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Keynote Address

Dr. Lenora Fulani
Atlanta, GA
March 17th, 2006

Southern Regional Conference of Independents
Atlanta, Georgia
March 18, 2006

Keynote Address
Dr. Lenora Fulani

I want to begin by thanking Audrey Mowdy, Al Bartell and Murray Dabby and the folks from IMove and the Georgia Committee for An Independent Voice for organizing today's event.

It is good to see so many friends and colleagues here. There's my old friend, Bob Friedman, from Birmingham, who was with me in my 1988 presidential campaign and helped get me on the ballot in some very difficult states.

And there's Wayne Griffin, from South Carolina. He's the chairman of the Independence Party of South Carolina. We've been working together since the National Patriot Party days, a party that grew out of a fusion of the Ross Perot movement and black and progressive independents who'd been building since the 1980's.

You could say that Wayne and I were among the folks who first "integrated" the Perot movement. We'd go to some of these Perot and Patriot Party meetings, in the early days, and everybody's eyes would open wide when we walked into the room.

But, we made our mark, we made our statement from the very beginning that black people were going to be a force in independent politics. And we have worked hard to make that stick. We have worked hard to realize a vision of an independent political movement that is inclusive, democratic and free of unlawful outside interference by the major parties.

These issues of racial diversity, rank and file democracy and independence are at the heart of a complaint that was recently brought to the Justice Department. I am a complainant in that matter, as are Al Bartell, Audrey Mowdy, Ron Parker, Wayne Griffin and five other individuals from a total of seven states. The controversy arose in New York, where I live and work. But it has implications for independents – and for African American independents in particular – all across the country.

The controversy is about events taking place in the New York Independence Party – an independent party that became a legally recognized ballot status party in 1994. But it grows out of a history of struggle on the part of black people, a struggle dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are equal before the law and that the fundamental right to vote must be granted to all American citizens regardless of race, color, creed or political affiliation.

I stress political affiliation, because the controversy in New York, the matter we have brought to the Justice Department, is first and foremost about the right of black voters to determine for ourselves who we vote for, what parties we belong to, what issues we embrace and what partnerships we form.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 – passed by a reluctant Congress confronted by mass social protest demanding the right to vote – did not confer upon us the right to only vote for Democrats. It confers the right to vote and to participate politically no matter how one chooses to do so. And today, these issues are more than just abstract constitutional ideals. There are very real attacks on local control, on black voters moving independently. And we must all take steps to respond.

Though most of you know me as the political independent who was the first black person and first woman in American history to run a presidential campaign on the ballot in all 50 states, I did not start out as a political person. I grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania – a poor black suburb of Philadelphia – which for all of its proximity to a major northern city – could just as easily have been in ex-urban Alabama or Georgia. Chester wasn't just economically poor – it was culturally impoverished, cut off from the cosmopolitan and commercial world that was just 16 miles away.

I was fortunate to be able to travel a little bit at a young age because of being active in my church youth group. I got a glimpse of the larger world "out there" and that helped me to decide that I wanted to become someone who could make a difference in that world – for black people, for poor folks.

My chosen profession was to become a psychologist and my plan was to leave Chester, to study, get my degree and come back home and save everyone – my sisters, my cousins, my nieces and nephews, my friends. When I was 16 years old, I made a list of all the people I was going to save.

I did go on to become a developmental psychologist and got my degree. I was fortunate to have crossed paths with some very smart, very innovative thinkers in the field – including the man who became my mentor, Dr. Fred Newman. And through him, I learned how the flaws in the theory and methodology of psychology had turned the practice of psychology into an adaptive, rather than a developmental, science.

So, I set out – not just to become a psychologist, but to become a kind of "anti-psychologist" who could challenge and go beyond the adaptiveness of traditional psychology. Since the lives of my family and neighbors in Chester were so full of pain and destruction, I did not want to practice a form of psychology that helped them adapt and adjust to that pain. I wanted to give them some emotional tools that better equipped them to change their lives.

Dr. King once said something that I have carried with me my entire adult life. He said, "Psychologists have a word which is probably used more frequently than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word ‘maladjusted.' All of us must live the well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But," said Dr. King, "there are some things in our social system to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I suggest that you too ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob-rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic inequalities of an economic system which take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence. I call upon you to be maladjusted. The world is in desperate need of such maladjustment."

