Reader’s Forum – Frank Fear on Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

“Everything Seemed Fine Until It Wasn’t”

By Frank Fear

Frank Fear

Over one million Americans have died from COVID-19—16% of all deaths globally in a country with 4.5% of the world’s people. The catastrophe demands careful and cogent analysis, and Professor Danielle Allen does just that in Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus. And one of the best ways to sense-make is to filter America’s devastating COVID-19 experience through an interpretive frame of reference. Dr. Allen uses a constitutional democracy framework to analyze why America was ill-prepared to respond to COVID and how we might improve our national response in future times of crisis.

“The pandemic has taught us a dark truth,” Professor Allen concludes (p. 89). America was neither prepared nor capable. Americans were in jeopardy, especially the least among us, with everybody, everywhere, trying to figure out how to cope and where to turn. Most noticeable was the lack of coordination between the Federal government and the states, and the inability to get needed goods and services organized and distributed efficiently to the public. And the harmonic balance among what Professor Allen calls “The Three L’s”—Lives, Livelihood, and Liberty—was fractured (p. 5). Lives (safety and security) and livelihood (economics) came in conflict, as did personal rights vis-à-vis collective responsibilities.

Rather than draw on a wellspring of commitment and resolve in a time of crisis, our highly polarized America—a land of partisanship and differences—pushed and pulled in different directions. Public officials carped and squabbled, “contempt media” (p. 102) ruled the airwaves, and “Facebook Warriors” battled on social media.

How could this happen? The answer, I believe, is the book’s greatest gift. And Professor Allen’s use of the constitutional democracy frame makes it so. Here is my take on why.

America’s founders went through the arduous process of figuring out what they wanted America to be and how it should function as a constitutional democracy. Then they handed over the system, trusting that subsequent generations would protect, affirm, and improve it.

In Professor Allen’s words, a constitutional democracy is “a set of institutions that give people the chance to do things well” (p. 54) and help democracy flourish. It does so by the way it is structured and operates, delineating what it means to have majority rule and minority rights, checks and balances, freedom of expression, among many things, and what is involved in exercising citizenship, including civility, open-mindedness, tolerance for diversity of thought and people, and compromise.

We know that many Americans are committed to protecting and renewing what the founders created. However, other dynamics (contrary in intent and outcome) are also apparent in America today. Professor Allen’s treatment early in the book helps bring those dynamics into focus in the way she distinguishes negative and positiveliberties (pp. 11-12).

Negative liberties are “those rights of free speech, rights of association, rights of religion and so forth, that permit us to chart our own course toward happiness, based on our own definitions of the good.

Positive liberties are”those opportunities we have in our political institutions (to participate) as decision-makers, as voters, as elected officials, and as people who contribute to the deliberations of our public bodies.”

Through the exercise of negative liberties, we are free to seek outcomes that align with what we view as valued ends. Through the exercise of positive liberties, “we have a chance to shape our collective world together” (p. 12). In a constitutional democracy, Dr. Allen continues, we should not choose one liberty form over the other because “fuller flourishing,” in her words, “requires the protection and exercise of negative and positive liberties.”

Both liberties are rights, as in the right of free speech and the right to vote. There is also the matter of responsibilities. In that regard, the person on the street is likely to interpret negative liberties as a collection of personal rights and interpret positive liberties as rights and responsibilities with the collective in mind (e.g., voting as a right and responsibility).

These distinctions are helpful because they helped me understand more clearly how and why efforts are underway to hijack our constitutional democracy. It involves imposing on the collective a partisan-informed preference regarding how we should live as a society. While it is my right to refuse to wear a mask, I also seek to impose my personal choices on the collective. Examples abound, including school children will not learn about Critical Race Theory, women will not have the ability to have an abortion, there will not be restrictive gun control, etc.

To achieve those outcomes, partisans have figured out ways to use the structures and processes of a constitutional democracy for political advantage—even if the intent and mechanisms of that system are manipulated and abused in the process (e.g., gerrymandering). Incursions on the system are coming from within the governance system and external pressure on it. Either way, the outcome is the same—to undermine, subvert, and commandeer our constitutional democracy. The actions are justifiable in Machiavellian terms because the ends justify the means. Politically, as Saul Alinsky once put it (to paraphrase), “Do what you have to do and then wrap it in moral clothing.”

I have just described an academic way of delineating what progressive activists are fighting against across the country.

What can be done to readjust America’s constitutional democracy to align with our founders’ intentions? Professor Allen writes expressively about the importance of common purpose, which she defines as “an affective connection to a common enterprise” (p. 20). A socially galvanizing force, common purpose (and resolve) is what America had 80 years ago when it fought wars on two fronts simultaneously. A generation later, it had it again when America decided to go to the moon, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

But common purpose is difficult to come by these days. Yes, there have been times when America has come together, 9/11 is one, but not with a shared commitment to common purpose. Professor Allen ends her book with a list of objectives toward that end (pp. 101-102), and I applaud and endorse each recommendation. But what is missing in America today is not a dearth of ideas about what needs to happen or how to get there. It is whether these is shared commitment to the very idea of common purpose, including whether America would be better off with it. I do not see that commitment.

Even if it were to bubble up as a priority, I do not believe we have the kind of leadership today (elective, organizational/institutional, and grassroots) to activate a common purpose. That is not to say that kind of leadership is non-existent. I have experienced it at the organizational/institutional level and (from time to time) in other contexts as well. But invariably, it is a minority approach from the government to the grassroots. evident here and there but unsustainable over time.

Why is that? There are at least two reasons—one is evident, and the other became abundantly clear during the pandemic.

First, leadership these days is mostly about getting ahead (“winning” to be more specific). We select our leaders with that in mind, and that interpretation of leadership has a significant impact on what American’s views as “a good leader” and “good leadership.” Common purpose is not about winning. Instead, it is about being, that is, who we are as a society, and our collective values, aspirations, and goals.

Second, we are victims of the conditions we experienced during the pandemic. Each person is on their own, and we should only expect limited and episodic public support in times of crisis. While many of us complain about America’s penchant for preferring “me” over “we,” the pandemic experience reinforced a me-first ethic.

So, what is the bottom line? Until enough Americans believe that what I have just described is no way to live—and is a rotten tagline for our society—the current situation is not likely to change. The only viable strategy is to continue doing what many Americans are doing currently: organizing and fighting against forces that seek to disable America’s constitutional democracy.

Professor Allen’s contribution helps stoke the fire of activist resolve, and it also gives us a roadmap for the future—should we ever walk in that direction.

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 Politics for the People Founder, Cathy Stewart for a

Virtual Discussion with

Dr. Danielle Allen

Tuesday, June 21st @ 3pm ET

Register Here!

Reader’s Forum – Leah Clifford on Democracy in the Times of Coronavirus

By Leah M. Clifford

In Dr. Danielle Allen’s book, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus, she is trying to weave together the facts of the coronavirus pandemic. What did and did not occur through a lens of jurisprudence to create a framework for pandemic resilience. She draws on the works of Thucydides, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton bringing together a broader image of what the United States Democracy should look like in a health and economic crisis and what lessons COVID-19 can teach us. 

Crises, those awful, wonderful chances to illuminate and unify often expose our worst failings as a society. COVID-19 was a catastrophic confrontation of those failings, which almost all Americans can agree on in some way or another. Unfortunately, most feel that there is a long road ahead to sustainable, positive political and social change, myself included. The virus’s silent transmission is synonymous with the silent legitimacy crisis that was already unfolding prior to the lockdowns and economic disruption. Equally, the explosive and pervasive nature of the disease crippled our already frayed ability to recognize and fathom any form of intelligible discussion that would lend itself to the mending of our county’s partisanship. 

