social difficulties of the 1970’s prompted the creation of several alternative
political Parties. One of the alternatives, a well-organized Citizens Party,
started in 1979, lasted six years, and dissolved due to insufficient
recognition. Nevertheless, its grassroots organizational structure and
decision-making process, which tried to make use of participatory democracy,
serve as models for a future progressive party. Proposed solutions to
unresolved economic, energy, and social problems were prophetic and can
facilitate development of a more secure, equitable and democratic society.
politicians had become increasingly dependent on political contributions from a
few wealthy individuals and Political Action Committees (PACs). The new manner of acquiring campaign
contributions hindered effective debates on inflation, militarism, environment,
health, and ecological crises. Mainstream political parties and their intended
presidential candidates refused to conduct proper debates on vital subjects.
The Citizens Party arrived to firmly address the issues and challenge the
surveys of late 1978 concluded that President Jimmy Carter would again become the Democratic presidential
candidate in 1980. His principal problems: Congress continually stymied the
administration, and its executive and legislative departments conducted the
nation with contradictory approaches.
himself a suspect to Washington skullduggery by committing the unpardonable in
pardoning Richard Nixon, and preventing the former president from
serving a possible jail term, Gerald Ford became the Republican front-runner. His
affable manner gained him supporters, but many judged him ineffective in
soothing the wounds left by the Vietnam War and Nixon's resignation.
between two failed presidents stimulated the progressive community to search
for an alternative candidate and an alternative Party. Usually the start of an
alternative political Party originates from radical activist groups. Not so
with the Citizens Party. It did not start from the ideas of those associated
with poorly funded radical organizations. It started from people with
substantial endowments in mainstream foundations.
David Hunter and
Arch Gillies launched the alternative Party. The former
used his energies to promote progressive causes and examine the promises and
limitations of the American system. The more pragmatic Gillies
had actively tested the U.S. political system as a candidate in
several electoral campaigns. From the campaigns, he defined his role in the
political system as the selection and support of dedicated and progressive
David Hunter, Executive Director of the Stern Fund and
previous director of other foundations, had been instrumental in funding
several types of activist organizations: anti-nuclear, peace groups such as Business Executives for a Vietnam Peace, and
civil rights groups. In funding the Workers
Training League, his organization provided training for the
early leaders of the civil rights movements. The foundations had also supported
non-establishment think tanks: the Institute
for Policy Studies and
the National Center for Economic
Alternatives. Under Hunter’s leadership, the Stern Foundation financially assisted many organizations that
sought to improve social conditions in the United States.
The John Hay Whitney Foundation, which received direct funding from the
wealthy Jock Whitney, had been more conservative than David Hunter's foundations in its funding.
Nevertheless, under the direction of Arch Gillies, who had been a Republican candidate for
the U.S. Congress in Long Island and for the New York City Council, the John Hay Whitney Foundation ardently funded civil rights and other
activist causes, including grassroots community movements. As a political
advisor to Jock Whitney and Nelson Rockefeller, Arch Gillies' political life shaped himself as a Rockefeller style Republican. His nature embraced
those who had shown compassion for the less privileged groups of society and
those who had formulated political and economic program that more equitably
distributed the country's enormous wealth.
In 1979, David Hunter and
Arch Gillies evolved beliefs that the election of either Carter or Ford signified the continuation of
ineffective and outdated economic policies. The views directed their political
strategy toward formation of an alternative political group; to a third Party
that could capture the progressive and alienated groups presently attached to the
The two close
friends in the foundation community made it clear to each other, and to all
others with whom they spoke, that they were operating on their own and without
support of their respective foundations. As any citizen, they were expressing
their political rights and wanted only to have progressive and effective
government. They were willing to go far and search all possibilities to reach
their newly formed objective. In the latter part of 1978, the two New York based foundation leaders talked with
those they felt could assist in the endeavor. Their talks did not bring any
results, but as they began to doubt their ability to acquire the resources for
accomplishing the enormous task, they found support from mutual friends.
funded the Exploratory Project for
Economic Alternatives, a Washington based think tank, whose prominent
economists Jeff Faux and
Gar Alperowitz had
received a grant to write a book on economics. During the seventies, these
economists often discussed the need for a third Party. To Jeff Faux:
Democratic Party had lost its attachments with much of the labor movement, become
too conservative in the economic programs required to maintain a healthy
economy, and had let the Watergate experience shape policies as moral issues.
