In the Balance of Power – A Politics for the People Conversation with Author Omar H. Ali

On Sunday, February 21st, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart for a conversation with Dr. Omar H. Ali, author of In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States.

Click on the video below to watch the full conversation.

Reader’s Forum — David Cherry

Remembrances — Sunday, February 21st

David Cherry

On this date 56 years ago – Sunday, February 21, 1965 – Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in New York City.  My father was a member of Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity and regularly attended his Sunday afternoon rallies.  My father was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was shot and killed and often spoke about the real-life nightmare and tragedy which occurred that day.

Malcolm X was an independent Black leader. Rarely is he portrayed this way by most people who praise him today. During his lifetime, he was very controversial and frightened people by how he called out the Democratic Party for their inability or unwillingness to stop the violent suppression of the civil rights movement during the 1960s – despite controlling the presidency, the House and the Senate.  Malcolm excoriated the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for the horrendous conditions of racism and poverty suffered by Black people in America.

Lenora Fulani

When Dr. Lenora Fulani made history by becoming the first woman and the first African-American to get on the ballot in all 50 states for president in 1988, my father and I proudly voted for her in the general election that year.  Like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer and other powerful leaders of the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Fulani is an independent Black leader. My father from South Carolina was an independent.  My mother from Alabama was an independent. I proudly follow in their footsteps as an independent. 

Malcom X

The horrendous conditions faced by Black people 50 and 60 years ago still exist today by all of those suffering with racism and poverty.  Many of us who are independents are committed to creating new political environments where we can finally engage and change these conditions instead of becoming political party partisans who enthusiastically divide people for the sole purpose of winning elections.

Thank you to Dr. Omar Ali for his excellent book which highlights the many principled people who have dedicated their lives to dismantling our toxic politics and creating a new America of democracy, liberty and justice for all.

David Cherry, Chicago, Illinois, is the City Leader of the All Stars Project of Chicago. For more than 25 years, Cherry, a seasoned community organizer and activist, has helped diverse communities develop around issues of democracy, social justice and inclusion. He is the founder of United Independents of Illinois and serves on Independent Voting’s Board of Directors.

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In the Balance of Power:
Independent Black Politics and
Third-Party Movements in the United States
By Omar H. Ali

Video of our Feb 21st Zoom conversation with Dr. Omar Ali will be available soon.

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Reader’s Forum — Tiani Coleman


Only by Breaking the Partisan Divides Can We Find True Equality


Tiani Coleman

Imagine if George Floyd had died, instead of less than six months before one of the most polarizing, rhetorically charged partisan elections in our history, it had been prior to a top-five nonpartisan/truly public primary?

A top-five primary, or any iteration thereof, greatly opens up our political process to give all voters and all candidates a level playing field. All candidates from all party preferences, including no party preference, appear on the same primary ballot, and the top five (or other iteration) of vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election, where voters use ranked choice voting to determine the final winner. Would his death, and the ensuing protests, have been viewed and responded to through a less partisan lens?

Although Omar Ali didn’t directly pose this question in his book In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States, I feel like he’s invited me to ask it.

Ali outlines the contributions and influences of Black outsider movements throughout our nation’s history, showing that the strength of the struggle for equality, justice and democratic reform has largely been found through independent politics among African Americans, and that true equality must be forged through a Black and independent alliance.

Unfortunately, the nature of our two-party system wields power in such a way as to heavily disadvantage and block those who try to work independent of the two major parties; it practically forces those trying to make a difference to wed themselves to a party.

In particular, Ali demonstrates how the Democratic party that has taken the Black vote for granted has both succeeded and failed. He points out that “there are over six times as many African Americans serving in Congress as there were in 1965. The number of elected African Americans serving in local, state and federal offices now exceed 8,000 – from less than 300 prior to 1965.” But, Ali asserts, “Despite the substantial number of Black Democrats serving in office (and some Black Republicans, including at the highest levels of office . .), the Black community – as a whole –remains politically marginalized and chronically poor.”

George Floyd’s death, and the ensuing protests, should have united our country to come together to make further advancements towards equality, and to make visible progress in obliterating systemic racism and disparate income inequality. But instead, his death further divided us.

