NYC Independence Party activist Bryan Puertes asked me to write about how I became an independent so here goes…
I grew up in the Sixties on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – a bastion of political liberalism – in a household of staunch Democrats.In our home, politics was always a topic of discussion. I remember going into the voting booth with my mother and pulling down the lever for JFK (I was 4).My father was blacklisted in the 50s for his support of the Civil Rights movement within the Actors Equity union – I was taught from an early age that racism and poverty were not be be tolerated.My mother was a working woman and she made no attempt to cover over the oppressive nature of her roles as wife and mother.It was a no-brainer – our family was supportive of all of the liberation movements of the Sixties, and we were - quite naturally - Democrats.
By the time I was 12 (1968) I found myself in the highly politicized Jr. High School 44.Our teachers were dodging the draft, the school was racially polarized, and in social studies we were debating the war in Vietnam and who we were going to support in the Democratic Party primary (the Republican Party didn’t seem to exist).Many of us kids were for McCarthy but I stood with my family tradition of supporting the Kennedys and campaigned for RFK.I used to do street work for him outside of the Democratic Party office on Broadway and 72nd Street. The campaign got a kick out of me since I was their youngest volunteer.
Then in 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and shortly thereafter Robert Kennedy. It was a horrible time – we were deeply sad, angry and fearful.I campaigned for Hubert Humphrey because he was not Richard Nixon. I suppose it was that year that I began to question my allegiance to the Democratic Party or any political party – I started to see that something was terribly wrong with “the system.” Richard Nixon won the 1968 election and I remained politically engaged but no longer identified as a Democrat. I was disgusted with business as usual politics.
In high school I started to identify as a leftist.I didn’t know to call myself an independent but I was. I was an independent leftist.I remember that as a freshman at Syracuse University there was a rally against Nixon during the Watergate hearings and hardly anyone else was there.That worried me.I wondered why, on a campus with thousands of students, we couldn’t pull out a crowd to protest.I questioned if protest alone was ever going to change anything.I took some time off from college and traveled and finished as a transfer student at Sarah Lawrence College.I studied Marxism and Women’s History and theatre. I started to think about the role of culture in changing the world. I attended No-Nukes rallies in the early 80s.I got married and my husband Steve and I would spend weekends “shopping around the left” – trying to find a place to hang our political hats.
We lived on the Upper West Side and we kept running into organizers in the neighborhood who were engaged in a variety of appealing efforts – the Coalition of Grassroots Women stands out - I always stopped at their table. We were intrigued by posters in the neighborhood about an African American woman named Barbara Taylor who was exposing the political corruption in the Democratic Party.Then one day in 1982, I saw this green bus in the neighborhood; on the back of this bus were two women who were campaigning as independent candidates for Governor and Lt Governor – one was Jewish (Nancy Ross) and the other was Black (Lenora Fulani).I thought I had died and gone to (political) heaven. Who were they and what was going on?Shortly thereafter I met two organizers on the corner of 110th St. and Broadway and they asked me to sign a pledge card to pledge my vote to Ross/Fulani in order for an independent party, the New Alliance Party, to get ballot status in New York State.I signed.And I guess that was the “official” day that I became an independent.That was 28 years ago and today I am a proud member and builder of the NY Independence Party.