I have read these words over and over again throughout my life. I, too, am maladjusted. And I have always felt very close to Dr. King because he had such a profound understanding of the connection between emotional pain, the humiliation of poverty and the need for political action.

In the early 1980's, Fred Newman introduced me to another field where people – including, in very acute ways, black people – had been made to adapt and adjust. That field was electoral politics.

As I said, I had never been a particularly political person. But in the early 1980's, Newman and others were involved in efforts to create an independent political movement – independent, meaning independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties. And I joined with them.

Ronald Reagan had been elected president and the country was taking a clear and distinct turn to the right. In black politics, the civil rights and voting rights movements had largely subsided. Black activists were, for the most part, either pursuing careers in anti-poverty programs that were the legacy of the 1960's or moving up the political ladder inside the Democratic Party, winning state legislative and congressional seats in majority black districts, districts created through enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the sheer voting strength of black people finally empowered by the passage of the act in 1965.

But while the faces in at least some high places were blacker than previously, and a black middle class and elite did emerge, the pervasiveness of poverty and alienation afflicting the vast majority of black people remained. The Chester's of America were numerous and unchanged.

There was political stagnation as well. Once the Voting Rights Act was passed, black loyalty to the Democrats was above 80% at election time; not infrequently it was even higher. But even though black America had married the Democratic Party, we increasingly found ourselves left at the political altar.

When Reverend Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he was attempting to assert the legitimacy of black voters claim to leadership of the Democratic Party. Some of you were politicized by his candidacy and his effort to build a Rainbow Coalition that would bring an independent progressive voice to the highest levels of the Democratic Party and the country, in the context of a constant pull to the right.

Jackson had a powerful message and he awakened a sleeping giant in America. But he ran up against a brick wall that stopped him and the Rainbow movement dead in its tracks.

In 1988, Jesse ran again. And I ran for president, for the first time, as an independent. My campaign slogan, some of you may remember, was "Two Roads are Better than One." In fact, in 1988, the Democratic convention was held nearby, in Atlanta, and I organized a protest right outside the Convention Center. While Jesse was inside, being insulted by the party leaders who would not put him on the ticket in spite of his 7½ million votes, I was right outside, with 3,000 followers, filling the square at Marietta Street and International Boulevard. And I told them, as I kicked off my independent presidential run, Reverend Jackson is a powerful leader. But, he has led us to the wrong place.

And, he had. Because at that moment it became clear as day that until black America went independent, until we became more sophisticated, more politically developed, until we did business as an independent force, we would not be respected and we would not have the kind of political leverage that is necessary to address the ongoing problems of poverty, race and miseducation, problems which both the Republicans and Democrats have failed to solve.

And so I ran for president, and got a quarter of a million votes, and traveled to every state in the country talking to black people – and others – many of them young – about the need to open up the democratic process, about the need for political reform, about the importance of building an independent political movement.

That campaign did not make many headlines, though it did make some enemies. One of the national Democratic Party's largest donors funded a "research report" on me and Fred Newman by a left-wing think tank. The report was called "Clouds Blur the Rainbow." We were the "Clouds."

It was all a pack of lies – making false allegations of anti-Semitism and cultism against me and Dr. Newman. It was fairly vicious.

But, more importantly, it was an indicator of the readiness of the Democratic Party and its operatives to pounce on and to try to destroy anyone who dared to utter the words "independent politics" to the Democrats' most loyal constituencies. It was intended to be a political death warrant for those who have the nerve to build organizations and infrastructure to serve as a base for independent political power.

The years that followed were tumultuous. Distrust in government was at an all time high. There was a generalized belief that the two parties had become entirely corrupt – concerned only with their own self-perpetuation, not with what the American people needed or wanted.

But as ever, the two parties were arrogant in their power, refusing to see the handwriting on the wall. That was until a quirky white Texas billionaire ran for president – as an independent – and got 20 million votes. A large scale independent movement was born. And the national networks of black independents I had organized over the years were poised be a part of it.

We began to join forces with the rank and file of the Perot movement, building the first black and independent voter alliance. We formed the National Patriot Party, and then the National Reform Party, in which we established a Black Reformers Network which held meetings at Reform Party conventions that every white person in attendance came to, partly out of curiosity, and partly to make a statement that they wanted to build a bridge. At the height of the Reform Party's power, in 1999, I ran for national vice chair and received 45% of the vote at the party's national convention, mainly from white delegates.

