Originally published in the Autumn 2021 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 66, printed October 25. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. For other stories in this issue or to see the full PDF, see the Autumn 2021 post here. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
By Phil Wilayto
The whole country now knows that there are three candidates for governor in Virginia: two rich white men and a working-class Black woman.
All three are on the ballot: Terry McAuliffe, Democrat; Glenn Youngkin, Republican; and Princess Blanding, candidate of the newly formed Liberation Party.
But very few people knew about Princess Blanding until Sept. 28, when she dramatically disrupted the second and final gubernatorial candidates’ debate.
Princess Blanding, a longtime educator, a single mother, self-described member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a nationally known activist against police killings, is the first Black woman ever to achieve ballot status for the office of governor in Virginia.
That alone should have been news. Instead, her candidacy had been receiving little coverage and her name has been left out of most polls, relegating her to “Independent” or “Other,” without mentioning her by name.
What happened at the debate
The disruption, which received national and even international news coverage, took place during the debate held at the Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria and sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and other corporate entities.
Blanding had already been excluded from the first debate, at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy in southwestern Virginia, and had asked the chamber of commerce to be included in its event.
The chamber’s response was that “… Participants in this debate have historically been the nominees of the two major parties. Therefore, respectfully, we will not be inviting Ms. Blanding to participate. However, we would like to extend an invitation to her to attend the debate as our guest. We can also provide time for her following the debate to speak with the media that is covering the event in person if she would like.”
“The way that felt to me was, yes, you can come and get on the bus like everybody else … but you’re going to sit in the back of the bus,” Blanding was quoted as telling the Associated Press. “I met the requirements just like they did to get on the ballot. However, I’m being blocked.”
And so, about 15 minutes into the debate, which was being televised live statewide by local NBC affiliates, Princess Blanding stood up in the left aisle of the auditorium – which was barely half full, by the way – and opened up a tirade at Youngkin and McAuliffe, moderator Chuck Todd of NBC and the event’s sponsors.
“I worked very hard to be on the ballot – I should be up on the stage!” she shouted. Dozens of people applauded as she demanded her right to be included in the debate.
After being unable to stop the intervention, a flustered Chuck Rodd called for security and went to an unscheduled commercial break, as Blanding continued her protest. At one point, a male audience member got up, positioned himself directly in front of Blanding and began to body-push her back toward the exit. A Blanding supporter (OK, it was me) stepped in between them and stopped the assault.
After finally being escorted from the venue by police, Blanding was followed outside by a gaggle of reporters eager to interview her.
Besides the Associated Press story that appeared in newspapers around the country, the disruption was covered by The Washington Post; NBC, Fox, Microsoft and Yahoo News; as well as lighting up Twitter. There also was a story in the Independent, a newspaper in England.
The significance of Princess Blanding’s campaign
Princess Blanding’s run for governor represents a long-overdue left break from the corporate-dominated Democratic Party, primarily over the issues of racism and police abuse.
After a long career in public education, Blanding became an activist in response to her brother, Marcus-David Peters, being fatally shot on May 14, 2018, by a Richmond police officer while Peters – naked and rambling incoherently – was experiencing a mental health crisis on the side of Interstate 95.
The police and city prosecutors insisted the officer acted in self-defense, but Peters had only become hostile after the officer approached him, pointing a taser gun.
Determined to get the officer indicted, Blanding founded Justice & Reformation, an activist group that led mass rallies and marches.
The group also raised demands for civilian police review boards, with subpoena power, and an end to qualified immunity for police officers.
When Richmond prosecutors refused to indict, Blanding began working with leaders of the state Democratic Party to get a bill passed that would mandate that the first responders to mental health crises would be mental health professionals, not armed police officers. This became known as the Marcus Alert bill.
She also worked on bills to create civilian review boards and end qualified immunity. Peters’ death became a focal point of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond, with activists including the Marcus Alert bill, review boards and an end to qualified immunity in their list of demands. The traffic circle around the towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the city’s iconic Monument Avenue was popularly renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle.
But by the time the liberal Democrats finished appeasing their more conservative party members, the Marcus Alert bill had been so watered down as to be almost meaningless. The same with the civilian review bill, while ending qualified immunity was dismissed out of hand.
It was at this point that Blanding publicly denounced the Democrats and decided to break with them once and for all.
‘Blanding Factor’ has potential to decide the governor’s race
McAuliffe and Youngkin are both multi-millionaires supported by deep-pocketed corporate interests. The Democrat, a former chairman of the National Democratic Committee and a close associate of the Clintons, has been a banker, real estate developer, home builder, hotel owner and internet venture capitalist who has already served one term as a Virginia governor. Youngkin, a political novice, is a former co-chief executive of the private-equity firm Carlyle Group.
As of Oct. 20, according to a report by WAVY.com, McAuliffe had raised a total of $44.5 million and Youngkin had raised $42.3 million, while Blanding had brought in just over $30,000.
And yet, despite her lack of funds, the grassroots support Blanding has received from progressives in the state made it possible to collect the 2,000 valid signatures, including at least 50 from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts, necessary to get on the ballot, a historic achievement for an African-American woman.
Blanding’s candidacy is also important because, if she can garner just a few percentage points, she could decide the election. Recent polls have shown McAuliffe and Youngkin running virtually neck and neck. In addition, Virginia’s contest is one of just two gubernatorial elections this year. The other is New Jersey’s, but that’s considered a likely win for the Democrats, while Virginia’s race is a toss-up, so national attention is focused here, where the outcome is seen as a possible bellwether for the 2022 congressional midterm elections. And with President Biden sliding in the polls, the national Democratic Party desperately wants a win in Virginia.
But even without the “Blanding Factor,” as it’s being called in some political circles, McAuliffe has plenty of other problems. He’s already served one term as the state’s governor, from 2014 to 2018, distinguishing himself by being a vocal supporter of the hugely unpopular Atlantic Coastal Pipeline, promoted primarily by the state’s most politically powerful – and financially generous – corporation, Dominion Energy. (The pipeline project was defeated.)
As governor, McAuliffe touted Virginia’s rating as the best state to do business, but after his four-year term, the international relief organization Oxfam ranked it the worst state for workers.
And, until the political winds changed, he also strongly supported keeping up the state’s many Confederate memorials, saying, “This is who we are.” McAuliffe was born in Syracuse, New York.
Much worse, it was McAuliffe who, as the state’s chief executive, had to have given the order for the State Police and Virginia National Guard to stand down during the massive neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, a decision that contributed to the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer and injuries to dozens of others.
As a result of these factors and more, polls are suggesting that McAuliffe’s voter enthusiasm factor is weaker than Youngkin’s, spelling trouble for him in the tight race.
Like their national party, Virginia Democrats have a liberal wing, but none of its members are nearly as progressive as Princess Blanding. It will be more than interesting to see how many are willing to break ranks with a corporate shill and cast their vote for a genuine people’s candidate.
More information about Princess Blanding and the Liberation Party can be found at: princessblanding.com