The political life of Charlie Pillsbury ’72 has been witness to some amazing twists and turns.
During a meeting with students and New Haven residents in Yale’s William L. Harkness Hall last night, Pillsbury recalled writing an essay in high school defending the U.S. bombing of Vietnam as a necessary defense against the threat of communism.
Now, 37 years later, the man who inspired Garry Trudeau’s ’70 famous cartoon character Mike Doonesbury has entered the race for Connecticut’s 3rd District congressional seat against Democratic incumbent Rosa DeLauro. The catch: He’s running on the Green Party ticket.
Over the course of the casual hourlong discussion, the freshman political candidate narrated his life as a Yale student during the ’60s and ’70s. He also explained his shifts in political allegiance over the years from loyal Republican to devoted Democrat and, most recently, to Green.
“These seismic shifts really take place in the middle of wars,” Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury, a lawyer and the executive director of Community Mediation, a nonprofit group based in New Haven, said it was the national political reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that served as the final impetus for his most recent political affiliation.
With only one Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives voting in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, and with the support Democrats have shown for large increases in defense spending, Pillsbury said he feels the recent actions of Democrats deviate from the party’s principles.
“I certainly have questions about Democratic policies,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the party is washed up, but there has been literally no opposition on these major international issues.”
An alternative to his frustration with the Democratic Party emerged when, as Pillsbury said, “In my own backyard there was an amazing political development taking place.”
Though at first he might have viewed the Green Party as a “Ralph Nader cult,” Pillsbury cited the recent victories of John Halle and Joyce Chen, both Green Party aldermen in New Haven, as inspiring.
“I was just blown away,” he said.
But Samantha Jay ’04, the president of the Yale College Democrats, said she was not convinced by Pillsbury’s speech that switching parties is the best political solution.
“Everyone gets frustrated with the political system at some point, but switching parties is not the answer,” Jay said. “He’s not going to get elected, and you can do a lot more when you actually hold political office.”
But Pillsbury hopes that by “thinking globally and acting locally,” he can effect some progressive change in national politics. His platform includes health care reform, defense spending cuts, and a revision of local and federal drug enforcement policy.
Laurel Pinson ’02 said her initial reason for attending was to see the inspiration behind Doonesbury. Pinson’s father attended Yale with Pillsbury, and was a character in an early version of Doonesbury, Bull Tales, that appeared in the Yale Daily News when Trudeau was an undergraduate. But Pinson left the discussion focused on Pillsbury’s political ideas.
“You have to start change slowly if there’s ever going to be a world in which there are more than two parties,” she said.
Pillsbury said he is well aware of the challenges that face him between now and November.
“It’s a long shot,” he said, “but I’m in the race to win.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”19908″ ]