We loved the book In the Balance of Power, Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States by Omar H. Ali.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lowell Ward and Sarah Bayer, who are co-coordinators for the Coalition of Independent Voters of Massachusetts (COIV) Politics for the People book club where we’ve read Politics for the People’s book selections chosen by Cathy Stewart for the past 3 years. I asked them both two questions:
- What stood out for you in the book?
- I asked them to answer their own question (Sarah & Lowell posed a question each to the book club in Massachusetts)
Abraham Lincoln campaigned that if he could save the union without freeing the slaves, he would. With this statement in mind, if Lincoln wasn’t assassinated, do you think reconstruction would have succeeded?”
Let’s go back to 1865, when Lincoln made a great blunder by letting the Confederate soldiers go home after they surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse with only a signature saying they would not take up arms. When he did that, he did not arrest the culture. They still hated the North, they still owned slaves and their ideology was allowed to perpetuate without being challenged. They should have been expelled from the country as traitors. Then, 12 years into Reconstruction, Rutherford B. Hayes was running for President, and it was a close election (not dissimilar to what we Just went through with Biden and Trump) and there was a debate over who actually won. The Democrats and Republicans got together and told R.B.Hayes that he could have the Presidency if he removed Federal troops from the South (who were only in three states out of the thirteen by then) who had been there to make sure the South followed the law and didn’t re-arm against the North. During Reconstruction, Blacks excelled and were doing pretty well given what they had just endured as slaves. Some got elected to the Senate and House of Representatives. Southern Democrats didn’t like that, and once the federal Troops left, things went badly for blacks and conditions for the Klu Klux Klan and hangings on the regular were common. So I don’t think it would have mattered if Lincoln wasn’t assassinated in terms of the end of Reconstruction, as the damage was done by the decision he made in 1865 in my opinion. Here we are on January 6, 2020, and White Supremacy replayed – actually it never went away and really got re-activated when Barak Obama got elected and then supported by Donald Trump.
In terms of the first question, I was struck by how the political parties have really not done anything to advance the lives of black people.”
There are two powerful quotes in Chapters 5: ‘The two old parties have combined against us to nullify our power by a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of non-recognition….May God write us down as asses if ever again we are found putting our trust in either the Republicans or the Democratic Parties.’ W.E.B DuBois, 1922, and in Chapter 6: ‘I’m not trying to knock out the Democrats for the Republicans, we’ll get to them in a minute. But it is true – you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.’ Malcom X, 1964. From what you read, in what ways do these two statements, from very different historical times and figures, shed light on how African American communities organized for political power?”
Sarah’s Response (intertwines answers to her question and question 1):
The beauty of this book is that it walks through, in great detail, a very significant documented movement in history in this country. Its density is it’s strength. In our book club discussion, members shared their experience of the ahistorical and racist ways our education system doesn’t teach us what actually happened. Ali’s subtitle, Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States, teaches this rich history. We get a look at this history not framed through the 2 party system’s narrowed terms, for example our winner take all mentality, where we don’t look at the impact and efforts these movements created (which were black led and often coalitional) and the roles they played. Independent writers, documentarians and film makers have exposed this history by going deeper and helping us see. W.E.B. DuBois and Malcolm X give voice to these movements and continue to do so along with many of the other activists we meet in these pages. They pushed for progressive change in this country and organized.
I also loved the timeline at the end of the book that details the parties, leaders and movements and when they began. George Edwin Taylor, the first African American man that ran for President in 1904 on the National Negro Liberty Party – who knew?? I re-read Jackie’s Afterward and was so moved by Baldwin, I went back and re-watched the film, I Am Not your Negro. I loved the question Jackie poses at the end, ‘Will these historical shifts thrust African Americans and independents into playing a leadership role in the balance of power? This is the next question, the next challenge, the next call to action.'”
Thank you Sarah and Lowell for your insightful comments!!
We’re all looking forward to the call with Dr. Omar H. Ali on February 21st.
Lowell Ward & Sarah Bayer are co-leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Independent Voters. Evelyn Dougherty is the Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition of Independent Voters.
Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
Click here to RSVP!