The Ralph Nader Super Rally: Why I Still Don’t Know Where I’ll Cast My Vote

News & Politics

Ani Difranco was there. Ben Harper was there. Eddie Vedder was there. Susan Sarandon was there. Bill Murray was there. And, frankly, that had a lot to do with why I was there. Walking into the Ralph Nader Super Rally tonight at Madison Square Garden, I stated firmly to my friends that I was interested in Nader�s campaign, respectful of it, even maybe a bit in awe of it, but that I would have to vote for Gore. I couldn�t bear the chance of helping Bush take the presidential office. Two hours later, midway through the rally, I turned to them and confessed, "I might have to vote for Nader."

We walked into MSG through crowds of young people cheering, chanting, and holding signs. I�ve been at rallies and demonstrations. I�ve held signs and shouted. But my stomach tightened as we pushed our way through and I thought to myself, "what are they cheering for? This doesn�t make any difference to anyone except self-congratulatory, middle-class, white lefties." I wanted to cry. But moments later we were settling down in our seats to watch video clips of last November�s protests against the WTO in Seattle. Watching peaceful young demonstrators assaulted by police in full riot gear with captions reminding us that we were looking at pictures of America, "the great democracy", I suddenly wanted to jump up and join the cheering crowds on the street.

"A vote for Nader isn�t a vote for Bush because Nader�s votes are coming from those who would have stayed home. "

Phil Donahue�yes, really, the Phil Donahue�appeared on stage and welcomed us all to Madison Square Garden. As he began to speak, briefly running through Nader and the Green Party�s platform, I began to feel as though I was witnessing a great moment in our country�s history. Donahue, who I watched on TV as a little kid home sick from school, began to talk about campaign finance reform, universal health care, the desperate need to support strong, democratic unions, the importance of finding a successful alternative to the war on drugs, the horrors of the death penalty�"holy cow! They�re killing retarded teenagers!"�and the control of mega-corporations all over the country. Donahue introduced Mark Dunau, a self-employed organic farmer running for the Senate on the Green Party ticket, who told us that "today the American people face a crisis of identity and extinction" because of the "fist of tyranny of unbridled corporate power."

I began to join all the people around me clapping and cheering. Professor Troy Duster took the podium and chided all those arguing that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. One hundred million people didn�t vote in the last presidential election, he said. They didn�t vote, because they didn�t see a candidate they felt they could stand behind and vote for. A vote for Nader isn�t a vote for Bush because Nader�s votes are coming from those who would have stayed home. Wait a minute. My head was in my hands again. I will vote no matter what. My vote for Nader would definitely be one less vote for Gore. Again, all of a sudden I wasn�t in harmonic solidarity with this stadium full of people. Again they seemed self-satisfied, delusional middle-class white people (granted, just like me), with no practical sense of reality. Following Duster, Donahue introduced Company Flow as his "brothers", and I was angry. What are we trying to do here? Certainly there�s value in solidarity activism, but there must be a limit. Do we really know what we�re talking about?

And then Michael Moore took the stage and I was plunged back into the adrenaline of focus and morality and, yes, solidarity. "Last week, in what they call a debate," he said, host Jim Lehrer said, "and I quote directly: �Welcome Governor Bush and welcome Vice President Bu�um�I mean Gore." The Green Party volunteer next to my section began to chant, "LET RALPH DEBATE" and we all joined in. Within milliseconds, the entire stadium�including Moore, shouting and clapping into his microphone�had taken up the chant. We really are fighting for something here, I thought. We�re making history. And Moore, catching me in that moment of faith, drove the point home as he directed his remarks to first time voters like me. "If you don�t vote for your conscience in this election", he said, "when will you start? If we keep settling, it will only get worse. Don�t make your decision from fear, make it from your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and conscience."

