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Continued: Jennifer Imsande: Why I, a 'D', will caucus as an 'I'

  • Article by: JENNIFER IMSANDE
  • Last update: February 1, 2010 - 7:23 PM
Irecently finished serving as a jury forewoman in a long and difficult murder trial. We found the defendant guilty. The experience helped me understand why, after 20 years of voting with the Democratic Party, I will caucus with the Independence Party tonight. ¶ Is it because Democrats are soft on crime? You wish it were that easy. ¶ It's because the experience of gridlock with 11 other citizens -- all of them ordinary, and all of them remarkable -- was acutely awful. By the end we were in tears and verbal altercations, and most of us were experiencing physical symptoms of stress. ¶ And then the group decided: No matter what, we wouldn't fail. We refused to surrender to the easy option of a hung jury. That was our consensus. That was our beginning.

A hung jury means a mistrial. A mistrial means all those resources and time wasted. Indecision was not an option.

Locked in a room together, with no capacity to contact the outside world or use anything outside the room, we were forced to listen to each other, learn from each other, reason with each other, fight with each other, cry, shout and argue our case. We were forced to bring our best to the table, to articulate our values and principles and fears of what might happen if we were wrong.

And when the group simply refused to submit to indecision, something remarkable happened. We started trusting each others' minds and logic.

Was there a time when I wanted to lunge across the table and go for someone's windpipe? Yes. In the end, though, the juror I'd wanted to throttle was the one I respected most. He had the most to lose from changing his mind because he'd hung onto his position so long. In the end he came to our side of the net. He trusted the logic and hearts of the group. He decided that if he was wrong, then he would be wrong with 11 other people.

I'm not sure I would have had his courage.

He inspired me. So I'm letting go of my entrenched position. I'm leaving my side of the net.

Democrats and Republicans say the stakes are too high to give in to the other side. That's a crock. The stakes are high in a murder trial, too. But a jury finds a way to face its internal disagreements and biases and works together to achieve a solution. In today's politics, by contrast, neither party will let the other party succeed: not its policies, not its politics, not its people.

I used to hate the Independence Party. I called its candidates spoilers. And now I see that this is their value: They might just succeed in spoiling the major parties' chances of keeping us hung up in gridlock for decades.

The argument against spoilers doesn't work anymore. In 2008, the Democrats got everything they wanted: The presidency, congressional majorities. Even Al Franken was elected. And government still doesn't work.

I wouldn't be making this decision if the IP didn't have a viable candidate for governor. But Tom Horner is running on exactly this point. He's not for an ideology; he's for solutions and movement.

What do 12 jurors know that the parties don't? We knew that if we didn't figure out how to work together and talk to each other and reason things out, we weren't going anywhere.

If we don't break up the Democrats' and Republicans' gridlock, they'll make sure Minnesota doesn't go anywhere, either.

Jennifer Imsande is an assistant professor and associate director of the Masters Program in Advocacy and Political Leadership at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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