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From the Far Margins

Leaving the parties behind


I stood on the floor of the arena looking up. I wandered the lines, the crowds and the streets filled with people waiting to get in. This was not a night about political parties. We were independents, greens, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, and Democrats had chosen to let us all in to vote.

On one side of the arena the faces were mostly familiar, mostly party officials, elected officials, those who've carried the big tattered banner with the donkey on it—tired, worn from losing battle after battle in our state. I was one of them once. I stood on the floor of the Idaho House and the Senate pushing for what I care about. Even more than being gay, the banner weighed me down.

In America we have come to believe in two banners and they've divided us in ways that help neither democracy nor the people policymakers are elected to represent. We rally behind one or the other banner and sling mud at the other side—at whole families, at good people, at what we perceive as greed and malice. We sling mud because winning is all that seems to matter any more.

Standing in the arena I saw the beauty of no labels, no banners, just the mass of people across the ice rink from the ones who still carry the big donkey banner. Once separated, we gathered to caucus for a candidate who served as an independent in our nation's highest lawmaking body; a Congress member who refused to take a banner there for 15 years. But the man is a realist about things that involve math. One doesn't win without a banner in America right now—though maybe by running he has convinced us that perhaps, locally, a person can.

We across the arena caucused with and without banners. We know that from a dream comes hope and work, and a way to make change.

If you do not understand why so many gathered for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, why so many threaded lines for hours to cast a ballot, think of the struggles we face. Yes, we face sexism, which burns in its cruelty, but in the face of economic stress of shrinking wages, no access at all to health care and the frustration of watching political parties play football with our lives, we choose the candidate with the small banner. Many of us who packed the west side of the arena want a president who will move us closer to a country without banners, bigotry or absurd mud slinging—one who leads by example every day.

I stood on the arena floor and faced the side of the room where the big donkey banners waved and I thought about how the repeated announcements and efforts to get us to fly a banner felt odd. I thought about how the Democratic Party's insistence on banners is a choice it faces right now; one that could save it or sink it for another decade or two. Why were all the party officials over there on that side of the big room? How could they be that disconnected from what drives the passion of the young voters they always try so hard to court?

Republicans have closed their primaries to all but those publicly willing to declare themselves Republicans. Democrats have chosen to open their doors to anyone of any political party to caucus if they choose. I'm grateful they opened their doors and raised the money the state will not pay to allow independents, greens and unaffiliated voters to vote.

I worry, though, that Idaho Democrats will not see the power in radical notions; the power of making policy rather than parties important. I worry they do not understand hope and the power of working for what everyone says can't be done. I worry they will fail to capitalize on the energy they saw and focus too much on trying to get us to fly a banner rather than engaging us to help in something like running ballot initiatives for open primaries with instant runoff elections, where the top three vote getters—regardless of political party—run in the general election.

This would empower now downtrodden moderate Republicans, getting them out from under the thumb of extremist party leadership. It would open up and end skewed primaries that force all to run to the right—bringing Democrats and Republicans, Constitutionalists and unaffiliated voters together to decide who best represents our state and local communities.

I cannot say if this would be good or bad for the Democratic Party, so I would not blame it if it resists such change—but I do definitely believe it would be good for our Legislature and the policy it produces.

Maybe I'm alone in believing this, but I do believe it is in all of our best interest to move away from political parties and banners. Along with limiting corporate political contributions, it is a means of making these end-of-legislative-session days less a time of mourning over policy that devastates those not of a particular economic class, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or political ilk.

Nicole LeFavour is a longtime educator and activist, former Boise Weekly reporter, and served in both the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho State Senate.