Nader Draws 10,000 in Seattle

News & Politics

9.24.00 | SEATTLE -- Energized by the sight of nearly 10,000 paying admirers, Ralph Nader let it be known in no uncertain terms Saturday night that he wants to become the president ... of the Seattle Coalition.

Starting with a dramatic video montage showing police abuse at last year's shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the mostly student-age participants in that ground-breaking event were flattered, praised and motivated by speakers, musicians and the Green Party candidate himself, as he tried to solidify the anti-globalization base of his Third Party insurgency.

"The spirit of Seattle lives!" Nader shouted as he loped on stage of the Key Arena. "The message that you sent ... last November still reverberates!"

Seattle might be Nader's biggest stronghold on the West Coast, even bigger than liberal San Francisco. One of the few major cities to have several Green politicians on the city council, it has a large and active student population, and in the past few days the Nader campaign picked up key labor endorsements from the 6,500 members of Teamsters Local 174 and the Greater Seattle chapter of the American Postal Workers Union. And while his most recent statewide poll numbers show 5 percent support -- down from around 10 percent before the Democratic National Convention -- most of that is concentrated in the urban western half of the state, centered on Seattle.

Since establishing itself this May, Washington's Green Party has founded local chapters in 33 of 39 counties and hopes to have the remaining six launched by Election Day, state party facilitator Brent McMillan said. "I've never seen a climate as favorable as Washington has right now," he said.

Scott Royder, who runs the Nader campaign for the state, claims "the Green Party is the second party here in Seattle; the Republicans are the third party ... It's an amazing place."

Royder, a youthful-looking 41-year-old activist with a braided ponytail, salt-and-pepper beard and startling blue eyes, says Nader's Seattle operation is benefiting directly from the organizations that emerged during and after the WTO protests -- which he and Nader both attended.

"People ... that were in the streets of Seattle, they know the energy that was there is like this event here tonight, bringing people together, putting them together, realizing that they're far from alone, and that the energy that is created by these kinds of gatherings ... help people know that we do have the power to make a huge difference, whether it be by shutting down WTO, shutting down the debates or electing the president and vice president," he said.

The Seattle Coalition, mocked by outsiders as a rag-tag group of incoherent extremists, shares some key values: environmental concern, contempt for "corporate greed," distaste for military spending and a sort of personal audacity of protest. Each tenet was hammered home last night, by speakers such as Texas liberal favorite Jim Hightower, who praised "The Seattle Tea Party that we had last November here."

"And what you did there was to open a great old big can of kick-ass that they ain't ever gonna put the lid back on," he said.

Hightower, like Nader, made rhetorical calls for a "new politics." But judging by the speeches, entertainment and information booths, the one truly new thing about the Seattle Coalitionists are the ages of its members; around half of last night's crowd was under 30.

At least two different singers (including a bearded Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam) performed Woody Guthrie songs. Activist booths called for the end of the death penalty and the embargo on Iraq, and speakers made direct connections to the history and terminology of the left-labor movements from the 1960s on backward.

"I think we need to call this what it is: class war," Hightower said, earning one of the loudest standing ovations of the night. "Real wages today in America are less than what they were when Richard Nixon was president of the United States ... even though it's our labor, our creativity, our productivity that's generated these corporate profits, and stock prices going through the roof," he said.

"Yeah, Wall Street's whizzing -- it's whizzing on you and me," cracked Hightower.

Nader threw out plenty of red tofu to the hungry crowd: from bans on logging in National Forest lands, to the breaching of dams along the Snake River, to abolishing genetically engineered food, legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp, ending the Drug War, establishing universal health care, and, of course, withdrawing unilaterally from any and all world trade bodies.

But, perhaps mindful that a significant number of people in the audience wouldn't mind a "worldwide class revolution," Nader took unusual care to portray his proposed movement as one perfectly in line with the great reformers of American history, from Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, to Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan.

And that movement, he hopes, will be led by the people who helped spawn the protests this year in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles and, now, Prague (for this week's IMF-World Bank meetings).

"It's your turn now. You can build this party, with your hands and your courage and your minds," Nader said. "Let's make our own posterity, (make) our descendants proud of us, because we had the willpower in this period of human history ... to care about one another, and care about future generations, and to make this world a better place."

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