by Randolph T. Holhut
still haven't stopped squawking about how the Green Party's Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election.
But while the Democrats are pushing even further to right, Nader is still reminding the timid liberals and party hacks seething over George W. Bush that more defeats are coming unless the party reconnects with its progressive base.
Nader recently announced the formation of a new political organization called Democracy Rising. Speaking in Portland, Oregon, in the first of several planned rallies in cities around the country, Nader drew more than 7,000 people who paid up to $10 to come and listen to his vision of a fired-up electorate that wants to hear something more than the same old warmed-over centrism of the Democrats.
He dismissed the criticism he's gotten over the last few months. "All this talk really comes down to one issue," he said. "They don't think the Democrats should be challenged by any party of the progressive wing. They haven't been challenged since 1948, with Henry Wallace's Progressive Party. They've gotten used to not being challenged. They've gotten used to telling progressives they have no place to go."
That's certainly what happened in 2000 with Al Gore, one of most singularly unappealing presidential candidates in years. Campaigning on a platform that was only slightly more moderate than Bush's, progressives were honestly repelled over the prospect of another four years of Bill Clinton's Republican ideas with a Democratic face.
Sure, Nader didn't stand a chance of winning. That didn't stop 2.7 million people from voting for him, including many who would sat out the election if it were simply a choice between Gore and Bush.
But Nader rightly recognizes that the problem right now isn't Bush, it's the stranglehold that corporate money has over the political process; money that keeps both parties in line.
That's why Democracy Rising is not so much focused on presidential politics as it is getting the people who are disgusted with politics as usual to get involved and work to change the system.
The first step is changing the electoral process to give third party candidates a chance through proportional voting and instant run-off elections. Another is to bypass the electoral process and work on citizen initiative campaigns - such as establishing universal health care, abolition of the death penalty and the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Democracy Rising's goal is to get at least one million people to give at least $100 and volunteering 100 hours each to grassroots progressive causes. It's not an impossible goal. The more we see of the various ways that the politicians and their corporate patrons are selling us out, the more we see people getting inspired to change things.
In the two years since the WTO protests in Seattle, we've seen a coming together of students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists and other concerned citizens who see the destructive economic and environmental decisions being made by the world's leaders and have decided to take a stand. They know that social change is ultimately made in the streets by people willing to risk everything, including their lives, to fight for what is right and just.
If the Democrats think that Joe Lieberman, or another center-right mediocrity like him, is the key to winning the presidency in 2004, they are mistaken. The political scene is shifting. After watching the Republicans steal the presidential election and then proceed to run roughshod over democracy here and abroad, even the non-activists are getting disgusted. The folks in the middle who might voted for Bush out of disgust with Bill Clinton and Al Gore and believed in Bush's professed compassionate conservatism are now seeing they been had.
The hard won gains of the 20th century -- child labor laws, the minimum wage, Social Security, equal rights for women and minorities, cleaner air and water, broader access to higher education -- are all things that are firmly supported by a majority of Americans. They are also all under siege by the reactionaries who have made no secret of their desire to turn back the clock to 1900 and wipe away the social and economic progress of the last 100 years.
The political pendulum is swinging away from the conservative plunderers, and Nader is ready to take advantage by harnessing the anger and frustration of those sick of seeing our democracy being trashed and channeling it into social and political change. The Democrats would be wise to tap into it, rather than ridicule it.
August 20, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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