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Nader Press Conference An Assembly of Legends

by Paul H. Rosenberg Monday, Nov. 06, 2000 at 12:33 AM

Before the Friday super rally, Nader was joined at his press conference by Phil Donahue, Medea Benjamin, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate and Sara Amir, Green Party candidate for state assembly, as well as rock legend Patti Smith, political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, and Jello Biafra, First Amendment crusader, spoken word artist and former bandleader of the Dead Kennedies.

errorNader Press Conference An Assembly of Legends

Our democracy has been hijacked by corporations, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader charged in a press conference before his Long Beach super rally Friday night. Rejecting a short-term focus on the election at hand, much less the attempt to cast him as a spoiler, Nader declared his intention to help build a long-run political reform movement. He said that pundits and the media were mistaken in thinking that the Greens would wither away after the election, pledging the establishment of a major storefront presence across the country.

Nader was joined at the press conference by Phil Donahue, Medea Benjamin, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate and Sara Amir, Green Party candidate for state assembly, as well as rock legend Patti Smith, political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, and Jello Biafra, First Amendment crusader, spoken word artist and former bandleader of the Dead Kennedies.

Phil Donahue

Phil Donahue, who spoke first, has a long association with Ralph Nader. He recalled doing his first interview with Ralph Nader as 19 year old reporter with a radio call-in show, and remarked that during his 29 years on the air no guest appeared more often on his program. Donahue was continually impressed with Naders perseverance, and speaking of the campaign he said he always hoped this would happen. Commenting on the campaign itself, Donahue effused over the experience of flying coach with Ralph and meeting a lot of very nice people--in sharp contrast with the charge that Naders campaign is somehow elitist. He predicted an immediate result of the campaign would be to alter the science of polling which currently neglects younger voters, whove been particularly attracted to the Nader campaign. Donahue was the first to issue a call that would be repeated often throughout the night, to take back our democracy from corporate America.

Medea Benjamin

Senate candidate Medea Benjamin said that a major accomplishment of her campaign had been to expose how undemocratic the system is, citing the role of money and the corporate media blackout of her campaign. Despite these barriers, Benjamin has run an exciting, energizing campaign. Another accomplishment she pointed to was the way we have energized young people who might be doing community work organizing around various issues, but who were alienated from electoral politics. Benjamins success owes a lot to her leadership in such non-electoral politics, particularly her role as cofounder of Global Exchange, which lead the LA Weekly to say, in its primary election endorsement, shes already done more to create a more just an livable planet than about 97 of the members inside the Senate. After the election Benjamin foresaw setting up structures for independent debate commissions, so that well-financed candidates would no longer be able to avoid debating the issues.

Sara Amir

State assembly candidate Sara Amir responded to recent pro-choice Democrat attacks on Nader by pointing out that feminism is one of the Greens ten core values, that greens encourage women to run as candidates, and that Nader is the only candidate talking about the Equal Rights Amendment. Addressing herself to Gloria Steinman, whos been the most vocal Nader critique, Amir said, Maybe you should have another revolution from within [the title of Steinmans most recent book], a green revolution from within.

Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra hailed the Nader campaign and the Green Party as the all-important electoral arm of the same energy that brought tens of thousands to Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization and to D.C. to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fraud and the World Bunk. On the subject of Al Gore, Biafra quoted Michael Moore: Al Gore write a great book on the environment. Maybe he would read it some time. Biafra also repeated his exhortation not hate the media, but instead become the media.

Tom Tomorrow

The recent wave of coverage Naders been getting for his impact on Gores chances was natural fodder for Tom Tomorrow, who wryly noted, Nader is no longer a man, hes an effect. Speaking personally about his own reasons for supporting Nader, Tomorrow said simply, Its time to put my money where my mouth is. Anticipating the lemming-like jerk questioning he regularly lampoons, Tomorrow added, The Democratic Party doesnt have a divine right to my vote, they have to earn it.

