He’s the man who caused Sep. 11, war in the Gulf, a million Iraqi deaths and probably mad cow disease too, as you’ve no doubt heard from disgruntled Democrats. Of course I’m talking about Evil Incarnate, consumer advocate and political gadfly Ralph Nader.
As evidenced by the comments to my piece on him way back when, he’s still roundly feared and loathed by countless Dems for supposedly helping George W. Bush, no matter how indirectly, steal the 2000 election from Al Gore and allowing everything that followed to pass. Well, he’s running for president again, and his anti-bigwig rhetoric has grown more pointed and caustic, just as the general lefty revulsion for him and his supporters has.
Having the cojones to show up in Denver amid the Dem Convention, Nader gave a closed-door, packed press conference at Magness Arena that also featured anti-war icon Cindy Sheehan, Green Party vice presidential nominee Rosa Clemente, actress Brooke Smith, always-animated punk legend (and Colorado native) Jello Biafra and others.
The Nader et al. rally was nominally a demand to open the presidential debates to third parties and major independents, but as might be expected, the press conference and the subsequent rally featured plenty of denunciations of the Republican and Democratic parties, and the obligatory excoriations of the Bush White House.
A transcription of his weighty remarks is at bottom—it’s a must-read, for certain—but his money quote came in the Q&A that followed the speech: “The youth vote needs a kick in their ass.”
I managed to get a question in at the very end of the press conference, asking Nader what his reception in Denver had been like so far. He had only arrived that day, but said that during his brief appearance at the Convention site, he was treated politely and there was not much hubbub. He quipped that it was probably due to Sen. Clinton’s dramatic appearance at the same time for the roll call which gave the official nomination to Obama.
Cindy Sheehan [Ed. note - No relation to me] spoke, discussing her congressional run and reinforcing the theme of the rally. “I want Nancy Pelosi to debate me,” said Sheehan as she began her press conference. She is running against powerful incumbent Pelosi (“the queen of the corporatists,” as Sheehan later called her) in California’s 8th U.S. House District. “We have a system in this country that supports the two-party duopoly,” continued Sheehan. “Alternative voices to the corporate war party are stifled in the media.”
The hallowed anti-war activist who famously ensconced herself in President Bush’s home of Crawford, Texas, later made an impassioned appearance at the rally that followed the press conference, thundering, “Power to the people!” and calling Bush “the boil on the ass of democracy.”
Jello Biafra didn’t hold anything back at either his press meet or the rally. “I come here as a heartbroken former Democrat who’s being reminded yet again as I look around Denver at how anti-democratic the Democratic Party really is,” said the legendary Dead Kennedy to journos, who clicked and filmed away. “They spent $15 million on so-called security for this convention!”
Later, at the rally—with an announced attendance of over 4,000—Biafra shrieked, “What are so they afraid of?!” Challenging the major party candidates to action, Biafra wondered what they would do to end the drug war, repeal the Patriot Act, and bring a close to the military and economic occupation of Iraq. “Iraq is not ours to sell!” he shouted, to cheers and applause.
Biafra also observed that Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit during her key speech on Tuesday “was the same color as a prison uniform” and drew loud boos when he brought up Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar’s vote to approve torture.
Whether it was unconscious or brashly intentional, Biafra kept raising his middle finger as he waved his hands around time and again.
Others were scheduled to follow Biafra, such as Tom Morello, Val Kilmer and Nader running mate Matt Gonzalez, but by this time I had almost run out of audiotape, space on the digicam, and what was left of my energy reserves after several straight days of non-stop working, walking and writing. I was saving what I had left for one last participant.
Sean Penn is famous for being an intense actor, a scrappy foe of the paparazzi, and a former Mr. Madonna, but he’s gaining quite of bit of notoriety as a ballsy social activist. He went to Iraq before the invasion to see for himself what was going on, attended a prayer meet in Tehran, met with Hugo Chávez, and paddled a boat around flooded New Orleans while Bush was sharing cake with John McCain. His intense dislike of the Bush administration is palpable the moment he opens his mouth.
Perhaps the most anticipated of all the rally guests, Penn declared he supported no candidate but rued the general national tendency to exclude third parties from campaign coverage. “The solution,” he asserted, “is to put all challengers on an open table—and to do that we must have open debate.” He called Nader “an American hero.”
Penn ripped the two main parties: “I’m sick of this high school with suits on called the Democratic and Republican parties.” Of Obama, Penn said, “He’s an elegant man who has great potential,” but “his record is so dominantly status quo.” As for McCain, Penn called him “the man who would be George Bush the Third.”
He saved his harshest words for the White House, indicting various members of the Bush administration as “elitist terrorists” and “traitors” and warned Americans that to prevent the same tragic mistakes of the Bush years, “whoever you vote for, you better hold his ass to the fire.” ∞
What follows are a few shots from the press conference and the main event, taken by Jack Shaftoe, as are all other photos in this piece except for the one at the top, taken by the author.
Ralph Nader and Cindy Sheehan
At the press conference
Jarrett Maupin II
Outside Magness arena
Here is my transcription of the Ralph Nader press conference. Videos follow the transcription.
