The movement that got its big start in Seattle has accomplished much in eight short months. Any doubters should review Gore's acceptance speech. Do you think he would have mentioned "universal health care" or "fair trade" if it weren't for us and Nader's Raiders? Would he have attacked healthcare-for-profit?
Gore was talking to us and the Raiders. Make no mistake about it. Not that I believe him....
So we've made progress and we've helped set the election agenda, despite the media distortions that have plagued protest coverage.
In addition, we've built relationships, encouraged each other, taken chances, learned a lot. With the help of the police, some people have been radicalized by mistreatment. They will be even stronger forces for justice now.
Great. What's next?
We could get Nader into the debates. [Don't sign off, anarchists! This isn't as boring as you think.]
Why Focus on Nader?
The multi-issue protests at the RNC and DNC were good for movement building, but not-so-good for penetrating the media barrier. So the question is: is there anything coming in the next few months (that many in the movement could agree upon) that would send a clear, unmistakable message--something the media would find hard to ignore? Is there any single travesty of democracy that we could fix with our combined efforts--that would broaden the coalition and send our messages to the people? That travesty is the closing of the debates.
The problem: in 1996, you only had to register 5% in the polls to make the debates. Ventura only had 10% in Minnesota before his debates. Now the threshold has been changed to 15% to keep third parties out--completely undemocratic--and it happened because the "Commission on Presidential Debates" is completely controlled by the BushGore party.
I realize some of you only want to fight the system from the outside--and I understand that sentiment. But consider the effect of Nader in the debates. First, many of our concerns get voiced on national TV loud and clear. Second, we drive Gore further away from the corporate agenda--at least in word. Third, in the less-likely event of a Nader presidency, he might be able to make democracy a bit more safe for dissent--like the Bill of Rights intended. Think of what that would do. And by focusing on Nader, we pull the Green machine, with thousands of petition-signers in every state, right into the game.
I've written about this once before at LA Indy Media, but I didn't offer many suggestions. So now let's discuss strategy--how do we get Nader in? The Nader site offers civilly-obedient ways, as they must in their position. (See http://www.votefornader.org for details--including a lawsuit they've filed). We are not as limited.
A popular book on community organizing (Organizing for Social Change by Bobo and others) says there are two types of targets when you are trying to make change--the primary and secondary targets.
The primary target is the person who has the power to make the change. (Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals, said it's best to personalize the target. Don't go after the "Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)", he would have said. Go after the HEAD of the CPD.)
The secondary targets are the people/groups who can influence the primary target better than you--but you can reach the secondaries.
So, who is the primary target? Depends on your strategy. If you want to force Nader into the existing debates, the primary is probably the head of the CPD. [You could, instead, try to get the League of Women Voters (the previous holder of the debates, before they saw the CPD was corrupting the process) to hold a different set of debates, but then you've got to reach the League (probably not too hard) AND you have to get BushGore to attend (harder). Let's stick with forcing Nader into the CPD debates for this discussion.]
Who are the secondary targets--the ones who could influence the head of the CPD? Now we have more choices: the neighbors of the head of the CPD, the minister of the head of the CPD, the RepubliCrat Party (they control the CPD), BushGore, the corporate sponsors of the debates (general sponsors--Anheuser-Busch, The Century Foundation, The Marjorie Kovler Fund, 3Com; Internet sponsors--AT&T, Sun Microsystems , 3Com, Harris Interactive, Alteon WebSystems, ZoneOfTrust), the national media who plans to cover the debates, the mayors in the cities where the debates will be held, and others. Again, personalize the target if possible.
What tactics could be used against the targets? There are both legal tactics and civil-disobedience tactics--helpful, since the more mellow Greens could focus on legal tactics.
Well, of course, there's in-the-streets non-violent direct action. This would be most applicable, perhaps, to the debate sites themselves, but if 20,000 people were to suddenly show up at the Anheuser-Busch headquarters, I bet that could work. Where does the chairman live, I wonder? Personalize, personalize.
Other tactics? Boycotts (of the corporate sponsors). Phone calls/letter writing campaigns. Electronic actions at any or all relevant Internet sites. Paid advertising that shames the personalized targets.
How strong is labor at the corporate sponsors and the mainstream media? What if the workers at Anheuser-Busch called for a nationwide strike? Could the mainstream media or AT&T function at all if the Communication Workers of America went on strike? Think big. [Yes, I know much of labor has signed onto Gore. But even if they are afraid to vote for Ralph, they would do well to drive Gore hard with the threat.]
The tactics will need coordination to be effective. Perhaps they could be organized using the same model of affinity groups and spokescouncils. But consider that decentralized electronic civil disobedience could put you at risk--jail solidarity would be difficult.
Remember, we're fighting the corporate machine. I suspect we can reach the corporate sponsors much more easily than we can directly influence the CPD or the candidates or the two branches of the Corporate Party. Neither the CPD, nor the candidates, nor the RepubliCrat Parties have anything to gain by listening to us (unless the targets can be personalized)-- and they know what will happen if Nader gets into the debates. But if they or the media lose their sponsors....
Now, let's go for it. The time is short to make history and strengthen democracy. Be courageous.
Rick Stahlhut, MD
[Anticopyright, 2000. Circulate widely.]