NY's 'Independents' Rally Not So Independent

Two weekends ago I flew out to New York City, for a conference for independent activists.

I was hoping for a learning experience that would be welcoming for independents of all (or at least most) stripes, but I got a rally for left-leaning to left-wing independents. It really would have taken some serious effort to collect a less representative sample of independents.

This was illustrated well when much of the crowd, as well as IndependentVoting.org staff near me, agreed with a panelist who actually said that Democrats don't have a strong contingent of the far left in their party. This flies in the face of polling that shows the American people think the Democratic party, as well as the GOP, is too ideologically extreme.

I'm not sure if they are just tragically out of touch, or whether they just don't care about being truthful.

Another example of this is how Jackie Salit, IndependentVoting.org's president, repeatedly said Obama is an independent president. Obama has taken the left-wing of his party to task for being too extreme, but has never been coy about loyalty to his party.

Perhaps there were some conservatives hiding in the crowd. I certainly would have hid if I had been a right-leaning independent duped into coming to this event, given how vitriolic they were towards the right side of the spectrum during the rally.

This wasn't the case for left-wingers however, of which I met several. One actually told me (I wish I had recorded it, so I'm paraphrasing) that everyone who wasn't as liberal as he was must be a brainwashed pawn of corporate marketing. The applause given to the lady that called for revolution during a Q & A session was also telling.

I also came away from the event confused about what it is IndependentVoting.org has been helping local groups with. One organizer told me something about learning, after years of trial and error, that personal contact activities yielded the best results. This is, of course, is true, as door knocking, phone calls and events have literally been proven statistically to be the best use of volunteer time. But he should have learned this in the first couple of hours of contact with someone who had any level of experience with grassroots organizing, not after a few years of trial and error.

After talking to activists from several states, I found this was the norm, even among those who’d been working with this organization for years. This event was a missed opportunity to educate their activists on these things, rather than merely entertain and preach to their choir, which is what the event mostly consisted of.

I hope someone will eventually put together an event that would be welcoming to most independents. This group continues calling what is going on with independents across the country a movement, but seem to not really understand the term, nor do they seem interested in helping people with the basics of successful political advocacy. Maybe No Labels will pick up that mantle in coming years. Their event at the end of this month, which I can't make because I chose to attend this rally, is precisely what this should have been — a grassroots organizing training for local activists.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.