With the Carter administration
having moved the Democratic Party to a stance sufficiently conservative on
economic issues, there was now a constituency large enough to support a more
radical third party. 1
After a January
1979 planning meeting that discussed additional projects for the Exploratory Project for Economic
two economists and two foundation leaders waited for their eastbound planes at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Stanley Weiss, an industrialist who was active in
anti-nuclear energy causes and had attended the planned meeting, joined them.2
Snow and fog at the busy airport impeded their flight, and the wait dragged on
for several hours. While waiting at the O'Hare Airport steak house, the
discussions covered many political and economic topics, including the
possibility of creating a new third Party.
meetings and conversations, these activists had routinely discussed the
formation of a third Party. In this discussion, the participants showed more
enthusiasm and more determination. At this dinner, while waiting for their
airplanes, all agreed it was time for an alternative. The two economists and
the industrialist were willing to join with Arch Gillies and
David Hunter and
commit their time and energy to form an alternative Party. Inclement weather,
rather than inclement politics, became a deciding factor in the formation of an
alternative political force.
talked about a Party that bridged major lines, and appealed to the liberal and
disaffected elements of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Jeff Faux wanted a wider constituency, encompassing the
less doctrinaire groups of the radical left. Everyone agreed that developing a
third Party would eventually require institutionalized grassroots support, and
that the membership must feel they had an equal stake in the movement. The
approach seemed simple; run someone for President on a progressive platform
that addresses the concerns of all Americans, and galvanize the electorate by
vision and aspiration. The campaign would draw adherents and act as a catalyst
for further developments. After the campaign, long-term party building would
occur. Jeff Faux recalled:
was never any idea to create a party in two years. Maybe, on paper it would be created in two years. Support would come from
activists; especially those associated with the Democratic Party. 3
To Jeff Faux, success of a third Party depended on its
ability to gain day-to-day activists from the Democratic Party; those who knew
ballot access, petitioning, knocking on doors, telephoning. A new party had to
prove itself, show some success, and demonstrate viability. Then the Democratic
Party followers would have reasons for joining and becoming active in the new
group disbanded, they agreed on two possible candidates in the coming
presidential election, consumer activist Ralph Nader and
environmentalist Barry Commoner. The public knew both men, and each of
them had social and economic philosophies that coincided with the group.
to form a new political party will face similar issues to those that soon faced
the five men finishing their dinners at O'Hare Airport, controversies and
confusions that arise from an initial direction in developing a political
Party. Processes, democratic actions, and grassroots development will become
more than everyday words. They will become words of debate, struggle, and
Stanley Weiss agreed to take a fundraising role for the new
party. The prototype of the self-made entrepreneur, he enjoyed new ventures.
While walking in the mountains of Mexico, Weiss discovered and eventually
developed manganese mines, from which he acquired a fortune. The businessman
knew how to acquire and raise money.
At meetings in
his New York apartment, Stanley Weiss discussed with Arch Gillies and
David Hunter whether corporations had acquired too much
political power, were not functioning effectively, and were smothering the U.S.
economy and its political processes. Together with Arch Gillies,
he suggested a basic strategy for Party development, envisioning a conventional
Party, which they characterized as "...running through the system. Why
fight it or try to change it? Get candidates into both the Democratic and
Republican primaries, let them secure a following and then run as independents
under one banner, receiving donations from their supporters and matching funds
from the government.” 4 Adequate funding made elections successful.
