Thursday, December 28, 2017

Vermont’s Progressive Candidates Blur Party Lines to Win

Rather than nominate a candidate for mayor, Burlington’s Progressive Party decided in early December to endorse Carina Driscoll, who had announced in advance her intention to run as an Independent. This is the second time since 2012 that the Party has gone without a standard-bearer in the race. One reason is that neither Driscoll, the step-daughter of Progressive “godfather” Bernie Sanders, nor her insurgent opponent, Infinite Culcleasure, wanted the Party’s nomination. 

Anthony Pollina
Instead, Driscoll at first expressed interest in seeking additional Party endorsements, from local Democrats and even Republicans. Although she has since abandoned that idea, the underlying strategy of crossing, and sometimes blurring party lines has been effective for the independent coalition that supports Bernie Sanders and other Progressives. 

In 2010, for example, Anthony Pollina was elected to the state Senate, joining Tim Ashe as the second Progressive leader to run successfully as a fusion candidate with both the Democratic and Progressive nominations. It was his first term in office. But Pollina had entered statewide politics with a splash many years earlier. In 1984, he won an insurgent victory in the Democratic primary for US Congress, then decisively lost in the general election to Jim Jeffords, the popular incumbent. 

Unlike Bernie Sanders, who rarely misses an election cycle, Pollina didn’t run again for years, but did serve during the 1990s as Senior Policy Advisor to then-Congressman Sanders. Returning to electoral politics as the Progressive’s candidate for governor in 2000, Pollina received 9.5 percent in a crowded field with Republican Ruth Dwyer, who received 37.9 percent, and incumbent governor Howard Dean, who won with 50.4. 

Two years later, in the race for Lt. Governor, he received 24.8 percent in a three way race, behind Peter Shumlin, with 32.1 percent, and Brian Dubie, who won with 41.2. Dean had retired, and was planning his race for President. Michael Badamo ran for governor as a Progressive – but without much support from the Party — and got only .6 percent. Jim Douglas was elected.
In the midst of his last term as Burlington’s Progressive mayor, Peter Clavelle returned to the Democratic Party in 2004 and challenged Douglas’s first re-election bid. Douglas won again, this time with 57.8 percent. Clavelle received 37.9. The Progressive Party didn’t field a candidate for governor that year, or in 2006.

In 2008, however, Pollina ran for governor again. Yet at a July press conference the Progressive Party leader announced that he would appear on the ballot as an Independent. It was “by far the best way” to build a coalition, he claimed. The decision raised questions about his reasons and the future of the party.
Both Sanders and his predecessor Jeffords had been embraced as Independents, Pollina argued. But Sanders became an Independent in the late 1970s after several disappointing runs as a third party candidate. At the time he publicly announced that the timing wasn’t right for a new Party. He had since served four terms as Burlington mayor and eight as a US Congressman, before running for the US Senate in 2006. In every race, until his 2016 bid for President as a Democrat, he ran as an Independent.
Jeffords, on the other hand, was a life-long Republican, serving in the US House and Senate for decades. He left the GOP in 2001, citing deep differences with the Republican leadership and the Bush administration. It turned out to be his last term, and there is no way to know how Vermont voters would have responded had he attempted to seek re-election as an Independent.
Pollina’s reasons were different. He had devoted years to building Vermont’s Progressive Party, and had declined to enter the Democratic primary earlier the same year, saying he had no intention of running as anything but a Progressive. “You know, I’m a Progressive,” he told columnist Peter Freyne. “I’m not going to leave the Progressive Party to become a candidate of another party.”
Doing so "would undermine people's faith in me and also in the process," Pollina said,  "I woudn't be too surprised if there were Democrats who would accuse me of being oportunistic in switching parties." Once he announced the intention to change his status to Independent, some Democrats did exactly that. "This is about opportunistic decision-making," Democratic Party Chair Ian Carlton told The Burlington Free Press. 
The underlying question raised by Pollina’s move was whether it was more important for progressives to build a party or win races. Thirty years earlier Sanders faced the same choice, made it, and held office almost continuously since 1981 – as an Independent. Although also wielding considerable influence as the unofficial head of the state’s progressive movement, he never joined a Party and didn’t feel accountable to any political organization. At times he was criticized for not doing enough to build an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. He simply ignored such criticism and, if pressed, explained that he was just too busy doing his job in Congress.
By running as an Independent in 2008 Pollina claimed that he hoped to build on his Progressive base, then possibly as high as 25 percent, attracting voters who had no firm allegiance to the other parties. Driscoll is making a similar calculation in her mayoral campaign.
Pollina’s 2008 gubernatorial race won the support of the three largest unions in the state; the Vermont-National Education Association backed an independent candidate for governor for the first time. He also received support from the Gun Owners of Vermont, a "libertarian" connection Sanders also made in his campaigns. But when the votes were counted, Pollina came in with 21.8 percent, just a tenth of a percentage ahead of the Democrat. Douglas won again, this time with 53.4 percent.
Two years later, Pollina ran for the state Senate --and won -- as a Progressive and Democrat. Since then State Auditor Doug Hoffer and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman have taken the fusion path to victory as candidates of both parties.