Jackie Salit, in her Afterword to the book, eloquently quotes James Baldwin from his 1965 debate with conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. The topic being debated was, “The American Dream Is at the Expense of the American Negro.” Baldwin said,

[W]e the American people . . . have to accept . . . that on th[is] continent we are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other, and that I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built this country. Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American dream.”

Baldwin also said,

What is crucial here is that unless we can manage to establish some kind of dialogue between those people whom I pretend have paid for the American Dream, and those other people who have not achieved it, we will be in terrible trouble . . . .”

That is the problem with our partisan political structure. It doesn’t bring about true equality and it doesn’t foster dialogue. We need to forge a new identity to enliven the American Dream, and Omar Ali writes about those who have been working on that for years in the African American community.

I have countless friends and family on the Republican side who believe that there is no systemic racism, that we’ve already achieved “equal opportunity,” and now it’s just a matter of people “working hard.” They don’t believe that “victim mentality” serves anyone. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they also believe that the tables have now been turned against them. That racial minorities, buoyed by Democrats, seek disproportionate power to wield the state to advance themselves above THEM, to begin a new era of discrimination against THEM.

On the other hand, my Democratic friends have absolutely no sympathy for this mindset and are quick to label anyone on the right who doesn’t favor Democratic policies as racist, bigoted, fascist, uneducated, etc.

If our political system didn’t divide us into two competing teams, as well as along racial, class and ideological lines, we’d be able to see each other better and we’d be less apt to view a different viewpoint as the enemy, but simply as different. We’d work harder to incorporate various perspectives into policy rather than find ways to manipulate the system to marginalize the viewpoints we don’t like. We’d be able to see that politics doesn’t have to be about power and non-power, but it can be about empowerment, for everyone.

While it may appear like Black Americans are currently prospering with a home in the Democratic party, we need to create a political environment where they can move politically as freely as whites do, and not feel as though the Democratic party is “their only real home.”

I agree with Ali and Salit that to “transform an exploitative and divisive political and cultural system,” hope lies in a successful Black and independent alliance. We need to continue building coalitions that are cross-racial, cross-ideological, and that cross the class divides. Moving to nonpartisan / public primaries is a good way to press forward in the same spirit of many who went before, documented by Omar Ali. In fact, it seems our country, in my lifetime, has never been so in need of, and ready for, these changes.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.

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In the Balance of Power:
Independent Black Politics and
Third-Party Movements in the United States
By Omar H. Ali

Video of our Feb 21st zoom conversation with Dr. Omar Ali will be available soon.

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Reader’s Forum — Al Bell


Omar Ali and In The Balance of Power

Commentary by Al Bell

February 5, 2021


Old white guys like me generally don’t know much about the history Omar Ali unfolds in the update of his 2008 book, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States. I am hardly alone in that, of course. This is a crash course in the historic ebb and flow of political influence and impact by Black Americans and avowed independents. The story has special relevance to American political forces taking shape in this pivotal initial fifth of the twenty-first century, driven increasingly by the “outs:” Independent Voters who do not choose to kowtow to the Democratic and Republican party dictates and Black Voters who continue to seek their legitimate place at the table of governance. Formidable obstacles confront both of them and new ones emerge regularly.

I owe readers of this commentary (not review) a full disclosure: All of this matters, I believe, because the Great American Experiment faces unusual internal challenges. Parties, labels, silos, movements, interest groups, tribes, myriad organizations, etc. all have their place. The purpose they are part of, however, is much larger than any of them, including what we refer to as the Independent Voter movement, in which most (if not all of us) following the Politics For the People book club are active. Viewed this way, political and voter rights for independence is not merely an end (though that is worthwhile); it is a means. So, for that matter, are political parties from time to time, but current party behavior belies any real grasp of purpose other than raw political advantage.

One more disclosure: my current stack of “must read” books has me overwhelmed. Why, then, should I bump all of that aside and read Omar Ali’s book? Well, I didn’t. I only read parts of it and skimmed the rest. I have never written a review of a book on that basis. I am now in uncharted territory.

On a personal level, I will finish it in increments over the next few weeks. Driven by the P4P calendar, I am reluctantly sharing my thoughts thus far in the hope that they will stir interest by others. This is not a review; it is a commentary. These observations are stimulated by what I have read so far, including the major update: an afterword by Jackie Salit.