The virus’s silent transmission is synonymous with the silent legitimacy crisis that was already unfolding prior to the lockdowns and economic disruption.

Drawing from foundation era history, I found Dr. Allen’s inferences highly refreshing. This is how we ought to be taking advice from the founding fathers! We should be engaging in rich political and philosophical discussions about what values are at stake, especially when there is so much to lose. Of course, this message is often lost in the echo chambers of the loudest political speakers. Both parties reference the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. However, this is only to incite repugnance at assumed transgressions from the “other” side. During the height of the pandemic, we saw this with Democrats and Republicans represented in what solutions they chose to endorse to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. According to Dr. Allen, Democrats chose the “freeze” stance, which was to lock down the country and effectively freeze the economy in order to preserve life, health, and happiness. Republicans chose to “surrender” to the virus, wanting to keep the economy open and let the virus run its course because life, health, and happiness will suffer greatly if we don’t. The states vacillated quite wildly between both options, while Americans, as a collective whole, were forced ”…to contemplate, openly or secretly, the abandonment of others” (Chapter 4, pg 90).

Leah Clifford

This conflict persisted with no real improvement and was then exacerbated by the presidential elections looming in 2020. Instead of focusing on sustainable efforts to reduce stress on the country, political leaders moved away from effective policy conversations that addressed their real democratic responsibility. They moved into the land of knee-jerk reactions, securing foot-holds in ideological polarization while the media continued to promote chaos and incite anger (a topic I wish Dr. Allen explored more). Consequently, Americans continued to, and still, suffer the effects of COVID-19.

I can understand why some critics of Dr. Allen’s novel believe that its scope is too broad. The issues COVID-19 exposed are real, complex, and span across numerous sectors of our already disenfranchised society. Dr. Allen concedes this point, “Mortals- moving in temporal cadences- can repair frayed social bonds only with the speed at which trust can be grown.”(Chapter 1, pg 30). 

No health or economics expert has all the answers. No political party or leader has them either. What we need is to begin pulling back the lens of anger and fear, so we can begin to believe and trust the machine of democracy again. Then the nuts and bolts work can be smoothed by the “oil of public acceptance”. I highly recommend this book for its basis in political theory, and for it opening the floor to more discussion about the topics it holds. I am excited to hear Dr. Danielle Allen speak further on this book during the Politics for the People virtual discussion on Tuesday, June 21st at 3 to 4pm.

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

Politics for the People

Virtual Discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen

Tuesday, June 21st @ 3pm ET

Register Here!

Reader’s Forum – Dr. Jessie Fields on CUZ

Reflections on reading the book: CUZ or the Life and Times of Michael A. by Danielle Allen.

If you have not already done so, please read this book.

Dr. Danielle Allen is a political philosopher and Professor at Harvard University and Director of the Democratic Knowledge project at Harvard. She is a highly acclaimed scholar who has written a personal and painful memoir that speaks for so many who have lost loved ones to a repressive criminal justice system. She dedicates the book, For my Aunt Karen, and the millions gone. 

This book tells of the life of a young man, Michael Alexander Allen, the author’s cousin. His story is softly held in lines quoted from scripture, gospel, poetry and words written from the heart of a writer and family that loved him deeply. I found it not an easy book to read, in fact it took me two attempts to complete it all the way through, as it reveals more and more about Michael, what he went through in prison and the aftermath. 

My own family was intimately involved in crime and the criminal justice system as I was growing up in Philadelphia. My nephew, currently on parole and working, has been in and out of jail. I think one of the realities the book reveals is that it is very difficult, in the absence of qualitative political change, for individuals alone to overcome the life and death consequences of inhuman legislative policies. Especially in the third section, Unforgiving World, the author searches for answers to the life and death questions, that were pivotal in what happened to her cousin. Questions such as:

Why did he (Michael) have to pass from boy to man, an odyssey of eleven years, behind bars?

