By JENNIFER BLEYER
After absorbing stinging criticism from progressives that he pays too little attention to minority issues, Ralph Nader began a three-day swing through the Midwest on Wednesday, Sept. 20, by emphasizing the persistent link between race and money in the United States.
In front of leaders of Milwaukee's African American, Latino, Hmong and American Indian communities, the Green Party presidential candidate affirmed that after three hundred years of racial injustice people of color are still get short-shrift when it comes to health care, education, employment, wages and criminal justice.
But he also argued that many societal ills, such as police brutality, are tied more to class divisions than racial ones.
"Do black residents of (wealthy) Scarsdale get abused by the police? No. When people have economic power in a community, they get their calls returned," Nader said. "Prosperity and economic justice greatly reduces racial injustice, and that's true from the courts to the prisons."
Added Nader, "it would be a mistake if we concentrate just on race and not class. They form a mutually-reinforcing vicious circle, and although the most emotionally outrageous things come from racial issues, we have to connect them to the larger picture of class issues."
Last week, National Organization of Women president Patricia Ireland joined with several minority business associations in calling Nader "oblivious'' to the issues of minorities and women in his campaign, which represents "a cloistered environment.''
On Wednesday, Nader said the problems which affect low-income minority communities are the product of the "emergence of two societies -- the very wealthy, and everybody else." He went on to denounce the billions of tax dollars that pay for "gold-plated weapons that even people in the Pentagon privately don't want, ten years after the end of the Cold War, to fight off nonexistent enemies."
Instead, Nader said, a "Marshall Plan" could revitalize the nation's inner cities, using money redirected from the military budget, as well as from billions saved by stamping out corporate welfare handouts.
Nader is in the industrial heartland to try and revive his campaign in union-heavy states like Wisconsin and Michigan where his support has flagged after reaching as high as 8% last winter. Much of the trip is touted as a "Non-Voter Tour" targeting young and disillusioned Americans, with Nader joined by filmmaker Michael Moore, TV star Phil Donahue and other celebrity supporters.
Brian Verdin, a Latino activist who works with the Campaign to End Racial Profiling and Angela Davis' Copwatch, said that most minority voters in Milwaukee, where minorities comprise just over half of the population, will probably vote Democratic "because the media has us believing that they're the only game in town."
Verdin noted that his state has a long history of progressive politics, including the 1854 inauguration of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wisconsin, based upon an anti-slavery and women's rights platform. He added that Nader seemed more "on our side" than either major party candidate, and that "it's just a matter of us mobilizing people."
Another participant at the meeting asked if Nader was familiar with the Million Family March, an upcoming event in Washington D.C. organized by Rev. Louis Farrakhan, and, if so, where the Green Party stood on the march's platform of African-American empowerment.
"The basic thrust of that movement is self-empowerment," Nader responded. "We're trying to empower all people, because in this country it's between corporate empowerment and self-empowerment." He lauded credit unions and cooperatives as among the most effective methods of self-empowerment and criticized the "predatory lenders, loan sharks and check-cashing firms" that prey on low-income minority communities in the absence of quality financial services.
Asked about the death penalty, Nader stated his unequivocal opposition to capital punishment, quoting statistics that show it to be discriminatory in its application, and said he supports the immediate enactment of a death penalty moratorium.
After the meeting, Nader spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of over a thousand people at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee before heading to Madison, where at a sold-out rally in the Orpheum Theatre nearly 2,000 people heard almost three hours of fire and brimstone oration, according to the Madison Capital Times. "He is the man who is church picnic clean and not afraid of third rail issues. Ralph and Winona are going to rock you!," Phil Donahue said of Nader and his running mate, Winona LaDuke, a Harvard-educated American Indian activist from Minnesota.
Thirty-five years after he exposed General Motors for producing unsafe cars, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader condemned GM in the company's battered hometown for dispensing with thousands of jobs here.
Nader was accompanied by filmmaker Michael Moore, whose hit documentary Roger & Me challenged GM Chairman Roger Smith to visit Flint and view the devastation caused by the company's plant closures, as well as Phil Donahue, who broadcast two episodes of his talk show from Flint in the wake of the film's success.
"The important thing here is that corporations are only accountable if they're made accountable," Nader said Thursday, Sept. 21, calling on the auditorium crowd of 1,200 to join a growing anti-globalization movement in order to halt the loss of US manufacturing jobs to nations with lower labor costs.
Dean Braid, an executive board member of UAW Local 599 and a Buick worker since 1979, opened the event by lambasting GM for its steady downsizing since he began working in the industry.
"The idea back then was that if you work hard and your company does well, then you and your family prosper. Now the idea is that if you work hard and your company does well, you get a pink slip," he said.
Braid, a lanky man with long blond hair and a slight drawl, declared that "GM is no friend to labor. GM certainly doesn't care about the communities in which we live. GM cares only about profits and not people." He then led the audience in a semi-enthusiastic chant of "Labor for Nader."
