This interview was conducted with Dr. Lenora Fulani a few days before the Committee for a Unified Independent Party held it's "Choosing an Independent President" convention in New York in December of 2003.



I’ve talked much about choosing an independent President (of the United States of America); it’s a pleasure to bring up – back to you – the country’s leading African American independent…a pioneer in the field…Lenora Fulani was the first woman and African American candidate to get on the Presidential ballot in all 50 states. In 2001, she helped orchestrate the defection of 30% of the black vote for Republican/Independent New York City mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg – who eventually became the Mayor of that city. She was just elected to the State Executive Committee of the Independent Party of New York; she is the Chairperson For A Unified Independent Party Inc.; Dr. Fulani, thank you for coming on the program again! 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well Rob, thanks so much for having me – and I’m looking forward to seeing you this weekend in New York! 

Yes – I’m looking forward to it as well! 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Great! 

Now, tell me a little bit about this event; and why The Committee for a Unified Independent Party is involved; and why it’s important… 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well…a CNN/Gallup Poll came out a couple of months ago, showing that 35% of the American people consider themselves independents. We’re a plurality of the national electorate; that’s compared to 32% who consider themselves Republicans, and 31% who consider themselves Democrats. The independents have the plurality…and one thing that we wanted to engage through this conference was the sense of who the independent is - and why people become independents in the first place. Because, the media and the two-party system has a particular way of projecting the independent voter as simply being interested in being a swing-voter…and all of the definitions they come up with are self-serving; and have very little to do with what an independent is. And one thing that independents are is they’ve left the two parties, because they deeply believe that something is wrong with the existing order. They believe that the politicians and the government in our country have been corrupted; and they’re looking for a way to drive special interests out of politics. And there’s almost no dialog about that – whatsoever – when you read in the media, about what the independent voter is; how many of them there are; and what it is that we’re doing. We are looking forward to having a day of intense dialog, on and off stage – about the future of the independent movement, and how independent voters will impact the 2004 Presidential Election. One thing is that – for example, in some 22 states – there are open, Democratic Primaries in which independents are permitted to vote; so if there is some kind of shared agreement – that comes out of this process (in which Sunday is the first step), we might decide – all to vote, in those states, on a particular candidate; or a particular voice. Or, we might not decide to do that. But I’m very excited, because it’s a moment – when independents are coming together to self-define. And we have people like your guest yesterday – Victor Morales, who did this outside-of-the-box thing. He went up against the machine, the Democratic Party in his state, and ran in their primary, and won their primary. And he did it by appealing as an ordinary person, to ordinary people, without a lot of money; he went and knocked on doors, he drove across his district; and people were responsive. And we have lots of people who are independent-thinking people, whether they’re registered as independents or not; who are going to be participating in this from throughout the country. And I’m just excited…

Let’s talk a little bit about the people, Dr. Fulani: who will be attending? I understand you have invited Presidential candidates, and things like that…

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Yeah; none of the candidates have agreed to come at this point; even though several of them have expressed interest in what comes out of the convention. I think there’s something in Iowa…I think this weekend… 

Yeah – Democrats have Iowa…caucus?

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Yes! And there’re going out there – because their primary, their caucus is going to be a year from this weekend – so I guess there’s something that goes on…but we have a lot of different people: we have panels on the media – the one which you’re on – which is going to examine if the media is biased towards independents. As well as you, we have Michael Harrison – who is the founder and publisher of Talkers Magazine – which deals with talk radio; Matt Bai – who’s a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine; Tom Squitieri – who’s a political reporter for USA Today; Bob Slade – who’s here in New York on KISS-FM, he’s the news director of the radio station; as well as Elinor Tatum – who is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Amsterdam News. I’m also leading, along with Dr. Fred Newman, a panel on American politics. We have a wide array of people: Anthony Miranda – who is the Chairman of The National Latino Police Officers Association; Victor Morales – Former U.S. Senate Candidate, D-TX; Cedric Muhammad – who is the founder and President of Black Electorate Communications; another one of the well-known people in New York – Bob Pickett, from a popular political talk show which is on KISS-FM; Jim Mangia – the Executive Director of The National Reform Party; also, former U.S. Congressperson Cynthia McKinney is expected to be on that panel. So we’re looking to have a discussion and conversation about the direction of politics in this country – how independents can use their numbers, so they can have the political clout that should go along with them…being the largest voting block in this country, even though we currently do not vote as a block. And, I think there’s a lot of work to do, in helping to shape this movement. And you know, we’re not looking to turn this into a party, even though we may have many parties, we may have many strategies for 2004…but getting people together, and talking, and us providing leadership to ourselves, as opposed to us being defined and described by a two-party system, which as I said – has its interests at heart; and not that of the independent nor ordinary American. 

