Reader’s Forum — Paige Bartkowiak

Paige created this video sharing her thoughts on reading In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States. Her comments focus on “Chapter Two: Abolitionism, the Liberty Party, and Free Soil.”

Paige Bartkowiak is the Head of National Development for The People. Prior to working for The People, Paige was the Major Fundraising Event Coordinator for Voters Not Politicians, a fundraiser for Senator Debbie Stabenow and a field organizer for Bryan Mielke.

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Jennifer Bullock

Jennifer Bullock

I am halfway through In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements in the United States. I appreciate how you lay out so clearly the integral role Africans and African Americans played in creating the conditions for, and participating in, our country’s political freedom from the British as well as making this country’s profound wealth. I love, for example, how you underline that the African slaves helped to build the wealth of the landowners, which freed the aristocrats up to be able to force a war of independence, since the slaves were doing all the other work needed to keep things going. Critical to our understanding of our history! Have you spoken to Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project? What a wonderful conversation between the both of you that would be regarding how, why, where and when we educate Americans of all ages about our history.

I am at the part of the book where the Liberty Party is attempting to make an impact on two major parties, pre-civil war. Maybe you address what I am now going to ask later in the book. Do you think there is a current alliance to be made between the multicultural, non-ideological independent movement and the ideologically-based, independent black radical movement? I ask because I recently listened to a fascinating and fiery multigenerational panel discussion called The Challenge of Independent Black Radical Movement Today, with leaders such as Elaine Brown (Black Panther Party and prisoner justice advocate) and others discussing the challenges to building black power, peace, and political movements outside of the two-party, capitalist, militarist “imperialist” class. I wondered during the discussion, where the two parties were trashed as strongly as capitalism and our violent foreign policies, what might it look like to attempt now to have conversations with say the Black Peace Alliance and Independentvoting.org. This might be naïve and loop us around the age-old tactical discussion of what’s most effective: change from inside the system, from outside the system, or a hybrid inside – outside movement. I am inspired by the stories you share of courageous leadership of ordinary women and men challenging the inhumane oppressive slave system based on practicality and humanity first, not on ideology and platforms first (perhaps an over generalization?).

At any rate, I am looking forward to the book club discussion and how we can keep taking your scholarly work to the people and advancing the conversation of the intertwined relationship between independence and black leadership in America. I keep thinking of the story a young black college women, a new volunteer with Independent Pennsylvanians , told me recently. She shared that she and her twin sister recently registered to vote. Both registered independent; her sister went with their mother, a Democrat, to the polls last primary day, excited to cast her first vote in elections. However, she was turned away. Why? She had the audacity to declare independence from the two parties. The parties punish that. Neither the new Independent Pennsylvanian’s activist nor her twin sister changed their registration. The brave fight continues. Thank you.

Jennifer Bullock is the Director of Independent Pennsylvanians, which is a proud founding member of the PA Open Primaries Coalition. She is a social therapist practicing in Philadelphia.

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Howard Edelbaum

Howard created this collage in response to reading Omar Ali’s In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States.

Howard Edelbaum is active with Independent Voting and is an Accounting Consultant.

***

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

***

Omar Ali’s In the Balance of Power Fills an Education Gap



Omar H. Ali

Omar H. Ali’s, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States, could carry the title, What I Should Have Learned in High School, But Didn’t. Thankfully, Ali fills the gap.

To get the most out of the volume (especially because the book was published in 2008 with a revised/ updated edition released in 2020), I recommend beginning with the Afterword authored by Jacqueline Salit. You’ll read about recent circumstances that bear attention. There, Salit writes:

The public desire for political freedom, for choice, for mobility, and for development among ordinary Americans is spreading.”

Not just fine rhetoric is that. “The public desire for political freedom” has legs. When Gallup queries Americans (as it does about ten times each year) and asks—“In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?”—the majority of respondents answer Independent. And they’ve answered that way just about every time since 2004. In the most recent poll (January 2021), Gallup reported that 45% said ‘Independent.’ That’s almost twice the percentage of those who said Republican, and 15% more than those who declared Democrat.

The value of Ali’s contribution is how we got to where we are today and what they could mean for the future. And, for me (at least), understanding came from continuing to ‘read backward.’ So, next, I read Chapter Seven (the last chapter of the book), “The Black Independent Alliance in 2008,” One passage (citing Michael Dawson) stood out.

Many African Americans view their only choices—the same choices they have considered for nearly half a century (DOP 1994)—as support for the Democratic Party, support for a third-party/other independent political effort, or abstention.”

Flash forward (from 1994) to 2016. In my home state of Michigan, that third choice (abstention) was one of the primary reasons Trump took Michigan that year. Trump beat Clinton by 10,700 votes with 4.8 million votes cast in a state where 20% of the electorate is African American. Thousands of African Americans across the state—in cities like Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Saginaw — didn’t cast presidential ballots that year. Not so in 2020, though. Black voter participation increased, many more African Americans voted, and Biden carried the state.

I then read Chapter 6, “Civil Rights, Black Power, and Independent Politics,” and the beginning grabbed me hard. Ali relays the story of three African American women who, in 1964, ‘crashed’ the Democratic national nominating convention. The women were from Mississippi where, as Ali describes (at the time),

93 percent of the black electorate remained disenfranchised through a combination of threat, violence, and the force of law. Less than 7 percent of African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country, and lower than it had been in 1896.”

One of the women, Fannie Lou Hamer, declared on national TV how she was treated upon trying to register to vote—fired from her job, jailed, and beaten to the point that she lost vision permanently in one eye and walks with a limp. (Mind you, back then, the culprits were Democrat, not Republican.)

Chapter 6 is full of important facts and commentary. It’s a must-read because it helps readers understand what happened immediately before and in the years following the landmark national civil rights legislation of the 1960s. Those are events to which I can relate because I lived through what Ali writes, albeit not as an African American.

That background—personal experience, but not as an African American—is the reason I give special attribution to Chapters 1-5. Those chapters represent (to me) the history class I never took. Ali begins at the outset of the Republic and takes you through the 1950s. You’ll read with interest, and sometimes outrage, what African Americans endured and rose above. Most interesting to me was reading about key figures of their day, including Peter Bestes, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Highland Garnet, Anthony Burns, John B. Rayner, Jim Kennard, Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Mary McCleod Bethune, Bishop W.J. Walls, and A. Phillip Randolph. And that’s just a partial list.

As I read those chapters, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own political metamorphosis—from Rockefeller Republican to Liberal Democrat to Progressive Independent. Each shift was compelled by the need to re-locate myself in a way that fits my (evolving) philosophy, (clarity of) spirit, and (developing) soul.

And while many of us aren’t African American, white Independents share much with our black brethren. We are misunderstood, marginalized, taken for granted, and with voice muted—all by an increasingly corporatized political machine called THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM.

As I read Chapter 5, I thought of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential valedictory speech. Eisenhower warned Americans about what he called The Military-Industrial Complex. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower said that day. He could very well have been talking about major party politics as we know it today.

Sadly, Black History Month is about the only time of year that many of us pay serious attention to the historical circumstance of African Americans. But there’s also something to be said about an ever-present opportunity—to keep learning. Ancora Imparo (I’m still learning”) is the way Michelangelo put it at age 83.

For Michelangelo, learning was a lifestyle, and that’s the ticket for people of any age. It also applies to the age in which we live today, an age that’s awash with misinformation and people with manipulative intent. The antidote to both is straightforward—knowledge—the kind you’ll find in Omar H. Ali’s book.

Omar H. Ali will talk about this book, and you can be part of the exchange, at The Politics for People Book Club. Register here to participate in this no-cost event via Zoom. The date is Sunday, February 21, 7 p.m. ET.

Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as professor and department/college-level administrator. Currently, Fear is managing editor of FutureU and The Sports Column, writes political commentary for LA Progressive, and hosts a podcast, Under the Radar.

***

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

***

Yes, and Café Podcast with Nadja Cech and Omar Ali

In early January, Dr. Omar Ali sat down with his colleagues at UNC Greensboro for a conversation
on the Yes, and Café Podcast.

They talked about the import of Vice President Kamala Harris’ election, identity politics, the link between development and democracy, the divisions in the country and more.

