A Declaration of Independents
How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream by Greg Orman
The willingness to take a stand for what you believe in can be incredibly humbling and scary. It can also be a very lonely experience because sometimes you must be willing to stand alone. History is filled with men and women who would eventually play an impactful role in changing the world. I have no doubt that these same men and women spent many days questioning their own sanity as they were discredited, attacked and deserted by their friends. I felt a kinship with author Greg Orman as I read his book ‘A Declaration of Independents’. I applaud Mr. Orman for having the courage to run for office in a race that he was unlikely to win. In a grossly competitive country like America, ‘losing is for suckers’ and should be avoided regardless of who gets hurt or what gets destroyed. In my more than thirty-five-year history of activism in student, political and professional organizations, I have stood next to, supported and worked with ordinary people who knew that it was unlikely they would be giving the victory speech at the end of election day, but who gave everything they had because it was the right thing to do.
In his chapter ‘It’s Not Rocket Science’ I loved what Mr. Orman had to say about the commonality of the concerns and beliefs of the American people. I agree with the author that there is a tremendous need for us to figure out how to move past the ways in which we have been pitted against each other. America’s partisan political system creates and thrives on this divisiveness. I was deeply moved by Mr. Orman’s thoughtfulness in reminding the people he met on the campaign trail that they had much in common and agreed on some very important issues. The chapter “It’s Not Rocket Science” helped me to remember my faith in the American people. It’s easy to lose sight of this faith while reading daily about the ways in which we hurt each other.
I feel very lucky to have had one of the biggest reminders of the commonality and decency of the American people when I had the privilege to work on the 1988 Lenora B. Fulani presidential campaign for Fair Elections and Democracy. The issue of opening the elections process isn’t seen as the sexiest of endeavors, but I believe that it is a critical step in the growth and development of America. I was 21 years old when I traveled to North Carolina – the first of many states I would help to get Lenora Branch Fulani on the ballot for President. Looking back, I marvel at my courage: I left my job and apartment and got into a car with a man who I had never met to travel south. I remember being so afraid to go ‘down south’ because I had heard and read about so many horror stories of racist terror and violence. Sadly, some of my fears were realized when the multi-racial team I was on in North Carolina encountered hateful stares and comments. We even woke up one day to find an announcement of a Ku Klux Klan meeting nailed to a tree in front of the house we were renting!
Although we had many scary experiences, the beauty and decency of the American people far out-shined the ugliness. I met a man named Carl on a sunny day in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carl was a white man, wearing a big cowboy hat. Carl was at least 6”5 in height and twice my size! I remember asking Carl to sign the petition to get Lenora B. Fulani on the ballot for President, but NOT showing Carl the campaign flyer because I was afraid of his reaction. I still remember Carl’s deep southern accent when he asked, “well who is the candidate?” I swallowed hard and showed him the flyer that featured a smiling Lenora B. Fulani rocking her short, natural hairstyle. Carl took a moment to look at the flyer and then said, “well why didn’t you show me this flyer first? This is an honorable cause.” Carl quickly signed the petition and even gave a financial contribution! As I traveled the country from 1987 to 1988, I met countless people from all walks of life – doctors who were arriving at hospitals for their early morning shifts, men and women of every hue in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, wealthy women, store owners and the list goes on and on -who showed us their decency and caring about America. It was not uncommon for our team of campaign workers, exhausted and broke, to arrive in a city to get our candidate, Lenora B. Fulani on the ballot but not have a place to sleep that night. I am not kidding when I say that countless people of every hue and financial background who had NEVER met us would open their homes to us. We were routinely given discounts at restaurants for our meals. I still remember people who had signed the petition on a previous night driving by us after their work day to make sure that we were okay. Although my body still bears some of the scars of that work — standing for 18 hours a day and sleeping on floors at night is truly grueling – I have no regrets.
More than 40% of Americans identify as independents. I am thrilled and proud of this fact, but I wonder when we will really step up and take the reigns in leading change in America. I have days when I feel so anxious about the pain in our world. I know far too many people who work eighty hours per week but who live in homeless shelters because they cannot afford to pay rent. I dream of a day when we will recognize that America belongs to the people who built it and it is ours to change for the better.
Michelle McCleary is a life-long independent activist and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.
POLITICS for the PEOPLE BOOK CLUB
CONFERENCE CALL with GREG ORMAN, Author of
A Declaration of Independents
How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream