathy Stewart for a Virtual Conversations with Thom Reilly, Jackie Salit and Omar Ali

The Authors of The Independent Voter

December 7th at 3 pm ET.


The Independent Voter Reader’s Forum – Steve Hough

Steve Hough

The authors of this book have been working in the independent space for a long time, but it’s only been a decade since Jackie’s book “Independents Rising” started me on my own personal journey as an activist. I was a late bloomer, but better to show up late than not at all. In that regard, I read the highly anticipated book with a sense of frustration and hope.

I have been politically independent my entire life. For me, personally, independent means having never been a formal member of a political party. Do I care about issues and try to be informed? Sure. Do disapprove of Congress’ performance and believe the system is broken? Sure. Do I still vote? Sure- when I’m allowed too. 

Therein lies the frustration. As some reading this will certainly relate, I live in a closed primary state. I’m barred from voting in the most consequential election. When eighty-plus percent of elections are decided in a primary, why bother? 

“As American existential psychologist Rollo May warned in his book Power and Innocence (1972), power is the ability to not only cause change but also to prevent it.” 

The book shows how the two major parties collude to retain control of our political process and details the barriers erected on the state and federal levels to prevent competition from outside the duopoly. Only about half our states have an initiative and referendum process and, in Florida, our legislature is continually making it harder for citizens to take direct action when our elected officials ignore the will of the people. When we play by the rules and win, they change the rules. 

Florida now requires 60% approval for passing initiatives, restrictions have been placed on petition gatherers and, most recently, the legislature has attempted to pass laws limiting the amount a single donor can contribute to a petition drive. So, where’s the hope? 

Hope is in the numbers. The number of independents is impressive and continues to grow. However, diversity within the group, with an emphasis on our youth, is perhaps more important that the sheer size. Furthermore, after the adoption of Final Four Voting by Alaska in 2020, and Nevada approving Final Five Voting this year, I believe those currently joining our ranks are doing so at a major point in our evolution. There is real momentum and I’m seeing a coalition of reformers, who may have had separate and sometimes opposing agendas in the past, supporting and promoting these reforms. 

Independents are having a moment, and I believe the authors saw it coming.  I thank them for their timely contribution of this new book. 

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.


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.


Even the pundits agree: Independents were the determining factor in last week’s midterm elections


On December 7th, we will be talking with the authors of The Independent Voter:

Thom Reilly

Jacqueline Salit

Omar H. Ali

The book looks at who independent voters are, and how they are transforming the political landscape in the United States. The book draws on historical and contemporary data (including survey data, participant observation, interviews, and current writings and scholarship), and provides timely new analysis.

If you want to understand the power of independent voters, and the role we are playing in American politics, grab a copy of the book and join us as we read the book together and talk with the authors.

Buy the hard copy or ebook here.

Register below for the virtual discussion!

The Authors

Thom Reilly is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs and Co-director of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State University. 

Jacqueline S. Salit is President of Independent Voting and Co-director of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State University.

Omar H. Ali is Dean of Lloyd International Honors College and Professor of African-American political history at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Register below and join the virtual conversation on ZOOM

December 7th, at 3pm ET

Notable Reviews

Praise for The Independent Voter

“This book’s exploration of [independent voters] is important and honest. The major media organizations try to marginalize this group as being secretly partisan, or not holding any consistent beliefs. These organizations are trying to marginalize Independent voters because they know that we’re actually the majority, and if we band together, we can take this country back from the extreme partisans they represent.”

–Andrew Yang, from the Foreword

The Independent Voter does a fantastic job chronicling the rise, and power, of the fastest-growing segment of the electorate in the United States. It is clear that more and more Americans are tired of partisan gridlock and want their leaders to be public servants, not party servants. Republicans and Democratic leaders should take note and anyone interested in the future of American democracy should read this book.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California

“If you are interested in America’s independent voters, you must read this book. It analyzes who independent voters are and makes a strong argument about how those not registered with a political party face ballot access challenges in states across the country. This book provocatively grapples with who independent voters are and why they matter.”

–Christian Grose, University of Southern California

“The Independent Voter is an important work, both a piece of scholarship and a smoke signal, a cloud on the horizon, a shift in barometric pressure. Reilly, Salit and Ali paint a picture of an emergence, a political sensibility that simultaneously goes back to the founding of the country and looks forward to a more innovative and free-flowing manner of conducting political life in the 21st century. It’s a book about possibility–how ordinary American voters are refusing to play by the partisan rules and are driving the country towards a new culture of self-governance. Read this book if you want to be inspired!”

–John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries

Danielle Allen’s Latest Column

On June 21st, Danielle Allen joined Politics for the People for an hour long discussion of two of her recent books. You can watch our conversation here. Below is her latest column for The Washington Post.

Opinion / I ran for office full of anger and despair. I felt hope when I dropped out.

Oped by Danielle Allen, June 8th 2022

Danielle Allen visiting with volunteers at the Cambridge Community Center. (Zachary Goldhammer)

A year and a half ago, I put aside my column with The Post to explore running for governor in Massachusetts. Now, I’m back. Most of the people I know are not in politics, and many of them are asking: What happened? And what’s it like?

First, here’s what happened. The exploratory listening tour went well. It confirmed my sense that this is a time for change — so after six months, in June 2021, I jumped in in full. Then I spent the next nine months fundraising, stumping around the state and building out a policy agenda. I also worked hard to win support from those likely to be delegates at the state’s Democratic convention. Those party delegates are the magic key to placing your name on the primary ballot.

