Last week, after 22 years, I left the Democratic Party. On Tuesday, I'd again faced a humdrum slate of legislators that purported to represent my interests. On Friday, I entered Durham County's Board of Elections.
There were five choices on the form: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Unaffiliated and Other, a write-in choice. Really there were only four, because if I wrote in anything but the first three options, I'd revert to Unaffiliated.
What I didn't see was a party that supports single-payer health care, free universities, the redistribution of wealth from the top one percent, an end to corporate-owned elections. I also want a party that hopes to abolish the death penalty, the internal combution engine and the U.S. Senate, an anti-democratic body that should go the way of the House of Lords.
The Democratic Party represents none of these things, so why should I call myself a member of a club that was, 50 years ago, the party of Jim Crow and Jesse Helms? Yes, my politics are left of center (but don't take my guns, please), but I don't think I'm alone. I know there are a few more like me, but the registration form gave no hint of a Green Party or—shh!—a socialistic one. There was, however, the Libertarians, an outfit I have a soft spot for as the only state-recognized party consistently opposed to our foreign wars.
The official restriction on acceptable options in the ballot box is something in which the Democratic Party is fully complicit. If they've done nothing else, they've protected their left flank, leaving its progressives no choice but to fall in line.
The result is that our diverse—and needy—country has political choices equivalent to a Big Mac Value Meal and the faux-healthy, faux-ethnic Taco Bell. We're political consumers, not actors. We don't know how to hold a general strike, but we're great at spending sunny weekends gathered on the Washington Mall listening to rock bands and crafting clever signs.
Henry David Thoreau wrote "On Civil Disobedience" more than 160 years ago. Although we think of him as our Original Hippie, he was essentially an anarchist. Progressives of his day were staunchly opposed to slavery, yet their votes could not destroy it.
"What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect," he wrote. "They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them."
I won't follow Thoreau's anti-statist logic all the way, at least not yet. I'll keep voting, but now that I'm no longer a Democrat but part of America's most unpredictable constituency, I can better peruse the options I'm permitted to consider. I'll likely vote for Taco Bell more often than Big Mac, but what I really want is to vote for shrimp and grits.