When Wendy Reiner of Miami Beach reserved her tickets for the presidential inauguration back in August, she did so under the assumption that Al Gore would be president. She simply couldn't believe that the country would vote otherwise, for a man whose resume the New York Times sniffed as "one of the thinnest" in election history, and whose habitual mangling of standard vocabulary provided late night talk show hosts with some of the best joke fodder they'd had since the Lewinsky scandal.
So when Reiner finally stood in the bleachers of the inaugural parade yesterday after George W. Bush was inaugurated as president, she held a sign that read "Hail to the Thief" and looked none too pleased.
"This is a nightmare, it's totally unbelievable," she said. "It's just so sad because we know that Gore really won. Back in Florida people are still hopping mad."
The parade rolled by under dreary gray skies. Drill team girls with ironed blond hair seemed the only ones around with smiles plastered across their faces, and mediocre celebrities like Delta Burke waved to the dwindling crowd. Reiner glanced behind the bleachers, where as many protesters as Bush supporters and ambivalent political tourists ambled about, and took momentary solace in knowing that she was not alone.
"It's sort of empowering to see that there is a huge number of folks here who recognize that this wasn't an elecion," she said "this was a manipulation."
The weather seemed a fitting denouement to this election year, and thousands of protesters braved the cold rain and grim forecasts to voice their opposition to what they saw as a stolen, illegitimate presidency. Among the groups that had planned separate events throughout the day were the International Action Center, the National Organization of Women, Al Sharpton's National Action Center, and Students for an Undemocratic Society, each of which represented a myriad of other organizations under their banners.
Chants ran from the innocuous, ("Hey Hey, Ho Ho, corporate power's got to go") to the vaguely threatening ("2, 4, 6, 8, the time has come, assassinate!") and there was a general sense of confusion, in part because there were so many different protests going on, but also because the police hedged throngs of people in disparate directions. At around noon, the Voters March was moving hundreds of participants up 14th St. between L Avenue and K Avenue, as its permit had allowed, and suddenly found itself butting against a barricade of police. Another barricade formed at the other end of the block, penning them in for at least half an hour.
Rumors spread through the perplexed crowd that there had been skirmishes between the police and the anarchist Black Bloc. Walter Reeves of Atlanta was holding an ice pack to his head, while he tried telling others what had happened. "After the cops boxed us in they just started shoving and clubbing up front," he said. "I was trying to cross the street and got hit and ended up on the ground."
The Washington D.C. police reported only four arrests yesterday, while the Independent Media Center pinned the number closer to fifteen, including one felony.
The reasons that people cited for having come were as diverse as their political affiliations. Terry Dix of Chatham, New York came with his thirteen-year-old son in a contingent of four full buses from the Albany area. Estimating that at least fifty percent of those he came with had never been to a protest before, Dix said he had come to be "witness to the fact that this is still an unresolved issue, and to recognize that there were irregularities in a great many states, including Florida. Even though the election issues seem resolved, we have to show that people are still concerned with this, and we are putting pressure on the legal front to make sure we get resolution."
Others had more pronounced goals. Amrit Chauhan drove nine hours to Detroit to register his discontent, and suggested that "we should push for [Bush's] resignation on the basis of him not having been elected by the people."
But overall, the protest was peaceful and symbolic, with sentiments especially rallied around the disenfranchisement of black voters and the Cabinet appointment of arch-conservative John Ashcroft. As the actual inaugural parade was set to begin, four of the six entry checkpoints were closed, so the lines to enter the parade route stretched for blocks. Once inside the heavily cordoned route, Texans in fur coats and heels mingled among protesters, and cheers volleyed with boos and hisses when the the new president passed in his armored limousine.
Perhaps the best gauge of the day's sentiments was Andy Lu, a Chinese immigrant who was selling commemorative inauguration T-shirts and baseball caps. By five in the afternoon, he still had stacks of them on his folding table, and in a state of exasperation, discounted his T-shirts to two for five dollars. There were still few takers. "Probably if I was selling anti-Bush shirts," he said, "I'd make a lot of money."
After a week of intense attacks on his campaign by Democrat Al Gore and his liberal supporters, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader responded to detractors over the weekend with little more than a shrug.
And rather than be offended by a heavily publicized letter from a few of his former "Nader's Raiders" calling upon him to withdraw from the race, he termed their undertaking amusing.
"Most of them have not been in civic activities for years," Nader said of the former cadre of his decades-long consumer rights battles who signed the pro-Gore plea. "They're well-intentioned but they have terribly low expectation levels that settle for the least worse choice."
Describing themselves as among the "hundreds of idealistic young people you brought to Washington to became the vanguard" of a citizen reform movement," the letter's writers praised Nader as a leader standing "for the principle that only informed and active citizens can ensure the strength and integrity of our democracy," before pleading with him to reconsider his presidential campaign.
"To ask voters to support your candidacy on the basis that there are no major differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties is a serious misstatement of fact. No Nader Report would support that assertion," wrote the 12 signees who identified themselves after each signature as a "Nader Raider" along with the years they worked with the activist. "There are major differences between the parties on the environment, social security policy, health care reform, tax policy, and reproductive rights, to name just a few."
Nader claimed that those who drafted the letter tried to get a larger number of former colleagues behind the effort but were only able to convince 12 out of the thousands who have worked with him over the years. He noted that of those, one now works for the Clinton/Gore administration and several are corporate lawyers.
"I think they timed [their letter] beautifully," he added, joking that "they learned their lessons under my tutelage."
But Nader denounced the Democratic Party for what he described as a smear campaign designed to frighten his supporters from voting for him. He urged his partisans to vote Green even in swing states teetering between Gore and Republican George W. Bush.
"There are only two languages the major parties understand," he said. "One is money, and that's what the corporations have. The other is denial of votes, and putting them in another competitive column instead of staying home out of disgust with politics as usual."
On Sunday, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said Nader has the right to run for president but warned traditional Democratic supporters that voting for the Green candidate could help Republican George W. Bush win the presidency.
"I ask those who are thinking about voting for Ralph Nader to decide how they feel -- how George Bush feels -- about protecting the environment, protecting consumers, protecting a woman's right to choose, because all of those may well be in jeopardy if George Bush is elected president," Lieberman said on CBS' Face the Nation .
With polls showing that Nader could swing as many as eight states from Gore to Bush, Nader wasn't backing down. "If he (Gore) cannot defeat the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record, what good is he?" Nader said on ABC's This Week. "It should be a slam-dunk. "
"'He's half right,'" Ari Fleischer, a Bush spokesman, told USA Today. "Many Democrats are questioning what the value of Al Gore's candidacy is, and that's why many Democrats support Gov. Bush."
Nader also responded over the weekend to the Republican Leadership Council's decision to promote Nader with advertisements designed to pull liberal votes away from Gore. "I think they have more money than they know how to spend, they rake in tens of millions of dollars," he said.
Not having not seen the ads, Nader was concerned about being misconstrued or misquoted, and said he opposed them on the grounds that they were purchased by soft money contributions, which he is uniformly against. "But there's nothing we can do about it legally, we don't have the tools to do anything," he added.
In New York City on Saturday night, Nader struck out at the New York Times, which issued a scathing editorial against him last week echoing an earlier editorial that called his campaign "a self-indulgent crusade."
"Here's a newspaper that doesn't even know how to cover it's own city," said Nader. "You know the New York Times -- if it doesn't happen in a certain part of Manhattan, who cares about it?"
Nader campaigns this week in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Colorado -- the first three of which are currently considered toss-up states to varying degrees.
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- If not for the packed rallies pulling more than two thousand in St. Petersburg and over four thousand in Gainesville, one might have guessed Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader was on vacation. Indeed, the balmy air, majestic palm trees and brilliant Gulf Coast sunset were a far cry from the industrial Midwest and cement-blanketed Northeast where he has campaigned for most of the past month.
"I love it here," he said emphatically. "The temperature is beautiful, I don't want to leave."
The crowds were a bit different as well. At the Mahaffrey Theater in St. Petersburg, there were enough senior citizens to constitute a meeting of the AARP, and teenagers too young to vote were handing out flyers for the local anarchist bookstore.
A group of truck drivers gathered around a sign reading, "Another Teamster for Ralph Nader -- Labor's Real Choice," but wouldn't share their names or union locals, fearful of losing their jobs for publicly disputing the official Teamster endorsement of vice president Al Gore.
A troupe called the Siesta Key Drum Circle burned sage, drummed and chanted to "welcome the spirit" of Green vice-presidential candidate Winona LaDuke. They cheered when a speaker noted that "there are lots of people here who aren't hippies, but there are some who are, and we love them!"
Despite the beautiful weather and colorful crowd, the particular problems of Florida were the focus of the rallies. Mike Elder of the Miami Greens rattled off some of the issues that concern Florida voters: "The Everglades being sold off for development, the water problems, the whole issue with healthcare and lack of insurance, sustainable growth, urban sprawl."
In St. Petersburg, Nader addressed these issues, paying particular consideration to healthcare and the alleged corruption of pharmaceutical companies, apparently appealing to the state's legendarily powerful senior voters. He also attacked what he said is the decrepit state of Florida's public school system.
Turning to his rivals, Nader described Wednesday's presidential debate as a "massive exercise in tedium." He argued that all of the "agreeing" so lauded by the media between Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Democrat Gore was in fact evidence of how dangerously similar the two parties have become, and he joked that "poor (debate moderator) Jim Lehrer actually had to ask them to explain how they're different."
Employing the rhetorical venom he usually reserves for Gore, Nader laid into Bush on his brother Gov. Jeb Bush's home turf: "I get worried when he says he's a 'compassionate conservative,'" said Nader. "If you're not a compassionate conservative, what kind of conservative does that make you? Do you ever hear people call themselves 'compassionate liberals?'"
Nader's visit to the state comes as Florida has taken center stage nationally, considered perhaps the most crucial swing state in this election. The two major party candidates are currently in a statistical dead heat in Florida, the New York Times reported last week, and political analysts don't believe Bush can win the presidency without it. Gore, who recently identified Florida as "the key to the election," and Bush have each made more than ten campaign swings through the state in this election.
Despite the tight race, most Nader supporters in Florida did not seem dissuaded by arguments that voting for their candidate could help put a Republican in the White House. Considering the possibility of Gore losing in part due to a significant defection of Florida's Democrats to the Green Party, Mark Neumann, a registered Democrat and professor of communications at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, was nevertheless confident in his choice.
"Personally, I would not feel responsible for [a Bush victory]," said Neumann. "I'm not responsible for the state of Florida, I'm responsible for my role as a voter, and I'm voting for who I think is the right choice. It doesn't matter where I live, I would vote Nader."
Bill Rodgers, a 77-year old founder of the Sarasota Green Party -- which he said has mushroomed from six members last April to a current mailing list of over 400 -- has read about the two major party candidates traversing his state in a frenetic quest for votes but is unimpressed.