Do not expect the following points to follow any pattern; they don’t. And please do not blame Dr. Ali for these comments; he is responsible for stimulating them, but has no responsibility at all for my interpretation. I hope he doesn’t cringe if he reads them, but he surely has that privilege.

We continue to be faced with what I refer to as a “DuopoLith” (the duopoly of two parties; the monolith of the two-party power collusion and world view) of American political life: the seemingly impregnable fortress constructed by the Democratic and Republican parties as a pathetic surrogate for American governance. It is a dismal distortion of what the Great American Experiment requires. Not surprisingly, the challenges to this domination arise from outside the parties. Black Americans, often associated with other marginalized segments of the population (though not always) have played significant roles in bending the Nation’s political trajectory. Indeed, they are sometimes the determinators, as are independents, increasingly. Black independents are a force of nature in electoral terms.

Winners get to write the history books. That is why so many make it seem like the DuopoLith is the only game in town. That is often true in the short run and seldom in the long run. That is a major reason why this book is so important—and remains so over a decade after its first edition.

Parties focus on ideology and control; independents, often including Black Americans, focus on issues requiring resolution. The process often consumes decades, with sharp reversals and varied alliances along the way. The long game requires a long view; difficult to achieve and sustain when the consequences for large swaths of Americans are often so significantly degraded. That includes Black Americans for the last 456 years (from St. Augustine onward) and poor populations generally throughout our history (and everyone else’s).

Our society, from the very wording of the Constitution in 1787 until today, takes certain segments of the population for granted, as do parties with voters who are not loyal to the DuopoLith but vote for party nominated candidates anyway because there are seldom options. Parties want our money for campaigns and our votes for candidates and then our silence until the next election.

The DuopoLith views the political landscape as a zero-sum environment, in which there must always be winners and losers, with the parties dictating who is which. Black Americans have experienced this phenomenon from all parties throughout our history.

The so-called party base (for each party) is impervious to critical thinking and voting for the most part. This leaves the “margins” to determine who wins and who loses elections in selective areas—in recent years, coming down to half a dozen states or so that swing numerically relatively little, but enough to elect a President. Those thin margins are populated in large measure by Independent Voters and Black Voters in different proportions and at different times. Many factors account for this micro-focus on a few areas: the nature of the electoral college, gerrymandering, DuopoLith collusion, cynical voter suppression tactics, segregated socioeconomic patterns evolving over time, and skewed economic policy, to mention a few.

A key example of this cited by Mr. Ali is the drop-off in ballots cast by Black Voters between 2008 and 2012, in which millions of Black Voters did not cast ballots. Contrary to conventional description, however, they did vote. They voted for the winner. All people who are able to cast ballots and do not, vote for whoever wins. Jackie, in her afterword, mention’s Michael Dawson’s quote used by Omar Ali in his book:

Political behavior also includes the decision whether or not to vote.”

That is not the decision; the decision is whether or not to cast a ballot. Either way is a vote. The reason this perspective is so pivotal in terms of increased voter rights and responsibilities (a bias: those words must always appear together) requires more words than belong here. Some other time.

Much of the history described here is about having a voice—or not—in the political arena. The problem with the DuopoLith is that it is one thing to have a voice; it is quite another to be at the table with other voices when the critical choices and decisions are made. The DuopoLith is very accomplished at maintaining a “pure” table, as they choose to define it, by whatever means works. Black Voters and Independent Voters can tell you all about that. So can poor White Voters in economically devastated communities.

A major issue discussed in depth is the matter of self-determination or consolidation (more broadly, integration), a theme that keeps reappearing through history. My only comment at this point is this; we are one Nation and that embraces the theoretical vision of the Union. In reality, as has often been the case, we are all “in this,” but not at all together. To understand how this happens and what we might do about it, we can benefit greatly by understanding past evolutions of attempts to bridge that span, both successful and not.

Now I know why I need to finish the book.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

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Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

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Reader’s Forum — Allen Cox

Allen Cox

I love this book. I love the author, I love the contributors, I love its timeliness, it’s exposures and its historical significance. This book should be part of every political science’s curriculums. But it won’t, because of who wrote it and the issue that it’s raising, using independent politics as a vehicle for black empowerment. It took someone like Omar Ali who knows something about that as a long time supporter and builder of the independent political movement, to do it. I feel personally connected to this book, as someone who spent over 30 years of my life as a grassroots leader in building and supporting the independent political movement.

