Left in Andover: The end of single-party politics

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Dad’s enormous wooden roll-top desk filled the northwest quadrant of the den at Popplewood Farm. He rescued it one winter in the late 1950s from the former Verd Mont Mills Co. factory in Ludlow.

To get it into the house, we had to drag it on an old army surplus toboggan to the northside of the house, then, having removed the sash, inside through a window.

Dad’s roll-top desk remains in the family.

My little brother and I invented our own version of tag using the top surface of the venerable appointment to launch ourselves from one piece of furniture to the next while never allowing ourselves to touch the floor, which, according to our self-imposed rules, would have meant an automatic out.

Gustav Wolf’s folio, the book of Rosa Luxembourg’s letters and countless other family mementos were stored safely within the desk’s many cubbies. Usually the top was relatively cleared off, providing a generous runway for our antics.

But the time came when we were banned from playing there. The reason was that in 1958 Dad took on the assignment of clipping newspaper articles for his friend Bill Meyer.

Meyer, an independent forester from West Rupert, had been an official with the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Soil Conservation Service.

Meyer campaign literature.

In 1959, he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first Democrat to hold either statewide or congressional office since 1853, breaking a 100-year-long Republican monopoly on Vermont politics.

Dad was in his glory scanning the flurry of newspapers delivered to our star route address, clipping out any articles he thought Bill Meyer should read.

Dad then mailed them in packets to West Rupert, sometimes that very same afternoon.

That was thanks to Ernest Peck, a Chesterite who was Weston’s Postmaster. He commuted past our house, providing to those of us along his route the luxurious perk of twice daily postal service.

The Leaders and Arvid Kalinen kick off Andover’s first Democratic Party Caucus in 1959.

Committed to re-establishing two-party representation in state politics and energized by Meyer’s run for Congress in 1959, my folks, along with a handful of other brave souls, called a Democratic Party caucus in Andover and attended the state convention. Mom, as secretary, kept detailed notes of party prospects, ticking off the half dozen voters who might be counted upon at the polls.

In one letter from July 1959, Dad exhorts Meyer to take a stand against the poll tax, which depressed the voices of the working class and poor with its requirement to pay money in order to vote.

In the end, despite running repeatedly for re-election throughout the 1960s, Meyer served only one glorious term, during which he was deemed the most progressive member of Congress, taking strong stands for nuclear containment, civil rights and a social safety net, including healthcare.

Despite never winning another election, Meyer and a reorganized Democratic apparatus paved the way for Phil Hoff to become governor in 1962, ushering in the modern day ascendancy of the Democratic Party in Vermont.

Thank you letter from U.S. Rep. Meyer to Herb Leader in May 1960.

In 1970, a disillusioned but ever idealistic Bill Meyer hosted the first meeting of a nascent democratic socialist third party in his living room in West Rupert. He then ran, albeit unsuccessfully, as the newly established Liberty Union Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate. Indeed, running for office was almost a requirement of membership in this new, statewide party. Peter Diamondstone, a co-founder, ran perpetually from his bastion in Brattleboro.

My dad was a Liberty Unionite during the party’s earliest years, traveling up and down the state to meetings and offering himself up for office from Andover — though this was a pretty hopeless enterprise as he was reduced to nominating himself.

Vermont Dem Party convention pamphlet May 1960.

In 1971, a young Bernard Sanders joined the Liberty Union Party, under the auspices of which he ran for a variety of offices. By 1977, after serving as chairman, he resigned his membership, wisely pursuing a path to national leadership as an Independent closely allied with, but not beholden to, the Democratic Party.

Although the Liberty Union Party never enjoyed much box office success, it remains alive today. Arguably, its main contribution was as a crucible furthering the progressive conversation in Vermont through debates, education and political organizing.

The only Liberty Union meeting I personally ever attended was an election night 1972 gathering around a TV, maybe a bar, at the Duck Inn on the lower end of Springfield’s main drag. Dad and I hitchhiked over from Andover, making it home again that same evening. I recall Bernie being there, but I can’t swear to it. Could George Washington have possibly slept in as many places as there are claims?

Burlington Free Press clipping from January 13, 1974, with Herb Leaders center, and Bernie Sanders, right.

The legacy of Bill Meyer lives on in Bernie Sanders, our independently minded senator from Vermont. A 1960 campaign endorsement for the former states:

“Bill Meyer represents the epitome of granite integrity; he represents, we believe, the finest tradition not only of Vermont, but of America … We have always profoundly respected his integrity, his patriotism and his courage … Bill Meyer represents that voice of conscience which prompts us all to think more deeply.”

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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