A key answer discussed in the book is that

California legislators had given up not only on rehabilitation in prison, even for juveniles.. but had given up on the idea that the punishment should fit the crime and voted to try as adults sixteen-year-olds and then fourteen-year-olds, for carjacking...

The target of Michael’s sentence in 1995 was not Michael, a fifteen-year old boy with a bright mind and a mild proclivity..for theft,  the target was  the 2,663 carjackings that occurred in Los Angeles between January and August of 1993.

The chapter, City of Angels reveals the interrelationships between the War on Drugs, the War on Gangs, the War on Crime, and the growth of mass incarceration through the 1980’s and 1990’s. 

Because the drug business was erroneously attributed almost entirely to gangs, the War on Drugs morphed into a War on Gangs. The enactment of mandatory minimum sentences, stripping judges of the discretion to peg a penalty to the circumstances of the wrongdoer grew exponentially.

One of Danielle Allen’s unique contributions from the book CUZ is to bring forth deeper understanding from the combination of personal experience and clear eyed research.

The historian’s backward gaze can capture the life-altering convergence of the drug business, gangs, and a newly unforgiving criminal justice system, but while you’re living through it, only the smallest fragments – like news reports about crime – are visible. Fragments like police willing to round up 1, 400 black men at a time.

From L to R: Dr. Jessie Fields, Dr. Danielle Allen and Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting.

I was thrilled to join Cathy Stewart and Jackie Salit when we had the opportunity in April to meet and speak with Danielle Allen. I am also delighted that Dr. Allen will be our Politics for the People guest author on Tuesday, June 21st from 3 to 4pm. I hope you will join us.

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

Join Politics for the People host and founder, Cathy Stewart

Tuesday, June 21st at 3pm ET

for a virtual discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen.

We will be discussing 

Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus 

Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.


Two Books and an Underlying Cause

On June 21st we will be hosting a virtual conversation with Dr. Danielle Allen. We will discuss two of her recent books: Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael Aand Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus.

You can read one or both. Below are two overviews/reviews of the book.  Happy reading and hope to see you on Tuesday, June 21st at 3 pm ET. You can register here!


By G. John Ikenberry – January/February 2022

In this stirring manifesto, the renowned political theorist Allen argues that the United States’ woeful response to the COVID-19 pandemic must serve as a wake-up call for Americans to rebuild their public health infrastructure and renew their constitutional democracy. For Allen, the crux of the problem is the breakdown of the American social contract, a rupture that left minorities and low-income workers unprotected in the face of the pandemic. She sees this as a “learning moment,” an opportunity to pose constitutional questions about how the United States might better equip itself to cope with global threats. Protecting what the U.S. Constitution calls the “general welfare” is the first task of government, and the laudable recent efforts of other democracies, such as Australia and Germany, help point the way. As Allen sees it, the failures of the United States to protect people from the deadly virus—and from the human suffering and social inequalities that followed—are more than public policy missteps; they reveal a deeper failure to make good on the “responsibilities of governance” that undergird the legitimacy of a constitutional democracy.


Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. – A Review by Publisher Weekly

September 2017

Allen, a professor of history at Harvard University and author of Our Declaration, tells the story of her late cousin Michael, who spent his years “from adolescent bloom to full manhood” in prison. In doing so, she puts a face to the numbing statistics of incarcerated young black boys and men. Michael’s story is not simple: he didn’t have a criminal history when he was arrested for attempted carjacking in 1995, but he was charged as an adult with multiple offenses, thus exposing him to California’s three-strikes law and leading to a plea bargain and 11 years in prison. While serving time, Michael flourished, becoming a firefighter and completing his GED and some college correspondence courses. After his release in 2006, and with Allen’s help, Michael obtained a driver’s license, bank account, library card, job, and housing. At the time, Allen was hopeful that with the help and support of his family “Michael could defy the pattern of parolees” and straighten his life out. Alas, in July 2009, barely three years out of prison, Michael was found shot dead in his car. Allen attributes Michael’s tragic death to two elements. One was that Michael found himself trapped in “a war between sovereigns: the parastate of a drug world increasingly linked to gangs on one side, and the California and federal governments on the other.” The other was his love for a transsexual woman he met in prison who in the end was charged with his murder. At its heart, Allen’s book is both an outcry and entreaty as she grapples with a painful reality: “I no longer knew a way of helping.”

