Protesters Beaten as Nader Tries to Enter Debate
BOSTON -- There was little warning on Tuesday afternoon that Ralph Nader would be doing anything that evening besides watching the presidential debate on television, making himself available for media interviews and denouncing his exclusion from the event. But displaying his trademark chutzpah, Nader tried to get into the debate as a regular ticketholder, only to be muscled away at the door.
Some 5,000 protesters, meanwhile, rallied at the University of Massachusetts throughout the evening, demanding Nader be admitted to the debate, which was held on campus. An attempt at peaceful civil disobedience as the debate ended was broken up by a police horse charge, and police used chemical spray and truncheons to subdue the crowd.
Two people were taken to the hospital with injuries and 16 were arrested, according to police.
Earlier in the evening, the Green Party candidate's adventurous foray began at Harvard Law School. Northeastern University freshman Todd Tavares presented Nader with a valid ticket to the debates, shook his hand, and explained that giving up his ticket was "a small sacrifice to make for the good of the nation." Tavares, 21, reached Nader's campaign on Monday to offer him the ticket.
Accepting the ticket with a handshake, Nader said he intended to sit in the audience as a watchdog presence, and hoped for the opportunity to ask a question. "I'm going to be an observer in this audience, surrounded by corporate executives and their families," said Nader.
"We're dealing here with the ultimate kamikaze dive into a corrupt two-party system," he said. "Our country is more important than their sleazy fundraisers and their sleazy debate commission, which is funded by Anheuser-Busch, tobacco companies, auto companies and all the others that have corporatized our entire society."
Nader has vehemently criticized the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private entity which is controlled jointly by the Republican and Democratic parties, funded by major corporations, and which has set a 15 percent national poll requirement for candidates to enter the debates, numbers none of the Third Party candidates have attained this year.
After delivering a speech to a packed auditorium at the law school, Nader walked in the balmy evening with several aides, supporters and members of the press across Harvard's campus to a subway station on Boston's mass transit system. He appeared calm on the subway and a little more quiet than usual, as he attracted the attention of his fellow riders.
One man shouted, "Mr. Nader, you have my vote, these other guys shut down all the roads and I had to walk a mile just to get on the train." A mother accompanying her teenage son to take pictures at the debates for his high school photography class was delighted to run into Nader on the subway, and nervously asked his permission for a photograph.
At the University of Massachusetts station, Nader boarded a shuttle bus for ticketholders to be taken to the debate entrance. According to his campaign, the debate commission had been forewarned he was coming. When he got off the bus to proceed to the auditorium, Nader was immediately met by a representative from the debate commission and three uniformed police who said he was not invited onto the premises even with a ticket.
Nader complied and left, but tried to enter shortly thereafter with a team of journalists from FoxNews who had given him a pass to enter. He was turned away again.
In a press release issued by his campaign, Nader said that "on top of many other serious blunders, mistakes and demonstrations of arrogance generated by this corrupt debate commission, this unlawful exclusion will be the beginning of the end of the debate commission monopoly. I was excluded on political grounds and no other considerations were communicated." Later, in an interview on FoxNews, Nader said he would pursue legal measures against the CPD for barring him entry to the event with a valid ticket.
When he presented his ticket to Nader earlier in the day, freshman Tavares said he had called the debate RSVP number last week to confirm that it was in fact transferable.
Meanwhile, at least five thousand protestors gathered outside UMass during the debates, most of whom were there demanding Nader's inclusion, chanting "We will win if Ralph gets in."
There were also clusters of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore supporters, several hundred Muslims demonstrating on behalf of Palestinian human rights, a contingent of Falun Gong practitioners, and supporters of death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The crowd swelled to 12,000 as protesters and supporters of Gore and Bush poured onto the campus, said Boston police Superintendent Bobbie Johnson.
In the beginning of the night, the police were few and the demonstrators stayed in the designated "protest pit" beside the university's entrance, drumming, chanting and performing street theater as audience members were bussed inside. Halfway through the debate, the police line was reinforced with over a hundred additional officers in riot gear, which sent waves of intimidation through the crowd, and was seen by some protesters as a challenge.
After the debate ended, hundreds of protesters knocked over police barricades and sat down -- arms linked -- in a road leading to the debate hall.
Police rode horses into the throng of seated protesters, and chemical spray was used to subdue the crowd. Officers dragged away and beat with truncheons those protesters who refused to move from the road. Five people were treated for minor injuries, and two were taken to the hospital, said state police Capt. Robert Bird. Sixteen people were arrested, but the debate was not disrupted, and the candidates left by another route, unhindered by the protests.
Before the debate, Boston Globe photographer Dominic Chavez was picked up and thrown to the ground by a man who then slammed his camera into his back, according to Catie Aldrich, the Globe's photography director. Chavez was hospitalized but did not appear seriously injured, Aldrich said.
"There's a lot of hostility between the Gore people and the Nader people," said Lila Brown, 19, a Nader supporter holding a sign saying "Vote Hemp."
As she spoke, Palestinians nearby chanted for justice in the Middle East, and a group of Vietnamese immigrants protested the hiring of two Communist researchers for a project on Vietnamese-American culture at the university.
Anarchists in black hooded sweat shirts and bandanna-shrouded faces beat a drum and refused to speak. Others criticized U.S. involvement in Colombia.
About a half-dozen people practiced the moves and meditation of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Others protested the death penalty. One banner read, "Psychiatric drugs make zombies out of children."
After their running mates debate Thursday in Danville, Ky., Bush and Gore meet again Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., followed by a third debate Oct. 17 in St. Louis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.