The Challenge and
Opportunity of 2004
I joined Ralph Nader's campaign, not only because I admire Nader, but also because I want to see George Bush removed from office. He is the worst president of my 49-year life and I see his administration as a threat to my hopes for the United States and the health of the planet. However, it is important that we remove him while standing for what we believe in -- and educating others about our view -- so we can expand the populist base seeking common sense solutions to our common problems.
If we fail to stand for what we believe in -- equal rights for all, peace and justice, elimination of corporate political power, environmental and economic stewardship as well as expansion of human rights around the globe, then we fail to create the electoral and political movement necessary to create the paradigm shift needed in the United States.
We are a nation at war - internationally and domestically - and that war wounds us every day, draining our budget, enriching war-corporations, undermining our values and Constitution, making us less safe and creating enemies of much of the world. For me, the litmus test for 2004 is whether the candidate we support threatens or feeds the bloated military industrial complex.
George Bush is the war president who has demonstrated that he will give the military industrial complex as much as it can consume. Senator Kerry is the candidate who supported the bombing of Afghanistan, voted for the Shock and Awe Iraq invasion, voted for the Patriot Act, sponsored Plan Colombia (the war approach to drug addiction) and the candidate who is calling for 40,000 additional, new soldiers. Both agree there should be no right of return for Palestinians, give the green light to assassinating Palestinian leaders and that Israel should be allowed to keep illegal settlements in occupied land. Sure, Kerry is better than Bush, but he is not a president who shares the values of tens of millions who took to the streets to oppose the war. Ralph Nader is the only peace and justice candidate in the race until the November general election. The question is whether the peace and justice community will stand with him.
The only way to have a debate on the war in this presidential race is for the peace and justice community to support the peace candidate.
Of course, I recognize that Senator Kerry would be an improvement over President Bush. Mr. Bush is driving our nation into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour. Kerry would slow to 60. But we don't need to slam into the wall at a slower pace; we need to change direction.
Before he announced his candidacy, Ralph Nader sent a detailed letter to both political parties. He raised urgent issues: the below-living-wage of tens of millions of American workers, the expanding number of people lacking health insurance, the roadblocks to workers organizing trade unions, the record deficit that is a tax on our children, the inequality in education, jobs and opportunity based on race, gender and sexual orientation in contrast to the gluttonous expanding wealth of the wealthiest as well as racial profiling and other forms of prejudice in our nation. Nader highlighted the central problem of our corporate-government where corporate domination of our political system walks hand in hand with a largely unprosecuted corporate crime wave, massive corporate welfare dependency and omnipresent corporatization where even our children grow up corporate. Nader raised the critical need to protect our environment from its deadly reliance on fossil and nuclear fuels, the need for greater efficiency in housing, offices and automobiles and to protect our air, water and natural resources so we do not bring our species, or others, to extinction. And, of course, he raised the issue of ending the Iraq War and converting our military industrial budget to one that focuses on human needs first and wages peace around the world.
The responses were what we should have expected. The Republicans said they supported the Bush agenda, the Democrats said they opposed the Bush agenda.
The two corporate political parties do not take our concerns seriously - issues needing urgent attention, they ignore. Bush can energize his faith base by supporting a homophobic constitutional amendment; Kerry can play to his base with his Bush-scare songs and both can assure the corporate paymasters who support their campaigns - Bush by promising to make permanent his tax cuts for the rich, Kerry by promising corporate tax cuts disguised as his jobs program - both will continue to fatten the bloated and redundant military industrial complex.
So where does that leave us? It highlights our failure to organize beyond a small sliver of left progressives. It highlights the need for us to build new electoral and political vehicles that cut across the political spectrum and represent our common sense populist values. It shows the need for us to build a broader movement that can elect people who share our values.
If we do not recognize our failures and politically organize in a deadly serious way there is no reason for people to join our cause. We cannot promise African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and Arabs a fair shake in the United States if we cannot start to elect people who stand for our values. We need to begin to elect women to political office, women who stand for equal rights, peace and justice. A political paradigm shift is needed.
When Ralph Nader announced that he was going to run as an Independent, I was disappointed. As a Green Party activist I saw him as the strongest potential Green candidate. But as I have worked for his campaign, I have discovered that the Independent run has allowed many more people to hear his message.
Activists with the Reform and Libertarian Parties, as well as Independents, have told me that they agree with much of Nader's agenda but that they would not have even considered it if he had run as a Green. Running Green, Nader was categorized by many voters who closed their minds and ears to his ideas.
This is not to say that Nader has broken with the Green Party. He supports their values and agenda, has helped them to grow and will be supportive of serious Green candidates. In fact, he has said he would welcome their endorsement if they decided not to run a candidate.
Many of Nader's positions on the deficit, the loss of jobs due in part to bad trade agreements, corporate welfare, corporate crime, the need for electoral reform, the unfair tax system, the failure of the drug war and protection of the environment - are issues that many Americans agree with. They cut across a broad swath of the electorate - especially independents and third party members.
Nader continues to stand for the same issues he has always stood for. But, the problems the United States is facing have grown and become so obvious that more people are seeing things more clearly. Americans across the political spectrum do not like to hear that one-third of full-time workers don't earn enough to live on - under $10 per hour. They don't like to see businesses close in the US as jobs are shipped to China, India and Mexico. They don't like seeing Americans sent to war on misinformation, distortions and falsehoods.
Thus the Nader campaign presents an opportunity for the peace and justice movement to continue to stand firmly for - peace and justice. It is an opportunity to show people who did not see themselves as progressives that in fact they support progressive issues. It presents an opportunity to build a bigger movement of concerned citizens who can work together to change the paradigm - to create a government responsive to their needs. The electoral challenge of 2004 is an opportunity to grow our movement to new levels so that we can become politically effective.
By doing so do we necessarily re-elect the worst president of my life? In fact, we can increase the chance of beating Bush by making Kerry a better candidate and fracturing Bush's base.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party seems beaten back by the DLC corporate wing of the Party. Progressive leaders - Kucinich and Sharpton - were soundly defeated in the primaries and Howard Dean shouted himself down and showed he was not the ally we hoped when he criticized Kucinich for urging cuts in defense spending. By joining the Nader coalition we provide a counterbalance to the pull of the corporate Democrats. Senator Kerry will not be able to take the progressive base of the Party - workers, African Americans, Latinos and women - for granted. He will have to work for their vote - promise them something so he has a mandate for more than merely being 'anybody but Bush' when he is elected.
Some progressives doubt we can pull voters from Bush's base. But there are many people who voted for President Bush in the last elections who are unhappy with his policies. They now see that the trade agreements that Nader always opposed are resulting in jobs going overseas. Many conservatives are concerned about the erosion of Constitutional rights by the Patriot Act and John Ashcroft's Justice Department. Union members who voted for Bush are not only seeing their jobs go overseas, they are recognizing that busting unions is becoming all too common in the Bush Inc. years. Voters are also recognizing that the United States has been bamboozled into a war of choice that has become a quagmire. These are all issues where we share common ground. And, by having a strong populist candidate who raises these issues we can pull voters from Bush's base.
When we are put in the position of voting for "anybody" but Bush than we are being given a false choice. In 2004 we need to find a way to stand up for what we believe, build a movement and remove President Bush from office. These are not mutually exclusive goals; in fact if handled properly they are synergistic goals - each helping the other.