Taking the stage from Moore, Susan Sarandon looked out at a sea of young faces and said, "you are a well-kept secret. You are the strength taking back this democracy." She talked about the despair of older generations of Americans that young people in America today don�t vote because they�re uninterested, unmotivated, and even just plain dumb. "But I am so turned on by what I see on college campuses," she said. "Not only are these kids not stupid, they are so intelligent, so informed. They aren�t voting because there�s no one for them to vote for." Yes. Absolutely right. And now there is. Ani Difranco played. Ben Harper played. I was thoroughly engaged, excited and committed. I looked around me at thousands of Americans who care about humanity, about democracy, about real morals, about truth, and who are willing to stand up and talk about it. Donahue came back and announced, "well baby, we are making history! Look out! Ralph Nader has sold out Madison Square Garden!" The stadium erupted.

The energy of that moment carried the room on a wave of glee through more speeches, more songs. Donahue reminded us, "we�re coming from the ground up. This is a citizen movement and we are proud to be part of it." As Eddie Vedder sang Bob Dylan�s "The Times, They are A-Changin�" and hundreds of lighters moved in the darkness, I did cry. I wasn�t crying the tears I had wanted to shed walking into the rally. Now I was crying because I felt connected. I had a vision that was shared by at least the other 15,000 people in the room with me. There was hope and a goal that could be actively moved toward. Michael Moore told us, "this is an army of resistance," and he was right. People like us abolished slavery and won women the right to vote. People like us took Brown v. Board of Ed. and Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court, and shut down nuclear power plants, and stopped the war in Vietnam, and organized labor unions, and kept toxic chemicals out of poor communities.

I cheered. We all cheered and cheered and cheered, as Michael Moore left the stage and was replaced by Ralph Nader. And then I fell back down to earth. Nader took the stage as balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling, wearing a blue suit with a red tie and flanked by six white men in suits, with their hands folded in front of their crotches, staring out into dead space. With the American flag behind him and cameras flashing, standing behind the podium Nader looked like�a presidential candidate. Worse still, he sounded like one. He certainly said all the right things. He said everything that the speakers before him had said, everything I and the rest of the cheering fans wanted to hear. "Welcome to the politics of joy and justice," he began. "We are building an historic progressive political movement in America. We�ve lost control over our lives from childcare to the food we eat to our genes�to corporations. It�s time for the American people to take control over the commonwealth that they already own." Yes! And the stadium cheered.

What followed was a history lesson: the legacy of social change in this country, from abolition to civil rights, to environmental justice. All the result of people�s civic courage. We have to keep fighting�for strong unions and livable wages, for universal health care, for environmental justice and an end to environmental racism, to end child poverty. We have to call for a crackdown on corporate crime, not on street crime. We have to call for an end to the death penalty. The thing is, Nader is right. The Green Party is right. We do have to fight for all these things, and we are. As Sarandon said, the energy on college campuses today turns her on. But I suddenly thought to myself, "yes, I agree for sure. But I don�t want a history lesson from him tonight. I know all these things. I think about them every day. Why isn�t he telling us what he�s going to do about them?" And then it dawned on me that he doesn�t have to think about that because he�s not going to be president. That�s not what this campaign is about.

If I vote for Ralph Nader, I will not be voting for a president in this election, I will be voting for an ideal. Is that a valid choice? Michael Moore challenged us to vote out of our consciences, not out of our fears. I am definitely afraid that George W. Bush will be the next president of the United States. I would like to do everything in my power to make sure that doesn�t happen. But, at the same time, there is deep truth in Jim Lehrer�s unfortunate slip-up. As Nader exclaimed, Bush and Gore seem to be one two-headed candidate. I don�t really want Al Gore to be president either. As a young person who stands to inherit this country, I feel some responsibility to stand up for idealism. Who else will? And if our generation doesn�t do it, this country will keep spiraling into a future of constant compromise and settling for what Moore called the "second worst." No, Nader isn�t going to win this election. Yes, Bush may. But in twenty years, the Green Party may be a viable party, running a viable candidate and my daughter may go to a rally like the one I went to tonight and come home not confused or discouraged, but confident and radient.

Then again, what if I�m wrong?

What do you think? Do you feel that if you vote for Nader, you are throwing your vote away? Go to our message boards to respond.

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