"The difference between a Bush presidency and a Gore presidency will be so minor over the term, and if Bush gets in, heaven forbid, it will still take him time to change things," Rodgers said. "There's another aspect of this that a lot of people aren't thinking about, and that's Congress. If Democrats gain seats in the Congress, that'll make Bush's changes more difficult."
Not everyone, however, felt so assured. Robin Cook, a speech-language pathologist from St. Petersburg said she came to the rally an undecided voter and was leaving as an undecided voter. "[Nader] speaks to who I am, and I understand what he's saying and I appreciate it," said Cook, but she went on to qualify her fondness with a deep-seated concern about the types of conservative justices a President Bush would appoint to the Supreme Court, and said she may vote for Gore to help avoid such a scenario.
Cook is also keenly aware of Florida's central role in the election drama, judging from the nearly ubiquitous presence of presidential ticket candidates and their advertising, and the fact that she has already been polled three times -- although the pollsters never offered Nader as a choice.
Jesse Glickstein, a nineteen-year old student at the New College and an activist on Middle East issues, said he came to the rally feeling solid in his plan to vote for Gore, but announced over a microphone during the question-and-answer period that he had changed his mind during the course of the evening and would be voting for Nader.
"The people who are voting for Nader would probably have voted for Gore [otherwise], there's no question about that, and if Bush is elected, I definitely wouldn't be happy," said Glickstein. "But I just see that as adding fuel to this fight, and getting other people to join the Green Party."
For elderly Irving Kellman, who spoke wistfully about his youth working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, voting for Nader fits with his lifelong support of the labor movement. "I've been disenchanted for 80 years," he said. "Others have been disenchanted for anything from five years to 40 years. This is why we've come here."
DETROIT -- It was not the rowdy rock-star reception the presidential candidate has received along the campaign trail. Over the clink of water glasses and dessert plates being cleared by uniformed waiters, three hundred professionals at the Cobo Center in Detroit applauded politely as the afternoon's speaker took the podium. He extended his gratitude for the opportunity to address them, noting that "invitations to the Detroit Economic Club do not come frequently to me, for obvious reasons." Everyone chuckled.
Having Ralph Nader speak to the Economic Club of Detroit is a little like having Gandhi address the British Royal Society -- underneath all the nods and smiles, you can still sense a thick layer of resentment. Since its inception in 1934, the club has been a forum for the discussion of economic, social and political issues among Detroit's corporate elite, including, of course, the auto industry titans whose lives and companies were irreversibly altered by Nader's crusading 1965 book "Unsafe at Any Speed," which took General Motors to task for fatal design flaws in its popular Corvair.
Bill Warner, a former associate director of corporate strategy at Ford Motor Company, explained that Nader was invited along with all other presidential candidates. "I don't think he's [the Economic Club's] favorite person," said Warner, "but this club is known for welcoming all kinds of speakers, and in an election year, we're open to hearing all the views." A representative from the club said Republican candidate George W. Bush had addressed them in January, and Libertarian candidate Harry Browne came a few weeks ago.
Nader's address began on a cordial note, but quickly devolved into an outright indictment of the auto industry. Like his condemnation of the Democratic Party for failing to follow through on its progressive promises, he accused the auto industry of similar hypocrisy, and used as an illustration a recent announcement by Ford that it would voluntarily cut emissions in its sport utility vehicles.
"Every time we read these nice statements and get encouraged, we trip over their lobbyists in Washington who are trying to do the reverse," said Nader. "They're working to block all kinds of advances in health, safety, emissions and fuel efficiency. Now I happen to know, as many of you know, that there's a big difference between what the engineers and scientists are able, willing and very pleased to do inside the auto companies, and what the executives at the top are willing to let them do. That's not only documented by history, it's documented by people who leave the industry."
Nader claimed the auto industry already possesses the technological capacity to build safer cars that go fifty miles per gallon, could improve or phase out the internal combustion engine, or even implement a large-scale, environmentally-friendly system of public transport. "What is it about this industry," he asked rhetorically, "that it sits on such talent and has such an obligation to the global environment, to a more balanced transportation system, to the health and safety of millions of people, to energy conservation, and that it is constantly putting the brakes on itself unless it is targeted and challenged by government regulations or trade unions or consumer and environmental groups? I don't know the answer to this."
The answer, which Nader applies as easily to the pharmaceutical, military and biotechnology industries, is the lure of greater profits, which prompts auto executives to disregard safety and the environment. He reminded the audience that in the 1930s and 1940s, General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone collaborated to buy up trolley systems in 28 large metropolitan areas, then ripped out the tracks while pushing legislators to fund a national highway system. For this, he said, the companies were indicted by a federal jury in Chicago just after World War II, charged by the Justice Department with a criminal violation of antitrust laws, and convicted and fined $5000 per company for what Nader called "one of the economic crimes of the century."
Nader managed to raise eyebrows with several of his controversial proposals. He said corporate violators of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act should have their maximum penalty raised from $925,000 to $15 million, and he supported the pressing of criminal charges against executives of Firestone and Ford for allegedly marketing products which they knew to have fatal defects.
But while these scathing remarks went over predictably poorly with the well-heeled crowd, many of those who would have been the most offended stayed away altogether. "I don't see any auto executives here today," said Republican state legislator Andrew Richner, who represents Grosse Pointe, a wealthy suburb dominated by the auto elite.
"I don't support Ralph Nader for president and I think he's showing a lot of courage in coming here to Detroit, because of his past criticism of the auto industry," he said. Richner described the Economic Club as a largely conservative Republican institution and guessed most of the audience attended out of simple curiosity.
Attendee Charles Sabadash, 89, was unimpressed by Nader. "I think that he gave enough truths that he couldn't be denied, but on the other hand, he only gave half of it so it wasn't the full truth," said Sabadash, who worked on the development of the first automatic transmission. "Just like he was [saying] that Ford was restraining certain [developments], but I don't think so. I don't think these things can be evolved, and he was accusing them of willingly and knowingly holding back."
Still, not everyone was put off by Nader's speech. Dan Platt, a retired employee of Chrysler's sales and marketing department, conceded that in his experience in the auto industry, people understand the necessity to change but need a catalyst to do so.
"People in decision making really understand this, but they've got to come to grips with it and they've got to make things happen, and that's what's lacking" said Platt. "I think the next generation of leadership is apt to put things into practice because it's a cultural way of looking at things. It's difficult to change ingrained minds, but I think you're going to see very positive things in the future. I think in the next fifty years you'll see some radical developments."
A handful of members of the Metro Detroit Green Party attended the luncheon. As all the men and women in smart business attire filed out after Nader's speech, they contended he had not been as hard on them as he could have been. "Who can argue with safer cars, cleaner environment, better fuel efficiency?" said Scott Tyrrell, a Green. "They all know they should be working towards that. Ralph has said nothing here today that these people haven't heard over and over, it's just a matter of what they want to do in their actions."
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut -- Running on more political steam than sleep the day after his dramatic expulsion from the grounds of the first presidential debate, Ralph Nader reaffirmed his plans for retaliation against the Presidential Debate Commission and summoned a blistering attack on two of New England's prominent Democratic senators.
At several points during a packed campaign schedule Wednesday that included stops in Providence, R.I., and Hartford, New London, and New Haven, Conn., Nader threatened a lawsuit against the debate commission to remedy what he called "one of the worst blunders the commission has made in the history of blunders and displays of arrogance."
On Tuesday night, Nader attempted to enter a University of Massachusetts auditorium broadcasting a live television feed of the debates with a valid ticket, and later tried entering the area with a FoxNews team, both times to find himself removed from the premises by police acting on behalf of a debate commission representative.
Nader said he will request that the commission, which was founded by representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, issue him a public apology and donate $25,000 to Harvard Law School's project on electoral reform. If the commission refuses this settlement, he said, "we'll see them in court."
Besides issuing this threat, Nader spent the day slinging barbs at Sens. Patrick Kennedy and Joseph Lieberman. In recent weeks, Nader has criticized Kennedy (D-R.I.) as a "bagman" and corporate lackey who has strayed from his family's populist roots. On Wednesday, Nader's voice resonated loudly in the white marble hall of Rhode Island's state capital building as he railed against Kennedy's feverish tactics to win back a Democratic majority in the Senate this year.
"The Kennedy family has been known for years for being on the front lines of progressive politics," he said, "and to have one of the heirs of the Kennedy family tradition focus almost every waking political hour of his life going to corporate watering holes from coast to coast, essentially demanding that these companies give his party money and inferentially saying that his party is going to be good to these corporate interests, is a disastrous denouement to the Kennedy family legacy."
Greg Garret, an organizer from the Rhode Island Green Party, said Kennedy was offended by Nader's "bagman" comments and called for a last-minute counter-rally before Nader's appearance outside the state building. It was unclear how many people attended Senator Kennedy's rally.
Nader took his three stops in Connecticut as opportunities to depict Gore's vice presidential candidate as a virtual serf to big business. "Joe Lieberman is the real Al Gore," he told a large crowd at Connecticut College in New London. "Al Gore is going around the country saying that he's going to battle the corporations, and Joe Lieberman is running around saying that it's just impassioned rhetoric, assuring the corporations that Al Gore doesn't really mean what he says." Lieberman has been criticized by Green Party members and liberal Democrats for his active involvement in the party's conservative Democratic Leadership Council.
Nader tied up the day by addressing a packed house at Yale University in New Haven. The Battle Chapel was filled to its capacity of 1100, with 200 more turned away at the door.
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.
With just five weeks until the election, Ralph Nader is running something that bears a remarkable resemblance to a real presidential campaign.
The Green Party candidate is on the road almost every day, preaching the gospel of the progressive left to its adoring, worshipful masses. He has transformed a humble Washington, D.C., brownstone into his campaign headquarters, and filled it with an industrious young staff representing jobs vacated and fall semesters abandoned all over the country.
He has raised over $3.5 million dollars, largely plunked down in individual $5 and $10 contributions, and has attracted what his campaign says are the largest paying crowds of any candidate, including over 10,000 in Portland and Boston and 12,000 in Minneapolis. He has met with the editorial boards of local newspapers, shaken the hands of many breathless supporters and adhered to a micro-managed itinerary worthy of any political candidate ("5:00-5:05 PM: Live interview with WISC-TV.")
Some things about Nader's campaign aren't so typical, of course. He flies coach class from one engagement to the next, often sardined between business travelers who don't recognize the celebrity in their midst. He doesn't wear make-up onstage, doesn't have speechwriters or coaches and lets himself be seen weary and drained at the end of a 16-hour day.
The reporters who follow him in irregular spurts complain they're not fed as well or treated as royally as their colleagues covering the Bush and Gore campaigns. He doesn't kiss babies, and though he'll stand amiably in photos, he certainly doesn't pose for them.