Give a listen below:

Here are a couple of comments Dr. Omar Ali made during the interview to consider:

Just as race was created as a way of dividing and conquering poor people… across American History in order to control labor and power, ideology has been used in the same way to divide people against each other who actually have much in common. To me, we’ve been bamboozled, hoodwinked as Malcolm would say, into thinking that there are these great divides between us, when in fact they’re relatively superficial… The more important thing, that is, being a fellow human being, a fellow citizen, these things are much more important than ideological differences.”

…It’s the interplay between those who are in positions of authority – elected officials – and those outside. And that’s how history has changed over time, is that dialectic if you will. So, movements are the critical changers of societal norms and practices. And what I see is a movement among independents that has been in the making for some time. As was mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved for the last three decades in building an independent political movement in this country which is nonpartisan – to be very clear – and goes across the ideological spectrum. So, policies change as a result of movement building….”

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Mike Marthaller


Mike sent in a response to Caroline Donnola’s poem,
Many Roads are Better than One.


Mike Marthaller

Several thoughts:
Be divided. Be conquered.

Do not “Judge” history by the standards of today.
In fact, do not “Judge” history; they too dealt with COMPLEX survival, social, cultural, regional, economic, religious, political issues.
As I look BACK I attempt to consider communicating just a few miles often took months.

Survival was not an abstract concept.

Our ancestors in the USA and Canada were involved in attempting to resolve what was arguably the greatest rapid mixing of cultures, religious concept, social, cultural differences in human history.  

They TOO faced the manipulations by those who would be Kings OR Queens.
Some who were in fact altruistic and some still as today only want power.

They faced then as today manipulative outside forces.

And WE then as today exerted our power over others.

Peace
Through RESPONSIBILITY.

Mike Marthaller is retired from the military, a peace activist, a City Councilmember from rural Washington, and active with Braver Angels.

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Evelyn Dougherty with Lowell Ward and Sarah Bayer

(L to R) Evelyn Dougherty, Sarah Bayer and Lowell Ward

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:

  1. What stood out for you in the book?
  2. I asked them to answer their own question (Sarah & Lowell posed a question each to the book club in Massachusetts)

Lowell’s question:

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?”

Lowell’s Response:

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.”

Sarah’s Question:

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
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!

***

The democracy reform and Black political agendas must become aligned

In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States by Dr. Omar Ali is as relevant today as is the long struggle to dismantle systemic racism in America. The book is about Black people’s resistance to barriers to full democracy and inclusion and the variety of tactics inside and outside of the major parties that were used to pursue voting rights, racial justice, and equality. Reading this book is a lesson and an inspiration to continue forward the building of the independent multiracial democracy movement of today.”

– Dr. Jessie Fields

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing in Harlem, and a Board member at Independent Voting and Open Primaries.


The democracy reform and Black political agendas must become aligned

By Darryl Gray and Jessie Fields • Nov. 2, 2020


Gray is a Baptist minister, secretary of the Missouri Democratic Party and a former state senator in Kansas. Fields is a New York physician and a board member of Open Primaries, which advocates for nonpartisan nominating elections.

While Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden is, of course, the main event in American democracy this week, there are new conversations taking place in Black politics looking beyond this year toward important changes in the relationship between Black empowerment, electoral reform and the Democratic Party.

Since the Gary Convention, the historic 1972 gathering of 8,000 Black leaders in Indiana, the dominant electoral strategy for Black empowerment has been to elect African Americans through the Democratic Party. This strategy has been successful at increasing the number of African American office holders, including the first Black president. But it has been less successful at impacting living conditions and political power for the Black community as a whole.

Diverse African American leaders are opening up conversations about this. It is not yet a full blown debate. The “elect more Black Democrats” approach still dominates. But there is a conversation emerging, fueled by an ascendant Black Lives Matter movement that refuses to be subsumed into partisan politics as usual.

Jessica Byrd, a founder of the Electoral Justice Project at the Movement for Black Lives, put it this way in a New York Times op-ed two months ago: “Parties want our votes while promising little and delivering less. That is because the electoral system was designed as binary; the entry points are two doors expected to fit the voices and policy needs of hundreds of millions of multiracial constituents. Instead, for a new generation of Black activists, success lies in the process of making change — in politics, policies and social practices.”