Now, Cynthia McKinney – a former U.S. representative, is of course, been rumored to going over to The Green Party. Her showing up at this particular event as a panelist seems like...what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Lenora Fulani: I think that, knowing Cynthia, there are probably all kinds of rumors; about what she is doing, what she might do – I actually don’t know what she’s planning to do. But I think her interest – one of the reasons why it’s important that she’s coming to this event – is that she’s an activist, who basically has stepped outside of the box, spoken about things that you’re not supposed to speak about – for example, the response and dialog she had about 9/11, and how our government should have paid more attention to what was going on in the world, relative to threats against our country. And I’m looking forward to having her voice…I don’t know what she’s going to do in 2004; in many ways, it’s very close – in other ways, it’s wide open. But I’m inviting her as a voice, who knows something about what it means to stand up; and to be radical in ways, in politics, and have to bear the brunt of that. 

Earlier this fall, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies out of D.C. – which you know is a Black think tank, Rob – showed that Black support for the Democratic Party has dropped from 74% from two years ago, to 63%. And the group in our community that is the strongest in support of independent politics, who identify themselves as independents, is young people between the ages of 18 to 25, something like 34% of independents. So – to me, the other job of the independent movement is changing the culture of politics in this country, and breaking up the status quo. Challenging how things are done, or have been done; and I know the Black community has started to play a role in that. I know here in New York, as you mentioned in your introduction of me, over 30% of Blacks voted for Mayor Bloomberg, who two years ago was running as a Republican. So I think that is so important to the Black community – to get out of the Democratic Party and go independent. And participate in independent political activity. It is the only way that we have a voice in what’s going on in politics in this country. 

I agree with you! As a matter of fact, I’ve been talking about how the African American community needs to leverage its vote; how we’re giving it away; and we need to stop mandating our vote to a particular party – which is one of the reasons why I became an independent! Let me ask – especially while we’re talking about statistics here…I pulled an old CODE Magazine interview out – on you, and I’m looking at page 95, and you said back then, “Jesse Jackson had a unique opportunity to go independent…and he didn’t. The polls show a survey of 57% of Blacks would have gone with Jesse Jackson in 1984, if he had walked out of the Democratic Party.” Al Sharpton is faced with the same type of scenario, and he seems to be leaning Democratic… 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well he is…he’s running in Democratic Primary; he’s a member of the Democratic Party; and my concern (and I guess, despair - if you will) over his candidacy, is that he seems bent on doing what Jesse Jackson already did…and it was a different thing for Jesse Jackson to have done in 1984 and 1988. The Black community doesn’t need a repetition of Reverend Sharpton running in the primary to get our “issues” out. The issue isn’t about “issues”, but about power – and having the clout to do something about the things we care about – like the poverty in our communities, and the educational failure of our communities. So I’m not excited at all, about what Rev. Sharpton is currently talking about doing…I see no reason for us to have another symbolic race…this is a moment to go for power. 

Because that’s exactly what he told the people at SAVOY; and it was a disturbing interview; convoluted thought – in my opinion, about “this is why we need to continue on with the Democrats, because we need to center them on our issues.” And I’m asking myself here, and I know you’re close to Al – what has he said to you as to why? Is there another reason…what have your talks been like with him, because I know you’ve been trying to get him to go independent sometime…

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well…he doesn’t talk to me – anymore… 

Wow…

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Because I’ve been trying to get him to go independent. I mean, I mostly talk to him through articles that are published, at least once a month, (that I write on his current exploits) that are published in The Amsterdam News, which is the most popular Black newspaper in New York City. For the most part, he has not been responsive. And I agree, it is disturbing. The politic of trying to get the Democratic Party to do something that it gave up on doing (if it ever has done), like, some 20 years ago, makes no sense to me. Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked overtime within the context of the Democratic Leadership Council – which still controls the Democratic Party – to get rid of its “left”, to get them out or quiet…and move the Democratic Party into a centrist to “right” direction. And that’s where it went, and that’s where it is. And it’s of no use to us to make that party into something…why would we do that? Especially when the country overwhelmingly is interested in moving outside the two-party system. That’s what that plurality of independent voting means; and we should be at the forefront of it, as Black people; not trying to leverage our power inside a party that basically relates to us as insignificant. It just makes no sense. The Democratic Party will welcome Black power brokers as long as their power brokering doesn’t enhance the power of the Black community, of ordinary people. So in my opinion, this might be great for him, but it does nothing for African Americans. 