Sadly, the Reform Party could not sustain the power of the innovative coalition we had created within it. It won't surprise you to learn that not long after the 1999 convention, a combination of Republican and Democratic operatives wrecked the party from the inside. The bi-partisan Federal Election Commission finished the job, and by the end of 2000 the Reform Party was dead, if not entirely buried.

But, while the Reform Party was withering, the Independence Party of New York was growing to new heights. We had formed a multi-racial coalition which took the party over from the billionaire who controlled it, Tom Golisano. We rewrote the party's rules to establish local control, a core principle for the independent movement that provides for local organizations to govern their own affairs. We organized tens of thousands of black voters to join and participate with the Independence Party in New York City. We were putting independent politics on the map. And the black community was among the most visible mapmakers.

Then, in 2001, in one of the biggest upsets in New York City political history, the Independence Party provided the margin of victory to an outsider businessman, Michael Bloomberg, who was elected mayor as a Republican/Independent by defeating the overwhelming favorite – a clubhouse Democrat.

The Independence Party was thrown into the spotlight. The Democratic Party was enraged. And those old charges of cultism and anti-Semitism which the national Democrats had peddled in 1988, came back around, big time. So much so that by 2005, when Mayor Bloomberg was up for re-election and the Democrats were fighting for their lives, you couldn't pick up a New York City newspaper without reading about "the anti-Semitic Lenora Fulani" or "the cult leader Fred Newman."

In fact, the more we worked and built support in the black community to abandon the Democrats and go independent with Bloomberg, the more fierce the attacks became. The Attorney General opened a review of my youth programs – the All Stars Project, based on a complaint that was later found to have no merit. The television media produced a special investigative series called Psychopolitics about the supposedly sordid connection between our work in psychology and our accomplishments in politics.

But most telling of all, on Election Day itself, 75,000 New Yorkers voted for Mayor Bloomberg on the Independence Party line. And 47% – virtually half of the black community – turned its back on the Democrats and voted independently for Bloomberg. That electoral revolution stunned the pundits, the policymakers and the politicians. The black community had finally liberated itself from Democratic Party control.

Many black leaders in many parts of the country have been concerned that the Democratic Party is moving to the right, further marginalizing the black community and the black leadership. Ron Parker has talked about that here in Georgia and seen that in action on so many occasions.

The vicious offensive against me and my allies in the New York City Independence Party is connected to that. After all, if the Democratic Party leadership intends to take their party further to the right, they must pacify the black community. If, however, black voters are becoming more thoughtful, more developed, more independent – as we did in New York in 2005 – that throws a serious wrench into the plan.

When half of black voters turn away from the Democrats and vote for an independent white, Republican billionaire, the Democratic Party is smart enough to understand that there is a sea change going on. And, they're also smart enough to know that there are some black leaders out there – on the ground, under the radar screen, but deeply inside the black community – who made that happen. That is why the various strong-arm actions have been taken.

Those of you here today from IMove, from the Committee for an Independent Voice, from the South Carolina Independence Party, from the Alabama Independent Movement and other groups – you are putting the fear into the Democratic camp. You independents here today – from the white, Latino and black communities, be you liberal, progressive or conservative – you are putting the fear into the camps of both major parties. Both parties want to control the independent voter. They want you to "swing" – but they don't want you to sway; they don't want you to lead the development of independent power that can be expressed without their permission.

In February, the state chairman of the Independence Party asked the party's Executive Committee and State Committee to dissolve three duly constituted, duly elected county organizations in New York City. This was an illegal move by the state party to try to put the New York City organization out of business. The three suspended county organizations – the Bronx, Kings and Queens counties – have significant minority populations. In two of those three counties – the Bronx and Queens – the minority population is so large that they are considered "covered counties" under the Voting Rights Act, meaning that political life in those counties must adhere to a high and thorough standard of racial inclusion.

The New York City Independence Party is where the party's black and Latino membership and leadership are based. Of the 34 African Americans elected to positions on the Independence Party State Committee, 32 are from New York City.

