-- "Salt of the Earth," (Jagger/Richards, 1968)
I was fortunate enough to be on
Sonali Kolhatkar's excellent
radio show, Uprising.
My fellow guests were Michael Albert of ZNet and Rania Masri, director of
the Southern Peace Research and Education Center at the Institute for
Southern Studies and the Associate Editor of Southern Exposure. We were
there to discuss the 9/11 hearings and how they had become (surprise,
surprise) yet another partisan politics dog-and-pony show. When the
discussion turned to the US presidential election, Michael Albert made a
point about how few Americans actually vote. I looked up some numbers and
learned that, in 2000, the count broke down like this:
50,455,739 for Bush
(Of course, other worthy candidates received votes and this is not meant to disparage their efforts in any way.)
Those numbers, of course, have provoked plenty of debate about popular vote vs. electoral votes, electronic voting vs. paper trail and, of course, the canard of Nader "costing" Gore the election (this myth is addressed at Nader's site: http://www.votenader.org/why_ralph/index.php?cid=3). Rarely is the focus on how many people stayed home and why neither major party is making an effort to reach them.
In 2000, there were 195,027,520 eligible voters in America of which 156,421,311 were registered. Of that number, only 110,604,647 actually hit the polling booths. That's 56.7% of eligible voters participating. Almost 85 million more Americans could have voted in the 2000 presidential election...but didn't.
After the radio show, I was speaking with friend and colleague Richard Oxman about those numbers when he hit upon the idea of ON (only-Nader) to run parallel with the ABB (anyone-but-Bush) craze sweeping the nation. (We used Nader here instead of, say, Leonard Peltier primarily due to Nader being the third party candidate likely to be on the most ballots.)
With everyone from Chomsky to Parenti urging all who will listen to vote Bush out of office in 2004, what are the options for those progressives who haven't opted for the ABB strategy? What effort can be made between now and November to do more than expose Kerry's undeniably Bush-like agenda?
Well, the numbers above pose an interesting and viable alternative: What if even a small percentage of those stay-at-home voters were mobilized to come out in November and pull the lever for Ralph Nader...all in the name of making a statement? (ABBers, take note: This wouldn't change the Kerry/Bush ratio since the people I'm talking about weren't gonna vote anyway. There would still be roughly 100 million votes to be split between the two Yale grads.)
Even if you plan to hold your nose and vote for Kerry, why not spend the next seven months trying to induce non-voters to participate, hit the polls, and cast a Nader protest vote for the sake turning election 2004 into a referendum on the so-called two-party system?
This isn't to say Nader is the "ideal" candidate or doesn't have his own shortcomings and this isn't specifically about him winning...although there are enough non-voters out there to easily elect anyone. This movement/idea is all about increasing the size of the voter pool so some of those disgruntled and alienated masses we keep hearing about can send a message that there's more to life than Coke and Pepsi. Imagine if even 10 or 20% of those 84,422,873 people who could've voted but didn't in 2000 become motivated to make the effort and then imagine if they all voted for Nader...if for no other reason than to demonstrate that what they (we) want isn't on the menu. Fifteen million protest votes? In America? In one fell swoop, it would have the corporate media scrambling to catch up and explain what this means and why the powers-that-be didn't see it coming.
Of course, the concept of American voter mobilization is hardly new and rarely successful...but what if all those new voters were demanding something beyond the vote? It's not news that plenty of Americans who have never even heard of Chomsky, Zinn, or even MoveOn have genuine, heartfelt concerns and grievances about their country and their situation. What if they realized they had a venue from which to speak out? Taking it one step further: what if there was an issue that struck a chord?
Richard and I bandied about some ideas on what motivates most people and came back to the simple reality that nothing gets our asses in gear like good, old-fashioned self-interest. Since more than 45 million Americans are without health insurance, surely access to medical care is something most of us can relate to. Even the politically naïve recognize that Bush and Kerry are bought and sold by corporations and will only propose a health care system that fattens the wallets of their corporate donors. As for Nader, no matter what your opinion of him is, there's no questioning that he has been tirelessly fighting for our health for decades.
Here's the pitch: If you want quality health care (i.e. a single-payer program, with full medical coverage, providing comprehensive benefits with quality care and cost controls to all Americans throughout their lives...funded by higher corporate taxes) that will reliably be there when you need it, Bush and Kerry will not and cannot deliver. As things stand now, no matter who wins in November, your health care service will get worse. So, how about we each find at least one stay-at-home voter and ask them to consider that a vote for Nader can be a vote for a healthy future?
Can either party ignore millions-even tens of millions-of new voters? They'll try: consider Perot's run in 1992. The difference with ON is that there's no billionaire to buy TV time or micro-manage the campaign into a sideshow. We're talking about a potential under-the-radar voter pool of over 85 million. That's enough voters to elect anyone...literally. More practically and realistically, perhaps, it's more than enough people to give a voice to the fight for a more equitable and democratic society. As Richard Oxman and I agreed, this is less about ABB than about our future...the planet's future.
"The upcoming election is not a matter of getting Nader in over Kerry or Bush, but, rather, getting the work done to find out how many people there are who will vote for someone relatively sane," Richard declared. "That work is not being addressed enough. Too much time and effort is going toward the academic slants on what is happening. It's crunch time and the best case scenario would be getting people mobilized to make an impact"
Are you ready to turn it ON?
To register to vote: http://www.rockthevote.com/rtv_register.php
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Prime Books) and Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). His most recent book is The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Recent Articles by Mickey Z.
Tommy Boy Friedman Does "Imagine"