While the major political parties redefined themselves in the 1980's and the 1990's--via Reaganism and Clintonism--encroaching on each other’s electoral coalitions to win the White House, diverse Americans began to chafe at the idea that the Republican and Democratic Parties reflected their aspirations for the 21st Century. The numbers of Americans who identified as independents began to grow.
During that time, independent presidential campaigns large and small—with candidates as politically diverse as Ross Perot, Lenora Fulani, Ron Paul, and Ralph Nader—demonstrated a public appetite for political alternatives. The major parties and major media railed against these “outsider” choices, ignoring or demeaning those Americans who refused to ally with any political party. To many in the progressive wing of the independent movement, it seemed that creating a new political culture would require some unorthodox coalitions and a set of meaningful structural changes to the political process itself. The percentage of independents rose to 43%. Political revolts simmered just below the surface.
We were initially founded in 1994 as the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (“CUIP”), to spur the creation of a new national party out of the Perot revolt. Our mission was to create a left/center/right multiracial alliance and to press for a set of political reform principles that empowered Americans across ideological, racial and geographic lines.
CUIP's history was rooted in community and electoral organizing in the poorest communities of color, communities that suffered as a result of being politically trapped in their loyalty to the Democratic Party. Lenora Fulani's presidential run in 1988, in which she became the first woman and African American to achieve ballot position in all 50 states, had mobilized tens of thousands of black, gay and progressive voters to the independent political movement. Four years later, Perot voters who drove the revolt of the “radical middle” were likewise seeking an independent road. CUIP engineered the coming together of these two wings of the independent movement in the Reform Party, giving us our unique and controversial identity.
After 2000 and the implosion of the Reform Party (disruptions by liberal Democrats in 1996 and conservative Republicans in 2000 dramatically weakened the party) we turned to organizing independent voters without a party, and the project known as IndependentVoting.org was born.
Organizing independents without a political party meant lifting up a basic set of reform principles. Every voter needs complete and unlimited access to every stage of the political process, from primaries to runoffs to general elections, whether via mail or in-person voting. No voter should be required to join a political party as a condition for access. No forms of voter suppression should be permitted. No community of Americans should be held captive by any political party. And, changing the rules of the game to make it possible to form new alliances outside of the orthodoxy, to develop new leadership and to actively shape our country's future, should be strongly encouraged.
While the Left railed at corporate control of America and the Right indicted government control of America, our independent movement viewed party control of America’s political process as the necessary pressure point for overcoming the corruption and deadlock of policymaking. This became the mission of IndependentVoting.org.
Poverty, bureaucratic restraints on entrepreneurialism, growing income inequality, the politicization of public policy, polarization in police-community relations, the near bankruptcy of American cities, the national debt and personal debt, and the prospect of permanent war have gone unresolved in the current partisan political arrangement. The 2016 revolutions inside the major political parties—one that lifted up Bernie Sanders and the other that nominated and elected Donald Trump—are the products of that two-party failure.
Whether and how the new Republican administration in Washington responds to that failure remains to be seen. The breaches within and around the Republican Party are just beginning to widen. The Democrats, challenged by the circumstances of their loss, are trying to create a viable opposition, but they remain fixated on the idea that their losses were “an aberration” rather than simply being what happened.
The independent movement in general, and Independent Voting in particular, are working to create a new and different electoral matrix—an activist place for politically displaced Americans to join together, to challenge the control that parties and special interests exert, and to imagine and assemble a revitalized democracy that gives the American people the power to create our future.