Moore, who had speculated the event would have a poor turnout due to voter cynicism in Flint, was pleased with the near-capacity crowd. The comedic provocateur bounded onstage to the raucous reception of a hometown hero, professing "this isn't the normal Ralph Nader campaign stop in a college town or a town with a strong Green Party where everyone's into environmental issues. This is a town that's had the crap kicked out of it, but where the people have a certain resilience that keeps them going."
Indeed, the crowd was noticeably more diverse than the trendy students and aging hippies who tend to pack Nader events, running the gamut of race, age and class. As many men were in attendance wearing mesh-backed baseball caps and cowboy boots as senior citizens in sweatpants and tennis shoes.
Moore hailed Flint's history as the site of the sit-down strike famous for prompting the formation of the United Auto Workers union, and asserted that the strike inadvertently created the country's middle class.
"Never before in history were the sons and daughters of working people allowed to go to college, own their own homes, own their own means of transportation, or able to get healthcare when they got sick," Moore said. "All those battles fought by the UAW allowed us a piece of the American dream and it started right here in Flint, Michigan. We gave this gift to the rest of the country."
Moore then pointed out that Flint's 40,000 GM jobs in 1995 have now dwindled to 17,000, and that two-thirds of Flint schoolchildren live below the poverty line while the wealthiest 1% of Americans own more than the bottom 95%. He also emphasized the little-publicized fact that when Nader's Lebanese father immigrated to America, he first settled in Detroit and worked on an assembly line of the company that would later become Chrysler.
"He's the son of an auto worker, and that means he's one of us, and we're so proud that one of us went on to do such good," he said.
In his speech, Nader, who embarrassed GM nationally with his landmark expose Unsafe at Any Speed, blamed the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements for sucking autoworker jobs from Flint, and pushed for the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act which he said cripples the ability of workers to organize.
Historically, Nader said, corporations have only "been held accountable by law and order, by the formation of trade unions, by strong consumer and environmental groups, by being sued in court, by real competition. But the real competition between the auto companies is no longer real. They all own each other. And there's nothing you can do about it, right? It's all inevitable, globalization is inevitable.
"No," he said. "It's only inevitable if we make it inevitable. We can organize a political movement that can do something about it."
Nader then attacked the Democratic Party for convincing voters it is the only choice for those who strongly support labor and unions, and claimed his presidential run will help prod the Party back toward the left.
"Never again will the Democratic Party be able to say you have nowhere to go to the unions, to the civil rights groups, to the environmental and consumer groups and all the groups that once made the Democratic Party representative of working families," said Nader. "They are either going to have to shape up and throw off the corporate yoke that has made them look just like the Republican Party, or they're going to have to lose it to the Green Party."
Although the UAW and Teamsters have officially endorsed Democrat Al Gore for president, Nader said he expects some Teamster locals to break away and endorse him instead, implying a significant announcement to this effect would be made in the coming days.
It was an unusually busy afternoon for national politicians in Flint. Before Nader's engagement at the Whiting Auditorium, President Clinton appeared a block away at Mott Community College, where he delivered an address on "Digital Opportunity for Americans with Disabilities" and announced a $54 million disability rehabilitation program.
Hoping to exploit the scheduling coincidence, Moore walked over and attempted, in his serial wisecracking style, to invite Clinton to join Nader for an impromptu debate, but was turned away by Secret Service agents. "I got within a hundred feet of the auditorium, but I didn't have my camera crew with me," Moore joked. "There's just something about a camera that gets you the extra fifty feet."
Jill Sterling, a 33-year old Flint native, had a ticket to the Clinton event but chose to forego it to see Nader instead. "I think Clinton's actually been a good president, and I voted for him in '92," Sterling said. "But the two-party system is pretty much apples and oranges, and third parties are given absolutely no say."
Many attendees, such as retired taxi driver Will Petty, were receptive to Nader's ideas but did not support him outright. "I go to the library quite a lot, and I've read that Ralph Nader has really stuck to his guns all these years," Petty said. "He fights pollution and global warming and all that good stuff. I just came to find out more about him."
Autoworker Michael Pierce was also drawn to the Whiting Auditorium out of general curiosity. "Gore was here last week, and a couple guys from the shop went to see him. But most of the guys can see that Gore's done a lot of chaos up in the White House, so I came to see if Nader's the man for the job."
Nader's appearance in Flint was sandwiched between an earlier event at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he spoke to 1,500 people, and an evening event at Michigan State University in East Lansing that packed in over 2,000. His campaign staff cited polls that show his Michigan support at 9%. The Michigan stops were part of Nader's three-day, six-city "Non-Voter Tour."
St. Paul, Minn.
Ralph Nader began campaigning in Minnesota on Friday, Sept. 22, by commending state laws that restrict corporate ownership of farms and condemning the "transformation of a country from one who's land was controlled by farmholders to one who's land is controlled by shareholders."
