If Al Gore's bounce in the polls after the Democratic convention put down Ralph Nader's populist challenge on the left, as the mainstream media would have you believe, the message didn't get through to the more than 10,500 supporters who paid $7 a head to cheer Nader and running mate Winona LaDuke at the Portland Memorial Coliseum on August 25. The rally, the largest for any presidential candidate so far this year, was organized by volunteers and capped a four-day, nine-stop tour up the Pacific Coast that highlighted Nader's unconventional grassroots-oriented insurgency.
"What other candidate would dare attempt to fill an arena while asking for donations to attend?" Nader 2000 campaign manager Theresa Amato asked. "The Republicrats have corporate-sponsored, over-scripted conventions lulling Americans to sleep. We have foot-stomping, hollering crowds hungry to hear Nader speak truth to power. We're taking his energy straight to the polls in November."
The Portland event, in which Nader's 75-minute speech was the highlight of a three-hour show, was the highlight of the tour of California, Oregon and Washington, but other events packed living rooms, union halls and theaters as Nader appealed to the coalition of environmentalists, progressives, democracy activists and union members who helped derail the planned expansion of the World Trade Organization in Seattle last fall.
In Seattle on Aug. 26, Nader said the WTO protests were a watershed in American history, and he hopes the same populist wave carries him to the White House. "The beautiful aspect of it is, it didn't end in Seattle,'' Nader told 300 people jammed into the Seattle Labor Temple, according to the Associated Press. "This is an all-purpose social justice movement.''
Nader called for a repeal of the federal Taft-Hartley Act, which restricts the ability of workers to unionize. He told supporters the Democratic Party has taken labor's support for granted. "The Democratic Party cannot win an election nationally without the labor vote,'' Nader said. But Democrats have ignored labor because "they think organized labor has nowhere else to go.'' However, Nader joked that Bush's campaign might be unconstitutional: "He's nothing more than a giant corporation running for the presidency, disguised as a person.''
Nader on Aug. 29 in Buffalo, N.Y., called for a universal health care system in the US -- with public funding, private delivery and controls against waste, profiteering and malpractice, which would be similar to the single-payer system in Canada. Nader noted that in the US 24 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes to administrative costs, compared with 11 cents in Canada. He said the difference goes a long way toward covering the 47 million Americans who now have no health insurance. Nader also noted that the US was ranked 37th among nations in the world in the quality of health care.
"This is not only embarrassing, but also unacceptable," Nader said. "Western European countries provided for their people 40 to 50 years ago ... why can't we do it now in a period of economic growth and budget surpluses?"
On Aug. 30, Nader barnstormed New York City, railing against environmental pollution, the exploitation of workers and the abuse of taxpayer dollars through "corporate welfare." Nader appeared on NBC's Today show, where he said the central issue of his campaign is empowering people against control by a few. He later blasted NBC's owner, General Electric, for polluting the Hudson River with toxic PCB's until 1977, when the chemicals were banned by the federal government. He said GE has not done enough to clean up the mess.
Nader said he hopes to focus attention on political-economic injustices such as corporate welfare. "The public will be shocked when it learns what the Gore-Bush campaigns are sweeping under the rug," he said. "The level of public outrage, for example, would be high if the government simply wrote out a $70 billion check to the broadcast industry &endash; but that is effectively what happened when the Federal Communications Commission, pursuant to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, handed over the digital television spectrum to the existing broadcasters," Nader said.
Nader even stopped in Toronto on Aug. 30, trolling for support from some of the estimated 500,000 eligible US voters living in Canada. "Every vote counts," Nader told the Toronto Globe & Mail.
He also won the endorsement of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). "Decades of corporate-controlled Democratic and Republican presidencies convince us that we have no choice but to escape the two-party trap," according to the resolution of the 35,000-member UE, which has endorsed just four other presidential candidates in its 65-year history -- all Democrats, other than this year's Green choice. "Nader's energetic and principled candidacy will bring us closer to real labor law reform, national health care and a challenge to &endash; if not controls on &endash;- the power of multinational corporations."
The union praised Nader's pro-labor platform, which calls for triple back pay for workers fired illegally during an organizing drive, expanded power for the National Labor Relations Board to issue injunctions to stop unfair labor practices, a ban on the permanent replacement of strikers, and, most prominently, repeal of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act.
The UE is the third union to officially throw its support behind Nader. In June, the 31,000-member California Nurses Association endorsed Nader, praising his "outspoken stance on behalf of an overhaul of the nation's health care system, and strong advocacy of nurses' and patients' rights."
The 1,200-member AFSCME Local 1108 followed with an endorsement of Nader in August. The union of nonprofit workers &endash; which represents Los Angeles area Head Start, child care and social service workers &endash; cited Nader's support of universal health care, expanded child care and better wages for child care workers.
On Sept. 5, Nader joined people seeking to legally grow and market industrial hemp in criticizing federal agencies for making it difficult for US farmers to grow the crop. At a news conference in Washington, D.C., he also spoke out against a recent raid on a South Dakota Indian reservation in which federal agents seized at least 2,000 plants described as industrial-grade hemp plants by the crop's owner. "In the current farm crisis, farmers need alternative crops, and hemp will likely be more profitable than other commodity crops," Nader said. Hemp also rarely requires pesticides, he noted.
On Sept. 8 in Santa Fe, N.M., Nader joined New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, in calling for the legalization of marijuana as part of an overhaul of the nation's "self-defeating and antiquated drug laws," advocating treatment and "harm reduction" programs rather than imprisonment of addicts.
Gore's adoption of moderate populist rhetoric in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention and in the following week, as he campaigned down the Mississippi River, helped Gore overtake Texas Gov. George W. Bush in most polls while Nader, who had scored as high as 7-8% in some polls, has settled back to 3-5% -- in the neighborhood of the threshold the Green Party needs to at least qualify for federal funds in the next election cycle, but short of the arbitrary 15% threshold set for inclusion in the "bipartisan" debates, which bi-party leaders fear could give Nader wider exposure. Nader showed his wry sense of humor on Sept. 7 with a letter offering to "pinch hit" for the debate-shy Bush.
Nader, 66, has not given up on this election, even if the pundits have written off his quixotic campaign. He has raised more than $2 million with an average donation of under $100, without corporate contributions or PAC money. The Green ticket is on the ballot in 38 states and expects to be on at least 45 states by November.
"We are going to become a Green hammer and a Green magnet,'' he said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "A magnet that pulls the Democratic and Republican parties in a progressive direction. And a hammer that says to them: 'If you don't shape up, you will shrink down.'''
He is not just going after progressive voters, he said. With the Reform Party divided between followers of Pat Buchanan and followers of Perot who have rallied behind Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin, Nader is reaching out to reform-minded voters who might once have backed Ross Perot or John McCain.
"If you voted for John McCain or Bill Bradley, Jesse Ventura or Ross Perot, you're saying you're disturbed and disgusted by our present political system,'' he was quoted in the Mercury News. "We're offering fundamental change, and we should attract those people, too.''