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Bringing Independents to the Table

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As an advocate of independent politics, I’m frequently asked some variation of this question: if independents become as powerful as the two major parties, won’t they become just as corrupt and power hungry? That question, of course, assumes that I’m itching for independents to be that powerful. Not so. Or at least, not yet; I’d be happy if we could just get a place at the table sometime before I die.

For me, one of the most hopeful movements in that direction is an effort known as transpartisanism. In the broader political sense, the term applies to cooperation among the major parties, minor parties, and independents. In a more specific sense, it refers to a movement that’s bringing together leaders from across the political spectrum to work toward solutions to particular problems, dialogue in order to understand each other’s perspective, or simply get to know each other.

A while back I spoke with two prominent facilitators of transpartisan events, Joseph McCormick and Michael Ostrolenk. What they’re doing shows real promise. Through invitation-only retreats, politicians, as well as leaders representing diverse groups such as the American Legion, Common Cause, the League of Woman Voters, AARP, and the American Gas Association, get together to talk — and more importantly, listen — to each other about the overarching principles that define America. In 2005, the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org co-sponsored one such event. If that doesn’t give you hope for genuine political cooperation someday, I don’t know what will.

One result has been surprising (some would say bizarre) alliances between groups that were once adversaries — sometimes under the radar. It’s one thing for an ultra leftist to acquire newfound respect for a right-winger, but it’s another thing to expect partisan contributors to cheer on the relationship. “We’re developing coalitions of coalitions that are beginning to cooperate in ways the red-blue establishment did not expect,” Joseph told me. “We have an opportunity to transform the system.”

Democracy in America, Reuniting America and Liberty Coalition are among the groups helping to break down the red-blue divide and bring independents and minor parties into the mix. I hope these transpartisan efforts succeed, because polarizing partisanship clearly doesn’t work — and bipartisanship is not enough.  

Marcia Ford is the author of We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter.