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Florida Comes to California

Having spent the last month helping organize the petition drive to get Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo on the ballot in California, I’d like to make two observations and some comments.

1. There are an appalling number of “liberals” or “progressives” who are willing to scream and spit in your face (literally) when you ask them if they’d like to sign a petition so that people who want to vote for a candidate who opposes the occupation of Iraq and the Patriot Act will have that right.

Here’s a typical conversation:

Petitioner: “Excuse me, are you a registered voter in California?

We’re trying to get Ralph Nader on the ballot.”

Liberal Yuppie: “No, no, no!!! You cost Gore the election! F**k you, b**tch!”

Petitioner: “We’re not asking you to vote for him, just help us get on the ballot, so that people who would like to vote for him will have that right.”

Liberal Yuppie: “I don’t care about your rights. You’re going to hell!”

Apologies to the faint at heart for the strong language, but for all of Norman Solomon’s conspiracy theories about Nader being a Republican tool, the reality is that the less than 5% of campaign contributions Nader has received from individual Republicans (mostly old classmates and small Arab-American businessmen who voted for Bush in 200, but now disgusted with Kerry and Bush alike) has absolutely no influence on the campaign. The real story is that hundreds of left-wing and progressive people spent the last month collecting tens of thousands of signatures from ordinary people. We didn’t go to Beverly Hills or Point Reyes. We went to Oakland and San Leandro and Stockton and East LA and Chico and Sacramento and the Mission in San Franciso and Santa Cruz and Davis and Butte County and San Diego and everywhere in between. I’d like to send a warm thanks to everyone here and across the country who has stood their ground petitioning against the anti-democratic, and often racist and sexist abuse.

2. There is an inverse relationship between youth, poverty and oppression on the one hand and hostility to Nader on the other. Petitioners encountered the MOST hostility in more middle-class areas, where indignant liberal yuppies felt perfectly comfortable yelling all sorts of vulgar insults. In neighborhoods that were poorer, more working class and more multi-racial, petitioners got a much better reception. Same goes for younger voters. And in the working class areas, even those who did not want to sign the petitions tended to be more respectful and support our right to speak our minds.

These are generalizations. There are many better off progressive people who support Nader and there are many young, poor and people of color who do not. But the trend is unmistakable.
What can we learn from these facts?

The Democratic Party survives off the passivity and demoralization of the poorest and most oppressed sections of the working class.

The Democrats do nothing to challenge the indifference of the poorest people and youth in the United States to the outcomes of elections, because they benefit from it. The biggest threat to the Democratic Party’s status as an alternating ruling party is an active, confident and organized working class. The submission of most of the left in the United States to the mantra of “Anybody But Bush” is of enormous importance to maintaining this subjegation.

If we held an election tomorrow in which everyone (whether or not they are registered to vote) voted on Bush’s, Kerry’s and Nader’s platforms, Nader would get 20% or 30% of the vote, if not more. Would that cost Kerry the election? Probably, but it would also terrify Bush and paralyze the main stream parties’ capacity to march lock-step down the road of war, prisons and corporate power.

Of course, there WON’T be that kind of election this year. Why not? Because the Democrats and the corporate media are doing their best to stamp out the challenge from Nader. They are determined to destroy any left-wing opposition today and effectively cripple it for the future. Unfortunately, they have enlisted many progressive political people in this campaign. If they succeed in driving Nader/Camejo from the field, then the likelihood of an election like that EVER taking place will be set back tremendously.

In the meantime, the damage being done to the Green Party is accumulating. I’ve talked to dozens of Greens who say, “I can’t believe David Cobb is encouraging people to vote for Kerry. What’s the point of being a Green. I’m quitting the party, I’m going with Nader.” Cobb likes to talk about “growing the Green Party.” But prominently displayed on his website is an essay by Medea Benjamin and others called, “An Open Letter to Progressives: Vote Cobb, Vote Kerry.” No doubt, this “vote Kerry” line will earn the Green Party thanks from the pro-war forces. But it will lose something much more valuable. Namely, the respect of people who are looking for an alternative John Kerry’s decision to turn the Democratic National Convention into a military pep rally. Instead of being an acorn growing into an oak, the Green Party will become a tail to the Democratic Party dog. Every once in a while, it looks like the tail is going in a different direction than the head, but that is only an illusion. When the dog runs off to kill a cat, the tail has to follow along.

The only thing that is preventing a rout in the Green Party is Peter Camejo’s decision to stand with Nader. Camejo campaigning as a Green gives many of the most dedicated activists a reason to stay in the party and fight to change its direction, as well as a reason for anti-war and civil rights activists to join it.

Last week, Michael Moore and Bill Mahr got down on their knees on TV and begged Nader to drop out. This disgusting display was only the lowest episode in the organized campaign by the Democrats to silence the Nader/Camejo campaign. It is to Nader’s lasting credit that he stood his ground and has refused to join the stampede into the Boston harbor.

The Democrats will no doubt keep Nader/Camejo off the ballot in some states, using the Florida tactics pioneered by Jeb Bush in 2000. Before those progressives who oppose Nader’s campaign get too giddy about their new found friends in the VIP boxes of the Democratic Convention, they ought to consider who they are really muzzling.

Nader is famous enough so that his voice will be heard in the media. The thousands of young and Black and Latino and working class voters who signed Nader’s petitions in California are not so fortunate. Their voices will be silenced if Nader is not on the ballot.

They will not have the opportunity to vote for a candidate who represents the issues that matter most to them: bringing the troops home, national health care, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, gay marriage, equal pay for women, raising taxes on the wealthy, and on and on. They will not have the right to vote for the first presidential candidate of Arab descent, nor the first Latino vice presidential canidate. Their civil rights are being trampled on by the Democrats in Oregon, Illinois, and California, just as their rights were assaulted by the Republicans in Florida.

Todd Chretien is the Northern California Field Coordinator for Nader/Camejo 2004. He was the California State student coordinator for Medea Benjamin’s Green Party campaign for Senate and Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000. He is a regular contributor to the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at:ChretienTodd@aol.com


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TODD CHRETIEN writes for the Socialist Work.

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