Politics for the People

Virtual Discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen

Tuesday, June 21st @ 3pm ET

Register Here!

Watch Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

The Berlin Family Lectures brings together leading scholars, writers, and creative artists from around the world. Each academic year, the invited guest delivers an extended series of lectures, participates in the university’s intellectual community, and develops a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press.

Over the course of four lectures in May of 2020, Dr. Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, explored the challenges posed to our democracy by the global pandemic. She also described the specific resources the U.S. Constitutional system has for achieving resilience and the challenges we face in activating those resources when the social contract in the country has eroded.

You can listen to each of the four lectures below. These lectures are also the basis of Dr. Allen’s book, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus. In her book, Dr Allen writes,

“It has turned out that the laws of our politics could not be broken quickly enough to achieve a national strategy for suppression of COVID-19 that might have kept the disease to low levels….To achieve pandemic resilience now and for the future — to achieve justice and health for our constitutional democracy — we will have to break the laws of politics.”

Be sure to join us on June 21st at 3pm ET for a rich virtual conversation with Dr. Allen. You can register here.

Lecture 1 – Bulwark of Democracy: Solidarity and Democratic Resilience in Times of Emergency

Lecture 2 – Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience

Lecture 3 – Federalism Is An Asset

Lecture 4 – A Transformed Peace

@2019 The University of Chicago

Join Politics for the People host and founder, Cathy Stewart on Tuesday, June 21st at 3pm ET for a virtual discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen.

We will be discussing Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.

Register Here!

Cathy Stewart Welcomes Danielle Allen

I am delighted to have Dr. Danielle Allen joining Politics for the People on Tuesday, June 21st from 3-4 pm ET.

Dr. Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

Danielle is a highly respected political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought.

She is known for her work on justice and citizenship in America, and was a Politics for the People guest in 2014 when we discussed her book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. You can listen to our conversation here.

Our paths crossed again through the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, where Danielle served as a co-chair. Independent Voting organized two listening sessions as part of a nationwide exploration of how citizens view our democracy and civic life. We held listening sessions with independents in AZ and Dr. Omar Ali, IV board member and Dean & Professor, Lloyd International Honors College at University of North Carolina at Greensboro held a session with students. Early in 2020, before the pandemic lockdown, the Academy held an event in Cambridge, MA to review the findings of the project. I participated in a panel on independent voters, parties and candidates. (The Commission’s findings and recommendations are summarized in their report, Our Common Purpose.)

In 2019, Dr. Allen took a leave of absence from her positions at Harvard and launched a campaign for Governor of Massachusetts in the DP primary. She had to end her campaign earlier this year, thwarted by the undemocratic rules for gaining access to the 2022 primary ballot in MA. In response, Jackie Salit penned an oped, “A caucus casualty and a serious loss for democracy”, that appeared in the Boston Herald on March 5, 2022. You can read the article here.

“Allen is a leading voice on the crisis in American democracy. And now she has fallen victim to one of its most insidious practices: party control over nominations.”

Jackie Salit

You can read more about Dr. Allen’s thoughts on the run for Governor in her May 6th Wall Street Journal article, “What I learned when I ran for Governor of Massachusetts” here.

“We often hear that America is a deeply polarized society, divided by party, region, and lifestyle. We the people, pundits tell us, are hopeless, too busy pulling down the other side to clean up the wreckage. But what if we the people aren’t really the problem? What if most everyday Americans share a moral compass, even if they sometimes approach issues from different directions? What if the real problem is that our political institutions stop us from coming together?”