In his 2011 campaign for mayor, Tim Ashe sounded similar to Carina Driscoll when he defined himself as the person “who can bring people together and end the partisan fighting.” But his approach to Fusion was to seek the nomination of both the Progressive and Democratic Parties. Driscoll didn’t want the former and can’t win the latter.

Ashe’s pitch was that looming threats, combined with Burlington’s unique political dynamics, called for someone able to unite a “new majority.” However, fusion wasn’t a familiar concept for many local voters. Candidates sometimes won multiple endorsements, and even ran as Republican/Democratic candidates. But this was usually due to a lack of competition or the nature of the office. A few Progressives in the legislature had already run with Democratic support. But as a political tactic, fusion was an unfamiliar, mainly urban tool.

Ashe faced two hurdles: convincing enough Progressives that attending a Democratic Caucus wouldn’t undermine their Party. And, at the same time, persuading wary Democrats that this wasn’t just a Progressive ploy, that he truly wanted to be more inclusive and less partisan. Hundreds of Progressives did show up for that caucus, but not quite enough to beat Miro Weinberger. After Ashe’s defeat, local Progressives opted not to nominate or endorse anyone for mayor.

“I’ve taken an unusual path," Ashe acknowledged at the time. However, he felt that his successful Senate run, with the support of both Democrats and Progressives, had “changed the culture of the Senate” and created the possibility of a “new era of collaboration.”

He also had a message for his Progressive base. By joining forces with past opponents, Ashe suggested, they would be in a better position to preserve “a legacy we can be proud of” – meaning the projects and achievements of three Progressive administrations. Driscoll’s candidacy so far suggests a similar objective.

After his presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders launched Our Revolution. An independent coaliton operating inside and outside the Democratic Party, it coordinates electoral support for Sanders and his approved candidates in targeted cities and states. In Vermont, the original Independent Coaliton has evolved to include most leaders of the Progressive Party, elected Progressives, and members of Rights & Democracy, which functions as Our Revolution’s chapter in Vermont and New Hampshire. Driscoll has been endorsed by all three organizations. 

Back in 2008, the endorsement of Progressive Party Chair Martha Abbott indicated that the movement’s leaders backed Pollina’s decision to go Independent. As he argued then, they didn’t want to let a label get in the way of a possible victory. On the other hand, Progressives had misjudged their base before. A prime example was Burlington after Clavelle, when some pragmatic leaders backed Democrat Hinda Miller. Unsatisfied with that move, the Party’s grassroots recruited an upset winner, Bob Kiss, who served two terms. 

Whether running as an Independent rather than a Progressive will expand Driscoll’s appeal, especially given her close association with the movement and its leader, is currently a very open question. The answer will come on March 6.

Material in this article is adapted from “Progressive Eclipse: Burlington, Bernie and the Movement That Changed Vermont.” Greg Guma is the Vermont-based author of “Dons of Time,” “Uneasy Empire,” “Spirits of Desire,” Big Lies, and “The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.” His latest book is “Green Mountain Politics: Restless Spirits, Popular Movements.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Peaceful Revolutions and the Power of Disobedience

While most people want to reduce nuclear and environmental threats, many also believe that neither climate change nor arms proliferation can be reversed through traditional channels alone.

When we talk about the American Revolution, the stories are often about military clashes or personal acts of courage in dangerous circumstances. This concept of our early history may account for the widespread identification of radical change with violence in the United States.

In reality, America's revolution, like many political upheavals, was largely a nonviolent liberation movement that spanned more than a decade. Certainly there were armed struggles, but the real transformation came from the building of substitute governments and massive resistance that led to virtual economic self-sufficiency before bullets were fired.

The power of Britain over the colonies was undermined between 1765 and 1776 by nonviolent civilian campaigns such as tax resistance, boycotts, hunger strikes and nonimportation agreements. It was a powerful outpouring of conscience and direct action, similar in many ways to the abolitionist and civil rights movemebnts, and later Gandhi's crusade to free India.

Today the world is again experiencing a powerful movement of conscience. Countless millions in North America, Europe and Asia have joined together in demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and other nonviolent activities to end the threats to global survival. While most people support initiatives to reduce nuclear and environmental threats, many also have a clear sense -- call it skepticism or realism -- that neither climate change nor arms proliferation can be reversed by the use of traditional channels alone.

