Why I left the Republican Party after 20 years to vote independent
LaLiberte is a freelance writer.
Allow me to introduce myself: I’m a white, middle-aged suburban grandmother, the granddaughter of a coal miner and daughter of a retired auto worker and Navy veteran.
I’m part of the demographic that the Republican Party claims to represent. In fact, I was an election official and registered Republican for 20 years.
But the “Party of Lincoln” is now a party of sociopaths. They lost me a long time ago through their narrow-mindedness, greed and bigotry, and I have voted third-party or independent since the 2000 elections. I voted for Ralph Nader that year.
Yep, that was me.
I also volunteered with both of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns.
Yeah, that was me, too.
But I’m not a “bro” of any kind, nor am I an “entitled millennial” who just wants free stuff and has no idea how the world works.
It is precisely because I have been out in the world and experienced how things really work that I can no longer support establishment candidates of either party.
The difference between myself and most other people in my demographic is that I have been able to identify the real enemies of the people and the dangerous policies they enacted, and they aren’t who you’ve been conditioned to believe they are.
I remember proudly going to the polls with my father shortly after my 18th birthday to vote for Ronald Reagan in my very first election.
He seemed like a nice guy. I grew up watching his movies on late night TV with my dad. His policy proposals made sense to me at the time, too. Of course making it easier to be a business owner by removing regulations and other barriers to commerce would work.
But his policies weren’t really aimed at small-business owners. They were marketed to them so politicians could get elected to enact pro-corporate policies that hurt workers on the floor while transferring insane amounts of wealth up to the C-suite.
The trickle-down was really a drip-drip as we scrambled to catch the drops that fell from a table we set but would never be seated at.
I believed the lie that we lived in a meritocracy, that getting a good education and working hard was all it took to get ahead. Instead, my generation is the first in the history of our country to be economically worse off than their parents.
As a single mother at 22 years old, I went back to school to get a computer science degree. I wanted to give my son the life I had been raised to believe was in front of me by a generation of people who heard the knock of opportunity and then slammed and locked the door behind them.
At 58, I still owe $46,000 in student loan debt that will probably only die with me. My student loan has been sold more times than I can count, and each new “owner” adds $5,000 to the balance.
I also lived in a “right to work” state, a policy which is painted as pro-worker but is actually anti-union and pro-business. It also meant that I could be fired at-will with little recourse. The trick at the time was to offer health insurance after a trial employment period of 90 days, and then let people go just before they qualified so employers wouldn’t have to pay for their health insurance.
Apparently, it’s cheaper to retrain than to retain.
My husband had insurance with his job, but it wouldn’t cover our children. Covering me would have required out-of-pocket premiums of more than $300 per month because I was a “woman of child-bearing age.” The cost of child care was nearly as much as I made working full time, so after our third child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom.
We filed for bankruptcy in 1998 after I was injured badly enough to require surgery but didn’t have an extra $20,000 lying around to pay for it. The only debt that couldn't be discharged was my student loan.
I was 45 years old and divorced before I landed my first job with health coverage. Then, my bank account was frozen and wages garnished over my student loan debt, so I took on a second job. The result was that I worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, to barely pay for a two-bedroom apartment that I only occupied long enough to shower and sleep for a few hours.
It also resulted in a repetitive motion injury that threatened to disable me.
While recovering, I had an opportunity to travel overseas. Former employers had retired and returned to their home country, one of those evil “socialist” countries in Europe with universal health care, paid family leave, subsidized child care, and tuition-free higher education. They invited me to visit, all-inclusive, and I ended up staying. I found an opportunity to start over on several levels, and I took it.
Since that time, I've been working remotely as an independent contractor (read: gig worker) and dividing my time between there and the United States.
I could go back to school tomorrow anywhere in Europe for the cost of a small administrative fee and the price of my textbooks, no debt incurred. In the 13 years that I’ve lived there, my largest medical expense has been 150 euros for a minor surgery to find out if I had cancer (I didn’t).
I experience, first-hand, those policies that we’re told are too expensive and will never work in our country, the “exceptional” America that is the greatest, freest, and most prosperous nation in the history of ever.
I also realized the extent to which we’ve been lied to about what was, what is, and what is possible, and that is what I will fight and vote against in every election for as long as I live.
I’ve been accused of hating America. I’ve been accused of being brainwashed by communism, socialism and every other “ism” that is demonized to cover up the ineffectiveness and greed that has overtaken my home country.
I love America, but I’m angry. You should be, too.
I will continue to vote for independent candidates because:
- I’m sick of hypocrisy, projection and obstructionism.
- The people in the party of “small government” don't mind intruding into people’s bedrooms, schools, workplaces and private lives when it suits them.
- I understand that it’s as difficult to feel empathy when you don’t have a soul as it is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.
- I realize that investing in health and education instead of burying people in debt results in greater opportunity, a more productive workforce and a better quality of life.
- I love my children and grandchildren, and I want them to have what I could never give them in a country where the deck is stacked against everyone but politicians and their corporate masters.
- I’m tired of only being given a binary choice every election or holding my nose to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
I would rather vote for something I believe in. Wouldn't you?
I’m also tired of being accused of “wasting my vote” or needing to “educate myself.” I’ve found that the more informed you are, the less likely you are to fall for their nonsense.
That’s why they demonize higher education and make it so out of reach for most of us.
That’s why they work so hard to keep us too tired and distracted to care and too apathetic to vote.
That’s why every time an independent gets close to challenging the status quo, they move the goalposts.
I will give Republicans credit for one thing: I may not like what they say or do, but they are great at messaging and playing the long game.
While Democrats wring their hands, line their pockets and pay lip service to being everything to everyone, the Republican Party has quietly and systematically run a ground game that packs the legislatures and courts from the local level up in ways that will be felt for generations if we don’t do something now.
Every election, we’re told that it is the most important election ever and that it’s no time to challenge the system. Let’s be incremental and pragmatic instead. I've heard that nonsense before every election for the past 40 years that I’ve been voting, and the situation just keeps becoming more dire.
If not now, then when?
The only way things will ever change is if we stop voting against our own interests and support candidates who represent the possibilities and promise of America rather than Big Business and business as usual.
I’m going to be honest, though: Independents will be long shots for the White House until we get money out of politics and remove the systemic electoral barriers erected by the establishment.
But we can start playing a long game of our own and beat them at theirs by electing independent and unaffiliated candidates to legislatures, judiciaries and executive positions at every level of government.
The time is now, but the future is only in your hands if you’re willing to reach out and grab it.
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