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African Americans and young people are at the forefront of an unrecognized movement of Americans in a political re-alignment that rejects both political parties and is largely unseen by mainstream media. The media projects the roiling political divides in the country as ideological battles between adherents of right versus left politics on issues such as border security vs. decriminalization of illegal immigration, or Medicare for all vs. private health insurance. But the real divide in the country is between the establishment elites of both parties and the growing base of Americans who are identifying as independents.
The ideological divide within two party politics covers over the broad common needs and aspirations of millions of people. It misses a more fundamental and unifying aim of people, young and old, people of color and white to reject long entrenched two party control in favor of bottom up democracy. The American people in large majorities are crying out for a new politic and so is the African American community.
The desire for change in Black communities in particular can be seen in their changing relationship to the Democratic Party. A new survey of 30,000 Black voters finds that Black communities feel ignored by Democrats. The Black Census Project found that even though Black respondents reported high levels of civic engagement, “a majority of them said they don’t feel like politicians or political parties care about them. Nearly a fifth of respondents said they view the Democratic Party unfavorably, and 52% of respondents — more than 16,000 people — said that "politicians do not care about Black people or their interests."
The recent debate confrontation of former Vice President Joe Biden by Senator Kamala Harris over Biden’s anti-busing postion exposes a contradiction in the Democratic Party’s relationship with the Black community. That contradiction is the old party’s racist playbook of seeking the votes of whites by signals of an anti-black position. This is what Bill Clinton was doing in 1992 when he made his speech criticizing Sister Souljah at Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Convention. He later oversaw the execution of a mentally challenged Black man, Ricky Ray Rector, in order to bolster his “tough on crime” credentials.
Such racial and ideological manipulation by politicians has prompted many Blacks to reject both parties. 35% of African Americans under age 40 are independents. Also 41% of Hispanic voters are independents. In some states such as New Mexico, up to 20% of Native American voters are independents. At least half of all millennials are independents.
The steady growth of political independence has been occurring over the last 30 years and is across the board. 42% percent of all American voters now identify as independents, more voters than who identify as Democrats (29%) or Republicans (26%).
There is a coming together of Americans across partisan divides in the passage of political reforms in recent state elections in the face of strong opposition from the state legislatures.
In 2016 Colorado voters passed an initiative, which was opposed by many elected officials, to open the primaries to independents. In Florida last year, more people voted for the initiative to restore voting rights to those formerly incarcerated as felons than for any candidate on the ballot.
Giving equal voting rights to independents is key to allowing their diverse voices to be fully expressed in our political process. The initiative for reform has always come first not from the parties, but from the people. This year is the 150th anniversary of the 1869 congressional passage of the 15th Amendment, giving Black men the right to vote. 50 years later, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was passed. It was made possible by the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1965 it was not the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party that produced the Voting Rights Act. It was ordinary people who responded to Dr. King and came to Selma from all over the country, many who gave the last full measure of devotion. It was Jimmie Lee Jackson from Marian, Alabama. It was Viola Liuzzo from Detroit, Michigan. It was young people like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner who were part of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964.
This summer in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy, independents are petitioning for equal voting rights and to pass the open primaries legislation that is working its way through the Pennsylvania legislature. Now in the light of history, we the people are declaring our independence.