“Thank you, Revered Maupin.
“I think what you’re seeing is the beginning of the new civil rights initiative by the younger generation in this country, and at the rally in a few minutes, you’ll see how a new generation is able to articulate the kind of future they want for our country, the kind of shift in power they want from the corporate behemoths to the people of this country, which is a shift of power that is prerequisite for any semblance of a functioning democratic society.
“We’ve all been witnessing the Democratic National Convention in the last few days.
“The Democratic Party is having a party, and it’s a party that is funded by sixteen million dollars of taxpayer money, compliments of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the same amount of money will go to the Republican Convention.
“But there are other funders of this convention that indicate just how indentured this former party of the working people (in the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman) has developed into a corporate-indentured institution dialing for the same corporate dollars that the Republicans have been dialing for.
“Hospitality suite after hospitality suite is surrounding this convention with wine, food, desserts, entertainment, honorary awards… These hospitality suites know why they’re there. The drug companies know why they’re there—they want to maintain high prices. The oil companies know why they’re there—they want to maintain high prices. The banks know why they’re there—they want to be bailed out. The insurance companies know why they’re there—they don’t want full Medicare for everyone replacing their greed and their power and their denial of claims by needy patients.
“And so the corporate merry-go-round has hitched its wagon to the Democratic Party and the rhetoric of the Democratic Party is responding accordingly.
“When was the last time, apart from Mr. Edwards, have you heard leading Democrats actually talk about the poor? They talk about the middle class, which is shrinking into the swelling poor.
“The poor represent one hundred million Americans at the bottom of the income ladder. These are the people who do the most dangerous work, clean up after us, harvest our food. These are people who help raise our children, take care of our ailing parents. These are the people who are underpaid, overcharged, red-lined, excluded, disrespected, laid off arbitrarily, and otherwise marginalized politically.
“Their plight and their very descriptions are never mentioned in the rhetorical whirlwinds that we’re hearing at the Democratic National Convention, nor will we hear it at the corporatist Republican Convention.
“But the poor are always called on, far more disproportionately, to do one other thing in this country, and that is to fight this country’s wars. If you look at the soldiers who have died in Iraq, and you look at their pictures that the newspapers have been printing, these soldiers are overwhelmingly from the ranks of Latinos, African-Americans and poor whites.
“In other words, it’s an economic necessity. There are no other opportunities to gain their bread and butter, to get various skills that might get them jobs after their military service.
“And yet, these are the people who are represented by a tiny fraction of the wealth in our country and income in our country. These are people who come home to higher unemployment, to the lack of care for their health problems and their trauma. These are the people who we must give the highest priority of political responsiveness, because politics must be about the central issue of power—and that means, in our country, corporate power.
“The dialogue must extend into more debates—and not just by the captive corporation called the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled and was created by the Republican/Democratic Party to make sure that no one else is on that stage—that the networks relay to forty, fifty, eighty, ninety million Americans, the gateway to millions of American voters—the only gateway to millions of American voters by third parties and independent candidates who don’t have the millions of dollars to spend on purchased media.
“The public dialogue that’s necessary is one that does not just relate to dissent and resistance.
“In the old days, third parties and independent candidates paved the way for the greatest social justice movements in our country’s history. But when they started out, what they were proposing and advancing were only supported by a minority of the American people: the abolition of slavery; the women’s right to vote; a fair deal for the industrial workers; added protection for the farmers against the rapacious banks and railroads of those days.
“Dissent in our history is the mother of assent. Almost everything we like about our country has proceeded from dissent.
“And yet we are living now in the greatest communications age in the history of the world—and the most restrictive access to the people of the world.
“We are rationing debates! Why is our country allowing the rationing of debates in a presidential year, where the politics of avoidance practiced by the Republican/Democratic parties have excluded the major reforms, redirections and resurgences that will make this country fulfill the human possibilities of all its people and stand proud before the world.
“We don’t ration weather reports; we don’t ration entertainment; we don’t ration sports; why are we rationing debates? Because that is the ultimate controlling process, to block the expression of the First Amendment: the right of free speech, the right to petition, and the right to assemble, which is at the core of running for elective office. That’s the essential issue that must be presented to the mass media.
“It is already understood by the independent media; they understand the First Amendment. Their sense of newsworthiness is not gauged by who has the most money, or who has the most celebrity status, it’s gauged by who responds to the felt and perceived needs and injustices and realistic hopes of the American people in their role as workers, consumers, patients, farmers, migrant workers.
“People are being run into the ground because their only sin is that they are powerless and voiceless and excluded.
“Today, we see dissent from third parties and independent candidates on areas that are supported by the majority of the American people, not as in a nineteenth century minority.
“But today it is more difficult to get on the ballot, more difficult to get debate, more difficult to reach people—given comparable technologies—than it was in the nineteenth century. Remember, there was no radio and TV in the nineteenth century, so no matter how rich you were, you couldn’t completely dominate the audience and exclude everyone else—you had to actually put up posters. Even if you were wealthy, you had to go around on the trains and campaign.