But perhaps the most conspicuous difference between Nader and his rivals is that he freely admits he has no expectation of winning. Instead, he says he is running to plant a political seed, throwing a spotlight of visibility on the Green Party to help it elect local candidates and become a viable Third Party.
"Most of us are in a rut because we're operating in a winner-take-all, two-party system, and most Third Parties come in with a single issue, get a few votes, lose and then fade away," Nader said between stops on a Midwest campaign swing last month. "The Green Party is not going to fade away, it has too broad of an agenda. That's why the press doesn't get this campaign. They give me this forlorn look, 'You stand in the polls at three or four or five percent, is it all over? Aren't you wasting your time?'
"Am I known for wasting my time? Am I known for worrying about being an underdog?" Nader asks. "Ask General Motors and twenty-five other big companies."
Too Big a Tent?
The Green Party indeed has as broad an agenda as Nader asserts, but for a presidential run it may be too broad; talking with state coordinators and organizers for the campaign reveals a vast and contradictory set of goals.
Like Nader, many see the campaign as a first step in building a strong national party reinforced by local elected officeholders. Others are more focused on snaring five percent of the popular vote in order to procure federal matching funds for another presidential run in 2004 -- a goal for which Nader says he has never expressed support. Some Greens say they are trying to pull the Democratic Party leftwards, while others cling to the extreme longshot of Nader winning the election. As his campaign churns toward November, it sometimes seems entangled in a web of confusion throttling its own momentum.
On one end of the spectrum are wild optimists like Colorado state coordinator Nancy Harvey, who works close to the fiery hearth of Nader support. A typically enthusiastic Green diehard, Harvey is a middle-aged progressive who has been involved in the party for thirteen years and helped build the Boulder Green Alliance. Intelligent, articulate and well-informed, she nevertheless admits to a fantasy of Nader winning in a November shocker.
"Based on the enthusiasm of the campaign here in Colorado and the numbers he's pulling at these 'super-rallies,' I think that his message is really reaching people," she said. "I really do think that in a real three-way race, if he got into the debates and the media wasn't ignoring him, we could pull something like what happened to (Gov.) Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. I really think he has a shot at it if enough people could hear him."
Harvey is far from alone in fixating on the debates as a magic bullet for a candidate with single-digit support. Ken Sain, the field coordinator for the Nader campaign in Kentucky and founder of the state's Green Party, was similarly enraptured by the dream of an underdog victory driven by access to an estimated TV audience of 50 million Americans.
"I think we'd have a real strong possibility if we got him in the debates, and that's why the Republicrats are so determined to keep him out," Swain said. "He could get 35 percent if people heard what he has to say, and in a four-way race, he could win the election."
There are even those true believers who argue Nader is already headed for the White House, with or without the debates. After a stadium rally in Minneapolis, local organizer Dean Zimmerman was inspired enough to predict Nader would win by a slight margin by taking the states where he has the strongest support -- Oregon, Washington, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Vermont and Maine -- even though he hasn't polled even close to the two major party candidates in any of them.
Nader states flatly that he has no expectation of winning the presidency. Nevertheless, he continually stokes the fires of hope in his ardent supporters by reminding them of Ventura's debate-driven Reform Party triumph in 1998. Ventura, whose support registered at 8 percent before gubernatorial debates in Minnesota, vaulted to victory with around 30 percent of the vote after he was allowed to debate.
Nader's exclusion from the debates has become one of his central campaign issues, which is one reason he always brings up the triumph of an ex-pro wrestler with whom he has very little in common politically. But by mythologizing the epic Ventura victory -- which happened in a mid-sized state with a strong taste for the politically unique -- it seems Nader has inadvertently convinced some Greens to focus on a similar possibility for this campaign.
Green Realist? Jumbo Shrimp?
Not all Green organizers are so gripped by such visions, however, and some are even unaware of the extent of their colleagues' fervor.
"I don't think there's a single Nader supporter out there doing this thinking he's going to be the next president of the United States," claimed Julie Gozan, secretary of the Central Oklahoma Greens. "I would have loved to see him in the debates, because that would have shifted the terms of political discourse, but my only hope now is that he'll get five percent of the vote so that the party will be eligible for federal matching funds, and I hope he'll run again."
Many are simply looking to build their local party branches, happy to ride Nader's celebrity coattails to greater visibility. Lucky Kaiser, an organizer in Youngstown, Ohio, who represents one of dozens of Green organizations that have sprouted this election year, hopes for no more than a strong start on the long road to incremental change.
"We're so grateful that he's taking the time out of his life to do this, and whether he wins or not is immaterial," said Kaiser. "It's that we have a candidate who we can back and who's helping us get our party a little bit deeper entrenched."
Likewise, Nebraska Greens state coordinator Katie Fisher sees Nader's strongest impact as the expansion of her state party, which gathered six thousand signatures to put him on the ballot. "I think locally we will eventually have congresspeople, city council members, and local elected offices filled by Green candidates," she predicted.
Fisher also applauded Nader for honing in on agricultural issues as a way of drumming up local support. In Nebraska, she said, "we gave [agricultural corporation] ConAgra the property they sit on for one dollar which is the worst sort of corporate welfare. I think that because they've been bought out by the big agribusinesses, we have a lot of strength with farmers here since we want to help save their farms."
Unlike California, Oregon and New Mexico, which each have an established Green Party and have elected Greens to local offices, other state organizations are struggling, declaring victory for simply getting Nader's name on the 2000 ballot.
LeAnn Owens, an industrial hemp-legalization activist, helped found the Alabama Greens this past April and was thrilled to have collected 5000 signatures to put Nader's name on the ballot, which "here in conservative Alabama was a feat in itself." She hoped to contribute a few votes from the state toward the national goal of five percent, and foresaw slow, moderate growth over many years for the party.
"I think it's in the process of gelling," said Owens. "A lot of people in the Greens still have disparate ideas, but I see it coming together."
Oklahoma's Gozan sounded more somber, weary after a dispiriting defeat in her state's ballot battle. With the highest signature requirement per capita of any state, the Greens were unable to gather the 35,000 signatures necessary to put Nader on the ballot -- and because of a prohibition on write-in votes, even the most determined Oklahomans won't be able to support Nader come November (South Dakota is the only other state where voters won't be able to at least write him in).
Gozan said the Oklahoma Greens were still doing fund-raising for the national campaign, circulating petitions to open the presidential debates to Third Parties and encouraging supporters not to vote for anybody for president to avoid nudging Nader away from the national five percent mark.
What About the Democrats?
The most muddled message emanating from the Nader campaign is whether its intention is to form a viable, permanent Third Party or to drive the Democratic Party leftwards. One ubiquitous Nader sound-bite calls on the Democratic Party, having betrayed its populist roots, to either "shape up or shrink down" -- implying that if the Democrats "shape up," they stand a chance of recovering the support of the progressive left.
But in a recent interview, Nader said it was his hunch that "the Democratic Party under its present dominance and indentured status to business interests is not going to reform. If they're pushed by a Green Party, they'll try to become more like Republicans and take away Republican votes."
Asked to elaborate on how the Democrats would respond to his challenge of shaping up or shrinking down, he surmised that "the latter is going to happen, because I don't think they're capable of internal change. I've been waiting too long for that to happen."
Some Greens are not so quick to write off the dominant liberal party, however. Alabama's Owens said that in addition to getting five percent of the national vote, exerting a progressive influence on the Democrats would be a secondary victory.
"I think there are still good people in the Democratic Party, and even though most of them are bought and sold by the same corporate interests that buy the Republican Party, I'm not sure at this point if they're a lost cause," Owens said. Oklahoma's Gozan agreed: "The Democrats have to see that there's a pull on the left because they've been so responsive to a pull on the right."
But for Ross Mirkarimi, a founding member of the California Greens and state director of Nader's campaign, the Democratic Party is "an 800-pound gorilla" which will only "gesture with populist themes" if it feels a threat from an upstart party on the left. Speaking from a 4000-square-foot regional office in San Francisco, one of seven in the state, Mirkarimi said that although Gore has scrambled to stem the tide of defectors to the Greens, the Democrats would not undergo any fundamental changes if reinstalled in the White House.
In fact, many Green organizers described a bitter, irreversible withdrawal from the party traditionally charged with protecting the interests of the common man. Kentucky's Swain, an ex-Democrat, said "if (the Democrats) come back to the left, great, but as far as I'm concerned, I've left and I'm never coming back." And for Oregon's Smith, "the Democratic Party sold out years ago, and now their money comes from the same corporate interests as the Republicans."
Like Nader, Smith believes the Democrats might try "to co-opt some of our themes and the rhetoric, but as far as moving toward the left, I rather think they're going to continue moving toward the right."
But whatever the Democrats do or don't do, and whoever wins the presidency this year, Nader believes his campaign is already a success.
"Can we lose when we come out in November with millions of votes, so we can fight toward victory in future elections? Can we lose when hundreds of candidates will go into local, state and national level on the Green Party? Can we lose when we push the agenda to critique corporate power and abuse?" Nader asked.
"I don't think that's a loss. That's a victory."
PORTLAND, Maine -- In the final days before the first presidential debate in Boston on Tuesday night, Ralph Nader began a blitz of appearances in New England to amass and confirm support for his presidential campaign, and to draw attention to his exclusion from the debates.
In the gymnasium of Portland High School, 1500 filled the bleachers and center court and more peered in from the crowded doorways on Sunday night to hear the Green Party candidate implore "people to take power from the power-haves."
Nader received a hero's welcome from the attentive crowd, and asked Peter Baldwin, a drummaker whose troupe revved up the rally with the booming bass of two "community drums," to play a warring, determined rhythm he said descends from the Roman legion. "There's something so primordial about it, it's what I heard when I confronted (General Motors)," Nader said, as the audience clapped and stomped along.
The consumer activist-turned-political candidate then addressed a breadth of issues, ranging from the country's child poverty rate to the decline of universities into what he described as veritable trade schools. Paying particular attention to the environmental issues important to many Maine voters, Nader mocked the perception of environmentalists as "extremists."
"We ought to put the label where it belongs. It is extremist for corporations to pollute, contaminate and poison the world's environment," Nader said. And he derided Vice President Al Gore for failing to enforce eight years of environmental promises, focusing on what he said were weakened or outdated fuel and energy efficiency standards.
Referring to a major forest preservation referendum on the Maine ballot, Nader called for the abolition of all commercial logging in national forests and denounced the paper and pulp industry for cutting the state's woods at two to three times the rate of growth.
Rebecca Mann, a 22-year-old Portland schoolteacher, found Nader's understanding of forestry issues compelling, and she disagreed with claims decreased logging would jeopardize Maine jobs.