Patti Smith

Patti Smith called Nader one of the most inspiring men Ive ever heard speak, and praised his campaign for offering the promise of a noble third party for the future. Responding to questions about the Nader campaigns impact on womens rights by hurting Gores chances, Smith attributed the gains in womens rights to the fact that women have been out in the streets by the millions over a period of many years and that no one man can turn that back. Speaking as a mother and a widow, Smith posed the question of whats more important to women like her than the future of children and the kind of world they will inherit, including such elemental concerns as having non-polluted air to breathe.

Ron Kovic

Anti-war veteran activist Ron Kovic, whos autobiography was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie, Born on the Fourth of July said he was proud to be voting for Ralph Nader, and called others to join him in a vote for a New America...an America we can all be proud of. He called Naders campaign an act of courage, and called Nader an American hero to me. Invoking the examples of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, who had been in prison, but became President, Vaclav Havel, who also went from prison to the presidency in Chechoslavakia and Corazon Aquino, who became President of the Philippines after her husbands assassination, Kovic said he saw no reason Nader should not be President.

Ralph Nader

Nader first highlighted the disparity between a booming economy on the one hand and the fact that a majority of workers are no better off than they were 25 years ago, a situation reflected in Californias 25% child poverty rate. He then focused on what this feels like to people hes met while campaign: liberals, conservatives and moderates all feel that theyve lost control, Nader said, covering everything from the right to choose their own doctor to their right to their day in court if they suffer injury from some corporations actions or products.

Nader characterized his exclusion from the debates as a decision made by a corporation, fueled by other corporation whose contributions financed the debates. That will never happen again, Nader vowed, the monopoly grip will be broken in future presidential campaigns.

Nader cited the need for a much broader distribution of power to those currently lacking it. He pointed to the 47 million workers who make less than $10 per hour, and called for the repeal of repressive labor laws, to enable workers to effectively organize into unions. Consumers need power, he argued, through courts and consumer unions and cooperatives. Tax payers need more power to avoid their taxes being diverted to wasteful military spending and corporate welfare. Further, he argued, there can be no democracy without having its own media, so public airwaves must be converted back to the public after 70 years during which private businesses have used the public airwaves without cost.

Speaking about his campaigns appeal to youth, Nader pointed to the widespread perception that politics is all bout lying and money, and cited statistics that 40% of youth dont want anything to do with two party system, which blatantly disrespects them.

The question and answer period produced the kind of pithy, no-BS responses that further distinguish Nader from his Republican and Democratic opponents.

When asked about his policy toward Native Americans, he said that for starters we could enforce existing treaties, but he deferred to his running-mate Winona LaDuke for her greater experience and expertise. Questioned why the media treated him so poorly, given that so many journalists are liberals, he pointed out that newsrooms run by conservative owners and managers. And when asked what the highlight of the campaign had been, he replied, I know who my friends are--a reference to erstwhile friends whove been attacking him in recent weeks.

When pressed to explain why he falsely claims theres no difference between the two parties, Nader said it was simple--he doesnt make that claim. But he does point out how few the areas of disagreement are to compared to whole litany of issues on which there are only minor disagreements at best, from criminal policy and the war on drugs to NAFTA, the WTO and globalization, to suspension of anti-trust enforcement for agribusiness, to military and foreign policy, and even to not pursuing renewable energy (despite Gores rhetoric).

And when asked to imagine himself waking up on November 8 to find that hed tipped the election in 7 states and denied Gore the election, Nader first joked, What makes you think Id go to sleep? and then went on to say that Al Gore had tipped more than 7 states, and that only Al Gore can beat Al Gore.

In a final comment on the similarities of the Democrats and Republicans, Nader observed that corporate executives are smarter than press, they arent fooled by the rhetoric, but pump money into both parties.

Many of these same themes were repeated and amplified in the rally that followed, a rally that ended, after a fiery and far-reaching speech by Nader, with Patti Smith singing her anthem, People Have the Power. It beat the hell out of Fleetwood Mac.
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