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Thousands Once Again Rally for Ralph Nader in Oregon; Chicago Is Coming Up This Weekend. What’s Going On? He Calls It Democracy Rising: A Conversation with Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke

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Seven thousand five hundred cheering people greeted former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday night, in what was his first major political event since last year’s election.

Last year, a similar rally in Portland launched a series of “super rallies” around the country for his presidential campaign. This time, the Portland event is meant to launch a new “grassroots movement” called Democracy Rising. More rallies are expected around the country.

In his hourlong speech, Nader urged audience members to harness citizens’ discontent with corporate-led globalization, the corruption of the political system, the destruction of the environment, low-paying jobs and poverty.

Outside, two dozen people protested, claiming that Nader’s presidential run did little more than hand the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, 7,500 cheering people greeted former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday night in what was his first major political event since last year’s election. Last year, a similar rally in Portland launched a series of super rallies around the country for his presidential campaign. This time, the Portland event is meant to launch a new grassroots movement called Democracy Rising. On Friday night, there will be another of these rallies in Chicago. In his hourlong speech, Nader urged audience members to harness citizens’ discontent with corporate-led globalization, the corruption of the political system, the destruction of the environment, low-paying jobs and poverty. Outside, two dozen people protested, claiming Nader’s presidential run did little more than hand the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

Well, we’re joined on the phone right now by Ralph Nader. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RALPH NADER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, what is this new series of rallies and this organization that you have? What are you planning to do with it?

RALPH NADER: Well, it’s an effort to replenish the reservoir of democratic activity. Our democracy has been seriously eroded through the concentration of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, especially during the so-called economic boom over the last 20 years. There’s less access to more diverse media. The Congress is more under the influence of money than ever before, as is the rest of the election institutions. And we’ve just got to regenerate a new generation of leadership. We’ve got to get more people involved.

In Portland, there were over 100 citizen organizations in Oregon who had — each had tables and materials and signup sheets, working on poverty, working on civil rights, on prison reform, on genetically engineered labeling of foods, on universal health insurance. Both of those two latter points will be on the ballot in Oregon in November of 2002. So we hope to carry this around the country. And this Friday, the Campus Greens, who already have to 200 chapters at colleges and universities around the country, and are going for 900 by the end of the year, are having a 3,000-person rally to establish their founding convention in Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, we continue with Ralph Nader, and he will be joined by Winona LaDuke from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. After that, Kathy Kelly joins us in the studio. She’s begun a 40-day fast against sanctions against Iraq. You’re listening to Democracy Now! here on Pacifica Radio. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! on Pacifica Radio. This is Free Speech Radio. I’m Amy Goodman, and we’re on the line in Washington with Ralph Nader, Green Party presidential candidate in the last election. Also joining us, from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, is Winona LaDuke, community activist, writer, former vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader. She is an Ojibwe Native American.

I want to ask you, Ralph Nader, and also put the question to Winona — well, I guess the attitude is pretty much summarized in Mother Jones magazine in the piece they did on you, Ralph, called “Nader Unrepentant: With longtime allies attacking him for costing Democrats the White House, can Ralph Nader regain his status as the nation’s leading public advocate?” It goes on to say, “For the first time in his life, Nader is persona non grata on much of the political left” and that you are trying to woo back progressive Democrats who are extremely angry. What are you doing? And is this a fair characterization of what’s happened?

RALPH NADER: It’s a little overdrawn. Most of the bickering is inside the Beltway or in Manhattan from loyalists to the Democratic Party who never are able to draw a line beyond which they will say, “Enough is enough,” in terms of the decay of the party and its subordination to corporatism and its increasing lookalikeism with the Republican Party.

So, we’re focusing on the major next stage of advance in the United States, which is strengthening our democracy in a variety of ways, facilitating the banding together of workers into labor unions by repealing Taft-Hartley, facilitating the banding together of consumers in all areas of the consumer economy, public financing of public elections, universal healthcare, the demilitarization of our federal budget in the post-Cold War period, the end of corporate welfare, subsidies, giveaways, so we can deploy public budgets and taxpayer money to serious issues back in the community, such as the repair of our public works, and a major effort to abolish poverty. Other Western European countries have essentially abolished poverty, certainly as we know it in the United States. And the Economic Policy Institute just came out with a report saying that in spite of 20 years’ economic boom, one out of every three families with young children in the United States cannot afford the basic necessities of life, like healthcare, food and shelter. So we’re focusing on all this.