"As the logging industry progresses, fewer people are making their living off of it as it becomes more and more automated," Mann said. "I spent four years in northern Maine in college, and even a lot of people in the smaller logging industry up there say that the logging industry is doing it the wrong way. It might be giving a few people jobs, but they can have jobs in a new national or state park."
During a question-and-answer session, Anita Jahoda of Farmington, Maine asked Nader how he responded to liberal voters' concerns his campaign might help the Republicans win the White House, with the possibility of three or four conservative Supreme Court justices being installed by George W. Bush.
"I'm not a clairvoyant and you never can predict," Nader responded, saying conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were both confirmed with the help of Democratic senators. "(Justice) Steven Breyer was Clinton's first choice, and he's a terrible anti-consumer. And then you have Warren, Blackmon, Brennan, Stevens and Souter, all Republicans and some of the better justices on the Supreme Court. I wouldn't guess either way. I don't think the Democrats have any credibility. They could have stopped Scalia, they could have stopped Thomas, and now they turn around and say we have to vote for them because of Scalia and Thomas."
Jahoda, a nursery owner who drove nearly two hours with her husband to hear Nader speak, was satisfied with Nader's answer to the Supreme Court question but believes many potential Nader supporters would still feel apprehensive.
"This is what's being said out there, and there's really not much you can do about it," she said. "I've been trying to tell my Democratic friends that if you vote your conscience, you're not throwing away your vote. They really like his message but they've been brainwashed to believe that a vote for Ralph is a vote for Bush."
Gerald Lewis, a 71-year-old, 12th-generation Mainer agreed that "the critical difference between Bush and Gore is the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and we're going to have to let that go to make a strong showing for Ralph Nader. We've gotten along with Clarence Thomas, the country didn't fall apart."
Lewis seemed to typify Maine Green Party Co-Chair Matthew Tilley's description of Mainers as "fiercely independent, self-reliant, that whole kind of Yankee thing." Tilley predicted a strong showing for Nader in Maine; recent state polls have placed Nader at five percent, with Gore holding at least a sixteen-point lead over Bush, and he predicted that if a Gore win seems inevitable in the state, fence-sitters will feel more at ease voting for the Greens.
Nader's Portland appearance came on the heels of a "super rally" at the Fleet Center in Boston earlier Sunday. Attended by 10,000 people who paid $10 each, the event raised an additional $60,000 through donation boxes passed around the stadium, according to campaign officials. Nader was introduced by progressive scholar Howard Zinn, former talk show host Phil Donahue and filmmaker Michael Moore, and was accompanied by his vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke.
Monday, Nader was to appear in Brattleboro, Vt., and Concord, N.H., before making his way back to Boston Tuesday, where his supporters will protest his exclusion from the presidential debates which begin that evening with a Bush-Gore match-up.
EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio -- They gathered outside the school administration building, drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups and chatting in the bright autumn sunlight while awaiting Ralph Nader's arrival.
There was an old man known locally as Klein, a "true West Virginia hermit" according to a neighbor, who has few teeth and a half-dozen cars propped up on concrete blocks at his mountaintop property across the Ohio River.
There were mothers, fathers and elderly citizens who, after nearly twenty years, have made their fight against the Waste Technologies Industries incinerator in this old Rust Belt town the longest-running active environmental battle in the country.
There were a dozen WTI workers, some in blue workshirts with their names embroidered above the breast pocket, looking skeptical and defensive. There were supporters of Nader's Green Party presidential candidacy from Pittsburgh and environmental activists from southern Ohio. And just over a thousand feet behind all of them, the incinerator's smokestack blew billows of fumes into the sky.
"There, it's diving, look at that," one man said, pointing to the smoke as it shot up and then curled back down toward the valley, illustrating what opponents say is a geographical pollutant trap penned in by mountains on all sides. The WTI incinerator is one of the largest of its type in the world, burning 60,000 tons of hazardous waste annually since 1993, and has attracted attention most recently as a symbol of Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore's alleged inconsistency on environmental issues.
During the 1992 presidential campaign while the incinerator was in construction, Gore came to East Liverpool, lambasted the project and promised that "the Clinton-Gore administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems."
During the subsequent transition between the Bush and Clinton administrations, however, trial-burns were conducted and the incinerator was enabled to begin operating despite tests that determined toxin levels beyond the Environmental Protection Agency's own standards.
Nader slammed Gore for what he called the "phony populist rhetoric" of his environmentalism, and called on the Vice President to honor his eight-year old promise to hold the incinerator to EPA standards.
"Al Gore knows how to talk the talk on issues of the environment and public health but when it comes time to stand up to corporate power and get results, he won't even attempt to walk the walk," Nader said. "Eight years of lying have illustrated what a certified public coward he is. If Al Gore was a business practice, he would be prosecuted by the federal trade commission as a 'deceptive trade practice.'"
The Gore campaign says the East Liverpool facility is no longer an "official issue." This year, Gore environmental officials have said the plant is running safely, that he never really promised to shut the plant, only look into its safety and that the previous Bush administration tied its hands by issuing a permit in the final hours.
"Gore did call for an investigation," spokeswoman Maria Meier told the San Francisco Examiner this month. "But after review, the White House eventually sided with the plant and found they were in compliance."
Some activists described a web of corruption linking powerful government officials and industry heavyweights in Ohio, New York, Washington and even Arkansas as the enabling force behind WTI. "Because of what we know about all the legalities involved in the permitting process," said Richard Keith Wolf, a local environmental activist, "this facility could not have come into existence or remain operational without there being collusion and conspiracy at the highest levels between government and industry."
Wolf has been arrested four times in Washington for acts of civil disobedience meant to draw attention to WTI, and was one of 33 protesters arrested in 1992 in East Liverpool for trespassing at the plant in symbolic protest.
Terri Swearingen, a registered nurse and organizer with the Tri-State Environmental Council which opposes WTI, said she was primarily motivated by the proximity of the East Elementary School to the incinerator.
"They have no say, no voice and no power in the decision-making process," Swearingen said. "This school is 400 yards from the stack, and being embedded in a flood basin, the height of the stack is level with the front doors of the school. A lot of days we see the plumes blowing right into the school."
Swearinger said cancer rates in East Liverpool are 40 percent higher than the rest of the country, although no conclusive evidence has tied the disease to the incinerator.
Not everyone in East Liverpool is opposed to the waste incinerator, including the facility's 185 employees. Otis Logan came to hear Nader speak with a group of co-workers out of curiosity, and judged his ideas misguided and misinformed.
"When you have protesters and people like Ralph Nader coming out against the incinerator, that affects me because it's my livelihood," said Logan. "We are a clean and environmentally safe company, we have been for the past eight years and will be into the future. I may have stubbed my thumb, but there's never been a real accident where anybody's been injured."
Logan grew up in East Liverpool and said that he feels safer working "as close as you can possibly get" to hazardous waste at the incinerator than he would working in a steel mill, as his father did.
Similar sentiment was expressed by WTI General Manager Fred Sigg, who did not attend the event but spoke with the local Morning Journal about Nader's appearance. Sigg believed Nader was using WTI as a political football, and told the paper the "EPA has carried out a number of activities at the WTI facility ... to help ensure that the WTI facility will not adversely affect the health and environment of those who live in the East Liverpool area, [but] because the report's conclusions do not jibe with the critics' premeditated notions, they are doing what they can to embarrass Gore. Turning to Nader is their latest ploy."
Indeed, embarrassing Vice President Gore seemed to be a thinly veiled intention of the event, but one which residents thought was warranted given Gore's history in their town. "He is at best a political opportunist," said Wolf. "He sounds robotic when he speaks and I doubt there's a single sincere bone in his body. His life is dedicated to politics and not to principle, and I could never support him."
Swearingen agreed, saying that when Gore came in 1992 and announced his intention to stop the incinerator from opening, she thought he was an angel, but her previous hope has been overshadowed by disappointment and doubt. "He says that he cares about the environment, education and family values, but if he really cares about these things, all he has to do is come to East Liverpool and say, 'This is unacceptable. I would not allow my child to go to school here and so I don't think it's acceptable to force your children to go to school here.'"
East Liverpool is an industrial town of 13,000 that some say is a magnet for polluting industries because of the precedent set long ago by steel mills, and also because the relative poverty of its citizens affords them little means to oppose powerful corporations. The town sits nestled against the eastern border of Ohio, considered the most critical of the Midwestern swing states by some election analysts.
Nader touted an Ohio poll conducted last spring in which state voters deemed him the most credible of the four leading presidential candidates.
"You'll get a lot more respect in Washington if you produce a Green Party victory here in East Liverpool," Nader told the crowd. "The only thing politicians understand is being denied votes."
9.23.00 | MINNEAPOLIS -- Green Party organizers had sold only 3,000 tickets by Wednesday for a Friday night rally for Ralph Nader at the Target Center. Still, they decorated the stage with bales of hay, pumpkins, cornstalks and other colorful symbols of Minnesota's fall harvest. They set up folding tables in the lobby with handwritten signs reading "Cash, Credit Cards, Checks." And they piled Nader/LaDuke lawn signs by the exit doors, hoping that enough people would show up to take them home. So they were nearly beside themselves when close to 12,000 people poured into the stadium, paying seven dollars each to hear Nader's message of radical political reform.
The crowd was the largest to see Nader during his presidential campaign, topping a rally in Portland last month that drew 10,500 paying supporters.
As the crowd roared "Let Ralph debate!" Nader attacked the entrenchment of the two-party system and said his campaign "is about removing the giant boulder on the highway to democracy that is the dirty corporate money in politics." Moving methodically through a laundry list of social issues, he received the biggest applause when supporting gay rights, environmental justice, trade unions and military budget cuts.
Nader veered off the policy discussion to talk about his now-famous campaign commercial, a parody of a MasterCard commercial which led to a lawsuit by the credit card giant. He called the lawsuit "one of the great corporate blunders of the last twenty years" and laughed that the company charged him with a violation of their copyright on the word "priceless," which played into the commercial. He said his office received a flurry of cut-up MasterCards from around the country after the lawsuit was filed.
Preceding Nader was his vice presidential running mate Winona LaDuke, a Harvard-educated economist, social activist and Native American who lives in Minnesota. LaDuke invoked Native American philosophies about protecting the earth, and in a jab at a controversy over Democratic political donors sleeping in the White House, said that under her vice presidency "any descendent of a slave who built the White House can stay in the Lincoln Room."
Former talk show host Phil Donahue introduced Nader as "the most important private citizen of the 20th Century," while filmmaker Michael Moore confronted the concern of many liberal voters that a vote for Nader will help Republican George W. Bush defeat Democrat Al Gore.
"A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush, a vote for Bush is a vote for Gore," said Moore, who recently directed a Rage Against the Machine music video that depicted Bush and Gore as two halves of a single alien creature. A vote for Nader is a political Molotov; throw that Molotov into these elections!"
Annie Young, an emcee of the event and board member of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department, was delighted with the turnout and credited it to the state's traditional political bent. "Minnesota has always been known for its progressive politics. We had (Gov.) Floyd B. Olson, we had (Gov.) Elmer Anderson. Even (Gov.) Hubert Humphrey who pushed civil rights," said Young. "This is a state that Senator Paul Wellstone wasn't supposed to win and Governor Ventura certainly was never ever supposed to win. I personally and most of my friends love the underdog, and we believe that anything can happen, especially in this disenfranchised society right now," she said.
People arrived from all around the state, including large contingents from Duluth, Winona and St. Cloud. Craig Schuster, a barber from Fairbow in south central Minnesota, thought that frustration over the corporate influence in politics generated much of the local support for Nader.
"The people of Minnesota have proven that by voting down the stadium issues as far as the Vikings and the Twins are concerned," Schuster said. "That's a form of corporate welfare and greed, and by saying no to them twice, I think we've sent a message to them. And I think a lot of people have turned out tonight to see that there's a party willing to do this not only on a state level, but on a national level."
Dean Zimmerman, a Minneapolis handyman and rally organizer, agreed that Nader had a particularly strong base of support in Minnesota. "Jesse Ventura was running against Hubert Humphrey and the mayor of St. Paul and was able to beat them because the people are really tired; they know that the Republicrats are bankrupt for ideas, even though they're certainly not bankrupt for money."
Even those who cannot yet vote showed up to lend their support. Zoe Corneli, a 16-year-old Minneapolis high school student, came to the rally with a dozen friends, all sporting Mohawks, pink hair, dreadlocks and piercings.
"I think he showed that even though he's old, he can still energize the youth," Corneli said. "Up until now I've been kind of reluctant to take responsibility for my opinion on the election because I know I don't really have to make the decision, but I think it's important to take a stance anyway."
The Minneapolis event was the last stop in a three-day "Non-Voter Tour," which stopped in six cities with the goal of galvanizing people who have never voted before. One such non-voter, twenty-two year old Matthew Buell, a University of Minnesota history student, said that the Target Center rally insured he will vote this November for his first time.
"I didn't vote in the last presidential election for the express reason that I didn't believe in either of the candidates," said Buell. "I think Ralph is the real thing; you can tell that he's doing it for the people."
Michael Moore has become an alternative American icon, unmistakable in his big floppy jeans, baseball cap and slightly sinister giggle. The filmmaker and activist gained widespread attention ten years ago for his film "Roger & Me," a darkly funny documentary about the shutdown of General Motors factories in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Moore subsequently created the television series "TV Nation," wrote the best-selling "Downsize This! Random Threats From an Unarmed American," and made several other films including "The Big One," which documents, among other things, his hysterically persistent confrontation with the CEO of Nike, Phil Knight.
He is currently producing the second season of a weekly half-hour series "The Awful Truth," and he will appear in his first acting role this October in Nora Ephron's "Lucky Numbers" with John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow. Jennifer Bleyer spoke with him last week on a morning flight from Milwaukee to Detroit as part of Ralph Nader's three-day whirlwind "Non-Voter Tour" and found him bleary eyed but passionately unrelenting.
Bleyer: What do you say to the question that's on a lot of people's minds, is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush?
Michael Moore: Number one, Bush is not going to win. I truly believe that, because the people of this country are not that stupid. He's behind 52 to 38 (percent) right now and every week he goes lower and lower. He's going to continue to sink like a stone.
I want to appeal to the people who are non-voters, who have never voted before or who aren't voting now because they don't like the choices on the ballot. For them, a vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush because they weren't going to vote for Gore in the first place.
Secondly, Gore doesn't own these people. He has to earn their vote, and I personally believe that a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush. It might be a kinder, gentler version of it, but still it's a vote for one of the two people running who are sponsored by big business.
Bleyer: But what do you say to people who see an earnest difference between the two, and really want to vote for Nader but are legitimately scared of a Bush presidency?
Michael Moore: You should never vote out of fear, you should vote your conscience. If people voted out of fear we never would have had the country, there never would have been a revolution. You've got to especially encourage young people to follow their conscience, because if you don't start doing it now at the age of 18, you'll never do it and in fact it'll get worse.
You'll always be doing things you don't really want to be doing. Who wants to live their life like that? You'll end up working in jobs you don't really want to work, being in relationships you don't really want to be in. It's like, oh my God, don't live your life like this! Free yourself.
Bleyer: Who exactly are the non-voters?
Michael Moore: It's a combination of people who are just turned off to the whole system, people who believe that there's no difference between the two candidates, and the young people who maybe have never voted before, because they've just come out of 12 to 16 years of an educational system that is not a democracy, that they have very little say in, then they're told to go out in the real world and behave as if they're participants when they haven't been allowed to be participants in their own education.
Bleyer: Last night in Madison, I was talking to kids about their thoughts on getting out the youth vote, and why young people don't vote. They didn't seem to think it was because kids are cynical, but more along the lines of people having it so good. They said that for most young people they know in Madison, unless someone's going to take their BMW away, why should they vote? They don't see politics affecting their lives because they're so privileged.
Michael Moore: No, 10 years ago when there was a recession we still had the problem of people not voting. The kids with the beemers and the parents with beemers, they're the ones who do vote. If you look at the statistics, the people with money show up to vote because they want to run the show, and they hope that the kids without that much money will stay home so they can run this country the way they want to run it.
Bleyer: What's in the way of getting out the working class vote?
Michael Moore: Despair. A sense of defeat.
Bleyer: What about the minority vote?
Michael Moore: Same thing, and they're probably the most afraid of George Bush. Even though it was Clinton/Gore that took away a lot of the social safety net that helps those communities, they still think it's safer to be with them than with Bush.
Bleyer: At the rally last night in Madison, you said that you believe it's possible for Nader to win, but practically speaking that seems pretty unlikely. A lot of people in the country can't understand why he's running with such a slim chance of victory.
Michael Moore: That's not why I'm doing this. I'm not a member of the Green Party. I don't care about the five percent or the federal funding. I'm doing this because I want him to be president of the United States. I would not devote a minute of my time if I didn't fully believe the man. And I don't make my decisions on whether I will "win." You know, that's what's so messed up about this country, "We're number one, we're number one!"
Look, I never would have made "Roger & Me" if at the beginning I had looked at logically. I'm 35-years old, I have no film classes and don't know anything about doing this. I have no connections, no uncle in the business. You know, you would logically have to look at that and say the guy's a little crazy, thinking that he's going to make a documentary film that everyone in the country's going to see. Just as when I was 18, I decided to run for public office. No 18-year-olds had ever been elected before!
I have a curse in my personal experience that I've been able to set out to do things that seem impossible and have been able to accomplish them. I no longer listen to anybody who says that it can't happen. If the laws of physics don't prevent it -- you know, gravity, motion -- than I think it's possible.
Bleyer: Do you truly think Ralph is the best person for the job?
Michael Moore: I think Phil Donahue's the best person for the job. If Phil gave a presidential address, people would tune in. (Laughing.) Well, it's hard to say because I don't know all 250 million people in this country. Certainly under Ralph Nader, we would be living in a more humane country.
You've got to understand, Nader has more experience than Bush and Gore, he's written more legislation and gotten more laws passed than both of them combined. He has worked inside and outside the halls of Congress since 1965. What were they doing in 1965? We know what one of them was doing in '65: Partytime. And the other one was probably living in daddy's hotel room. This guy was writing laws!
Bleyer: How susceptible do you think people are to campaign advertising?
Michael Moore: I think people just groan when these political ads come on now.
Bleyer: Do you think there's any real difference between Bush and Gore?
Michael Moore: Yes. Gore believes in a woman's right to choose, and Bush does not.
Bleyer: Well that's a pretty legitimate difference, especially with the possibility of Supreme Court nominations by Bush that could affect abortion choice. I know I've talked to people, especially young women, who want to vote Nader but are instead voting for Gore just because of the abortion issue.
Michael Moore: I understand that. They have every right to be concerned. But George W. Bush is not going to appoint justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. He hasn't done it in Texas, and that's the only track record we have to look at. He's appointed moderate justices who have upheld Texas abortion laws. He's not a right-wing ideologue, he's a politician, and he'll do whatever he has to do to get elected. He reads the poll numbers, and two-thirds of the American public is pro-choice. It is part of our American culture, it will never go away. And in fact, all of the Supreme Court decisions lately that have upheld abortion have been because the Republican, Reagan-appointed Sandra Day O'Connor, Bush-appointed David Souter and Ford-appointed Justice Stevens have all been the ones upholding abortion. One of Clinton's appointees, Breyer, is becoming very conservative. We just don't know. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren, and that became the most liberal court of the last hundred years. It's a guessing game, and I'm not going to make my choice on presidents based on this sort of thing.
The real issue with abortion is that under Clinton/Gore, they have not prosecuted the abortion terrorists the way that they should have, and as a result of the assassination of the abortion doctors and the fire bombing of the clinics, women in 84 percent of U.S. counties cannot get an abortion. There is literally nobody who will provide an abortion. In some parts of the country you have to travel hundreds of miles if you want to get an abortion. To me, what's really important isn't a piece of paper that says Roe vs. Wade, it's the reality. What good is the right if it can't be used, if it's theoretical?
The terrorists won, they've been able to outlaw abortion in most parts of the United States during a pro-choice administration with a pro-choice attorney general. That is the issue we should be talking about. I personally don't believe any president, Democrat or Republican, is going to overturn Roe vs. Wade. It's the law of the land, a generation of women have been brought up with it, not knowing any other way.
Bleyer: How would you respond to criticism from the left that says Ralph doesn't address racial issues enough?
Michael Moore: I find that kind of strange. I know him personally and I know that these issues are very important to him. First of all, let's just call him what's rarely said in this campaign. Ralph is an Arab-American. To think of an Arab-American running for president of the United States is a pretty heavy concept in terms of race in this country.
Number two, Gore did not appoint the first Jew to run as vice president, Ralph Nader did. Now I know everyone focuses on Winona's Native American heritage from her father, but her mother is one hundred percent Jewish. He appointed a woman who is Native American and Jewish to run with himself, an Arab-American. Gore has the rhetoric about race. Ralph's act of running with Winona shows that he's not just going to say it, he's going to do it.
Bleyer: What would you say to people who are still sitting on the fence, who really want to vote for Nader but are sort of ambivalent or afraid?
Michael Moore: I don't like to talk about the horse race and how to use the vote as a strategy. I'm just going to keep encouraging people to vote their conscience, not their fears. This is the most powerful thing you can do as a citizen in a democracy.
