Election Section

COMMENTARY Time to Hit the Streets By LIZA GRANDIA

Friday August 06, 2004

“Drop dead!” “No way!” “Ha! Are you kidding?” “What? Are you crazy?” “Are you a Republican?” “I’m not a hippie!” “I hate him!”  

These were among just a few of the many insults I received while doing volunteer petitioning to get Ralph Nader as an indepen dent candidate on the ballot in California.  

If all the people who insulted the Nader petitioners this weekend would simply redirect that energy to get out in the streets themselves, then Kerry would have a much better chance of getting elected. Rather t han vilifying Nader, it would be far more strategic for the Kerry supporters to start by targeting all the Democrats who voted for Bush in the 2000 election.  

Take a look at the numbers. Seven to eight million registered Democrats voted for Bush in the l ast election. Nader, by comparison, got a little less than three million votes. Of the Nader voters, 38 percent said they might have voted for Gore, 25 percent would have voted for Bush, and the rest wouldn’t have voted at all. That means that more tha n t wo thirds of Nader voters would not have voted for Gore anyhow.  

“But, what about Florida?” an angry man demanded of me on Saturday. Polls there show that 250,000 self-identified Democrats voted for Bush and just 97,000 voted for Nader.  

It’s fantas y to assume that everyone who voted for Nader would have otherwise voted for Gore or even would have voted at all. Rather than reflecting on why the election even came that close at all, or questioning the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-Americ an v oters, liberal Democrats found it easier to turn Nader into a scapegoat. Sure, we’re all frustrated at Bush’s coup d’etat, but unfairly blaming Nader isn’t going to get Kerry elected.  

Though largely ignored by the media, Nader is now running a savv y campaign to siphon more votes from Bush than from Kerry. Remember, there are a lot of Buchanan Republicans who are unhappy about American jobs going overseas because of the corporate-driven trade policies of both parties. Nader strikes a chord with them. As Tarek Milleron wrote for Commondreams.org, “For Nader, this is not a year for super rallies….this will be the year of Elks Clubs, the garden clubs, meetings with former Enron employees, the veterans groups, [and] Walmart employees.” What’s more, Nade r’s s taff is sending free, weekly briefings to the Kerry campaign on issues.  

I’m an unrepentant Nader supporter because, to me, he’s a modern prophet who speaks truth about the corporate occupation of Washington. This weekend many people said to me, “N ot thi s time.” But if not now, then when? Democracy can’t rest. Nader’s my great hope for pressuring the Democratic Party to return to its progressive roots. Don’t we all want our Democratic Party back from corporate money? Don’t we all want a party that is pro-peace? Don’t we want a party that stands up for workers, consumers, minorities, women, immigrants, farmers, the rural poor, the urban poor, and everyone else who formed the historic base of the party?  

On Berkeley streets this weekend, I had some good c onversations with dozens of heartfelt Nader supporters who nevertheless felt they had to vote for Kerry. I respect their choice. But I gave them this advice: “Do what you think you must. But don’t just give your vote away! At least write the Democ rats a l etter saying you’re undecided unless Kerry changes his position on Iraq [or fill in your issue]. Take advantage of the third-party pressure and make them earn your vote!”  

And if you were one of the Kerry supporters who growled, shouted or rolle d your ey es at a Nader petitioner this weekend, I challenge you to channel that energy more constructively. Go out on the streets yourselves and talk to some Bush supporters. Dialogue with an undecided voter. Better yet, register new voters. Convince som eone who h as given up on the electoral process to vote again—there are over one hundred million out there. Stop stewing over Nader and hit the streets!