This way of looking at history through independent lens makes me feel connected to history like I’ve never felt before. The tactics we use today to change the culture of politics so it really reflects the will of the people, particularly black people has been done before, like the inside outside tactic, fusion, petitioning etc., as far back as the revolutionary era, and that makes me feel proud to be a part of that legacy. I really like the way this book has given me a different perspective on who some of the well-known historical figures were and what really motivated them to support black peoples struggle or be against black people‘s fight for freedom and equality. Hopefully this book gets in the hands of those who want to make change for black people, to start the conversation about using the independent political option.

Allen Cox is a high school basketball referee and an outreach worker for various healthcare organizations in the Harlem community. He is a grassroots leader of the independent political movement with Independent Voting. Allen is also a member of The Committee for Independent Community Action, an organization created to challenge the privatization of New York City public housing.

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Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

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Reader’s Forum — Jeff Aron

Throughout the history of the United States, African Americans have catalyzed movements for the expansion of democracy, social justice, and economic and political reform.”

Jeff Aron

This is Omar’s first sentence in a remarkable book that details the many ways that African Americans, since the founding of this nation, have marched for “Liberty! Liberty” (the call for freedom by four African Americans in 1773 on behalf of all enslaved people in Massachusetts).

In the Balance of Power brilliantly illuminates this righteous struggle; the people of different backgrounds of class, religion, national origin, race and politics who have waged it; and the myriad of ways they have taken on the effort to end enslavement, oppression and injustice.

This past summer, the massive movement for racial justice brought millions into the streets and into contact with one another. New kinds of conversations were being had and new kinds of relationships were created. In his introduction, Omar says we will be changed by this in unforeseeable ways. He poses the question/challenge as to whether we will take this opportunity to reconstruct, remake and reimagine our country and suggests that if we do, it will be African Americans and independent black leadership who play a key role.

A crowd of about a hundred people march past the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 30, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.
(Caption: The Globe and Mail | Photo: NATHAN HOWARD/GETTY IMAGES)

I was involved in some of these conversations and have been excited by the emergence of independent young leaders. In a phone call with a young activist in Portland, I was asked, as someone who had participated in previous struggles, to share in a letter my perspective on what was happening. Inspired by both the current movement and by Omar’s wonderful book, I thought I might share a part of this letter with all of you in Politics for the People.


Dear Sourabh,

What a surprising and inspiring conversation! Two strangers at opposite ends of the country and two generations apart, with very different backgrounds and life histories, discovering that they have a shared parentage: the movement for racial justice.

As someone who has been a participant in the struggle for justice all my life, the marches and demonstrations that are happening now are both a thrilling continuation of its history and something new and powerful.

I am overjoyed by the emergence of a third wave, which you and others on the streets in Portland and throughout the world represent. I am awed by the flowering of Black Lives Matter envisaged and created less than a decade ago by three African American women and so many others from whom they learned and who they have taught.

As we march, I have been thinking about the kinds of conversations we need to have to change the culture and politics of domination and oppression. I think it’s appropriate to ask how we need to develop as a people so that we can have these conversations. What does inclusion look like? How do we pursue our democracy?

As we discussed, I see Dr. Lenora Fulani as leading an effort to address these issues in her historic independent run for President and support for the building of a new kind independent politics, and through her leadership of organizations such as the All Stars Project.

In response to your question “What should the current generation know? (that their parents knew),” there was a conversation in 2009 between two great figures in the fight for civil and human rights, Angela Davis and Julian Bond, in which they discussed the significance of Brown v. Board of Education, which was seen as a great victory that did not produce the expected societal transformation. Angela Davis says:

“And so I see the Brown v. Board of Education victory as reconfiguring the terrain of our quest for freedom….And sometimes we cannot even imagine the possible struggle until we’ve achieved victory in one area and then, rather than resting … we need to ask ourselves …what do we now know that we did not know then and what can we now imagine and struggle for.”