Raising the campaign money came before nominating the candidate.
committed to forming a third political party, the group arranged a meeting,
with others interested in a third Party movement, at the Washington Hilton
Hotel in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, they wisely adopted
the formation of a Citizens Committee and charted it to prepare the structure
for a new party. The charter gave the Citizen’s Committee the authority to
outline the Party's principles, develop its initial strategy, and seek means to
attract known and knowledgeable people from the political field.
process proceeded with additional meetings and focused on challenging President Jimmy Carter and
ex-President Gerald Ford as
the major Parties’ candidates in the coming election. Neither candidate had
shown capabilities to engineer solutions to the principal problems confronting
the economy at that time. Inflation, lack of job growth, pockets of enduring
poverty in the world's wealthiest nation, anticipated energy shortages, and
diversion of diminishing resources and productive capacity to the military
complex remained problems. Liberal constituencies were certain to become
disillusioned with the lack of capability of the Democratic and Republican
candidates. A bipartisan third Party could attract alienated segments from each
of the major political Parties.
strengths and weaknesses of the two major Parties, supports the thesis of their
built-in limitations. Did the GOP, in 1978, have a unified program supported by
all of its members? Any person could call him or herself a Republican. Jacob Javits, characterized as a New York liberal, shared the same party as Strom Thurmond, a Southern Dixiecrat.
The Republican Party collected contributions from moneyed interests and
industry leaders, and promoted legislation that furthered those interests. By
the end of the 70's, several special interest groups, such as the NRA, AMA, and
Right to Life fundamentalists, whose only qualifications for receiving support
from the Republicans seemed to be their dedication to the status quo and
willingness to donate huge amounts of money to the GOP treasury, identified and
allied themselves with the Republicans.
behaved similar to the Republicans. They had contradictions: alliances of
northern liberals and Southern conservatives, trade unions and Sunbelt strikebreakers, urban planners and
corrupt city administrators. Principal legislative thrusts considered social
and economic programs intended to more equitably distribute wealth and elevate
the living standards of the less privileged classes of the society. In recent
Democratic administrations, many of these programs, such as those of the Great
Society, failed those they intended to assist, and enriched those who
administered the projects and supplied the materials and tools. In addition, as
for the Republicans, anyone could register as a Democrat. The Democratic Party
organizations throughout the country had no real association with one another.
They were places for lawyers, insurance agents, accountants, and other
professions to network, and in many cases, to manage election spoils.
electoral victory in 1980 could mean enrichment of the wealthy and
impoverishment of the poor. A donkey election victory and its ultimate tax
policies might decrease the wealth of the rich, but, from examples in recent
history, might not assist the poor. It would more likely enrich those who
managed the "throw the money into the system programs," the
philosophy of democratic administrations for solving economic and social problems.
Many citizens believed that a new political party was the preferred alternative
to working with either of the existing parties. How could
this task be accomplished?
Gar Alperowitz suggested that the group talk with someone who
had studied political formations, and had academic knowledge, or experience
with political campaigns. One recommendation favored Dan Leahy, former director of the Labor Action
Coalition of New York, a coalition of 50 union locals dedicated to public power
and the renewal of the union movement, and an acquaintance of Stanley Weiss.
Dan Leahy consulted on a research project that
investigated publicly owned electrical utility systems. While occupying part of
a larger office, organized by Stanley Weiss for
the anti-nuclear movement, Leahy
had met and talked several times with the industrialist. Nevertheless, he was
surprised when, at the beginning of spring 1979, Stanley Weiss, in a matter-of-fact tone, stated to him
that some of his friends, mainly David Hunter and
Arch Gillies, were eager to start a new political
Party. This was not going to be a one issue, one-time popular personality
party, such as those that had characterized previous third Parties. It was not
going to be Henry Wallace progressives against the Cold War or Eugene McCarthy pacifists against the Vietnam War. It would
not be a left of center revolt against the Democratic Party; it would be a
well-organized and new Party with leaders from many institutions and other
established political movements. The Party would dedicate itself to improving
the economic and social lives of all Americans and have industry serve the
Stanley Weiss said that he, Arch Gillies, and David Hunter were willing to provide support for the new
Party with one condition: they wanted it organized quickly, in time for the
next presidential election. The group wanted Dan Leahy to
assist in organizing the new Party, a monumental task considering that the
election was less than two years away.
