How America’s Only State-Level Left Party Was Built: The Story of the Vermont Progressive Party

By Terry Bouricius

The following text is the introduction to Bouricius’ 1993 pamphlet, Building Progressive Politics: The Vermont Story, which chronicles how the only successful left third party in the U.S. today was built over the course of three decades. The pamphlet’s appendices have been consolidated here.


Burlington and the rest of Vermont have been the site of encouraging developments for progressive independent and third-party prospects. We have successfully elected many independent progressives and socialists to City Councils, Selectboards, School Boards, the Vermont House of Representatives, and the U.S. House of Representatives. This level of success is unprecedented in recent U.S.  history, for many reasons — unique circumstances, history, demographics, scale, and personalities. But underlying elements to this success can be adapted to other locales.

I shall begin with Vermont’s historic experience with so-called “third parties,” and then discuss the Burlington experience, beginning with Bernie Sanders’ mayoral election in 1981.

The third section tells the story of our expansion beyond Burlington city government to progressive election victories in other Vermont communities, Tom Smith’s and my election to the Vermont House of Representatives, and Bernie Sanders’ election to Congress.

The fourth section explains the role of parties in state politics, both in the state legislature and in elections, offering some comparisons with European political parties.

The fifth section discusses the use of meaning of political labels and party names.

The sixth section covers Vermont’s election and party laws, especially as they apply to third parties and independent candidacies, including Vermont’s open primary system, and ballot access.

The seventh section is about the realities of fund-raising and the need for campaign finance reform.

The final section offers conclusions and recommendations for progressive third party-building.

16 responses to “How America’s Only State-Level Left Party Was Built: The Story of the Vermont Progressive Party

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