Race Matters, but Class Matters More

9.21.00 | MILWAUKEE -- After absorbing stinging criticism from progressives that he pays too little attention to minority issues, Ralph Nader began a three-day swing through the Midwest on Wednesday by emphasizing the persistent link between race and money in the United States.

In front of leaders of Milwaukee's African American, Latino, Hmong and American Indian communities, the Green Party presidential candidate affirmed that after three hundred years of racial injustice people of color still get short-shrift when it comes to health care, education, employment, wages and criminal justice.

But he also argued that many societal ills, such as police brutality, are tied more to class divisions than racial ones.

"Do black residents of (wealthy) Scarsdale get abused by the police? No. When people have economic power in a community, they get their calls returned," Nader said. "Prosperity and economic justice greatly reduces racial injustice, and that's true from the courts to the prisons."

Added Nader, "it would be a mistake if we concentrate just on race and not class. They form a mutually-reinforcing vicious circle, and although the most emotionally outrageous things come from racial issues, we have to connect them to the larger picture of class issues."

Last week, National Organization of Women president Patricia Ireland joined with several minority business associations in calling Nader "oblivious'' to the issues of minorities and women in his campaign, which represents "a cloistered environment."

On Wednesday, Nader said the problems which affect low-income minority communities are the product of the "emergence of two societies -- the very wealthy, and everybody else." He went on to denounce the billions of tax dollars that pay for "gold-plated weapons that even people in the Pentagon privately don't want, ten years after the end of the Cold War, to fight off nonexistent enemies."

Instead, Nader said, a "Marshall Plan" could revitalize the nation's inner cities, using money redirected from the military budget, as well as from billions saved by stamping out corporate welfare handouts.

Nader is in the industrial heartland to try and revive his campaign in union-heavy states like Wisconsin and Michigan where his support has flagged after reaching as high as 8 percent last winter. Much of the trip is touted as a "Non-Voter Tour" targeting young and disillusioned Americans, with Nader joined by filmmaker Michael Moore, TV star Phil Donahue and other celebrity supporters.

Brian Verdin, a Latino activist who works with the Campaign to End Racial Profiling and Angela Davis' Copwatch, said that most minority voters in Milwaukee, where minorities comprise just over half of the population, will probably vote Democratic "because the media has us believing that they're the only game in town."

Verdin noted that his state has a long history of progressive politics, including the 1854 inauguration of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wisconsin, based upon an anti-slavery and women's rights platform. He added that Nader seemed more "on our side" than either major party candidate, and that "it's just a matter of us mobilizing people."

Another participant at the meeting asked if Nader was familiar with the Million Family March, an upcoming event in Washington D.C. organized by Rev. Louis Farrakhan, and, if so, where the Green Party stood on the march's platform of African-American empowerment.

"The basic thrust of that movement is self-empowerment," Nader responded. "We're trying to empower all people, because in this country it's between corporate empowerment and self-empowerment." He lauded credit unions and cooperatives as among the most effective methods of self-empowerment and criticized the "predatory lenders, loan sharks and check-cashing firms" that prey on low-income minority communities in the absence of quality financial services.

Asked about the death penalty, Nader stated his unequivocal opposition to capital punishment, quoting statistics that show it to be discriminatory in its application, and said he supports the immediate enactment of a death penalty moratorium.

After the meeting, Nader spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of over a thousand people at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee before heading to Madison night for another college appearance.

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