There is a critical political point to understand here, which takes us back to the early struggles for local control inside the Independence Party. We fought the bigshots and the billionaires to win local control, to set up a structure where local county organizations make their own choices about candidates and strategies. Local control is a bottom line principle in independent politics. But, when local control came to mean that the black community could exercise its power, when local control gave control to black people, the state party closed it down. The message is clear. Local control is fine, for white people. But not for us.

It is not without precedent, of course, that political party rules are manipulated, re-interpreted, made up and re-written to contain the exercise of black political power. When Reverend Jackson ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, he garnered 3-1/2 million votes – mainly from black Americans, a shockingly strong showing against the frontrunner Walter Mondale.

A post-primary meeting of the Democratic National Committee was set up at a fancy hotel where the various campaigns could negotiate their delegate representation for the nominating convention in San Francisco.

Mondale and his people wanted to re-write the party rules to give more representation to what were called "super delegates" – unelected delegates, mainly white, who were office holders, loyal cogs in the party machine. Doing so, however, would decrease the number of Jackson delegates at the convention. Jesse's campaign manager, Richard Hatcher – former mayor of Gary, Indiana – reached an agreement with the Mondale camp and the DNC chairman to hold off on the push for super delegates. While Hatcher went back to the hotel room to tell Jesse the good news, the DNC rushed into session and voted to change the party rules to install the super delegates. As a result, Jackson ended up with 21 percent of the popular vote in the primary, but only 11 percent of the delegates to the convention.

In the case of the Independence Party, the recent actions of the party bosses were no less crude. And to make matters worse, they have wrapped themselves in the rhetoric of fighting bigotry. But you don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that there's something wrong with the picture when the Independence Party's so-called crusade against racism and anti-Semitism targets – first and foremost – blacks and Jews.

Some black Democrats have shown their true colors in the midst of this fight. One former statewide officeholder in New York said on TV recently that black independents disenfranchised by the actions of the Independence Party state leadership don't deserve the protection of the Voting Rights Act. He said "And Lenora Fulani is irrelevant to the efforts of black people to move forward."

You can also see the power of what is unfolding when Reverend Al Sharpton says on a television interview, "There is a growing sense of independent voters in this country" and he names me as the pioneer of that movement, particularly in the African American community. I thought the interviewer's teeth were going to fall out when Sharpton added, "A lot of people are looking for alternatives".... and "if the Democratic Party doesn't start addressing the real issues of people, they will end up the losers."

But, as my mother Pearl Branch from Chester, Pennsylvania used to say, the proof is in the pudding. And there is no denying that growing numbers of Americans – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Greens, and non-aligned independents; be they black, white, Latino, or Asian – have stepped out of the political box.

That is why the corrupted leadership of the Independence Party and the arrogant leadership of the Democratic and Republican Parties have moved to try to close us down. And that is why we have gone to the Justice Department to demand an investigation. No less a figure than Senator Hillary Clinton has her hands in this. No less a person than the next governor of New York State, Eliot Spitzer, has his hands in this. Not to mention the state chairman of the Independence Party itself – Frank MacKay – who bent to the will of Democrats and Republicans who want to capture control of the independent movement and use it for their own purposes.

We have gone to the Justice Department with the claim that the Voting Rights Act has been violated because the closing down of the New York City organization, the suspension of democratically elected and constituted local bodies, violates the pre-clearance rules governing jurisdictions where there are significant minority populations.

We have also begun to mount a national campaign to pressure the Justice Department to act. We all know that the choices that Justice makes are often politicized. Those of you from Georgia know that first hand. Some of you were on a national conference call last Sunday night convened by Jackie Salit, the political director of the CUIP, where more than 100 independents representing 30 states spent an hour being briefed on the Justice Department case and on its importance for the national independent movement. I want all of you here today to join that campaign.

The campaign consists of letter writing and phone calling to the Justice Department and to your local congressional representatives calling on them to urge the Justice Department to take action. Yesterday, at a press conference that Al, Audrey, Ron and I held, I announced a special effort targeting the Congressional Black Caucus in which we are appealing to them to speak out as black leaders, not simply as black Democrats. That is a critical distinction and it has everything to do with the controversy that brought us to the Justice Department in the first place.

I am here to ask for your support and help in this matter. I am here to offer mine in all of your efforts to build an independent political movement in this very important region of the country. Thank you for your time. But most of all thank you for your work and your leadership.

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