Getting the Donkey Off My Back

The polarization caused by our two-party system has gotten progressively worse. (no pun intended). We’ve all felt it, heard it in dinner conversation, on TV, over drinks. Those Republicans! People like that! Liberals! Red states! Lunatic left!

As if any state was all red or blue or purple for that matter. No district is 100% anything. Every state, every town, is a mixture of people with an endlessly unique set of beliefs and values. I know the labels are just for convenience. It’s just a way of talking about things, some might say. But I say it’s a bad way of talking about things. One that lends itself to conflict and to further separation. A way of talking about things that causes more problems than it solves.

According to Gallup, unaffiliated voters are the largest block of voters in America. And that doesn’t count the 30% of all citizens who aren’t registered to vote at all. It’s fair to say that a majority of Americans able to vote do not belong to a political party. I had no idea, when I quit the Democratic party, that I would actually be joining the majority.

But I don’t try to speak for the majority. I didn’t step out of the Democratic party to become part of another group. I’m only writing as an individual citizen, newly relieved from my attachment— almost like an addiction— to the party into which I was born. I’m writing this series of views and news and political rants as a former Democrat, now independent. I’m writing as someone who was part of the two-party system for 44 years, a lifetime member of a party I criticized but always felt was the better choice of the two. That may still be true, if I were forced to choose. But the better choice for me, right now, is not to choose. I’m writing as someone who has stepped to the side. And I’m discovering new things every day from this new perspective.

From the side, I find I’m actually on the same side as everyone else. I may be against someone’s ideas. I may disagree with their beliefs. But we’re both people; we both live on the same planet; we both have many of the same needs, the same joys. If I disagree with someone, if I argue with them, it’s because I care about them as a person. I want them to believe me, not for my gain but for theirs. And I find I’m more able to listen to them if I’m on their side. I even see where I could be wrong about things, where I could have been wrong all along, inside the closed room of the Democratic party.

From the side, I don’t label people or places into binary categories like Red and Blue, Republican and Democrat, Left or Right, Liberal or Conservative. I find I’m more interested in what individual people think, why they think it, in the actual facts of the issues. I’m interested in people’s perspective, not their label. I’m interested in their lives, in the experiences that have made them what they are. I’m interested in the information they have, and the information they are unaware of. I always was more interested in the people than the politics, of course. But from inside the party there was something else there, getting in the way of my perceptions, like seeing through a curtained window instead of through an open door.

I don’t know that I ever realized the heavy burden of carrying that party label, of using it to label others. I didn’t know how much my Democratic habit blocked my view, until I stepped outside.

Now I feel like I’ve finally gotten the Donkey off my back.

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