At a press conference in the state capital of St. Paul, the Green Party presidential candidate outlined his own plan for rehabilitating federal farm policy, which includes applying anti-trust laws against agriculture conglomerates, labeling food grown from genetically-modified seed, and restricting packer ownership of livestock, an issue of particular importance among Minnesota's many hog and dairy farmers.
Nader discussed a local controversy in Southeast Minnesota, where citizens have filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for deciding against doing an environmental evaluation of a large corporate dairy and adjacent manure lagoon.
Asked about the presidential debates, to which he has not been invited, Nader said that there is not yet a "sufficient indignation level" in the country to force the debates open to third party candidates. Standing at a podium next a foot-high stack of 18,000 signatures gathered in Minnesota in favor of open debates, he made the unusual proposition that George W. Bush come out in favor of four-way debates in order to put Al Gore on the defensive, and gain the advantage of labeling him a coward.
"George W. Bush can break this log jam, and he has every reason to do so considering his recent poll standings," Nader said. He also suggested that the five TV networks co-sponsor four-way debates as a way to boost ratings, and that trade unions sponsor debates in key Midwest swing states.
Nader and Winona LaDuke packed the Target Center in Minneapolis with 12,000 cheering supporters Friday night, demanding Nader's inclusion in the presidential debates. The high-energy rally included speeches by Nader supporters Granny D, filmmaker Michael Moore, and former talk show host Phil Donahue, all of whom urged citizens to vote their hopes and not their fears in November.
"A vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush. A vote for Bush is a vote for Bush, and a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush. A vote for Nader is a political Molotov," said Moore to erupting audience applause.
Supporters paid $7 apiece to attend the rally, which followed a paid rally in Portland, Ore., that drew 10,500 supporters last month. The Minneapolis and Portland rallies were the largest events held by any presidential candidate this year.
"Across the country we have been drawing crowds in the thousands," said Nader 2000 Campaign Manager Theresa Amato. "Each event has been filled to overflow capacity, and we're gaining momentum with every stop. Our bases are solidified, our support is growing, and people are fired up when they hear Ralph Nader speak. Thousands of people paid to hear him talk last night, and millions more want to see him in the debates."
In Minneapolis, Nader urged each of the 12,000 supporters in attendance to talk to friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances and garner 60 votes apiece for Nader/LaDuke to carry the state of Minnesota. "The most powerful media is word of mouth," Nader said.
By MATT WELCH
Energized by the sight of nearly 10,000 paying admirers -- at least half under 30 -- Ralph Nader let it be known in no uncertain terms Saturday night, Sept. 23, that he wants to become the president ... of the Seattle Coalition.
Starting with a dramatic video montage showing police abuse at last year's shutdown of the World Trade Organi-zation meeting in Seattle, the mostly student-age participants in that ground-breaking event were flattered, praised and motivated by speakers, musicians and the Green Party candidate himself, as he tried to solidify the anti-globalization base of his Third Party insurgency.
"The spirit of Seattle lives!" Nader shouted as he loped on stage of the Key Arena. "The message that you sent ... last November still reverberates!"
Texas populist Jim Hightower also praised "The Seattle Tea Party that we had last November here," adding, "what you did there was to open a great old big can of kick-ass that they ain't ever gonna put the lid back on." Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam took the stage for a few songs.
Seattle might be Nader's biggest stronghold on the West Coast, even bigger than liberal San Francisco. One of the few major cities to have several Green politicians on the city council, it has a large and active student population, and in the past few days the Nader campaign picked up key labor endorsements from the 6,500 members of Teamsters Local 174 and the Greater Seattle chapter of the American Postal Workers Union. And while his most recent statewide poll numbers show 5% support -- down from around 10% before the Democratic National Convention -&endash; most of that is concentrated in the urban western half of the state, centered on Seattle.
Since establishing itself this May, Washington's Green Party has founded local chapters in 33 of 39 counties and hopes to have the remaining six launched by Election Day, state party facilitator Brent McMillan said. "I've never seen a climate as favorable as Washington has right now," he said.
Scott Royder, who runs the Nader campaign for the state, claims "the Green Party is the second party here in Seattle; the Republicans are the third party ... It's an amazing place."
Royder, a youthful-looking 41-year-old activist with a braided ponytail, salt-and-pepper beard and startling blue eyes, said Nader's Seattle operation benefits directly from the organizations that emerged during and after the WTO protests which he and Nader both attended.
"People ... that were in the streets of Seattle, they know the energy that was there is like this event here tonight, bringing people together, putting them together, realizing that they're far from alone, and that the energy that is created by these kinds of gatherings ... help people know that we do have the power to make a huge difference, whether it be by shutting down WTO, shutting down the debates or electing the president and vice president," he said.
These reports originally appeared on newsforchange.com.