Now that the tear gas has finally settled, are you feeling down from all those clashes with cops? Exhausted from marching in oppressive heat around a strange city that you would never visit otherwise? Have a hoarse voice from arguing with corporate media who only pay attention to violence and then decry it when it happens? Don't fret, you're not alone! Even the most resilient activists take a breather every so often to treat their wounds and chill out. Balancing the pressures of today's multi-tasking activist is hard work, and you deserve more than just another long consensus meeting at the end of the day. So come in out of the pepper spray and be good to yourself by following these eight fabulous tips!!
1.Fill that renegade belly!
After a long night in jail with bologna sandwiches that are only good for forming into chess pieces, Food Not Bombs' activist "Bearclaw" suggests coconut-kale rice with fried tofu (all organic ingredients, of course,) to bone up on protein before hitting the streets again: Throw a can of coconut milk into two cups of cooked brown rice, add some shredded ginger, fresh coriander and curry and let simmer. In a frying pan, heat non-genetically modified olive oil and throw in some whole mustard seeds. Immediately add one finely diced habanero pepper and one pound of thinly sliced firm tofu. When one side gets brown, flip and add two whole bulbs of minced garlic, one chopped red onion and fresh ground pepper. Now go back to the pot of rice and add a chopped head of broccoli, with the stem, and a large bunch kale. Let that stuff steam, while adding shoyu to the tofu. "Wait for the magic to meld," says Bearclaw, "and when the rice is done, you're ready!"
2. Treat yourself to a guerrilla facial!
Tear gas is notoriously bad for your skin, clogging pores and letting toxins run wild. You need to cleanse, tone and moisturize, but forget all those expensive spa treatments! Sonya Dakar, of the Sonya Dakar Skin Care and Body Clinique in Los Angeles, suggests this yogurt-berry mask using ingredients you can find at your local health food store: Mix 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 2 tbsp. mashed strawberries, 2 tbs. whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice and 1/4 tsp. fresh ginger. Puree in a blender for sixty seconds, then spread it on your skin and let dry for fifteen minutes. Rinse well, and enjoy the benefits of firm, healed skin!
3. Take some time out for maverick yoga!
Arm strength is especially crucial for carrying signs and manipulating giant puppets. Sonya Cottle of Yoga Works in Santa Monica suggests the chadaranga posture to build and tone your upper arms: Lay flat on your stomach, with palms on the floor next to your shoulders. Push up like you're doing, well, a push-up, and hover 3-4 inches above the floor for ten breaths. Keep shoulders up, chest down and body stiff, remembering to breathe. Repeat this five times, lowering slowly to the floor in between each hold.
4. Have sex!
Not only can it relieve stress from all that hectic organizing and let you get it on with that cutie from the convergence center, but it's also a great way to feel empowered. Our Bodies, Ourselves teaches that "the erotic can be a positive source of power. The erotic not only is about what goes on in the bedroom but is about tapping into our deepest feelings and our creative energies, which run through all aspects of our lives. It can be about feeling connected - to our own strengths, to our lovers, to nature, to a higher power." So romp away, but make sure it's consensual and protected!
5. Meditate to liberate!
Hippie guru Ram Dass was spotted at the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles last week, where he conceded that meditation in the middle of a protest can cut down its boiling quality, which might not be what you want, but it can also defuse tension and pacify aggressive cops. "Focus on your breath. Slow it down as much as possible and meditate on the inhalation and exhalation," he said. "It's also good to chant om' in these situations.'"
6. Read a book!
Of course you're more informed and articulate than the simplistic mainstream pundits like to admit. But it can never hurt to bone up some more on the issues, and be reminded why you're in this fight! Juliette Beck of Global Exchange gushingly recommends When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten ("It's the anti-corporate rule activist's bible,") and No Logo by Naomi Klein ("She describes the evolution of our movement to a tee.")
7. Score some new shoes!
Duct tape can only patch up those old digs for so long, and mobility is key to scaling buildings for guerrilla banner hanging and running from riot cops. So why not stoke your toes' world? Barry Winter, a New York community garden supporter, favors hiking boots. "I like these Vasque boots," he said, "because they have a good treaded sole for quick stops and starts." Felony, a Headwaters Forest activist, interjected that she favors running shoes, "because my feet when I walk a lot and they absorb the smell." When asked what kind of running shoes, she said "anything but Nike!"
8. Redecorate your convergence center!
Last week in Los Angeles, the first thing you saw when coming into the convergence center was a sacred shrine where people placed flowers, Zapatista dolls, fruit, notes invoking their visions of the revolution and other objects of beauty. Most convergence centers are already pretty luscious, but freshen yours up with a shrine, some quiet chill-out space, and anything in shades of blue which decorators say has a calming effect.
Tuesday, August 15 -- At 6:30 PM, approximately fifty participants from the bicycle activist group Critical Mass were arrested underneath the Santa Monica freeway, at the intersection of Flower and 18th Streets. It was the largest arrest that has occurred so far during the Democratic National Convention.
The ride began at 5:45 PM and proceeded through downtown streets without incident. About 200 participants rode their bikes en masse to demonstrate simply, as one rider said, that "bikes have a right to be on the street with cars, that's all."
Participants who escaped arrest said that the bike ride was scrupulously legal in light of the overwhelming police presence in the downtown area, obeying all traffic laws and stopping at red lights. They claimed that police officers on motorcycles penned them on Flower Street, a one-way street, traveling the wrong way. Some claimed to have been knocked down by the motorcycles. At that point, they were ordered to get up against the fence and put their hands up. About 150 riders rode off onto side streets and alleys, while fifty were stopped and arrested.
As onlookers gathered to watch the arrests, which occurred a block away from Patriotic Hall where the Independent Media Center and the Shaodw Convention are being housed, at least two hundred relief officers arrived and lined the streets in full riot gear, many with tear gas and rubber bullet guns. There were no physical altercations, and nobody resisted arrest.
Ariela Gottshachlk, a Los Angeles activist who had particpated in the ride and evaded the officers, explained that she "went off into an alley and they didn't stop me. I just can't understand why people should be arrested for going down a one-way street if they were forced to go there by cops." Police would not announce the charges, and cordoned off the block as a crime scene as onlookers chanted "Ride a bike, go to jail!"
Those arrested were detained by police on the corner of 18th Street and Flower for about 3 hours, causing a tense standoff to ensue between police and protesters. A small but vocal group continued to call for the bike riders' release, while waves of heavily armed police units continued to arrive at the scene. Eventually, the handcuffed riders were taken away in school buses for processing. The Independent Media Center reports that so far, police have not revealed what charges, if any, will be brought against the arrested bicyclists.
Monday, August 14, 11:30 p.m. -- What began as a peaceful, festive march through downtown Los Angeles became violent tonight as police officers shot high-pressure water and pepper spray pellets at protesters, and later chased them down on horses while beating them with batons.
The afternoon's event began at Pershing Square, about half a mile from the Staples Center, where thousands of people converged for a march organized by Global Exchange around the theme "Human Needs Not Corporate Greed." A variety of speakers roused the crowd with speeches on issues ranging from labor rights to the prison-industrial complex, until the march finally stepped off at about 5:00. The march itself resembled a joyous political parade, with anti-nuclear group Peace Action carrying three enormous missile balloons labeled "Star Wars=New Arms Race." A local salsa band, East L.A. Sabor Factory, played on a flatbed truck, while indigenous American dancers performed in beaded costumes along the route. Hundreds of colorful puppets punctuated the crowd.
As the march wound its way to the Staples Center, the crowd swelled to several times its original size, as waves of people showed up for a free concert by Rage Against the Machine. They gathered in a paved lot only a few hundred yards from the Center which had been specially designated for protests during the week. With fifteen-foot high fences embedded in two-foot thick concrete barricades surrounding the entire perimeter of the Staples Center, there seemed to be little possibility of the crowd posing a real threat to the convention. The mood was generally one of joyous celebration and pointed, informed protest.
By the time Rage Against the Machine played, the lot was full and onlookers estimated the crowd to be upwards of 20,000, making it the largest protest so far during the Democratic National Convention. The band played about half a dozen songs to an exuberant crowd, with singer Zach de le Rocha, himself a well-known radical activist, shouting, "we have a right to oppose these motherfuckers" and directing everyone's attention to the convention center where thousands of delegates anxiously awaited speeches by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
When the band finished playing, a series of speakers took the stage to express solidarity with the U'wa people of South America, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the protesters in Philadelphia who have sat in jail since the Republican National Convention two weeks ago. A group of people began clustering against the fence on the north side of the lot, facing directly toward the Staples Center, behind which four rows of police officers stood in full riot gear, holding batons, pepper spray guns and other tactical equipment. A few people threw plastic water bottles over the fence, which popped on the ground and sprayed the officers.
A standoff that lasted at least an hour then ensued. While much of the crowd ambled off into the night, an estimated four thousand remained in the lot. A strange assortment of items found their way over the fence, including shoes, cardboard tubes, CD's, a handicapped parking sign, small bits of concrete and many plastic water bottles. In retaliation, the police opened fire at least five times on the protesters with pepper spray, which is shot in a capsule form that explodes on contact to emit a substance highly irritable to the eyes, nose and throat. In addition, they shot paintgun pellets, rubber bullets and water from a high-pressure hose through holes in the fence. A ranking police officer announced over a megaphone that the assembly had been declared unlawful, and that all those present were required to disperse or risk arrest.
The protesters remained steadfast, holding signs against the fence that called for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's inclusion in the presidential debates and an end to corporate welfare, among other things. Two young people scaled the fence and straddled it, waving black flags that symbolize anarchy. They made no attempts to jump down on the convention side of the fence.
The police officers reinforced their lines several times with additional officers, some of whom were equipped with teargas. A superior officer noted that even the officers with paintguns had teargas pellets which they could load into their guns at a moments notice. The protesters made a bonfire in the street, played drums and chanted while the police officers intermittently attacked them through the fence. Dozens of people watched the events unfold from balconies of the convention center, but only a handful of reporters from the mainstream press were present at the time, since it coincided with the Clintons' speeches.
After about an hour, the final straw of the standoff was drawn when about twenty police officers on horseback charged at the remaining few hundred protesters, many of whom were actually trying to leave the area when they were cornered. The horses stomped on people and chased them as the mounted cops swung their batons and yelled. At one point, four young Mexican-American men were thrown up against the fence by a cluster of horses while the mounted police officers beat them repeatedly with batons. The young men held their arms over their heads to protect themselves, and eventually were able to run from the attack.
Amidst torrents of screams and youths running desperately in every direction, giant television screens on the exterior of the Staples Center broadcast President Clinton delivering his much anticipated address. "America is more confident, hopeful and just, more secure and free," he said, " because we offered a vision and worked together to achieve it." Not far from his projected visage, about thirty people took refuge from the wild horses on the stage while everyone at ground level was chased south to Olympic Avenue and away from the area. The group on the stage was ordered down and detained by police officers for twenty minutes before being ordered to leave.
Once the area that two hours previous had penned in 20,000 protesters was completely empty, the convention let out and delegates saw no evidence of what had happened besides some water bottles on the ground and riot cops standing at attention.