Byrd raises two vitally important points — the failure of the parties to deliver on promises while taking the Black community for granted, and the binary structure of the electoral system that affords our community little choice in the matter. And she hinted at how the Black community is often asked to defend and protect the partisan status quo.

For example, in 2014, when anti-gerrymandering reformers tried to create a citizens commission to draw electoral maps in Illinois, the Democratic legislative leadership in Springfield asked African American and Latino elected officials to be the “first line of defense” against the effort. They were told to assert that reforming gerrymandering would be harmful to black and brown people. But are the interests of our communities best served by protecting the Democratic Party against competition?

In Florida, Democratic Party activists are using a similar playbook. Despite polls showing that 70 percent of Black voters in Florida support open primaries, and that hundreds of thousands of Black independent voters would be enfranchised by ending closed primaries, Democratic Party activists have been campaigning actively against the measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would open most of the state’s primary elections to all voters — with the top two finishers advancing to November, regardless of their party ID.

Their sole — and quite false — talking point is that if you let everyone participate in primaries, Black candidates will suffer. Even worse, they’re using the Black community to persuade white liberals that enfranchising independent voters is anti-Black. That’s troublesome.

Many Black Democrats reject this premise. Cori Bush, the Democrat overwhelmingly favored to win election as the new congresswoman for St. Louis, and state Rep. Rasheen Aldredge of St. Louis have fused their community activism with outspoken support for structural reform. Both are advocating for Prop D for Democracy, a referendum that would create a new election system for municipal offices in their city: In the primary, voters would have the ability to approve of as many candidates as they choose — whether Democrat, Republican or independent — and the the top two vote getters would meet again in November. The proposal emerged out of conversations among citizens unhappy with an electoral system that produced politicians, Black and white, without strong majorities behind them.

In Baltimore, nonprofit founder Kim Klacik has raised more than $6 million for her Republican campaign in an overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district. While much of the national press she has garnered is a function of President Trump’s involvement in the race — and while neither of us is advocating that African-Americans become Republicans — it would be foolish to dismiss the traction that Klacik is gaining in the city’s Black neighborhoods as purely a function of national dynamics.

Baltimore residents have been profoundly neglected by a local machine that faces no competition and little accountability. Too many American cities like theirs have been left to rot, and the excuse given all too often is that it is Republicans alone who are to blame for substandard schools, high unemployment and violent crime.

A new generation of leaders and activists are raising eyebrows at this timeworn excuse. They want progress, not finger pointing.

In this chaotic and challenging moment, let’s not lose sight of two important opportunities. The country is responding positively to Black Lives Matter. And emerging Black leaders and activists are demanding new political strategies and new political rules. They’re tired of that glass ceiling of structural racism and partisan corruption imposed by the status quo and want to break right through it.

These are significant developments that open new possibilities for qualitative transformation in the lives of Black Americans and the country as a whole. To take full advantage, we must insist that unscrupulous politicians stop pitting the Black agenda against the reform agenda and embrace what our younger generation is building. Let’s break right through that glass ceiling together.

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Caroline Donnola


Many Roads are Better than One

by Caroline Donnola


Caroline wrote this poem in response to our current selection, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements in the United States.

Revisit history
deeply enough
to drown out the noise
that clips our swirling thoughts
into tidy cliches—
easy to spit out in a tweet,
hard to reconcile with
what the people did
and how they did it.

Democratic Party
the savior of Black people?
Try that line
on Du Bois
Douglas
Baldwin
Fulani.
Tell it to Fannie Lou Hamer.

There’s more to this story,
more to this struggle.

Scorch the tree of knowledge
on which distortion hangs—
ripe as a bright red apple.
Plant new seeds,
joining together the struggles
of the locked out
the locked up
and the locked away.

Two roads
are better than one.
Many roads—
however many it takes—
to get somewhere new,
somewhere powerful,
with integrity
decency
love.

Caroline Donnola is Executive Assistant to Jacqueline Salit at Independent Voting. She is a lifelong poet and her book, The Year That Was, Poems for Troubled Times, will be published shortly.

***

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

***

Reader’s Forum — Lisa Dombrow

A collage created in response to our current selection, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States by Dr. Omar Ali.

Lisa Dombrow is an independent New Yorker. Whenever possible, she likes to express herself without words.

***

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

***

%d bloggers like this: