Princess Blanding isn’t mincing words. She is done with the status quo.
From an educator and an activist to now a gubernatorial candidate, Blanding is looking to make history in more ways than one.
If elected, she would not only be the first Black woman to become governor of Virginia, but she would also be the first openly LGBTQIA+ woman to hold the office. She’s running on the platform of a party that she created, the Liberation Party.
But with progressive policy points that are likely to appeal to the political left, why did she start her own party?
Blanding’s answer is immediate: May 14, 2018.
Marcus-David Peters, Blanding’s brother, was shot and killed by a Richmond Police officer on that day on Interstate 95 during a mental health crisis while he was naked and unarmed.
Peters was a biology teacher at Essex High School in Tappahannock, the same school where Blanding was an assistant principal.
His death sparked protests as well as MARCUS Alert, a system aimed at ensuring that mental health professionals are involved when responding to situations where a person is in crisis. The bill, also called the Mental Health Awareness Response and Community Understanding Services system, was passed during the 2020 special session.
When Northam ceremoniously signed the bill in December 2020, he invited Blanding to speak and thanked her for her advocacy work done to bring attention to the issue; however, for Blanding, it was too little, too late.
“Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for doing exactly what this racist, corrupt system, and broken may I also add, expected you all to do; make the MARCUS alert bill a watered-down, ineffective bill that will continue to ensure that having a mental health crisis results in a death sentence,” said Blanding at the ceremonious signing.
Blanding also criticized lawmakers for killing a proposed bill to end qualified immunity for police officers and failing to pass a bill that would require localities to create a civilian review board for police departments. She points to lawmaker reaction in the wake of her brother’s death as a pillar of her frustration with the two-party system.
“It got to the point with working with the legislators that I saw that it was performative politics,” Blanding said during her interview with 10 News. “And I made the decision that we can no longer beg our oppressors to be our saviors because they’re not going to be, and we must expand our fight from the streets into the seats of these key elected positions.”
Then, during the May after the MARCUS Alert bill was signed, George Floyd was murdered and protests once again erupted in the streets of Richmond.
“I remember saying as we were marching and protesting that it’s time for the rise of a strong, independent party,” Blanding said. “I had no idea that I would be starting it, but I just knew that we couldn’t keep playing along with the games of the duopoly.”
Soon after, Blanding and other community activists launched the Liberation Party of Virginia.
“With the Liberation Party, as is with my campaign, we are strong believers that liberation for all is a human right, not a privilege. When we say that, we mean housing for all, Medicare for all, ensuring food sovereignty - that’s just meeting the bare minimum of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for us to be able to exist,” said Blanding. “However, we have politicians who keep throwing us crumbs and they keep saying ‘take this, but we still have work to do.’ We are demanding that our legislators say less and do more.”
Her name may be on the same ballot as Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, but Blanding said that the playing field is far from fair. She made that clear when she interrupted a debate she was excluded from in September.
When Blanding requested to be a part of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce debate, she received the following email in response:
“To me, that felt like you know, ‘you paid your fare, so you can get on the bus like everybody else, but you’re going to sit to the back of the bus - and that was not about to fly with me,” Blanding said. “I wasn’t going to wait until after the debate to talk to the media.”
Blanding said she was also told that she was told that she had to poll at a certain percentage to participate in other debates. But she said that most of those polls are paid for by either the Democrat or Republican party and are inherently bias, citing a recent Mary Washington poll as an example.
In a University of Mary Washington poll, McAuliffe’s name was read first 50% of the time and Youngkin’s name was read first 50% of the time, with Blanding’s name consistently being read last. When Blanding emailed the university to ask why her name was not added to the rotation of whose name was read first, she received the following response from Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, the director of the center for leadership and media studies:
Despite challenges Blanding said she had to overcome due to the two-party system, she said: “Everything the duopoly is doing to try and hurt us is helping us.”
An example of that is Blanding’s campaign not being able to afford voter registration information, which she said turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Democrats and Republicans will use that information to campaign in specific areas, but without that, Blanding said she had to take a “boots to the ground approach.”
“I’m moving all around the state. I am humbled by the responses, I’m humbled by the support and what we’re seeing is that as ... they find out about the censorship of my candidacy, it does something to them - in a good way for us and a bad way for the duopoly because it makes them angry, it comes across as voter suppression,” Blanding said.
Aside from changes to polling and being included in debates, Blanding said another way that third parties could be given a fighting chance is ranked choice voting and removing corporate money from campaigns.
As Election Day approaches, Blanding knows that she still has an uphill battle ahead of her.
Third-party candidates haven’t seen much turnout in Virginia, with Robert Sarvis securing the highest percentage of the statewide vote by a statewide candidate in more than 50 years with 6.5% in 2013.
Blanding said that doesn’t scare her. She points out that it’s been decades since more than 50% of Virginia’s registered voters turned out for a gubernatorial election – and Blanding asserts that her campaign speaks directly to those voters who may have previously felt left out by the two-party system.
“When people tell me they’re scared to vote (third party), I say ‘you’re scared to fill in a bubble on a piece of paper when we had Freedom Fighters who put their lives down for you to be able to do so and enjoy the little bit of liberties that you do have,” Blanding said. “…Don’t vote a certain party because that’s what you’ve been told to do or that’s what you’ve historically done, vote for the candidate that aligns with what you are fighting for, that aligns with your values.”
As for what comes after Nov. 2?
“After I win this election, I’m also the chair of the Liberation Party, so it doesn’t end – this is not just about me and this candidacy,” Blanding said. “We will continue to enlighten, empower and mobilize community members across the Commonwealth to take on the seats of these key elected positions.”
You can hear our full interview with Princess Blanding below: