The newly-formed Unity Party is claiming victory after receiving close to 11,000 votes in the November 3, 1998 elections. Although 50,000 votes were needed for the Unity Party to receive ballot status and recognition by New York State, the Party is exercising self-determination by affirming that we are indeed a party because we gathered 20,500 signatures to get on the ballot and received 11,000 votes from the people.
You have a party when you have people, a progressive platform, and a program. Obtaining state-recognized ballot status is only one objective of a political party. We can still raise money, run candidates, write policies and organize around issues. As a liberated people we cannot wait for our oppressors to validate us. We must validate ourselves for ourselves. Thus, as of November 4, 1998, we assert our right to self-determination and officially proclaim that the Unity Party is now a peoples=-validated party in New York State.
Making History in New York The Unity Party can proudly say that it has the distinct honor of making New York State election history by being the only Black-led Party in the history of New York State to be on the ballot for a gubernatorial election. Quite an achievement! When compared to other party efforts, the Unity Party can say that we ran one of the most cost-effective campaigns, $10,000 for 11,000 votes, which translates to less than a buck a vote. If Betsy McCaughey Ross, the Liberal Party candidate, had gotten a buck a vote she would be governor today. The Unity Party emerged out of efforts that began in November, 1997 to bring together all of the progressive party groups in New York State-Campaign for a New Tomorrow, Green Party, New Party and individual Labor Party activists (since the Labor Party organization couldn=t be involved)-into one unified alliance for the purposes of obtaining ballot status. However, this objective proved to be impossible at this moment in time. The dominant leadership of both the Greens and the New Party were determined to run their own campaigns. It is important to note that their decisions were made prior to African Americans involved in these efforts strongly suggesting that 51% of the leadership of this new formation be people of African ancestry.
At that point, in May of 1998, activists from the Black Political Free Agents, Campaign for a New Tomorrow, Committees of Correspondence, National Black United Front, the N.Y. Independent Politics Network and Operation P.O.W.E.R. decided several things: that we were not going to support the New Party/Working Families Party=s candidate, Democratic Party machine boss Peter Vallone; that, based upon differences around the issues of racism and white male leadership and the practical difficulties we had encountered in attempting to build an alliance with the Greens, we could not support their effort; and, finally, that we would run African American educator and activist Mary Alice France as our Gubernatorial candidate.
We also decided, on the initiative of the Black Political Free Agents, an African American organization which came together in connection with the earlier coalition-building efforts, that the leadership of the Unity Party, once formed, would be 51% people of African ancestry. Leading BPFA members, including Ron Daniels, Charles Barron, Mary France, Jitu Weusi and Sandra Rivers, took this position based upon not just the recent difficulties encountered in trying to build principled multi-racial unity, but also upon literally decades of experience with white-dominated progressive organizations. This includes all of the existing progressive party groups. The feeling was, let=s try something new. Let=s try a different approach, one grounded upon principle and experience, one which would ensure that the issues of people of color would not be submerged or overlooked but, instead, would be at the center of the new party=s agenda.
From then on, over a five month period, we formed an organization, raised money, circulated petitions successfully to get our candidate on the ballot and ran an election campaign. 150 activists throughout the state circulated petitions to get the Unity Party on the ballot, primarily within New York City but also in Long Island, Westchester County, the Albany area, Syracuse, Binghamton and Buffalo. Our candidate did us proud by the clarity, passion and power of her message, a message heard by hundreds of thousands of people, at least. And we have now emerged with an African American-led, multi-racial party!
Other Independent Efforts
Let=s examine some of the other independent party efforts. The Independence Party ran a rich, economically conservative white male for Governor, Tom Golisano. His Party endorsed Democrats Carl McCall for Comptroller and Charles Schumer for Senate. Hardly independent. Dr. Lenora Fulani, who always accuses Rev. Jesse Jackson of delivering the Black vote to the Democrats, has to explain why she always supports rich white males like Ross Perot, Abe Hirschfeld and Tom Golisano. And now she supports a so-called independent party that delivers Black votes to a rich white male and some Democrats as well. The Green Party, who ran Al Lewis for Governor, has major problems with insisting on having a white male dominated leadership. Black people, people of color and women are not given fair representation in the Green Party leadership. White males in the Green Party have issues of racism that they are in denial of. I know this is an oxymoron, but some Green Party white males are Aprogressive racists@ and they need to get in touch with that reality. The Working Families Party is a mere extension of the Democratic Party. Any party that chooses Peter Vallone as its candidate is truly a Party we cannot trust. Union leadership and some Democratic party members concocted this scheme in order to have more leverage within the Democratic Party, calling it political pragmatism. This effort violates every principle of progressive politics. The Unity Party is an idea whose time has come. We are planning to support candidates for NYC School Board and organize a founding convention in the Spring of 1999, run candidates for State Assembly in 2000 and run several candidates in the 2001 city council elections. We can no longer settle for the lesser of two evils (Democrat or Republican) analysis. We must challenge the idea of a two party system that is fast becoming a one party system (Republicrats). The Unity Party provides an alternative to those who are ready to see progressive candidates seize political power. Become a part of history, join the Unity Party. The Unity Party represents the embryonic stages of a powerful political movement, a movement that will be built on principles of democracy, fairness, inclusion, diversity, progressive politics and systemic change. Our time has truly come. Forward ever, backwards never. Charles Barron is President of Dynamics of Leadership and Chairperson of the Unity Party.