I believe that both Malcolm X and Dr. King exemplified this. They grew in the struggle. Their development and their growing independence from established institutions and parties was a challenge to others to do so as well – Malcolm most dramatically after his hajj to Mecca and Dr. King as he moved from the South to Chicago to build a poor people’s movement that included, but went beyond, voting rights to embrace housing and jobs for all. They did not stop to rest as they began to reimagine the struggle. It would be an understatement to say that this growth was not welcomed by all, including by many of their comrades. Some who had originally embraced them felt abandoned or threatened by the radicalness of their revisioning. As well, this was a personal challenge for them as leaders. In the face of real opposition, often from close friends, they asked themselves where and to whom did their responsibility lay?

It has been noted by many that the current national movement is broadly multiracial and on a scale that is new in American history. In some cases, as in your town, you mentioned that it is primarily white. I believe that Dr. King and Malcolm would have celebrated this. It must be a national project that includes people from all backgrounds. While the fight to end systemic racism has been and should continue to be Black led, doing this is going to require the contributions of many – giving all that we have to give. And as we grow, giving even more.

Our history is a “mighty river” with many and various political, social and economic streams combining together. We are still in the early stages of a long march. And each of us needs to be thinking how we will continue to fight for a just society even if/when the necessary demonstrating and voting produce immediate wins.

In solidarity with you, your neighbors and all those demonstrating for racial justice in Portland. I and so many of us around the world are deeply proud of you – and we are marching with you.

Jeff


Jeff Aron has been a supporter of the independent political movement for more than 40 years. He is the child of immigrant Jewish parents who, as young political activists in the 1930’s, entered the struggle for civil rights and justice and remained in it throughout their lives.

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Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

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Reader’s Forum — Sadie Moore Stewart

I hope that this book is on the reading list at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). In fact I would like to suggest if not, that Ali reach out. As a Native of Tuskegee, Alabama, I was particularly pleased that you provided, by example, the political nature of the late great Booker T. Washington.

A former slave from Virginia who led the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Washington would become the most widely known and influential black leader in the nation after the passing of Frederick Douglass. Unlike Douglass, however, Washington publicly eschewed political action, although he fought behind the scenes against black disenfranchisement. In 1895, the year Douglass passed away, Washington made his famous statement at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition supporting segregation and urging industrial education for African Americans. As he put it, ‘In all things
that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.’ His views were embraced by most Southern white leaders (and his programs funded by Northern white businessmen) since they did not pose a political threat to the established order. Nevertheless, while preaching social accommodation and rejecting calls for black political participation, Washington gave his backing to candidates through his ‘Tuskegee Machine,’ the name given to his considerable network of influence via his educational and business ventures. He privately financed several legal cases against electoral discrimination, in 1900 contesting a grandfather clause enacted in Louisiana, and in 1903 and 1904 funding the legal challenges Giles v. Hams and Giles v. Teasley against discriminatory voter registration practices in Alabama. The Supreme Court threw both Giles cases out on technicalities.10

Ali, Omar H., In the Balance of Power (p. 105). Ohio University Press. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully your perspective will be one that is preserved through history.

It is almost as if third party movements are automatically a part of the two-party system. Which is scary when you think about it. Are we being used to do the work of the legislators? Since they know that they will have to compromise to get anything done.Or, if it were not for third party movements there would be no legislative efforts on behalf of the people.

WHO IS THE PROVERBIAL “THEY?”

Jackie Salit’s last two paragraphs in the afterword summarize the question I have been asking for years. Her statement suggests a lack of a proverbial “they”:

Ali documents the unlikely cross-racial and often cross-ideological coalitions that have appeared and reappeared over time with controversial and visionary black leaders Frederick Douglas, Walter Pattillo, W.E.B. Du Bois, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Lenora Fulani at the helm. There is historical precedent. But today’s political crisis demands more than just precedent. Today there is also a profound weakening of governing and political institutions, of parties and ideology and public trust. The consent of the governed is slipping away. While the stranglehold of party loyalty is at an apex, the public desire for political freedom, for choice, for mobility, and for development among ordinary Americans is spreading. New institutions based on new partnerships and ways of being must be built.

But today’s political crisis demands more than just precedent. Today there is also a profound weakening of governing and political institutions, of parties and ideology and public trust,”

Salit, Jacqueline, In the Balance of Power (p. 175). Ohio University Press. Kindle Edition.

WHO IS THE PROVERBIAL “THEY?”