In April of this year, Dr. Allen sat down with Dr. Jessie Fields, Jackie Salit and myself. We talked about the challenges we face in our democracy, how controlled the electoral process is by the two parties, why so many Americans are becoming independents, and the uphill road to reform. Danielle talked about her experiences running for office and her continued commitment to “justice by means of democracy” and her ongoing exploration of the the pathways to a “truly representative, functional and responsive government.”

In June, we are going to discuss two of Dr. Allen’s books:

Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017), a poignant family memoir of Dr. Allen’s cousin Michael who was sentenced to a long prison term when he was 15, was subsequently released but murdered just 3 years later. The book is gutwrenching and an exploration of the failure of the “war on drugs” and our criminal justice system.

Democracy in the Time of the Coronavirus (2022), where Dr. Allen looks at the US government’s COVID victories and failures in the face of a pandemic that posed a profound health crisis, economic crisis and political crisis.

You can read both books, or pick one and join us for a rich and thought provoking conversation on June 21st.

As you are reading, stay tuned to the Politics for the People blog, where you can read more about both books, Dr. Allen’s recent articles and join fellow Politics for the People members in sharing your thoughts about Dr. Allen’s books. If you would like to submit a review or commentary on either book for our Reader’s Forum, please email me at

Politics for the People
Virtual Discussion with Dr. Danielle Allen
Tuesday, June 21st @ 3pm ET
Register Here!

Remembering Lani Guinier

Lani Guinier

Lani Guinier, legal scholar, civil rights leader, and educator passed away in January 2022.

Here is a remembrance from Rob Richie, President and CEO of FairVote.

Rob and Harry Kresky, General Counsel of Independent Voting, offer two Guinier book recommendations for our Politics for the People readers.

Rob Richie

“Civil rights leader and scholar Lani Guinier passed away in January at the age of 71. Lani was a personal friend and one of our nation’s leading voices for enacting proportional representation to replace winner-take-all elections. She was the first Black woman appointed to a tenured professorship at Harvard Law School, and one of the most influential thinkers of the democracy movement. Long before voting rights became a hot-button issue, Guinier built the bold intellectual framework that has helped shape today’s leaders and laid the groundwork for today’s movements for social justice.

Her memoir, Lift Every Voice, tells the personal story of the price she paid — including losing a nomination to be assistant attorney general of civil rights during the Clinton Administration — and introduces her bold, systemic ideas for building a truly representative democracy that lives up to our American ideals.

The story of an empowered Black woman attacked relentlessly in the court of public opinion, of voting rights and democracy at risk, of how we can chart a path forward despite the obstacles in our way — Lift Every Voice is truly as timely as ever.”

Rob Richie, President and CEO FairVote

A recommendation from Harry Kresky

“In The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy, published in 1994, Guinier called into question the focus on creating legislative districts that improved the chances of African-American candidates being elected. She cogently argued that increasing the number of Blacks elected to office did not result in legislation that advanced the interests of the Black community.

Harry Kresky

Her views antagonized the Black political establishment and likely cost her a position leading the civil rights division of the Clinton justice department. This book and her work overall warrant a careful read as we work to shape reforms that empower all our citizens.”

Harry Kresky, General Counsel of Independent Voting

Read her obituary in the New York Times here.

Stay tuned for our next selection.

Andrew Yang: You Should Be Allowed to Vote, Regardless of Your Party

Shawn Griffiths
January 13, 2022

Andrew Yang was the guest of a special virtual event Wednesday hosted by Open Primaries and’s Politics for the People book club. Yang is a former Democratic presidential candidate and the founder of the Forward Party, which prioritizes the need to reform the US electoral and political processes.

“The Forward Party movement is an inclusive popular movement you can join as a Democrat, independent, Republican, and our main mission is to fix the incentives so that our government will actually listen to us,” says Yang.

