Time Capsule: People’s Party Candidate Promises ‘A Socialism that Fits America’

With a clenched fist and a fiery denunciation of all forms of discrimination, civil rights activist Margaret Wright of the Watts section of Los Angeles accepted the presidential nomination of the tiny People’s Party during this week in 1976.  Famed pediatrician and best-selling author Benjamin Spock, the left-wing party’s nominee for President four years earlier, was nominated by acclamation as Wright’s vice-presidential running mate.

“I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman, because I’m black, because I’m poor, because I’m fat, because I’m left-handed,” the 54-year-old grandmother told approximately 100 cheering delegates gathered at an alternative school in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury community.

“The People’s Party,” she continued, “has been discriminated against, and Lord knows I’ve been.”

Wright, who had once been arrested on charges stemming from her civil rights activities, said that one of her first acts as President would be “to deputize all my friends so I can stay alive.  And then I’m gonna redecorate that White House.”

In graciously accepting the party’s second spot, Dr. Spock promised to be a loyal partner and teammate to Wright.  “I will not be uppity,” he quipped.  “I will do any job Margaret wants me to do, even if only to preside over the Senate.”

Founded in 1971 as an umbrella group encompassing the Peace & Freedom Party of California, the Human Rights Party in Michigan and the Liberty Union Party in Vermont, the short-lived People’s Party advocated a decentralized version of socialism, emphasizing the empowerment of the working class in their communities and workplaces.

In Wright, who once worked as a riveter for the Lockheed Aircraft Company and was later employed as a housekeeper and day laborer before opening and operating a nursery school, the party had a perfect spokesperson for the struggles confronting working-class Americans.

Wright, who was originally nominated the previous September on a ticket shared by Maggie Kuhn of Philadelphia, the outspoken 70-year-old leader of the Gray Panthers — a group dedicated to fighting age discrimination — stressed that economics would be the party’s chief issue in 1976.

“This system just isn’t working,” said Wright shortly after entering the race the previous autumn.  “The country is really ready for a change. We’re ready for economic change. People have had it with an inflation that hits them hard while [President] Ford is pampering big business.  Even the middle class is tired of that.”

The civil rights and peace activist knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“You know, when people hear the word Socialism, they think of someone else’s Socialism — what we need is a Socialism that fits America,” she said.

Despite the tremendously long odds facing them, Wright insisted that she and her famous running mate were playing for all the marbles.  “This year, we’re going to run like we’re going to win,” she declared at the outset. “We’re going to run a vigorous campaign.”

Appearing on the ballot in only a handful of states that year, the People’s Party ticket garnered 49,000 votes nationally, placing ninth in the year of the country’s Bicentennial.

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