Let me ask you, do you think this is a money move in terms of recognition? 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well, I have no idea; I have been more focused Rob, on what these moves mean to the African American community; and the Caribbean American community…people of color…and ordinary white people: what do we have to do so that we have a voice? And I spend a lot of time teaching our community – which black faces in high places don’t translate into economic and political development at the grass roots. That’s not how you go about it. The grass roots have to be involved and engaged. And Rev. Sharpton has risen inside the Democratic Party. They sort of went through the process, which they identify, as “cleaning him up”; which I find revolting – to even speak of somebody in that way. But his rise in the Democratic Party has happened at the same moment that there has been a decline in black people inside the Democratic Party. 

Real convenient!

Dr. Lenora Fulani: It’s not even clear to me why he would even go there. 

Has this strained your relationship with Rev. Sharpton a little?

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Probably…yes. 

Wow.

Dr. Lenora Fulani: We’ve had some really intense fights within New York about it. But I think Rev. Sharpton is very bright; he’s done some very important things for our community, our people, and this country – relative to putting some issues forward that other people would not touch! But we were closest when he wasn’t in the Democratic Party; I was one of the people who encouraged him to become involved in politics…but I expected him to do so by virtue of building his base. And…we just disagree vehemently on the two roads that we’re taking. And I welcome the opportunity to debate him, or Rev. Jackson, or any of them, and they won’t involve themselves in this debate, because they know the truth of what it is that I’m doing. 

It’s hard to defend; it really is. Eric, you’re up with Dr. Fulani.

Eric: Dr. Fulani, I’ve been following your career for a number of years. And since I heard you were part of the Independent Party, and the independent movement, I found that as far as why people are joining the Independent Party and independent movement – because the left wing and the right wing in this country are basically trying to destroy this country…are you trying to come in through the back door, through the extreme left wing, and the Independent Party? 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well, first of all, I’m a progressive; I come from the left. And what I’m interested in doing, with the independent movement, is focus on creating something that is available to the American people; that gives them a say in how politics in their communities, in their state, in their country, run. And what the independent movement has represented – what we’ve looked to do – is literally build, rather than have any “wing” isolated in a party, which has been what the Democrats and Republicans have attempted to do, is to bring together a left/center/right coalition around particular issues, having to do with reforming the political process; so that we as Americans (black Americans, white Americans, left, progressive, right wing, whatever we are) are able to have an impact on how this country runs, around policy issues having to do with education, health care, and all of the other issues which make the country work. And so, I’m not trying to come in any door (in many ways, I’ve helped to build the door, when it comes to the independent movement). I’ve been active as an independent, long before there was any such thing. 

Speaking of your background, I know that you lost your father in a tragic accident…at an early age…

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Actually, I lost my father to racism and poverty – because the ambulance service in the small town that I’m from – Chester, Pennsylvania – refused to come pick him up. And we had to get him there [to the hospital] ourselves. And by the time we did, several hours later, he died…en route. But in many ways, that’s the story, in some form, of everybody’s life, which has grown up in poverty and amidst racism in this country. 

Speaking of the Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton types out there, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party really left Carl McCall out there in the wind; in my opinion…what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well, they just left him hanging, period. Basically, they knew – but not just Hillary Clinton…but also the black Democrats knew…even when there was all of the initial hullabaloo about McCall running [for Governor of New York], that he was not going to win. They knew it was going to be hard to run someone up against the current Governor of New York, George Pataki. So given that, the Democrats raised almost no money for him. I think the Republicans raised $13 million for Pataki, while the Democrats maybe raised $2 million [for McCall]. And then they wondered why he lost. This is the game that goes on, internally, in these parties. In some ways, that’s their business, as far as I’m concerned; but its another way the black community can judge how that party feels about them, and how they relate to candidates. 

Gideon, you’re up and aboard with Dr. Fulani.

Gideon: Yes, I am a jaded political observer…I want to understand from you, Dr. Fulani, what is it the Independent Party is independent from? 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: The two-party system. What the independent movement is grounded in is its independence from the two-party system. That’s what independent voters are saying, “We don’t like the Democratic and Republican Parties; we think they have failed the people of this country. And we don’t like the special interests’ control over politics, with big money – in the form of corporations or unions has done.” 

Mike: Hello, ma’am, one of the key questions I have is what is your viewpoint on taxation? Right now, we are all working from January to May, almost for free, in order to pay for taxation, in my opinion, that’s wrong. And what can you do to bring everybody together, regardless of his or her race or creed, to where we can move America to a truly colorblind society? 

Dr. Lenora Fulani: Well, I don’t think society has to be colorblind; I think what it has to be – is that ordinary people, regardless of their political clout, they have a say in how things work. And our effort to doing that is to build a political party and movement, not based on a lot of how the issues are determined – racially and ethnically, because I think that’s how the Democratic and Republican parties keep us divided. While they, what is it, 2 percent of the country maintain 80 percent of the nation’s wealth…my ultimate dream, is that there be no parties, whatsoever! 

Here-here!