Universal healthcare. Free university education. The regulation of the big banks. No my friends, I’m not talking about Bernie Sanders in 2016. I’m referring to Dr. Lenora Fulani (b. 1950), the most successful female minor party candidate in US history. As a member of the New Alliance Party in the 1980s and 1990s — a socialist, grassroots organization with ties to the International Workers Party (IWP) — Fulani worked to end America’s two-party system and implement a “viable, national, pro-socialist” party for Americans.
When she ran for president in 1988, she was the first woman — and African American — to get her name on the ballot in all 50 states. Her campaign garnered her over 200,000 votes. She ran again in 1992, when she spoke strongly against the two-party system that governed American politics, calling for the “deregulation of [American] democracy.”
In 1992, Dr. Fulani spoke about the corporate influence on American politics (“who really controls America and its politics is big business”), the need to “bring the American public into policymaking,” the need for the implementation of comprehensive healthcare, and the “revamping of budget priorities” to benefit the working and middle classes. Perhaps we could say she Fuled the Bern.
Her strong third-party roots have also influenced the current election cycle. When a federal judge recently rejected a lawsuit in which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green party’s Jill Stein alleged that the Commission on Presidential Debates violates federal antitrust laws and the First Amendment when it excludes third-party candidates, they followed in Dr. Fulani’s footsteps. She filed a similar suit after she was excluded from the 1988 debates.
Yet, some have accused her of political opportunism and betraying her liberal values. She supported Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential elections. And in 1999, she allied herself with the conservative Pat Buchanan. By then, she was the leader of a strong leftist section within the burgeoning Reform party (which also played with the idea of backing Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate in the 2000 elections).
Many critics have sharply contested her participation in the New Alliance Party, formed by radical-activist and philosopher Fred Newman, who, according to The Nation “came up with the idea of bridging quasi-Marxist politics and encounter psychotherapy.” Newman and his followers (including Fulani) believed that political engagement could cure psychological problems. Much of this “engagement” centered on political fundraising for Newman’s electoral campaigns and the campaigns of his followers. The New Alliance Party disbanded in 1994, but it soon shifted its alliances elsewhere (see Perot above), and many have called its members opportunists. Both Newman and Fulani also have been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2007, Fulani publicly apologized for her 1989 statements in which she stated that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color.”
But lest her critics become too heavy-handed, today Dr. Fulani is a strong community leader who knows how to negotiate across the aisle. In 2006, she created the New York-based “Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids,” which was officially incorporated into NYPD training in 2011. Hoping to bridge the gap between officers and teens of color, Dr. Fulani describes the workshops as avenues that “give teens and cops the chance to step outside their usual roles and responses and discover new ways of relating.”
Both Hillary Clinton and, yes, Donald Trump, owe a lot to Lenora Fulani. A strong advocate for women and people of color, Fulani put progressive policies front and center. And a long-time activist for “outsider” candidates, Fulani wanted to end two-party rule and “shake up” American politics. I, for one, hope that the desire for progressive policies rather than the unilateral belief in taking down establishment politicians wins out this election cycle.
Fulani, Lenora. The Making of a Fringe Candidate, 1992. Castillo International, 1992.
Fulani, Lenora, ed. The Psychotherapy of Everyday Racism and Sexism. New York: Routledge, 2009.