But in February, in the middle of caucus season, I dropped out. We weren’t securing the delegates we needed, and knowing that, I couldn’t raise money in good faith. And if you can’t keep raising money (or aren’t independently wealthy), you’re at the end of the road. It’s just like with sharks. Keep moving or die.

So that was that.

And what it was like? The short answer: It was a very expensive but very effective form of therapy.

I started the process full of anger and despair about the direction of my state and country. When I set out in December 2020, children weren’t back in school yet in Massachusetts, and the state government wasn’t providing clear, timely and stable guidance. We were on the cusp of what turned out to be a pretty unsatisfactory vaccine rollout. Nationally, state and federal governments were at odds — first because of covid-19 and then because of a defeated president seeking to overturn an election.

I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I met people in the trades seething that building inspectors were examining construction sites via Zoom. How could that possibly ensure safety? I spoke to people who took responsibility for feeding the families of workers in the collapsing hospitality industry. The pain of running out of food before the line had barely even begun rang in their voices. One woman broke down telling me how the program she runs for single mothers seeking financial literacy had to be transformed into a site simply aimed at getting people food and diapers.

People were stretched to extremes and felt so alone in the face of overwhelming need. Our state and federal governments let us down in many specific and tangible ways.

And yet. And yet. We did not let one another down. This was the therapeutic part.

When Massachusetts’ vaccine rollout failed to provide appropriate access to the elderly and those lacking transportation, networks of civic leaders pulled together and got the job done. The Black Boston Covid-19 Coalition used get-out-the-vote techniques to help get more of the city’s residents vaccinated. In the western part of the state, the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative organized a network of small health-care providers to serve as vaccine sites and got the state to knuckle under and deliver vaccine supplies, allowing rural-area residents to stay put for their shots.

After the murder of George Floyd, amid clear calls from communities of color to change the pattern of policing, forward progress was again achieved at the local level. The highly effective mayor of Lynn, north of Boston, helped forge a collaboration between a social justice civic organization and police that led to a pilot program, funded by the city, to build out unarmed response capacity for mental health crises. In Williamstown, in the northwestern corner of the state, community activism achieved an independent investigation into problematic policing practices, resulting in the resignation of the police chief and an effort to make a fresh start.

This is how it was throughout Massachusetts, and it was the antidote to my despair. Good work abounded. Everywhere I found people — with different perspectives — forging alliances to address some of our toughest challenges. Yes, our state government could and should do more to support and help scale it all up. Yes, our federal government is unable to answer even a shock as dire as a massacre at an elementary school. But it is also a fact that problem-solving is underway in every corner of my state. That’s bound to be true of every state.

Having had the chance to see that good work up close left me with a profound understanding of our resilience as a people and our capacity to meet even the exceptionally daunting challenges of our moment. That brought me hope. For this, I will be forever grateful.

I recommend this therapy to everyone losing hope in our democracy. All you have to do is pick an office and run for it. And this too, I believe, is how we’ll at last crack our national gridlock and get the solutions we deserve.

Opinion by Danielle Allen, a Washington Post contributing columnist, is a political theorist at Harvard University.

An invitation from Al Bell

Dear Fellow Politics for the People members,

Al Bell

I expected a lot from our call with Danielle Allen on June 21st. Turns out I am a master of understatement. Her books and her grasp of America are inspiring in the extreme. I wanted to help more Americans read Dr. Allen’s work, which are available on Amazon. In addition to recommending her books to our networks (you may remember I sent copies to my grandchildren), we can also help by writing a short Amazon review for Dr. Allen’s books. Here’s mine. Thanks!

Before buying a book I always ask, why am I motivated to read it now? In this case, it’s because Our Great American Experiment is struggling under some serious threats. I’d like to help reduce them. Too many are generated here in America itself. Enter Danielle Allen, with her new book, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus. In just 104 pages, I got a real education.

You can, too, if you seek answers to one or more of the following questions.

  • What is making it so hard to have a constructive conversation about political issues now?
  • What have we lost that threatens Our Great American Experiment?
  • What did we learn from our experience with the Coronavirus pandemic?
  • How could we have approached it to avoid the worst health and economic impacts?
  • Faced with another pandemic, how could we handle it better?
  • Why are the experts we depend on failing to come up with optimum answers?
  • What election system changes would make the most positive difference?
  • If we wanted things to work better, what actions would be essential?
  • What components of a revived social contract between Americans are crucial?

If you really care about America and its future, spend some time with Danielle Allen. I even sent a copy to our grandchildren. They deserve better than a broken heritage. Many young Americans no longer believe a democracy is particularly desirable. Our Great American Experiment is losing ground and it needs all the help it can get.

Here is some help.

The first question I have to ask in considering a book to order is, “why am I motivated to get it? Like most of us, I have to pick and choose simply for lack of time. So, it has to matter now.

Why, then, should you read Danielle Allen’s new book, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus? You should if you seek thoughtful answers to one or more of the following questions. What is making it so hard to have a constructive conversation about political issues now?

  • What have we lost that threatens Our Great American Experiment?
  • What did we learn from our experience with the Coronavirus pandemic?
  • How could we have approached it to avoid the worst heath and economic impacts?
  • Faced with another pandemic, how could we handle it better?
  • Why are the experts we depend upon failing to come up with useful answers?
  • What election system changes would make the most positive difference?
  • If we wanted things to work better, what actions would be essential?
  • What components of a revived social contract between Americans are crucial?

All of this in 104 pages.

If you really care about America and its future, this is more than worth your time. I have sent a copy to each of our three grandchildren. They will inherit the wind we have left them. Many Americans of their age no longer believe living in a democracy is particularly desirable or necessary. Our Great American Experiment has lost ground in the last few years. It needs all the help it can get.

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