January 18

Shannon Szyperski: “It’s My Country And I’ll Party Even If I Don’t Want To”

I’m a lifelong independent. I’ve voted for Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green Party candidates. I’ve voted for independent candidates. I’ve waited in a parking lot to hear Bill Clinton speak and in a field to hear George W. Bush speak. During my voting years, I’ve been proud of my non-affiliation, because I felt like it was the right thing to do as a free-thinking, reasonable human being. Plus, I seem to get far less political crap in my mailbox than my fellow party-registered voters.

Although I hold no ill will toward those who do like to politically party like it’s 1945, I have happily watched as my fellow Americans lost faith in the major parties and joined me in record numbers on the gray side of the American Political Force. I’m living at a time when I don’t even know which party my closest friends support, or if they support a political party at all. Our Generation X apathy followed us into our middle-aged years, and it feels so good … or so I thought.

This past election didn’t feel so good. After two decades of faithfully trekking to the polls with childlike excitement, I truly didn’t want to vote. Like many Americans, there was no one on the ballot, Democratic, Republican, Libertarian or Green Party, that I felt comfortable turning the keys of the White House over to, much less desired to see sitting in the Oval Office. It was like the 2016 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Detroit Lions somehow made it to the Super Bowl and it was up to us to decide which was the better team.

Blaming the Democrats and Republicans seems like the prudent thing to do. After all, they’re the two big dogs that keep this binary political farce going with their oodles of money and their modern tradition of polarization. It’s their little 2016 political Sophie’s Choice that put us in the position of deciding which vote we wanted to hate ourselves with. They are the problem.

They are the problem, but we are the people. All of us. In addition to being an independent, I am a responsibility junkie. And I realize that, as the people, we are all part of the problem.

I think I know what we should do, my fellow independent Americans. With about 40% of U.S. voters now identifying as independent, we are the majority. I always thought less political affiliation would mean more harmony, but some things are counterintuitive. Our refusal to take sides has divided us even further, because we have handed more power over to those who are the most partisan.

I like to be right, but I like it even more when things work, regardless of whether I thought they would. Being an independent isn’t working. Our political system, as it stands, isn’t working. As the great American Tim Gunn says, we need to make it work.

The people who are still willing to affiliate with a major party are not giving the rest of us candidates we want to vote for or policies we want to stand up for. We are bound to their methods and their decisions, because we do not go to their meetings and we are not allowed to vote in their primaries. As much as we like to think we’re part of the solution, we’ve failed to create any constructive alternatives to our two-party system. Tea Party, Green Party, Natural Law Party, Reform Party, Coffee Party, Constitution Party, Libertarian Party. I could go on. A third-party movement with several diverging philosophies, members scattered about and a lack of captivating, viable leaders is no party at all.

We are a country of people who love to take our personal situation, crusade, belief system, etc., assign it a colored ribbon, put it on a T-shirt, buy it a domain name, make it an unofficial national holiday and market the heck out of it. We often do this without even checking to see if such a thing already exists, because we’re confident our thing will be better anyway.

Maybe it’s time we put our time, our energy and our passion into repairing the things that already exist. Maybe we honor those who have come before us by caretaking their hard work. Maybe it’s time we build upon what we have instead of starting over, and over, and over and over.

Most independents still lean toward one end of the spectrum or the other, which is to be expected and is perfectly OK. There is no inherent wrong in seeing the world through liberal or conservative eyes so long as your focus is on humanity. My dear friends, I think each of us needs to stop doing our own independent thing, act on our political leaning, slight as it may be, bite the bullet, pick a party, and work hard to make that party a good and decent institution we can believe in and be proud of. If the parties won’t play nicely, we need to step in, take some ownership and change the rules.

As independents, many of us understand reason and compromise. We know how to build bridges and fill gaps. We know how to listen, really listen. We know how to change and we know how to be the change. We know that us vs. them is perfectly capable of transforming into yin and yang. We have much to offer, and our country needs us. The framework is already there. Let’s reboot the system.