Even before forming the Forward Party, Yang joined the growing movement to change the incentives in US politics with his support of reforms like open primaries and ranked choice voting. His group prioritizes these reforms, along with others to facilitate a stronger democratic process that is responsive to growing concerns in the country.

“Our way of life is deteriorating,” Yang said during the virtual event. “We’re 28th in the world in such basic measurements as infant mortality or public education or clean drinking water.”

Yet, we are not having a conversation that looks at who is doing a better job in these areas and how can we as a country improve to raise the quality of life in the US. Neither party is asking these questions right now, says Yang. Instead, the nation gets hung up on tangential issues that target people’s ideologies.

“The core problem is we have this artificial duopoly, neither party is truly responsive to the people because they don’t have to be, there is no true competition in 90% of the country… a lot of people are checked out on politics because they know their vote doesn’t matter. And you know what? They’re correct.”

In 90% of the country, voters outside of the majority party are not heard. Candidates outside the majority party have little voice. Yang believes systemic reforms like opening the primaries to all, regardless of party, gives people in the political minority genuine presence in the electoral process, even if they don’t get their way.

Denying voters an equal say in elections is a form of voter suppression that is ignored by members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Yang says that even as Democrats condemn new laws in Republican-controlled states that they say erect barriers to voter access, closed primary rules are the biggest barrier to meaningful participation.

“Our focus should be telling folks, ‘Look, you should be able to vote regardless of your party affiliation. You should not have to jump through hoops,’” he explained.

Yang ran as a Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City in 2021. He said that while out campaigning he would be approached by people wanting to know how they could support him. When he asked if they were a registered Democrat, the response he often got was no. Yet, in New York City, voters had to register with the Democratic Party or Republican Party 4 months prior to the primary election to vote.

“I had to tell them they’re out of luck,” said Yang, “and that’s the wrong message.”

It is important to emphasize that the concept of the two-party system is made up. Parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. This is a point that was echoed by Politics for the People founder Cathy Stewart and acknowledged by Open Primaries President John Opdycke during the virtual event.

Yet, two parties have an iron grip on how elections work and who gets to vote, because they have given themselves that power over decades of manipulating election laws. This is a reality that many voters are not given an opportunity to see because of who the US political process was designed to benefit.

Two of the biggest priorities for Yang and his Forward Party is to (1) raise awareness of this reality, and (2) advance reforms like open primaries and ranked choice voting that ensure voters are not out of luck simply because they associate with one party or the other or choose not to associate with any party.

These reforms also allow for a chance at greater empathy. Better competition means we can have a system where the focus isn’t just on two warring political parties, and what divides them, but what struggles and issues we collectively face. The current system incentivizes division on the campaign trail, in legislative chambers, and in the media to make Americans seem like they are at war with each other, and more divided than they actually are. Yang wants to see that changed.

“We should not be demonizing each other or allow ourselves to be pitted against each other like enemies,” he remarked.

As someone who ran for president, I met with thousands of Americans in different circumstances and 99% were lovely. But if you were to try to see that through the media or social media lens, you’d think that we’d get there, throw the gloves down, and spit at each other, which does not happen in real life.”

He added that is integral to the message of the Forward Party. He wants people to see each other as human beings and strip away the false media means of division.

Check out the full virtual event with Andrew Yang above. He elaborates on the purpose of the Forward Party, what he wants to accomplish, and the deep-seated issues with elections that the two parties attempt to keep swept under the rug.

Shawn Griffiths

Shawn is an election reform expert and National Editor of He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.

Forward – A Virtual Discussion with Andrew Yang, Co-hosted by Open Primaries

On Wednesday, January 12, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart and Open Primaries President John Opdycke for Everything You Want to Know About Andrew Yang & the Forward Party *But the Pundits, Politicians and Parties Hope You Won’t Ask, a virtual discussion with Andrew Yang, author of Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.

You can watch the full video below:

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