“Our third party and independent candidates, that are represented here today, represent the majority opinion of the American people…
“For full Medicare for everyone that will save lives and prevent disease and illness and injuries, which all other Western countries have…
“They represent the need for a living wage, which other Western European countries have…
“They represent majority opinion to cut out the huge waste and corruption of corporate contracting that is performing government functions in a disgracefully wasteful and subversive manner—to wit, the contractors in Iraq: Halliburton, Blackwater, KBR…
“A majority of Americans want to clean up that tax law, that grotesque system that shifts the tax burden to people of modest income, and allows tax escapees in corporate form to go to the Bahamas for other tax savings…
“A majority of the American people do not want our highways owned by corporations; they don’t want our prisons owned by corporations…
“A majority of the American people want open debates…
“A majority of the American people want out of Iraq…
“A majority of Jewish-Americans and Arab-Americans want a two-state solution between the Palestinian and Israeli people, and a majority of Israeli people and Palestinian people want the same…
“But that’s not what the two parties want. They are opposing or ignoring all these and many issues that we should have remedied and resolved years and decades ago.
“We are behind Western Europe and Canada. We are not members of the first world, or the second world, or the third world; we’re the leaders of the fourth world, namely: rich country, poor people.
“And so we’re asking together, all of us: those who couldn’t make it today for a variety of important reasons, illness; and the people you’ve just heard…
“Cindy Sheehan, the courageous unfurler of the banner of peace, the woman and mother who was not afraid to talk about waging a muscular peace, who took on the militarists and the Rush Limbaughs and the doubters and the crawlers in Crawford, Texas, and let her voice be heard (thanks first to some pioneering media)…
“We see Brooke Smith, who comes off a very popular show, ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ That takes courage in our country. Hollywood is very vindictive, it’s very exclusionary when it comes to politics. It’s very politically bigoted, for all its championing free speech in the arts and the theatre, against the rights of third parties and independent candidates. My hat’s off to you, Brooke Smith…
“Rosa Clemente, who is on the vice presidential ticket, graduate of Cornell, who knows first-hand what the problems of low-income people are and what needs to be done; who knows how her own forebears in Puerto Rico were treated and colonized and, most recently, corporatized…
“And then there’s the Revered Jarrett Maupin. You are witnessing the first emergence of the young African-American rebellion against establishment African-Americans who have sold out to the corporate power structure while maintaining their civil liberties and civil rights rhetoric.
“This is a historic occasion. It’s important for all of us who longed for an African-American to become president during the civil rights struggles of the fifties, Orval Faubus, Arkansas, central Ohio; during the struggles against the discrimination against minorities in health care, in employment, the criminal injustice system that railroads them into jail; the years and years of struggle against environmental racism—the literal poisoning of black and Latino children from asbestos and lead, and horrendous rates of asthma which preclude your right to even breathe freely in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“During all these struggles, we would get together and we’d document the red-lining of low-income areas by banks and insurance companies, which doomed these areas economically; and we’d document the paucity of credit unions and the lack of equal municipal services, police, and fire and building code enforcement in poor areas of our cities. And we’d sit around the cafeterias after a long night and we’d say, ‘Imagine how things will change if we ever had an African-American president.’
“Well, I say this to Barack Obama: should you become president, you must view it as more than just an unprecedented career change. It must be viewed as something that has meaning not just for all Americans, but especially for the bottom one hundred million Americans, who do so much of the arduous work and expose their health and safety to extravagant risks and perils, and who are asked to fight our illegal wars abroad.
“The Nader-Gonzalez campaign is coming in—without the benefit of any mass media—at six, seven, eight percent in the recent CNN polls. That’s still ten, eleven million eligible voters. If we were ever on the debates, the major presidential debates, we would have a three-way race because tens of millions of Americans have not even been told by the networks, by the Sunday cable shows and others, that we’re even in the race.
“And so I want to thank you all for coming this evening to our rally, and I want to also urge that you—not just Free Speech TV, not just some of the indie media, but the mainstream media—to ponder one paradox, and that is that the mainstream media has been reporting regularly the corporate crime wave from Enron to Wall Street; it reports consumer rip-offs; it reports hazards to workers in occupational settings; it reports the rip-off of taxpayers (you’ve seen them on ’60 Minutes,’ on the program segment ‘It’s Your Money’ on ABC); but the reporters somehow leave their clippings and video segments back at the office when they go and confront the two major candidates.
“They never ask them the questions, ‘What is your proposal to crack down and prevent corporate crime, fraud and abuse against pensions and consumers and tenants and patients and workers?’
“They’re never asked, ‘What is your proposal to remove the taxpayer burdens known as corporate welfare, subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts of crooks and Wall Street?’
“They never ask, although they document in their reporting, the bloated, wasteful military budget, which can be substantially cut for a more lean defense and the savings poured back into the public works in this country, so that not just stadiums are gleaming on the backs of taxpayers, but schools, clinics, public transit systems, public buildings, libraries and drinking water systems are upgraded in accordance with the necessities documented by the American Society of Civil Engineers, creating good-paying jobs in local communities that can never be exported to China.
“Thank you very much.”
Videos of Nader’s appearance are embedded below. (Hat tip to GenerationFucked.)
Part one of two.
Part two of two.