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Free Rev. Sharpton...From the Democratic Party By Lenora Fulani


My good friend Rev. Al Sharpton is in jail again. There are two places I've tried to keep him out of over the years - prison and the Democratic Party. Obviously, I'm not doing too well on the first goal. What about the second?

Convicted of trespassing for his protest of Navy bombings at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, Sharpton was transferred to federal prison in Brooklyn last week, keeping his profile and his spirits high. Sharpton, who has gone everywhere for every important social justice cause, knows full well that Vieques has become a means to court Puerto Rican voters in New York City where wants to set himself up as the center of a Black-Latino coalition - a sought-after commodity in the racialized world of Big Apple politics.

This is vintage Sharpton - genuine political vision with a hardball lining. Of course, he never got himself arrested for Vieques while Bill Clinton, Democrat, was Commander in Chief. It took having a Republican in the White House to make it politically correct for him to protest. Democrat Jimmy Carter was President when the outcry first started, led by Puerto Rican independents like Gilberto Gerena-Valentin, the first New York Chairman of the New Alliance Party (NAP). I later ran for President twice on the NAP line calling for - among other things - the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Puerto Rico and full voting rights for its people. And while we're on the subject of running for the presidency, let's get on to Sharpton's own potential run.

I know Rev well. I'm the person who got him into electoral politics in the first place (even though I've been trying to get him out of the Democratic Party ever since). Here's how I read his presidential musings, which included remarks about considering a third party. I think Rev. is looking around his cell thinking, I'm not only in jail, I'm in a box.

Sharpton has built a significant base among African-Americans, but he knows that if that's all he's got, he's limited to power brokering within Democratic Party circles. He's always vulnerable to being marginalized by demographics and by the racism of the Democratic hierarchs, who respect him when they need to and mistreat him when they need to. They believe that he will never leave because Black = Democrat, end of story. You'll not see Daschle/Sharpton in '04 or any other year. I don't care how many headlines he gets on Vieques or any other racial justice issue. Rev's in a bind. And I think he's mulling the presidential picture to see if it offers a way out. Sharpton says he'd consider a run in 2004, in part to commemorate Rev. Jesse Jackson's first run 20 years ago. In 1984, Jackson polled 3 1/2 million votes and got a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, where he was forced to apologize for controversial remarks made during his campaign. A lot of the Jackson delegates wanted to walk out and run a third party candidacy that night, but the effort fizzled.

Several months later the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducted a poll, which showed that 57% of Blacks would have voted for Jackson as an independent candidate. If he'd done that, the Black community would have been at the helm of the independent political movement. We might have had a Perot/Jackson ticket in 1992, and we might have started up a multi-racial independent populist party competing toe-to-toe in elections with Democrats and Republicans all over the country today.

That didn't happen. Rev. Sharpton should take some time, while he's behind bars, reflecting on that. When the next presidential race comes around, we don't need a symbolic celebration of what was and might have been. Black America needs a way forward. And Sharpton needs a way out of his political incarceration. The only way out is to go independent.

Anyone for Ventura/Sharpton in '04?

Lenora B. Fulani has twice run for president as an independent - making history in 1988 by becoming the first woman and first African American to appear on the ballots of all 50 states. She currently chairs the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, the country's leading think-tank for independent politics.

She can be reached at 800-288-3201 or at fulanicolumn@cuip.org or by mail at: 225 Broadway, Suite 2010, New York, NY 10007


Tuesday, June 5, 2001

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