I grew up at a time when “they” summarized the entire white race. That is how far removed we were from the power structure. As we became more involved, educated, etc. we understood that “they” was divided into two groups, but never was there a question that “they “stood for what we now know to have been Standard Oil, the Rockefellers, Carnegies Etc. In other words THE WORLD CAPITALISTS, not necessarily all whites.

On the plantation, the distinctions were quite clear. But after the abolishment, poor whites struggled to exercise their “at least we are not black” version of superiority that Jackie quoted Baldwin as having written.

I submit that there is no identifiable “THEY” at present. The diversity of the wealth has made it impossible to identify who benefits exactly from what specific policies. Instead of this making “strange bedfellows,” it makes for no bedfellows. Of course, the fallback privately owned federal reserve is the all-time “they.” But it has no identity.

Thus enters Trump. He identified the proverbial they and at the same time vilified that “they.” It is why those whites that voted for Obama voted for Trump. Obama gave them an easy contrast with the “they” that they despised, and subsequently blamed for their “bad luck” in life.

It is no surprise to me that there is evidence that quite a few of the terrorists (deliberately not in quotation marks) of January 6 were in serious financial trouble, i.e. bankruptcy, repossessions, etc. So the question becomes is there no longer a Proverbial They? Are we too divided for a Proverbial They? Has self-interest (diverse income sources) done away with party loyalty? Which is why Trump has no party loyalty. His policies (that count as far as this discussion goes) were transparently decided in favor of his selfish needs.

The influence of Tech Companies may have reduced the power of past “theys.” Could you imagine the proverbial “they” being a foreign power? Does the New World Order represent the confluence necessary to unite the global elite? Are they, the “they”? Is this why the country is in such a confused state?

IN OTHER WORDS, WHO IS IN CHARGE?

Sadie Moore Stewart is a 70 year old black lawyer and independent activist from Ohio.

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Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

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Reader’s Forum — Susan Massad

Reading Omar Ali’s comments from the Yes, and Café podcast this week, I was struck by his reminder of how the role of ideology and race are used in the same way to divide people against each other who actually have much in common. On Sunday, there was a front page article in The New York Times titled “A Year of Hardship, Helped and Hindered by Washington” that gave us a poignant and upsetting story of a white, working class young woman, Kathryn Stewart, and her efforts to create a life for herself and 10-year-old son living dependent on the capricious and arbitrary systems of COVID aid. Kathryn was described as not political and a non-voter in the 2021 elections. This was not surprising as neither party is speaking to her or seems concerned about her plight. She is one of the millions of people who have been abandoned by the current political arrangements.

I read the piece the day after I watched Judas and the Black Messiah, a timely and powerful film chronicling the efforts of the Chicago Black Panther party, led by 21-year-old Fred Hampton, to build a alliance with the white working class leaders in the late 1960’s. Hampton was assassinated, as have other black leaders before and after him who saw the possibility of creating new kinds of class wide political alliances.

In the Balance of Power by Omar Ali gives us an important history of independent black politics and third party movements in the United States where we see the journey of African American leadership/identifications with independent politics and the currents of black separatist movements and black nationalist organizing. In the book, one also finds the threads of independent class wide organizing led by many African American leaders, including those of Lenora Fulani’s starting in the 1980’s.

These recent reading/viewing experiences have brought home to me the imperative of class wide organizing today. The white working class is currently portrayed as nothing but Trumpers and insurrectionists, the people who attacked the capital. Kathryn Stewart was neither, as are millions of other people who have been left out and are unrepresented. I was very touched by Kathryn’s experience and felt the urgency of continuing to build an independent movement that speaks out to the concerns of the left-out and the disenfranchised and asks “Can we break out of the strictures of a politic defined by race and ideology?”

Susan Massad is a retired primary care physician educator who is on the faculty of the East Side Institute where she leads workshops/conversations exploring what it means for people to grow and develop in the face of serious illness, aging or memory loss. Susan is a long time independent activist with Independent Voting.

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Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

***

Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough

Steve Hough

Omari Ali’s book, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States, chronicles the voting strategies employed by black voters throughout our nation’s history. He provides an in-depth analysis of the varying strategies debated and adopted at different points in our history, from the founding of a new nation through the election of our first black President.

