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A crowd of 16,000 packed a sold-out Madison Square Gardens on Friday, October 13 to support Ralph Nader’s bid for president. It was the latest in a string of Nader “super rallies” that have also hit Seattle, Minneapolis, and Portland, Oregon. Speaking for over an hour, Nader exhaustively and plaintively elaborated on the insecurities and troubles of working and common folks whose lives are compromised and controlled by corporate interests. Nader’s supporters, overwhelmingly young and mostly white students, activists and disenfranchised optimists, were with him almost point for point.
As waves of thunderous applause greeted him, Nader appeared to be washed back by the total adulation of his supporters. Opening his speech with faltering gratitude, his tone gradually took on an urgency and power that recalled the scrappiness and imperfect diction of an old-school Midwest unionist.
Nader urged his supporters to look past November. “We are building more than a party. We’re building a historic, progressive movement. We’re moving on past November to a major political revolution.”
Stung by charges that he’s insensitive to issues of race, he responded, “I’m sick and tired of white politicians like Clinton and Gore going to Black churches and pandering to them, and then betraying them at every turn.” He made his own appeal to people of color, citing the poisonous legacy visited on poor, Latino, and African-American communities by the lead industry.
“You know what the major housing project in the works is?” Nader asked. “It’s building huge corporate prisons” filled disproportionately with young Latino and Black men.
Nader’s call for economic justice resounded with the New York crowd. “I submit that if the GDP has doubled, it’s because of the American workers. We should double the minimum wage. We should design this economy as if people mattered,” the candidate urged.
Nader finds the blame for substandard education not in the need for vouchers or standardized testing, but in corporate greed. “How come there’s always money for another Trump Tower that doesn’t pay its property taxes for the New York school system?” he asked.
Then he made a campaign promise: as president, Ralph Nader would withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization.
The overwhelming enthusiasm around this event was a tribute to the energy of the Greens, who got the word out in just one week. Their placards are everywhere in New York, their campaign workers canvassing the streets. Yet African American and Latino organizers say the Nader campaign has not solicited their input ? not a small oversight for a movement that considers the color line the prevailing question in American life. The ticket, it seems, still has a long way to go before it crosses that bridge.
Yet no matter the viability of Nader or the Greens in electoral politics, this candidate has unabashedly embraced the movement in the streets. He is the only presidential candidate who has acknowledged the broad-based dissent against WTO control of international economic policy. Nader’s Public Citizen has been making a stand for local, civic accountability in the rush towards economic globalization and his constituents appreciate this.
“Let Ralph debate!” was the refrain of the evening. It was the sentiment of a movement jubilant at the momentum and strength of Nader’s candidacy and indignant at his exclusion from the political process. Greg Kafory, a lawyer who has shut down his office to help organize this string of super rallies, asked, “Is there anybody here from the New York Times?”
When David Chen sheepishly raised his hand, Kafory continued, “I’d like to introduce you to some folks. This is the resistance.” The house lights shone on a sea of energized Nader supporters waving green placards.
The press pen was filled largely with sympathetic liberal-left media outlets. Represented was the Armenian newspaper Agos based in Turkey; the Asheville, North Carolina Global Report, the Village Voice, New Jersey Unity & Struggle, and The Nation, among others.
Nader’s supporters argue they are not spoiling Al Gore’s campaign because few among the young people pulling for him have voted before anyway.
“I want to say to the young people here: vote your conscience now,” said documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. “If you don’t now, when will you start? If you start your life now at 18, already compromising, already holding your nose and looking the other way, what kind of life are you going to have?”
Nader’s supporting cast ? Michael Moore, Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Patti Smith, Ani DiFranco, and Eddie Vedder ? truly care about his candidacy and obviously aren’t jockeying for a political pay-off. DiFranco and Smith, in particular, hold a measure of moral persuasion over this generation that almost no political leader can match.
Leading in to the main speech, DiFranco belted out a righteous condemnation of the policies of the Clinton/Gore administration, singing: “The old dog’s got a new trick ? it’s called criminalize the symptoms while you socialize the disease.” Most young activists will recognize these words in the context of the 1996 Antiterrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act and the Welfare Reform bill of the same year [check]. It set the stage nicely for Nader’s platform.
Later, two Nader supporters hijacked the jukebox at the Molly Wee bar on 8th Avenue and ripped into a song they wrote for the campaign, “Let Ralph Debate.” The author, Vinnie LoCascio, is a downsized music therapist. For him there is no choice. “It’s the only viable campaign,” said LoCascio. “This is a centrist message. It’s not extremist. (Nader’s election) can happen this year and I don’t like to say that it won’t.”
Indeed. What’s so radical about the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Freedom of Information Act, seat belts, and car seats, all legislated improvements Ralph Nader can take credit for? As Michael Moore put it, can you name one piece of beneficial legislation Al Gore has helped pass since he entered the House of Representatives in 1977?
Maggie Dickinson, a Nader campaign volunteer, had a slightly more sobering take on things. “Gore could never fill up Madison Square Garden,” she said. “But when Nader does, the media will never pay attention to it.” CP