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Considered among the most dynamic scholars and spokespersons for the growing independent political movement in the United States, Dr. Omar H. Ali specializes in the history of independent political movements. Recently featured on PBS in Transforming America and on CNN Newsroom Sunday for his analysis on independent voters in U.S. politics, he is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, he received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University.
His research and analysis on new voting trends and realignments in politics have been widely published. He brings a distinctly cultural approach to the study of American politics. His recent scholarship helps to explain the growing political independence among African American voters in particular. He attributes a “black and independent alliance” to the successful election of President Barack Obama, who broke partisan convention by reaching out to independents and Republicans, in addition to rank-and-file Democrats, during the 2008 election.
The author of In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third Party Movements in the United States (described as a “landmark work” by The National Political Science Review) and In the Lion’s Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, Ali is a contributing author to History in Dispute: American Social and Political Movements, among other publications. Ali has also served as a guest editor for Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society and is a contributing editor to The Neo-Independent: The Politics of Becoming. Polls taken by CNN, Gallup, and the Pew Research Center, show that up to 42% of Americans self-identify as politically independent (neither Democrat nor Republican). Who are these independents and what is their history?
Ali has been at the ground level of independent politics since 1992 as both a political organizer and chronicler of its historical development. In the wake of the independent political upsurge spurred by Ross Perot in 1992, Ali reached out to independents around the country. His contribution to the national effort to bring independents together from around the country into a pro-reform political party coalesced in the formation of the Patriot Party in 1994 followed by the national Reform Party one year later. Throughout, Ali worked to increase the presence of young voters in the larger independent political movement while writing about the growth of independents, with an emphasis on the role of African Americans within the movement.
Born in Lima, Peru, to South American and East Indian parents, Ali began college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. While at Michigan, he was awarded an Oxford House scholarship and received research grants from the Lilly Endowment and the Mellon Foundation to work as a research assistant to Prof. Maxwell Owusu, then an advisor to the Committee of Experts on the Ghanaian Constitution. Their research on Ghana helped to inform the rewriting of the country’s constitution in 1993.
Upon graduation from the London School of Economics, Ali returned to the U.S. to work as a national field organizer for Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent presidential campaign–which focused on the need for an open and equitable electoral process. Following the campaign, he worked in the Department of Public Information at the United Nations, before being awarded a fellowship at Columbia University to complete his doctorate. Under the supervision of Prof. Eric Foner, his dissertation documented the role of African Americans in the rise of the People’s Party in the period following the collapse of Reconstruction and before the consolidation of Jim Crow.
Recognized for his innovative research and engaging teaching style, he was invited to serve as a Lecturer at Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies after serving as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has since served as a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a Fulbright professor at National University in Bogota, Colombia, and a Library Scholar at Harvard University.
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Recent polls by CNN and Gallup indicate that upwards of 42% of Americans self-identify as independent of the two major parties. Who are these independents? What do they want? What is their history?
An independent political movement uniting voters across the ideological spectrum has been building steam over the last twenty years. These independents are focused on opening up the political process; they are black, white, Latino, and Asian; they are not in favor of parties, yet they will variously use particular parties and candidates as vehicles to advance structural political reforms (such as open primaries, non-partisan elections, and ballot access reform).
Theirs is a history that grows out of America’s rich history of movements for democratic reform--from the Abolitionists of the early nineteenth century to the modern civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. And while Jim Crow has been legislated out of existence in terms of race, there is a new form of Jim Crow that excludes tens of millions of Americans from participating as full citizens in the United States.