If that's true, what will it take? Perhaps the same kind of active resistance that has been crucial in other movements for freedom and justice.
In the early 1980s, for example, Americans voted and spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of halting nuclear weapons production and deployment. During this period, Vermonters voted to freeze and reduce nuclear arms, cut military aid to repressive regimes like El Salvador, and transfer federal funds from military spending to programs that would create more jobs and meet social needs.

In the face of such sentiments across the country, as the government proceeded with the development of first strike weapons such as the Cruise, Pershing II, Trident II and MX missiles, many Americans moved from the halls of government to the streets. Churchgoers and religious activists were deeply concerned about what they viewed as idolatry of weapons. In the face of such militarism, the message of many religious traditions was similar: obedience to government cannot be absolute, and we must discriminate when human law conflicts with moral right.

When Jesus cleansed the temple during the week of his arrest and crucifixion, he was also conducting a campaign of civil disobedience aimed at the power centers of the established order. His law-breaking was a tool of rebirth and social change. The approach of Jesus is not unlike the modern democratic notion that a "loyal opposition" is obligated to resist unjust laws and policies to protect the integrity of the body politic. In the 20th Century Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated this principle when he broke segregation laws to show that apartheid was incompatible with the Constitution.

Taking inspiration from Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated the power of nonviolent action to undo an unjust government. The "consent of the governed" was removed in India through a long revolt involving tax refusal, boycotts, raids, resignations, parades and seditious speeches. Gandhi's method confronted violence with civil defiance and love.

"Disobedience without civility, discipline, discrimination and nonviolence," Gandhi explained, "is certain destruction. Disobedience combined with love is the living water of life."

These days, with the threat of violence and nuclear escalation ever present, many determined people still turn to nonviolent resistance to prevent the outbreak of wars that could spark global catastrophe. In Burlington, this tradition goes back decades, to the June morning when dozens of protesters blocked the truck entrance to the local General Electric plant, producer of the Vulcan Gatling gun. 

For engaging in this sit-down action, the protesters were ready to be arrested. And they were. But they were prepared because they believed that Vermont's many votes, petitions and rallies hadn't been really heard. Development of new weapons continued, intervention in Central America intensified, and anti-personnel weapons produced in Burlington were a significant component of this deadly foreign policy.

By blocking the factory gate, those committed to peace were moving beyond lobbying to incorporate tactics of active resistance. For them, obedience in the face of militarism, war and nuclear terror was a denial of conscience. But nonviolent acts of resistance can instead spark a redemptive transformation of society, one that includes well-planned conversion of weapons plants that protects the jobs of workers.

Like the American colonists who developed a new economy before their revolution, we can start the process of peace conversion by establishing local groups that involve workers, management and the community in planning for alternative, socially useful non-military production. At the same time, we can work for a broader change in priorities by supporting national conversion legislation that includes retraining and income security for those displaced.

Combining such direct actions with practical goals, in this high tech violent world, would be revolutionary in the best sense of the word.

The original draft of this essay appeared in The Burlington Free Press in June 1983, days before a march and civil disobedience to protest local weapons production. Those who participated in the large sit-in at GE, a first in Burlington, were arrested on orders of Mayor Bernie Sanders. At the time, Greg Guma was on the board of the Burlington Peace Coalition and, with Murray Bookchin, co-chaired  the Vermont Council for Democracy.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rise of the Anti-Masons: America's First Third Party

In 1826 William Morgan, a Freemason and printer from Batavia in New York, became dissatisfied with his lodge and decided to publish the details of some Masonic rituals. That September he was seized by parties unknown, taken to Fort Niagara, and never seen again.

     It was widely believed that Morgan had been kidnapped and killed by fellow Masons, a suspicion that fed growing hostility to the order. The Anti-Mason movement spread rapidly across New England and eventually west, along the way introducing important political innovations like nominating conventions and the adoption of party platforms. Morgan’s disappearance – a crime-based political scandal in its day – led more people to suspect that Freemasons were just not loyal citizens. In fact, many Masons were judges, businessmen, bankers and politicians, which made it easy at the time for ordinary people to view the group as a powerful, secret and potentially anti-democratic society. Others suspected its links to the occult and ceremonial magic. This was, after all, the time of the Second Great Awakening.
     A more broadly persuasive argument was that the secret oaths administered by lodges could bind members to favor each other over “outsiders.” Popular outrage spread as people decided to challenge what they viewed as basically a conspiracy.  

     One of the leading Anti-Masons was Thaddeus Stevens, a Vermont native of Danville who made his name in Pennsylvania and later emerged as a leading abolitionist, founder of the Republican Party, and post-Civil War activist for civil rights and stiff retribution against the south. Attending the Anti- Mason Party’s first national convention, Stevens attracted notice with his strong speeches and oratorical style. In one of them, “On The Masonic Influence Upon The Press,” he deplored the lack of publicity given to the convention and attributed that as well to Masonic influence.
     In 1833 Stevens was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature on the Anti-Masonic ticket, where his legislative talents quickly showed themselves. He was an excellent debater with a devastating wit who could cut his opposition to shreds. He also knew how to maneuver behind the scenes. But that’s another story…
     Two years before Stevens’ election in Pennsylvania the Party was already so popular that Vermont elected an Anti-Mason governor, William Palmer. His victory indicated the intensity of public opposition to elite power in the state, not to mention how far a single-issue movement can go.

Vermont’s Anti-Mason Interlude

     William A. Palmer was no political newcomer. He was a popular Jeffersonian Democrat and former judge who had previously represented Vermont in the US Senate by the time he ran for governor on the Anti-Mason ticket in 1831.
     Vermonters had already elected another Anti-Mason to Congress, and more than 30 members of the movement represented the party in the General Assembly. Still, it was a shock to the establishment when Palmer led in the statewide popular vote. It took nine ballots in the legislature before he won.
     And who was Palmer? A graduate of UVM with a law degree, he had practiced in Chelsea and held numerous posts, including State Supreme Court judge for two years. In 1818, when Palmer was elected to the US Senate he was a Democratic-Republican. In 1823 he became a National Republican. He was a delegate to three State Constitutional Conventions between 1828 and 1850. In other words, Palmer was clearly part of the political establishment – but not a Mason.
     He sincerely believed that secret societies were “evil.” But he didn’t make radical claims in his speeches. In his first inaugural speech, Palmer promised to appoint only men who were “unshackled by any earthly allegiance except to the constitution and laws,” and he suggested legislation to prohibit the administration of oaths except “when necessary to secure the faithful discharge of public trusts and to elicit truth in the administration of justice.”
    And why did Palmer want to “diminish the frequency” of oaths, as he said. Because of the “influence which they exercise over the human mind.”  In other words, a chilling effect.

     In 1832, the national Anti-Mason Party conducted the first presidential nominating convention in US history in Baltimore. Its presidential candidate was William Wirt, a former Mason who won 7.78 percent of the popular vote – but Vermont’s seven electoral votes. William Slade, who would later become Vermont governor as a Whig, was sent to Congress as an opponent of both Masonry and slavery. Since the state had one-year terms of office, Palmer ran and won again. But he still couldn’t attract a clear majority of the vote. This time it took 43 ballots before he was re-elected. 
     In 1834, he finally won on the first ballot, but that was because the other political parties could see the collapse of the Anti-Masons coming and were competing to win over its constituents. 
     Palmer also led in the 1835 vote. But this time he couldn’t convince the legislature. After weeks of wrangling and 63 ballots the lawmakers declared themselves deadlocked and turned to Silas Jenison, a former Anti-Mason official and winner of the Lieutenant-Governor’s race. The rest of the Anti-Mason ticket was endorsed by the Whigs. 


     Gridlock in Vermont’s General Assembly over Palmer’s elections was so disruptive that it led to a Constitutional Convention and the amendment that created the State Senate. Criticism of the unicameral legislature was not new and proposals for a second chamber dated back to 1793. But in 1836 the idea of reducing the power of the House achieved critical mass. The Convention stripped it of “supreme legislative power.” 
     Crucially, bankers backed the change, mainly with the expectation that two chambers would be easier to handle. This is circumstantial evidence suggesting that, in opposing the Masons, the movement was also confronting the banks. The general public mainly thought the House had become too arrogant, intransigent and uncooperative. 
     For Vermont Anti-Masons, the use of secret oaths represented an invasion of the “civil power of a sovereign state” and a violation of liberty. In June 1833, at the height of movement, the Anti-Mason State Convention passed a dozen resolutions defining its position. 
     Vermont’s Anti-Masons ultimately succeeded in forcing the lodges to close – for a while. But that left the state party with less reason to exist. In 1836 Vermont’s Anti-Mason leaders, including future governor Slade, joined the new, anti-Jacksonian Whig Party. 
     The party’s third and final National convention was held in Philadelphia’s Temperance Hall in November, 1838. Almost entirely engulfed by the Whigs, the gathering unanimously supported William Henry Harrison for President and Daniel Webster for Vice President. When the Whig National Convention chose Harrison and John Tyler, the Anti-Masons did nothing... and soon vanished.

Originally posted on December 14, 2015