If you're reading this and you're a millennial, there's a high chance that you're a a political independent. A plurality (45%) of millennials identify as independents, compared to 33% who identify as Democrats and 23% who identify as Republicans. I am proudly a member of this 45%. And this isn't because I'm uninterested in politics, but because I am uninterested in the two political parties that I have to choose from.
At different times, I have felt disgusted by both political parties. Yes, there are certainly some smart people who accept their party's faults and work within them to make changes... and then there are the slimeballs who we see on TV every day. It seems like most millennials would prefer to run the other way from the rats.
If America had a parliamentary system, like the UK or Australia or Canada, life would be very different, and I can almost guarantee that our generation would already have a strong political presence in Congress. But instead, the two-party system is dominant, and that has made life horrible for anyone trying to work from outside the political system to break in. The American political system has been carefully designed to screw over outside contenders from third parties and political independents, so that Democrats and Republicans gain instead.
Only in rare cases have independent politicians made any strides in America. Sure, George Washington is the most notable example, but it's been all downhill ever since. Yes, we have Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate, and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) used some trickery to run (and win) under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party after he lost the Democratic primary in 2006, but that's about all we've had at the national level recently.
But what happens when you try to run for office from outside the system?
For example, take Carl Romanelli, who was almost the Green Party's 2006 United States Senate candidate for Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, to even get on the ballot, the cards are completely stacked against you if you are not a Democrat or a Republican. In order to qualify for the ballot in Pennsylvania, the major parties have to submit only 2,000 signatures, but third-party candidates have to collect 20,000 or more signatures.
According to Pennsylvania law, candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans must collect signatures equal to two-thirds of the number of votes that the highest vote-getter received in the last statewide election. This is complete and utter nonsense for anyone who wants to run as a third party candidate. (I made a feature-length documentary about Romanelli's plight that you can watch for free.)
America also creates a system where there are many candidates who literally never face an opponent in elections: In the 2012 elections in Pennsylvania, of the 203 state House races, 96 were unopposed, and nine out of 25 candidates were unopposed in state Senate races. This would never happen in a parliamentary democracy, or in a society that values its citizens' opinions.
As Melissa Daniels writes on Watchdog.org, "in many unopposed races, a strong party in one region may deter its opposition from putting up a candidate. For example, the majority of the House delegation running this year in Philadelphia is unopposed Democrats, and in northern Pennsylvania, incumbent Republicans run unopposed."
So what is the real Step One in terms of how to create a true democracy in America? Change all of these laws that favor the ruling elite and prevent newcomers and those affiliated with third parties or no party at all from running in elections. Because right now, millennials are prevented from running for office our way, as independent-minded people who are not affiliated with the two major parties. And yes, in this case, Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame.