Standing in the aisle

Yesterday was a day filled with opportunity for Douglas County libertarians. Around lunchtime, Georgia House District 62 Representative LaDawn Blackett Jones hosted a workshop geared toward instructing constituents in the art of engaging others in the community and the government to reach civic and legislative goals. In the afternoon, the Douglas County Tea Party held a meet & greet, offering all candidates for local office the chance to give a stump speech and take questions from citizens.

While neither event was aimed at a libertarian audience, both offered the chance to add libertarian voices to conversations that normally wouldn’t include us. They also provided opportunities to remind Democrat and Republican candidates and officials that not everyone lines up behind or in direct opposition to them.

On a deeper level, my interests and involvement don’t often bring me into contact with people who are very involved in one of the two dominant parties. While I may have a thing or two in common with most of them, it’s hard not to chafe at their usual mindset: their brand of government is correct, the opposing party’s is vile and ruining the country, and libertarians are nihilists who can’t be allowed to hold public office. But when the conversation is about our community, I find that we share more common ground. The focus seems to shift enough toward mutual concern over a situation that we can exchange ideas instead of just arguing an opposing viewpoint.

District 62 “Lessons with my Legislator”

Georgia State House Representative LaDawn Blackett JonesLaDawn Blackett Jones is a Democrat representing a majority-Democrat district. In my experience, at events held by legislators, supporters turn out in larger numbers than opponents unless there’s a hot-button issue on the agenda or in the news. Since Blackett Jones had proposed legislation around the issue of “Stand Your Ground” laws, this brought out a number of probable anti-Democrats and the attendees were likely more evenly divided between the two dominant parties than they otherwise would have been. Since the last exercise of the session split everyone into groups according to their position on the legislation, it was clear to see who was anti-liberty. When Blackett Jones asked attendees in which party’s primary they voted, it looked like the entire anti group voted Democrat. Less clear was who was pro-Second-Amendment but anti-liberty in other areas. About half this group said they voted in the Republican primary.

As the meeting wound down, most people chatted to others in their chosen group, and didn’t venture to the other side of the room – “across the aisle,” to employ political parlance. I didn’t see any of the “antis” approach others outside their group. At least a couple of libertarians made a point of engaging a few of the folks in that group in conversation. None of the talk I overheard or participated in seemed primarily aimed at forcing a point of view down someone’s throat.

Douglas County Tea Party Candidate Meet & Greet

Douglas County Tea PartyThe Tea Party meet & greet had quite the mix of political ideologies. I may be overstating this, but by inviting all citizens and local candidates – regardless of party affiliation – organizers Beth Martinez and Brenda Bohanan created a forum for dialogue among groups that don’t usually engage in more than superficial conversation. I believe Annetta Danley Stembridge, candidate for Clerk of Superior Court, was the only Democratic candidate in the room. If you’ve seen any of the DNC ads or e-mails over the last several years, you know that the party has consistently vilified Tea Partiers and exaggerated their influence over Congressional Republicans beyond rationality. That Stembridge came to meet the community at the behest of an organization bearing the “Tea Party” label, and in a forum where she would almost certainly represent a political minority, speaks volumes to me. Stembridge’s Republican opponent, interim clerk Tammy Howard, was a no-show. That, too, said a lot.

I sat at a table with at least a few Democrats – one who told me he was a local party leader and others whose leanings I presumed by the nature of their comments and questions. Whether they were there to support Ms. Stembridge, check out the other candidates, or see what the Tea Partiers were up to, the bottom line is they showed up and talked with both candidates and other community members.

Getting to common ground

Between the two events, I had conversations about open carry vs. concealed carry, being beholden to one’s political party (or not), police corruption (in general – not specifically in Douglas), fabulous shoes, District Attorney David McDade, the decline in quality of education at Douglas County schools, being allowed (but possibly unwelcome) at City of Douglasville committee meetings, and various and sundry other tidbits – political and not. It may not amount to, resolve or fix anything, but it’s a start.

We tend to avoid venturing outside of our familiar groups.We tend to sit in our separate groups and assume we know what the other group is thinking and why, and too often use party labels as shortcuts for real thought. Maybe that’s a good strategy for dealing with the innumerable higher-up folk that govern our lives, and obviously affiliations do say something about where a person is coming from. But at the local level especially, we can do better than assuming and dismissing. *I* can do better than assuming and dismissing.

I would like to say I had the opportunity at both events to convince everyone I spoke with that they should always and only support libertarian ideals. But even if that had been the mission, it would have required most of them to make quite a leap. Even considering a libertarian viewpoint on an issue can feel strange for someone whose first thought is his party’s position on it, and next is that of the other dominant party. The question for most people will be how government should act on the issue – not whether it’s right for government to act on it at all, or what is the potential fallout from the “fix” that they advocate.

The aisle needs a libertarian side

Breakdown of political party representation in the United States House of Representatives during the 113th Congress.Amidst all the election season talk about “reaching across the aisle,” libertarians are mostly disenfranchised onlookers. We find it difficult to compromise on legislation because too often it involves surrendering more of our freedom to satisfy one party or another. And really, the dominant parties don’t need our buy-in; they outnumber us.

So, if you’re a libertarian you may be thinking “What’s the point? Why bother with people whose ideas about government are radically different from mine, and whose people run the show?” I can certainly understand that. I admit that no one is likely to convince me that government can offer solutions that are free from negative unintended consequences. But just because I won’t buy what a fellow Douglas Countian may be attempting to sell on behalf of his or her political party doesn’t mean I shouldn’t listen to and share some of their concerns – especially at the local level where issues are actually solvable. If libertarians stand on that common ground and our dominant-party friends and acquaintances learn that they can trust us, we will be in a better position to understand issues, contribute ideas and be taken seriously.

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