A NEW PARTY
People's needs versus corporate demands
.BY VICTORIA SMIT H
La Donna Harris is running as the vice-presidential candidate on the Citizens Party ticket with presidential aspirant Barry Commoner.
La Donna Harris is a Comanche Indian
and national president of Americans for
Indian Opportunity. Her husband, former
US Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma,
once ran as the populist candidate for
president. This year LaDonna Harris is
running as a vice-presidential candidate
on the Citizens Party ticket with presidential aspirant Barry Commoner.
Her support for the Citizens Party
stems from her observation that the two
established parties aren't addressing
human needs. ". . . I just wonder how
some people can come to see it—the need
for change, and the ways to effect necessary changes—and other people can't."
She sees an imminent danger in the corporate control in our economy because
"multi-national corporations . . . have no
loyalty to a community, no loyalty to a
government . . ."In this country, decisions about economic policy are made so
that large corporations may continue to
"enjoy a 200 percent annual increase in
Victoria Smith is a freelance writer and
former co-editor of Space City News.
profits, while the smaller companies are
going under, and people are getting laid
off," she says.
Harris regards the Citizens Party as "a
chance to help build toward a [new] permanent party," one that is not merely a
splinter group of the established party
system, but rather one that is effectual
and concerned with addressing the current problems faced by individuals in this
Harris was in Houston recently for an
organizational meeting, and Victoria
Smith interviewed her. Also present was
photographer David Crossley, who joins
the interview toward the end.
Victoria Smith: You've been active in
Democratic Party politics for some time
now, but not as a candidate yourself.
How did you become the Citizens Party's
vice presidential candidate?
LaDonna Harris: I had been following the
party's activities since it was first formed,
but rather from a distance. In fact, Americans for Indian Opportunity was advised
that the Citizens Party might be an alter
native for minority people, like Indian
people, and that we should take a look
at it. So, I had been saying that Dr.
Commoner was my candidate all along,
and then a few months ago, he called me
and said, "Would you be interested in
running as my vice presidential candidate
on the Citizens Party ticket?" I thought
about it for several days, talked it over
with Fred, and decided it was the right
thing to do.
I think one of the reasons I was chosen
is that having a minority woman as a
national candidate lays some important
groundwork. It's like with blacks. When
the public becomes accustomed to seeing
blacks running for public office, and winning, it becomes an acceptable thing. I
think the Citizens Party will make a
major contribution here for minority
What we hope to do in the Citizens
Party is to offer a real, legitimate alternative to the two major existing parties, perhaps even replacing one of them. Neither
the Democrats nor the Republicans are
speaking to the central economic issue of
the day—that is, corporate control of our
As you know, Fred ran in 1976 as a
populist candidate, and tried to get the
debate going on these issues within the
Democratic Party. Some Democrats
picked up on bits and pieces of Fred's
position, but basically, he was a little
ahead of his time.
But we think the time has come to
establish a third party—a new party—so
people have a genuine option when they
step into the voting booth.
The immediate goal of the Citizens
Party is to get on the ballots in 10 states
and get five percent of the total vote in
the general election in November. We're
working toward qualifying in 35 states, to
insure that five percent. Then we can get
some funds from the Federal Election
Committee and be recognized as a permanent party. And we'll be working throughout the eighties to get our candidates
elected in local, state and national races.
VS: Where do you think your support
lies among the electorate?
LH: While we're counting on a broad
base of support, the people we're really
appealing to are those who aren't participating, who may not even vote, since
they're so disillusioned with what the two
main parties have to offer.
You know, some two-thirds of the
75 million Americans who became
eligible to vote since 1960 have never
People are angry, dissatisfied, and
that's a large part of the apathy we're
seeing in Election Year 1980. The polls
are indicating that people think "none of
the above" are appropriate. The people
may not know the answers, but I think
they know that the solutions the major
candidates are offering are not the solutions needed for this day and time, the
decade of the eighties.
We've got to come up with some new
VS: I know the Citizens Party has quite
a few new ideas, but first, can you give
us an outline of the party's analysis of
American society today?
LH: Of course, we're strong environmentalists—no more building or contin-
uation of nuclear plants. We want immediate development of solar and other
renewable energy sources.
We are firm on the economic issues,
and this is key to our analysis—corporate
control of the economy leads to political
control. Economic decisions—what we
produce, how we produce it, what kind
of. cars we build, where we drill for oil—
these decisions are not being made in the
national interest. They're being made in
the immediate interests of the big corporations, to increase their profits. These
corporations indirectly, as it were, make
certain decisions that directly affect our
lives, like the decision to import foreign
oil. I mean "indirectly" in the sense that
corporate heads are certainly not sitting
down and plotting ways to ruin the economy! But their decisions have nonetheless resulted in all sorts of demoralizing
Of course, we, the taxpayers, don't
get to vote on crucial decisions—like
whether Chrysler will build gas guzzlers—
but we end up footing the bill.
Now the government is doing away
with all our social programs, all the social
service programs, they're all just going
out the window, because the economy is
in bad shape and that's the first place you
cut. And yet, we're still giving tax benefits to the big corporations, we're giving
big loans to Chrysler.
So, the Citizens Party is saying, for
instance, an oil company cannot have
horizontal integration, where it can be in
control from the oil well pump to the car,
because that means it has control of every
aspect of the entire petroleum industry
and our whole energy system. And not
only do these corporations have control
over the petroleum industry, they have it
over uranium, over copper, they have a
monopoly on the nuclear power end of
All this has a very direct effect on our
day-to-day lives—we're all dependent on
these companies for the energy that is
supposed to run the economy. So not
only do we pay tremendous prices for
fuel, to heat our houses and run our cars,
but we pay rising prices at the market
because the food industry, to bring those
grapefruits and garbanzos to the market,
has to pay the same high fuel costs.
And there are people now who are
having to trade off medicines for fuel or
even food. You practically have to decide
whether you're going to feed yourself or
your car! It's especially difficult for
people on fixed incomes.
And yet the major candidates aren't
addressing human misery, they're talking
about balancing the budget, which will
take care of only about two percent of
inflation. Instead of making some relatively small cuts in defense spending,
they're doing away with all the programs
which have subsidized some people's lives,
giving them some of the services they
need and deserve as American citizens.
No one active in the established parties, not even Kennedy, seems willing to
tackle the key question: Shall we govern
the instruments of production in America in our interest—the national interest-
or in the interest of the people who
happen to own the capital and make the
VS: What do you propose to get us out