inform | empower | engage
Apart from an office holder or political party employee, there’s not a more partisan line of work than lobbyist. It is through party affiliation and support that clients are attracted and engaged, and it is through fund raising for office holders and candidates that the lobbyist gains access to the policy making process.
Now, living in Washington, DC, I find myself in the good company of lobbyists on a regular basis. On one such occasion, I took the opportunity to note a recent newspaper article cataloguing the policies of the then conservative administration and noting they were more of what might be expected of a liberal administration. Of the two lobbyists at the table, one was of a more affable nature, the other more strident, they both being seriously conservative. The former, having seen the article, nodded knowingly, smiling, pleasuring perhaps in the thought that his boys were scoring runs with the other guy’s bat. (I like that in a person, a sense of humor and an appreciation of irony.)
The more strident of the two, however, barely acknowledged my remark, seeming to look for a place at the bar where his time could be better spent. Now you should understand that there is something about me that strikes conservatives as liberal, and liberals as conservative. Whether by nature or nurture, I appear to give off the scent of a contrarian. Sensing that I had been taken for a liberal, and thus hostile, I noted that I was registered as a political Independent, that I was just curious as to their reaction to the article. This changed everything. “An Independent,” he said, sitting forward. “What do you mean?”
I couldn’t tell whether he thought me a fool or a liar, perhaps both. Certainly, though, I had the man’s attention. Looking him square in the eye, I replied, “I mean that I am registered in the state of Maryland as Non-Aligned, no party affiliation.”
There came instantly to his face a look of incomprehension. To the lobbyist, the two party system is the foundation on which the Republic maintains, a learned and beloved tradition, not to mention meal ticket. His face soon relaxed, though, a curiosity coming to his eyes. On this, a good discussion followed, about the article and politics in general, what might happen in an upcoming election. He wanted to know where I was leaning and on what issues I placed most importance, and why. We parted with a better understanding of one another and each other’s views, and have been more friendly since.
The point is this: In most cases, unless you tell others that you’re an Independent, it will be assumed by them that you are a Democrat or a Republican and everything you say will be heard accordingly. In effect, they will hear nothing that they don’t already assume. So, make clear that you are an Independent. Come out. You’ll learn more about what others are saying and thinking, and you’ll understand it better. As important, you’ll have a greater impact on what they think about the issues that matter most to you.