As of the time of writing, there was no information available about arrests or injuries. The ACLU Free Speech Resource Center is available for protesters to file incident reports and solicit information about their rights at www.aclu-sc.org.
While Democratic visitors inside the posh Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel gussied themselves up for yesterday evening's events, dozens of hotel workers and hundreds of supporters rallied outside the hotel for their right to organize. Taking advantage of this week's national spotlight on Los Angeles to publicize their struggle, the rally, which was sponsored by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 814, included appearances by Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Attempts to organize Loews' three hundred low-income workers took off last year after a contentious labor dispute with another luxury Santa Monica hotel, the Fairmont Miramar, was settled. The Loews' workers formed an organizing committee which went public on May 25, 2000 with a rally and a campaign to educate fellow workers about the benefits of a union. Loews immediately clamped down on their efforts.
According to workers, they were subjected to relentless threats and intimidation by the management aimed at deterring them from unionizing. The hotel hired union-busting firm Cruz & Associates, which had previously led the anti-union campaign at the Fairmont Miramar, and held meetings in which workers were forced to listen to anti-union admonishments. Workers who spoke at the rally said they were forbidden from talking about wages amongst each other, and from wearing pro-union buttons. HERE has filed 22 charges against Loews alleging violations of labor law, and the workers have remained steadfast in their organizing efforts.
Sunday's rally was a peaceful affair heightened with gospel singing and upbeat chants of "Si se puede," or "Yes we can." Mothers brought their children, and all of the speeches were translated into Spanish. Rally organizers made it clear through flyers and announcements that they were not calling for a boycott of Loews Hotel during the convention, but rather asking hotel guests to support the workers by wearing buttons and signing an Open Letter to Loews Hotel Corporation.
The only threatening aspect of the rally, in fact, was its outlandish police presence. Standing blockade-style in front of Loews' pristine landscaping and circular valet drive was a row of police officers in full riot gear, their helmet covers down and their batons in hand. Mounted police hemmed in the rally with their horses, and a handful of men with dark sunglasses and earpieces stood silent amidst the crowd.
Senator Paul Wellstone cited his own history of defending immigrant workers in Minnesota, and earned exuberant applause when he announced an amendment he plans to add to the highly controversial China trade bill which would enforce workers' rights to organize. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer spoke as well, denouncing Loews' union-busting tactics.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney focused on the glaring social stratification between the class of people who own and patronize Loews' Santa Monica Beach Hotel, and the workers who keep it running. "Behind me you see great wealth and great beauty. People are relaxing in the sunshine, eating, drinking and enjoying life. Meanwhile, behind the glitz of this hotel, there are other people cleaning toilets, washing dishes and making beds," he said. "How can a hotel rent a room for $250 a night and pay workers five dollars to clean that room? This company has no dignity, this conglomerate knows no shame."
The conglomerate to which Sweeney referred was the hotel's parent company, Loews Corporation, which also owns Diamond Offshore Drilling, one of the world's largest offshore oil drilling companies, and Lorillard Inc., the manufacturer of Newport cigarettes. Another corporate link which contributed to the timing of yesterday's rally is the fact that Loews' Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch is a major contributor to Al Gore's presidential campaign, and -- rumor has it -- the designated chair of his inaugural committee. Fellow Democrats asserted that Tisch should immediately end the dispute between the hotel and its workers in accordance with Democratic pro-labor principles.
Not all Loews workers are behind the organizing effort. While Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke, about fifteen hotel employees stood behind holding handwritten cardboard signs that read "We don't want a union!" and chanting their dissent with their co-workers. Blanca Esquival, a room service operator at Loews for four years, was adamant in her opposition to the union. "I'm good enough to speak for myself, I don't need to pay thirty dollars for someone I don't know to do it for me," she said. "These people don't care about us. Look, they're upsetting our guests and we have to answer to them because of it." Members of the Loews organizing committee claimed that these workers were family members of the hotel's managers who had been set up to counter-protest, and did not represent the majority of workers' sentiments.
The conflict at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is part of a much larger politicized struggle in the area. Santa Monica's tourist industry has only boomed in the last yen years, now employing three thousand low-wage workers in its designated tourist zone. Beginning in 1998, an alliance of Santa Monicans formed to study and formulate a living wage platform on behalf of the workers. The Santa Monica Living Wage Coalition's platform provided, among other things, that companies of fifty or more within the coastal zone pay employees a living wage of $10.69 per hour. They sent their platform to the City Council for review, and received a sympathetic response.
In retaliation, the luxury hotels of Santa Monica formed the deceptively named "Santa Monicans for a Living Wage," and spent more than $400,000 to put a measure on November's ballot that would provide nominal pay increases to only 200 workers, none of them from the hotel industry, and prevent the City Countil from enacting the Santa Monica Living Wage Coalition's platform.
Vivian Rothstein, a member of the steering committee which supported the original platform, noted that the phony wage initiative being pumped by the hotel industry is having an effect. "They have a very slick PR campaign," Rothstein said. "They've sent out multiple mailings and just took out a $70,000 ad in the L.A. Times. They're defusing attention from the heart of their initiative, which is that it would permanently prevent City Council from ever passing a real living wage law."
Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel has been spearheading the phony wage initiative, investing $125,000 in the effort which is more than any other single hotel's contribution. As the sun set over Loews' yesterday evening, however, it seemed that the tides may soon change.
If, like me, you don't frequent executive boardrooms, cattle ranches, Catholic churches or the Upper East Side of Manhattan, you may never have seen a registered Republican.
Indeed, they are elusive figures. In television specials presenting them in their natural habitats, one notices how deftly they camouflage themselves against the surface of a yacht or an oil field, how delicately they prey on a mutinous shareholder. They are fascinating creatures, and it was impossible to resist going on safari to observe their fleshly presence in the wilds of Philadelphia.
They were spotted devouring sandwiches under the "Wawa Hoagie Day" tent, demonstrating that the words "free food" elicit a ravenous primal response regardless of income level. They were later seen pouring drunk out of a Young Republican party, displaying their particular brand of humor to the stonefaced hipsters on trendy South Street ("You must be a conservative, am I right?" they guffawed with no response.)
After so much frolicking around town, the Republican-at-play was finally traced to Delilah's, Philadelphia's premier gentleman's club. Delilah's is, as they say in the business, a really classy joint. Large tuxedoed men hold open the door and escort guests through a metal detector. The main room is a cavernous space that seats two hundred comfortably, with a sixty-foot runway decorated in patriotic red, white and blue streamers and a banner reading "Welcome GOP Delegates!"
Three or four nude girls writhe at a time onstage as others extend their hospitality to men around the room. Our subject Republicans were spotted in their requisite khakis and polo shirts, swilling Budweisers and taking in the scenery.
On my first night observing Republicans at Delilah's, a flock came in with some of their woman Republican friends. The ladies sipped cocktails, their blond hair in headbands and legs crossed at the ankles. They cooed politely when the dancers climbed the brass pole and slid down it suggestively. The men sat at the side of the stage, simultaneously talking on their cellphones and tucking dollars into g-strings, demonstrating the multitasking aptitude of the twenty-first century Republican.
One of them was overheard saying "look who just came in over on your right, the former White House..." The end of his sentence was drowned out by the infectious beat of the Thong Song, and the lanky bespectacled man to whom he referred disappeared into a private room with a lithe black dancer with small perky breasts. A black dancer! Surely a demonstration of General Colin Powell's promise that the Republicans will "earn the mantle of Lincoln" and "help bridge our racial divides."
The dancer reappeared after an hour without her customer, and I asked where he went. "Well, he asked me if I would go home with him. I was like, no, I don't do that. Then he asked me if any of the girls here do that, and I was like no, so he left." She told me his name, and indeed, he was a former Reagan White House staffer, now skulking back into the surrounding city.
On night two at Delilah's, three young Republicans were drooling over a size-DD blonde in six-inch spike heels when an image of George W. Bush was projected on the giant TV screen behind the stage. "I feel like I'm back at the convention!" they shouted, cheering and clapping. The girls onstage, confused, responded with extra-ferocious jiggles.
A cluster of Republicans in the corner took a particular liking to a beautiful short-haired brunette, who looked vaguely like Rick Lazio with a boob job. One of them went off with her for a private dance, and she came out seeming exasperated, gesticulating wildly to a bouncer. True to the rigors of scientific inquiry, I asked what had happened.
"Oh, he just kept trying to put his hands on me, and I kept having to push him back. We don't allow touching at Delilah's, and he just didn't get it. But he tipped me well, that's for sure." Ah, Republicans are good tippers! And people call them greedy bastards who hoard the nation's wealth. Rubbish!
I spent one last evening at Delilah's. A small herd of Republicans sat transfixed by a curvy Hawaiian dancer. Her breasts were like huge effervescent balloons; it seemed that at any moment, she would float toward the sky, lifted by their amazing buoyancy. I asked one of them how the convention was going so far. "Oh, it's just great. I only managed to get in because I'm an elected official, and it's just such an honor to be there. So, do you work here?"
A blonde dancer came and sat on his lap, and he grinned broadly into her cleavage. But he didn't have inappropriate relations or do anything funny with a cigar, somehow confirming Dick Cheney's vow that the Republican Party will restore "decency and integrity to the Oval Office."
Indeed, three days watching the mysterious Republican at Delilah's revealed them as racially sensitive, financially generous, and morally upstanding creatures. Onward to Washington in November!
As the Republican National Convention started whipping itself into a masturbatory frenzy yesterday, thousands of activists spent the afternoon regrouping, recuperating, and reflecting.
It was a busy morning, during which over five thousand protesters joined the Kensington Welfare Rights Union's march for Economic Human Rights. Their peaceful march from City Hall to the convention center was marred only by a few tense confrontations with the police, and the inexplicably bizarre appearance of Newt Gingrich outside a White Castle along the route. After reaching the convention center under intense midday heat, people dispersed around Philadelphia to rest and strategize.
At the William Way Community Center, a gay and lesbian community center that has opened its facilities to visiting activists, twenty young participants in Philadelphia Freedom Summer, an annual program of the local chapter of Refuse and Resist, sat on the floor with the day's newspapers sprawled out in front of them.
"Hey look, that's me!" one yelled, pointing to a photograph as they all leaned in for a closer look. Barucha Peller, 17, said that this is her third summer traveling up from Washington D.C. to participate in Freedom Summer. Although she had fun jumping into a city fountain with 200 others during the Unity 2000 march on Sunday ("I thought, this is what it will be like after the revolution!") and relished breaking up the anti-choice "Chain of Life" demonstration the same day ("Yeah, we messed with them,") she wondered about the effectiveness of this bevy of protests.
"There's so much going on here, but I think that we have to keep in mind that all our protests are really not going to affect the Republicans," she said. "The government has never willingly changed to compromise its own power, it's always had to come from the people, from the grassroots."
