Monday, August 06, 2012

Jackie Salit's Independents Rising: A Review from the Trenches

By January of 1992, I was a seasoned national field organizer for a budding independent movement. I had been slogging away with colleagues in small teams, knocking on doors and setting up tables on street corners and on college campuses from Philadelphia to Cleveland to Chicago since 1986, to raise money and build a base of independent-minded Americans in support of legislation that would have made it easier for independent candidates to get on the ballot. I was part of a team of 50 or so organizers -- many of whom were using vacation time from their jobs -- who flew into Texas in the summer of 1988 to put Dr. Lenora B. Fulani on the ballot in one of the toughest ballot access drives in US history. We were doing the impossible in Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Florida, California, Alaska, South Dakota, Michigan... making history. Fulani was the first woman and first African American to ever get on the ballot in all 50 states running for President. She ran as an independent.

So it is especially intriguing to me to take a step back and read Jackie Salit’s account in Independents Rising: Outsider Movements, Third Parties and the Struggle for a Post-Partisan America. Indeed, it’s personal. And you don’t have to have been in the trenches to appreciate this story. This is your story, our story -- the story of the rise of independents. Where were you in 1992? What were you doing? What conversations did you have with friends and family? What small or big decisions did you make, and had been making for a long time, that helped create a nonpartisan pro-democracy voice in 2012 America?

REVIEW BY Ken Bingenheimer here

Jackie begins her story in 1992, a year of "awkward contradictions" as she calls it, borrowing the phrase from William Greider’s One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. In the context of an increasingly irrelevant left, and an increasingly centrist Democratic Party, a grassroots voter revolt was gathering force on the fringes.

“These rumblings did not register on most political radars. The big story in 1990 was that the Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives since 1948 (and always would) and that the Republicans controlled the White House (and likely would for at least another six years). It seemed to many observers that the century would wrap up without any major surprises in American politics. In 1989 political science professor Francis Fukuyama wrote an influential essay for the National Interest magazine called “The End of History?” Fukuyama projected that the collapse of communism heralded a new international order of liberal democracy and stability. America would be the world’s beacon and breadwinner. The world would now follow suit. Few saw beyond that ostensibly happy horizon.”

Independents Rising is a beautifully choreographed dance between what was being described by most pundits, journalists, writers, thought-leaders, et al, and what was actually happening on the ground.

“In 1992 Fulani entered the early Democratic primaries to promote her antipartisan pro-reform cause. She had been awarded nearly $650,000 in federal primary matching funds in December 1991...”

In October of 1991, I transferred from a two-month stint in Atlanta, Georgia to San Francisco, California. Arriving at 8:00AM, I was on the street with our team in Oakland by 10:00AM raising money to qualify Fulani’s ’92 campaign for federal primary matching funds. The streets of California were paved with gold for the independent movement in 1992. And in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, by late December I requested to come back to New York. I was tired. I missed being close to my kids in Philadelphia. I couldn’t grock the fact that the water was on the left -- that made no sense to my East Coast orientation, not to mention I was disoriented by the lack of grease, grit and grime of NYC. I wanted to see Fred Newman. My field director Cathy Salit called me to let me know that my request was granted and she had a favor to ask. Would I go up to New Hampshire for a month before coming home? I said yes and arrived in New York on New Years Eve in time for a party in Harlem before "shipping out" again -- briefly -- for points north. I was home, almost.

“The WMUR studios were locked behind a phalanx of Manchester police on January 19, the night of the debate. Former California governor Jerry Brown, the progressive challenger to the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) brand of “new politics," issued a statement calling for Fulani’s inclusion and criticized the party for excluding her... Fulani set up a mass picket ringing the studio, involving 400 protesters--some had traveled to New Hampshire from Harlem and many were Manchester locals. The temperature that night was a lip-splitting 12° F, but the protesters gathered at both entrances to the WMUR parking lot... Not long afterward, a shiny black SUV pulled up at one of the entrances.... Suddenly Clinton dropped to the floor of the back seat, shielding his face from view....  The Clinton camp told me it wanted to avoid any future run-ins of this sort, which were an embarrassment to Clinton. Clinton campaign coordinator Mitchell Schwarz set up a meeting with Newman and me a few days later in the coffee shop at the Manchester Holiday Inn...”

It was very very cold in New Hampshire in January 1992. And very very hot!

I hope you will read this book. Jackie’s statement on behalf of our movement is sharp and witty, and important. Enjoy!


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