Dan Leahy's first thought was, "Why me?”
Although he and Stanley Weiss had
become friendly, they did not share similar political philosophies and economic
approaches. The labor organizer pursued radical politics; formed from the
setting of a different generation. He had not actually been in electoral
politics. His experience included grassroots work for social and political
change, tenant organizing in New York, and a role as Executive Director of a
Cornell University Human Affairs program from 1973 to 1976. In the latter
program, Dan Leahy initiated projects in public power movements
and prevention of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. Although absent
of political experience, he had studied political Party formation, had a will
to become politically involved, and often expressed interest in playing a
leading role in political organizing. Evidently, his ideas and eagerness
impressed his associates. Without giving a firm commitment, he expressed
willingness to investigate a role in organizing the new party.
Dan Leahy admitted his limitations and experience in
organizing political movements. After discussing the status of the new Party
with the founders, he concluded they were sincere in forming a new political
movement, but lacked a visible organization and suitable plans for developing
it. For the venture to succeed, he recommended integrating into the Citizens
Committee a more professional person, someone who had previous experience in
organizing a Party for a presidential election. The small group agreed with Dan Leahy's recommendation and authorized him to
search for a person with the required qualifications.
At this time, a
spectacular public incident occurred that emphasized the necessity of a closer
examination of U.S. nuclear policy. It made the emerging
Party appear prophetic. On March 28, 1979, at Three Mile Island, situated ten miles southeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a newly dedicated atomic power facility
exhibited a series of failures leading to a near meltdown.
problems developed from the inability of inexperienced workers to clean a
clogged water pipe, the main feed-way system failed. The reactor lost normal
and emergency cooling water sources and gradually started to tear itself apart.
It took until April 27 to stabilize the fault and place the plant in a shutdown
mode. During the period, an estimated 140,000 people fled the area.
An atomic plant
failure occurring only three months after its dedication, the several hour
delay by the government in making public the catastrophe, and the government's
equivocal manner as to whether there had been radioactive leakage, created
doubts the government was equipped to administer critical nuclear programs.
Pictures of the ominous Three Mile Island cooling towers, smoking pollutants and
possible radiation into the atmosphere, symbolized an unsafe nuclear energy.
anti-nuclear groups seized the advantage and mobilized a huge rally in Washington D.C. From this highly successful assembly came
additional devotees to the Citizens Committee cause, giving an example of how
catastrophes provide fortuitous circumstances to benefit a cause.
registering with the Federal Elections Commission, and while still awaiting the results of Dan Leahy's search for a person who had been a
leader in previous third party campaigns, the Citizens Committee wrestled with
the appropriate strategy in the coming presidential election year.
By spring of
1979, Barry Commoner, one of the most respected commentators
on environmental and ecological issues, had become active with the Citizens
Committee and was assisting it in developing a strategy. After having appeared
on the cover of a 1970 issue of Time magazine, the public recognized him as the
foremost spokesperson for the environmental movement. In his book The Poverty of Power, Commoner blamed
the profit motive for creating the energy crisis. The domestic oil shortage
resulted from the oil industry's earlier decision to move exploration and
production activities to foreign areas, and from not realizing the consequences
of their over-eagerness to increase profits. Commoner had lucid,
well-developed, and articulate opinions. His association increased the
Committee’s prestige and recognition. He would become the leading figure on the
Committee and within the Party.
Noting that the
growing Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now, known by the acronym ACORN, had become uncertain in its direction,
and had been considering electoral politics as a means of expanding their
influence, the Committee contacted and arranged a meeting with Wade Rathke, one of ACORN's
youthful organizers. ACORN had evolved from an experimental outgrowth of the National Welfare Rights Organization to become
a leading local organization in many Southern communities, which protected and
assisted the rights of poor people and those receiving welfare. In 1976, Wade Rathke had
proposed the expansion of ACORN to states that had a Democratic primary or
statewide caucus; expecting these could give ACORN the opportunity to influence
the Democratic Party platform. He argued to a reluctant leadership that ACORN
could also use the opportunity of a presidential campaign to increase its
influence and prestige. In 1979, ACORN was again considering the possibility
that increased awareness of political events during an election year could
enable it to better present its objectives to America; to raise the national
consciousness of the plight of the poor and their victimization by the power
elite, and demonstrate what organized people can achieve.
On May 7,
1979, a modest Wade Rathke, described as the type of person you
would expect to meet if you walked along a Southern back road, met with twelve
members of the Citizens Committee to discuss mutual election year strategies.
The New York-based Woman's Action Alliance also attended the Washington, DC meeting,
considered a presidential campaign required a pre-existing Party, a mass
movement, and an organized constituency. A national campaign that starts with a
top-down approach will ultimately compromise its programs in order to forge
alliances and receive support. Scarce finances gravitate to the campaign, with
little money available for Party building. Creating a firm structure before any
election campaign more assures Party permanence. Local issues are the avenues
to programs, and local members provide resources. Leaders serve as the contacts
with prospective candidates. By first constructing a strong Party base, the
leaders will compromise less with ideals, and this gives a new Party an
increased likelihood of success.
understood the benefits of having support of the welfare rights organization,
and admired its leader. Nevertheless, the momentum was toward an immediate
presidential race, and for this reason, the group rejected his plan by a vote
of ten to two, with only Dan Leahy and
Wade Rathke supporting the proposal. Although he
physically left the movement, insiders debated Rathke's
ideas for several months.
Dan Leahy finalized the search for an election
strategy consultant. The Committee agreed to his choice of Jim McClellan, a political activist and history
professor who had been involved with other alternative parties, with the Peace
in Freedom Party of
1968, the Peoples' Party, and as Dr. Benjamin Spock's campaign manager in the 1972 anti-war
At Jim McClellan's home in Northern Virginia, Dan Leahy briefly outlined the Party concepts,
concluding his talk with simple questions: What could they expect? Could they
make it work? The mild-mannered history professor's response, formed from his
experience in previous campaigns, was surprisingly negative, and not what Dan Leahy had
did not believe they had a chance. Ballot access is stacked against new
Parties, and raising sufficient funds is an almost impossible task for groups
who do not have the spoils system of the major parties. The Spock campaign had to manage on a budget of
only $41,000. Then there is the media, which is always partial to the existing
Parties and antagonistic to the newer. The existing are well funded by federal
subsidies while new Parties, who most need the money, have to work extra hard
in hope they can get some small matching funds.5
He argued that
the possible success of a new Party in the United States is comparable to a person raising himself
by his bootstraps, while being suspended in air. Then he smiled and said, “No,
it can't succeed, but if you want to proceed, count me in.”
Dan Leahy digested Jim McCllelan’s frank appraisal, and, despite the
pessimism, sensed he had the experience, ability, and sincerity that the group
sought. McClellan would be able to define the processes for
forming a new Party. With assets of which the history professor was not aware
and which had not been available to him in previous campaigns, these processes
could more easily evolve. Leahy
asked the professor to define the types of committees that would be required,
outline how the group could develop into a Party, and describe a campaign
after Jim McClellan completed the assigned tasks, he flew to New York for a meeting with the Citizens Committee
members at the Summit Hotel in New York City. By coincidence, he met Richard Barnet of
the Institute for Policy Studies. They had known each other for several
years, and were now learning on the taxicab ride they were sharing to mid-town Manhattan that they were attending the same
meeting, and that neither knew exactly who would be at the meeting nor the
meeting room had a long and highly polished table, around which sat about
twenty persons. All of them wore suits; all were over 40 years of age; all were
white; all were male; and almost all had connections to sources of funding.
Most of them had been associated with social causes. These characteristics
impressed Jim McClellan; a sharp contrast to those involved in
the Spock campaign. Those meetings had a greater
mixture of races and genders. Nearly everyone was young, had long hair, wore
jeans, and did not have a dime to spare. He reflected that if this group were
in the Spock campaign, that campaign would have
succeeded in having a lasting effect on the nation. He became more enthusiastic
and re-examined the validity of his original comments to Dan Leahy.
Jim McClellan proposed four alternative strategies to his
personal expressions have been left in the original
words and grammar.
(1) Run a presidential candidate in an all
out-effort for ballot access in all states; an effort that might utilize all of
the party's resources.
(2) Run a candidate in only a select number
of states in order to take advantage of the party-building and fund-raising
value of the candidate, and designate the bulk of party resources to enhance
the party's infrastructure, to assist local candidates, and evolve a strong,
comprehensive party platform.
(3) Run only an issue-oriented campaign on
the national level in 1980. To fortify this approach select a shadow cabinet
with each person speaking out on specific issues corresponding to a cabinet
(4) Ignore a national campaign in 1980, and
work initially on grassroots party building. Possibly run local candidates, or
even congressional candidates, where the party had sufficient strength.
presented at this strategy meeting, the proposals would surface and be debated
at other Party strategy discussions.
McClellan outlined the details for initial Party
structure. Form a self-appointed Steering Committee responsible for policies
and an Executive Committee for carrying out the policies. These committees would be appointed until convention time, at which time the
convention delegates would elect the committee personnel. As a corollary to his
presentation, he volunteered an opinion: The major Parties survive because they
have a reward system in which precinct captains eventually receive political
appointments, giving them a reason to devote their time and energy to their
organizations. For the local groups of the new Party to survive, the Party had
to make a "big splash" in the 1980 campaign. He cited the relatively
poor electoral performance of the People's Party as the reason for its
disappearance only eight months after the 1972 elections.
around the table expressed skepticism about some points, especially those of
forming a self-appointed committee, and again debated alternatives to a 1980
election campaign. Stanley Weiss and
Arch Gillies argued that in the U.S. political arena one must follow ordinary
rules, run the party through the system. They did not want to depart from their
original strategy of running a presidential candidate in Democratic and
Republican primaries to gain a sufficient percentage of the vote for
popularizing the candidate. After receiving donations and matching funds from
federal financing, a candidate would run under the Party’s banner.
Jim McClellan's presentation satisfied Barry Commoner. The environmentalist declared that the
proposal clearly delineated the choices; they were simple, uncomplicated and
effective. Inclined to the opinions of the man they believed had a strong
agenda, had shown a commitment to the entire project, and was their likely
candidate, the group agreed to place plans for party structure into operation.
Exact strategy still had to be determined. Jim McClellan had proposed four strategies, but there
was still a fifth, that of Arch Gillies and
Stanley Weiss, running candidates in the primaries of
the major parties, and launching the Citizens Party candidate from the
publicity and funding gained in the primary battles.
disbanding, attendees debated a name for the new Party. Barry Commoner proposed Citizens Party. Stanley Weiss agreed, and remaining attendees had no
preference. In the late afternoon, the exhausted group failed to notice that
the name started with the same letters as the Communist Party. Using the
initials as an abbreviation might invite controversy and ridicule. This
overlooked issue forced the party to modify its abbreviation and use the
letters CiP as initials. The initials never created a