A few miles away at another convergence site, the Community Education Center on Lancaster Road, activists rested in the shade, fixed punctured bike tires and perused a table of information on genetic engineering. Ronald Coleman, 30, works at the local anarchist bookstore Wooden Shoe, and echoed Peller's desire to maintain an accurate gauge of the protests' effectiveness.
"I was at the the April 16th demonstration against the IMF and World Bank in Washington, and I feel here the same way I did there," he said. "This movement doesn't seem to have any central organization. We need to ask ourselves, Where do we go from here? What exactly do we want? At the end of this tunnel what kind of society do we want to see?" Coleman has so far steered clear of the big protests, instead choosing to do volunteer security at the convergence site during its full schedule of legal trainings, direct action classes and planning meetings.
On an empty grass lot tucked in a poor residential area of West Philadelphia, some people demonstrated exactly what kind of society they want to see at the end of the activist tunnel. From a yellow schoolbus equipped with a full restaurant-capacity kitchen, a colorful band of people who identified themselves as "Everybody's Kitchen" ladeled out split pea soup and loaded plates with fresh salad, grilled tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob and cinnamon buns for a grateful mix of protesters and locals. Harold James, 69, is an elderly resident of West Philadelphia who declared that Everybody's Kitchen trumped the RNC hands down.
"They might have brought some money into the city, but the Republicans is against poor people. They're all about business," he said, enjoying a bowl of soup. "But I think this bus is a darn good idea, and let me tell you, the food is swell."
Everybody's Kitchen set up its operation in Philadelphia a week ago, and on its first day five patrol cars showed up to harass them. Once the police officers saw that they were just feeding people and cleaning up the lot, however, they left and haven't returned. Since then, Everybody's Kitchen has been serving up free vegetarian meals from morning to night, creating positive relationships with the surrounding neighbors (who incidentally love their food), and preparing the ground for a community garden on a corner of the lot.
One kitchen helper who wanted to remain anonymous while serving salad said, smiling, "we're not political, we just feed people. This is our protest." As the convention churns on, protesters are remembering that it's not just about demonstrating against the Republican National Convention, but also demonstrating how a society committed to freedom, justice and cooperation would actually look.
Jesse Jackson commanded the entire auditorium in a booming chant of "Schools, not Jails!" Al Franken, costumed as the sappy "Stuart" he played on Saturday Night Live, said that drug users shouldn't be imprisoned, but rather put into twelve-step programs to realize that they're good enough, they're smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like them. But the most important guests at the Shadow Convention on Tuesday were the scores of family members of people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.
They came from New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. to this day of events organized by the Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation, the leading independent drug policy institute in the U.S. They were mostly black and Hispanic women -- the wives, mothers and sisters of young men imprisoned at rates wildly disproportionate to their percentage within the U.S. population, as well as within the population of illicit drug users. They came with their kids, whom they struggle to raise alone, and they held placards with photos of their loved ones behind bars.
"Hello, I'm here on behalf of my brother Harry Peak, who is currently serving two life sentences and two years for a non-violent drug offense."
"Hello, my name is Sylvia and I'm representing my brother David Colon, who is serving a ten year sentence for a non-violent drug offense."
One by one, they stood onstage and announced this dismal roll call of names and prison sentences. Many seemed shy, unaccustomed to speaking into microphones and standing under bright television lights. But they did it anyway, determined to publicize the causalities of the drug war.
Jackie Diaz' husband Ricardo was seventeen years old in 1989 when he was arrested in Rochester, New York. He had been working at a local construction company, Jackie was pregnant and working at a supermarket, and they were barely getting by. "His friend came by with the opportunity for fast money, easy money, and he jumped on it. It was his first offense. He had never done anything like that before," said Jackie. Ricardo transported a package containing two ounces of cocaine, an amount which landed him a mandatory sentence of fifteen years to life under New York's Rockefeller drug laws.
After eleven years in various prisons, Ricardo Diaz is now locked up in Sing-Sing, six hundred miles from Rochester, precluding his family from making frequent visits. Jackie Diaz, now 31, has been hospitalized for suicidal behavior and currently takes anti-depression medication, and their eleven year-old daughter Porshia is in anger-management therapy due to her feelings about her father's predicament. Jackie remains in close phone contact with Ricardo, who told her about Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Washington-based national organization that brought many family members to the Shadow Convention yesterday. Through her involvement with FAMM, Jackie has confronted many of the glaring injustices of her husband's case.
"When I was sitting in that courtroom with him, I saw white people come in on the same charges and the judge was much more lenient with them," she said. "We've tried to file an appeal but most lawyers won't touch the case. My husband should not be in jail. Taking a non-violent person and putting him in a violent prison isn't the answer. He was only seventeen, he was just trying to provide for his family."
Denise Clark, 31, also came to the convention with FAMM from Rochester. When she was twenty-one and pregnant, her husband Anson Clark, then nineteen, was caught transporting a small amount of cocaine as an owed favor to a friend. He was not a drug user and had no previous record, yet under the Rockefeller drug laws he was sentenced to fifteen years to life. Now thirty, Anson calls Denise from prison for emotional support almost every day, and in fact called her at the Shadow Convention on her cellphone. For a man who spent every day of his 20's in jail, he sounded surprisingly upbeat and optimistic.
"I feel like I was young and stupid, but I had never been in the court system before and I don't feel like my sentence was fair," he said over the phone. "I just want to come home and be a good husband a good father to my child."
Men, of course, are not the only victims of what Ernie Preate, former Pennsylvania Attorney General and outspoken opponent of mandatory minimums, called this country's "hellbent incarceration binge." Tamika Gates' mother, Jackie, was on welfare with seven kids in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota when someone tempted her with the opportunity to make money transporting a kilo of cocaine from Chicago. She was caught on a Greyhound bus and sentenced to five to ten years in prison. Tamika, 21, has taken care of her six younger siblings for the past four years. She works part-time at a department store, attends community college, and has gotten involved with the Minnesota-based organization Federal Females Organizing and Restoring Unity for Mothers (FFORUM).
"We're always going to feel the effects in our hearts of having lived without our mother," Tamika said about their family. "When they sentenced our mom to five to ten years, it's like they sentenced us to life." Indeed, as the government spends upwards of $40 billion annually to fight the failing drug war, these family members are a potent reminder that the prisoners of this war number more than just those in jail.
From the vantage point of the City Center, Philadelphia looks like a picture of urban vibrancy. The Liberty Bell is ensconced in a sleek glass museum and its surrounding historical neighborhoods are quaint and well-restored. The grass is green, the trees pruned, the streets scrubbed clean. Interesting public artworks dot the landscape. Patriotic bunting ruffles the edges of buildings. But the Kensington Welfare Rights Union won't let you be deceived.
"There are 250,000 families living below the poverty line in Philadelphia, and 40,000 abandoned houses that the city has boarded up. That's an incredible disconnect that the Republicans won't be talking about this week!" shouts activist Tamzin Cheshire. She's standing at the head of a yellow school bus crammed full of people on the KWRU's "Reality Tour" of Philadelphia, and as it rolls away from the prim City Center, you can't help but notice how quickly the urban vibrancy turns into urban blight.
The first stop on the tour is "Bushville," a makeshift tent city that the KWRU has erected on a gravel lot strewn with broken glass in North Philadelphia. Tent cities are a tactic that this radical anti-poverty group has used for years as a practical and immediate solution to homelessness, as well as a media stunt to draw attention to the problem. They began setting up Bushville in one North Philadelphia location last Thursday, when the police came by with a man who claimed to own the property and ordered them to leave. (This alleged owner only had an "agreement to sale," meaning that the city was still the actual owner of the property.) KWRU maneuvered deftly around the police pressure, and moved Bushville to a clearly city-owned lot.
Cheshire steps up to introduce the mayor of Bushville, Liz Ortiz, a Latina woman in bike shorts and a loose ponytail. "I was homeless and on welfare for two years," Ortiz says. "I wanted to go into the shelter system with my three kids, but they were going to separate my eighteen year old from us, so I said no. Now I got my own house, thank God, but when I was on welfare I never knew when welfare reforms would take it all away."
The tour ambles on through Kensington, the neighborhood that was once Philadelphia's industrial heart and is now its nexus of economic depression. "On your right, you'll see the abandoned Schmidt's Brewery," Cheshire announces, pointing to a factory filling an entire city block, overgrown with weeds and covered with graffiti. "When it was abandoned in the 1980's, 1400 people lost their jobs. People who used to work at Schmidt's became homeless and started living there. If you come here early in the morning, you'll see people coming out of the building. If you look closely, you can see their laundry hanging up to dry inside."
Schmidt's fate has mirrored that of countless other factories in Philadelphia. As companies realized they could procure cheaper and less regulated labor elsewhere, they packed up their factories and left behind toxic waste, decrepit buildings and unemployed workers. KWRU estimates that Philadelphia has lost over 270,000 jobs in the last thirty years. "Ever since the factories closed down and the jobs left, the number one income here has been welfare," Cheshire says, noting that the Republican party and other welfare reform supporters have constructed their fantasy of the lazy welfare queen with blatant disregard for all those whose jobs were snatched from under their noses.
The tour keeps moving, past rows of crumbling buildings and rubble-filled lots. Where there were once banks, stores and groceries there are now only check cashing spots, pawn shops and liquor stores. A reporter from the BBC remarks on how different this tour is from the trolley tours being given by the Republican National Convention's host committee. Local graduate students, he says, have been taking the press and visiting delegates on a whitewashed sojourn around the city. "They showed us how old buildings have been renovated into new hotels. They took us to this eighteenth century tavern where people in period costume gave us little mincemeat pies. It was clearly promotional, not a well-rounded description of Philadelphia at all." He remarks that at one point, his trolley ran a brief stretch through poverty-stricken Philly, and the tour guides were suspiciously silent.
The last stop on the reality tour is St. Edward's Church, one of nine churches and service centers in the community that have been shut down by the Catholic Archdiocese. It is a cavernous building with a baroque exterior and stained glass windows which, after ten years of abandonment, was squatted by sixty three homeless families who were members of the KWRU. The Catholic church was none too pleased. "The archdiocese came in here and gave us forty-eight hours to get out," says one formerly homeless mother who was among the church squatters. "The KWRU mobilized and got us some media attention, so we ended up staying here for six months. Then winter came and it got too cold inside, so we took over HUD houses. HUD houses are perfectly good houses that get boarded up when the owner can't pay the taxes on them. So we took them over." The yellow schoolbus drives back to the squeaky clean center of Philadelphia, where the Republican National Convention prepares its endless trope about America's booming economic prosperity. Less than two miles away, however, thousands of people have not reaped any of this alleged prosperity, and rest assured that their stories will be conspicuously absent from the podium this week.