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Is Ralph Nader on to Something?

by BRANDY BAKER

 

If the American mainstream media had given Ralph Nader the coverage throughout 2000 that they gave him this past weekend, we would today have a strong, federally funded Green Party and President Gore would be seeking re-election this November.

The widespread belief that those who voted Green in 2000 were mostly registered Democrats is a myth. Only 38% of the 2.7 million votes that Ralph Nader garnered in 2000 were from Democrats; 25% were from Republicans; the rest were from Independents and others who would not have voted at all. And as correctly stated on Nader’s website: “there are 100 million people in this country who do not vote. There are plenty of nonvoters for all candidates to attract.”

There are many who voted for Bush in 2000 that would have instead voted for Ralph Nader if they could have had access to Nader’s ideas. This time around, Nader has been able to get his message across in interviews that he has done in the past several days: a feat that corporate media would not allow in 2000.

Let’s face it: the few enthusiastic voters in America, regardless of political affiliation, are mostly the few with the money. Nader realizes something that the liberal intelligentsia does not: that the continuous, extreme class polarization in this country has created greater anger than ever at the Washington establishment from millions of poor and working people, regardless of where they see themselves politically, and regardless of whether or not they are political at all. This class consciousness, if nurtured, could in the future lead to greater civic engagement, and possibly, the expansion and diversification of the too white, too middle-class progressive movement in the United States.

In their open letter to Nader encouraging him not to run for President this year, the editors of The Nation asserted, “–[In the past], your appeal stretched across the political spectrum. No longer, alas.” They go on to dismiss the idea that Nader can bring in new blood to the progressive movement: “Such relationships take time to build and can’t be conjured out of thin air in the midst of a presidential campaign.”

I don’t know where the editors of The Nation have been, but for the past few years, Ralph Nader has been all over this country in his Democracy Rising tour (DR is one of four civic organizations that he has started since 2000). Not only did he speak at the usual progressive venues, but he spoke to those in various US cities who have been hit hardest economically by Bush’s policies. Here in Baltimore last June 26, we had our Democracy Rising event at Johns Hopkins University. Two hours before this event began, Ralph spoke at the Steelworkers Hall in East Baltimore County. His message resonated so well with this audience that he was nearly two hours late to the JHU event; the waiting audience was forgiving, of course, because we all know what is missing from the American progressive movement.

We progressives, as well meaning and hard working as we have been, have done a poor job in attracting our country’s most vulnerable citizens to the fight for economic and social justice. There was some success with the current anti-war movement, but we have a long way to go to truly diversify the progressive arena; we need new strategies. We need to hear how bad Wal-Mart is from people who work there; we need a new feminist movement led by working women, welfare mothers, and women of color; we need to hear about the effects of racism more often from those who are actually of color.

The only time there is a wide range of people working for progressive ideals is once every four years when we all get together and work to elect someone who is not progressive, which is what Bruce Jackson wants us to do-again. In his February 23 Counterpunch article, Jackson maliciously attacks Nader, claiming that civil rights, women’s rights, education, or jobs, “don’t seem to matter or exist for [Nader]–He does not live in our world.”

In our world Mr. Jackson, the majority of low wage jobs are held by women and people of color who do not have equal access to educational opportunities. Corporatization of our society hurts these people the most, and though racism and sexism are not solely economic struggles, money does play a large (if not the largest) part in oppression. But I do agree that you and Ralph Nader do not live in the same world.

Ralph, initially disappointed that you did not run as a Green, I now understand where your nephew Tarek Milleron is coming from: “What Nader has done by walking away from the Green umbrella this year is that he has boldly left the shelter of the vote he could most rely on.” You see the need to draw new people; to bring in those who are most affected by the Bush administration’s horrendous policies and by the Democrats’ inaction.

Obviously, change in the structure of the US Left will not occur between now and Election Day: it is a long-term project which will take a vast effort from lots of people in many places. But change will not stem from working to elect a candidate from the Democratic Party: the party that works to build its base every four years only to ignore it after the election is over.

Many have been asking you Ralph if you will drop out in the last days before the General Election if the Democratic nominee is at risk of losing. The real question is: Will you stick around and continue this effort AFTER the General Election? If so, then you sir, may very well be on to something. And we all need to start paying attention.

BRANDY BAKER can be reached at: bbaker@ubalt.edu

 

BRANDY BAKER can be reached at: bbaker@ubalt.edu

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