According to the Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights endowed by the creator. However, from the beginning, there has been a disconnect between these words and reality. This reality was especially apparent when the founding fathers declared their independence but allowed slavery to continue in the colonies.

From the first days of our nation’s founding, abolition of slavery was a primary goal of free blacks, and others. When moral suasion proved largely ineffective, participation in politics became a necessary component of the effort to end slavery. Dr. Ali explores the history of black politics and documents the varied strategies used to achieve results in support of interests of concern to the black community.

Black voters often lent support to major party candidates, sometimes formed independent third parties, and at other times withheld their votes in order to win concessions from a major party.

Formation of the Republican Party in 1854, as a coalition of Democrats and Whigs opposed to the expansion of slavery in new states, ultimately resulted in the abolition of slavery. While black voters’ support for the Republican Party remained intact for some time, those later migrating to the North found their interests more aligned with Democrats. After 1948, “Dixiecrats” left the Democratic Party and efforts to end Jim Crow in the South and the promotion of black civil rights found their best allies in the Democratic Party. That alliance remained rock solid in the aftermath of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but the alliance is beginning to show some cracks.

While signs of political independence continue to grow among African Americans, black Democratic officials are on the frontline attempting to restrain that independence.”

Ali, Omar H., In the Balance of Power (p. 165). Ohio University Press. Kindle Edition.

We saw this play out in Florida last year over the fight to pass proposed Amendment 3 which would have opened our state primary elections to an additional 3.8 million voters, of which, 1.5 million are people of color.

Sean Shaw is a black man. He is a former state representative and the Democratic nominee for Attorney General in 2018. He led the charge in opposition to Amendment 3, falsely claiming that it would “bleach” black-majority districts and result in black candidates being unable to win elections. He made his case using an analysis of raw voter registration data produced by a freelance consultant with ties to the Florida Democratic Party.

The Black Legislative Caucus scheduled a press conference denouncing Amendment 3 within days of the story breaking in the Tampa Bay Times (Shaw’s home turf). It was sent to all state units of the NAACP and, in turn, was used to pressure the state League of Women Voters to reverse their previous support in the 11th hour. The state party funded a mailer using a stock photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and others marching. The mailer claimed that Amendment 3 would reverse all the gains made in the past. Shaw also ran negative ads on Facebook while refusing to reveal donors to his nonprofit organization.

Shaw ducked debates on several occasions, but when he was pressed about his opposition, he remained firm. He said numerous times that he was black and, if we wanted to vote in a primary, join a party.

Since the 1970s, what has come to be the dominant black political strategy—getting more African Americans elected via the Democratic Party—has required the continuous mobilization, recruitment, and cultivation of loyal black adherents who, in turn, climb up the party’s ladder. The Democratic Party, however, has gone considerably further, manipulating electoral processes and structures to constrict the choices available to African Americans in order to ensure their candidates’ reelection (often working hand in hand with Republicans to minimize overall competition). The party does this while simultaneously demonizing independent, insurgent, and fusion candidates—in the cases of Fulani, Perot, Nader, and Bloomberg, calling them ‘egomaniacs,’ ‘closet right-wingers,’ or ‘spoilers,’ among other terms.95

Ali, Omar H., In the Balance of Power (p. 165-166). Ohio University Press. Kindle Edition.

Dr. Ali rightfully highlights the methods employed by the Democratic Party to keep black voters in their camp. The tactics employed, in conjunction with the failure to deliver solid results on issues important to communities of color, have many rethinking their allegiance to the party. Jackie Salit provides some numbers to back this up in her Afterword.

Polls have shown that 27 percent of African Americans between eighteen and twenty-five years old identify as independents.8 The Congressional Black Caucus found in January 2017 that 63 percent of African Americans feel taken for granted by the Democratic Party.9 Ali himself conducted a survey of college independents in 2012 in North Carolina finding that 82.6 percent of the respondents said they did not want to be labeled as either a Democrat or a Republican.10

Salit, Jacqueline, In the Balance of Power (p. 174). Ohio University Press. Kindle Edition.

Voters, including people of color, have become disillusioned by the degeneration of politics in the context of a partisan duopoly, and they are declaring their independence in greater numbers than ever before. Where that takes us is anyone’s guess, but I am optimistic that independent voters will continue to be primary agents of change — perhaps on a scale as never before.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.

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