If the Democrats want to play their little games, they can certainly do that. If they want to thank the Greens for getting them control the Senate by the spillover vote in Washington state that elected Maria Cantwell over Senator Gorton and brought the Senate to 50/50, which set the stage for Senator Jeffords to switch and give the control of the Senate to the Democrats, we’ll certainly take that. But the Democrats are going to have to get used to being challenged by their progressive voters, who will no longer be told that they got nowhere to go and they have to support the Democrats because the Democrats aren’t quite as bad as the Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking about mothers with children, I do hear a baby in the background. Winona, I assume that’s your baby. Winona LaDuke on the White Earth Reservation, what about the last election? You were vice-presidential candidate? The fact that there were — a relatively small part of your voters were Black and Latino, people of color in this country. Why do you think that is? And what are your plans as you move forward now with this organization, Democracy Rising?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, for instance, in Florida, there might have been more Black voters if they could have voted, you know, in some of these places. In Montana, we did a lot of work on getting out the Indian vote, which is something that is not really considered. And we — over our work this last year in the grassroots sector to get out the Indian vote, we got out six Indians elected to the Montana Legislature this last time, who were progressive. They were Democrats, but they were — one of the things that we’ve noticed is that, by and large, a lot of our communities have been politically quite disenfranchised. And so that is one piece of strategy that a lot of the Native and the other communities are looking at, is how to build a stronger political base over the next years, to begin in these communities where you have large Indian populations or large Native populations, but no Indians elected, to challenge that.

Why? You know, I think that there’s a lot of pieces of work that we need to do in our movement, to ally ourselves, to build our own inroads into our communities, to engage in a political dialogue about where we are going as communities and who our allies are and how we strengthen ourselves. And I think that that is some of the work that — that’s some of the work that I’m working on in the next few years.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of response have you gotten since the race as you travel around the country and as you just live on the reservation?

WINONA LADUKE: Well, I’ll tell you, my reservation is — you know, I mean, I can’t speak for the whole reservation. We’re pretty diverse. But, you know, there’s a lot of people that really think that it’s remarkable that things seem to be changing, that there seem to be — you know, that this is the first time since like Eugene Debs that a progressive party got this many votes in this country. And that is a pretty significant thing, considering the tide of American politics, so kind of the growth of that, and that, you know, some hometown girl from their community, who no one would ever think, you know, because, by and large, politicians are white men who live in the Beltway, you know, kind of in the mind of most Native people and in the mind of, you know, I would say, many people of color. So, you know, that, in itself, my community thinks is important.

You know, more broadly in the Native community, the Native community is very exasperated with the Bush administration, whether it is, you know, the impact upon us in terms of decline in public services, you know, those kinds of things, but many of those were set in place. I mean, welfare reform was very devastating to the Native community, and that was during the Clinton administration. But now one of the big issues that we’re working on is energy policy. And, of course, you know, combusting and nukes are really bad for Native people in terms of having vast uranium resources and living in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or being in places like Montana, that the federal government gave away all the coal and methane to the big corporations. So, we are, you know, in a continuing predator-prey situation, where we are the prey. And looking around for legal and policy and administrative recourse during this era, you know, is an immense challenge for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, would you say that George Bush stole the election?

RALPH NADER: Well, just running off what Winona was saying, mentioning in Florida, first of all, everybody knows that Gore won the popular vote by 540,000 votes. The Electoral College battle went down to Florida, and I think the Democratically controlled counties of South Florida really betrayed Gore. They didn’t meet the Florida Supreme Court deadline for the recount, one, because they just refused to recount Dade County, and Palm Beach took Thanksgiving off and missed the deadline by a few hours. So I would say it was a combination of astute maneuvering by James Baker and Bush’s allies and, in a way, almost sabotage by the Democratically controlled counties in South Florida.

What it did was reveal the entire election machinery chicanery that shows itself in many places around the country — New Mexico and Chicago and elsewhere — which, of course, led to the Carter Commission report last week, and which we all hope will lead to a rationalization and a uniformity of design and a full access to the estimated 4 to 5 million people in this country who were excluded by this deficient and manipulative election machinery at the precinct level.

AMY GOODMAN: What specifically are you recommending in this country to change what has looked like, and specifically in Florida, as a serious, disproportionate — having serious, disproportionate impact on African Americans? And, of course, it’s not just done in Florida.

RALPH NADER: Well, one is, I’ve never understood why there have to be so many different state standards for federal elections. You have federal elections, there should be federal standards. So the ballot should be uniform, and other systems should be uniformly established by federal authority for federal elections. Not for state elections, but for federal elections.

The second is that they’ve got to deal with the disenfranchisement of people who have paid their penalties in jail and are out and are stripped or impeded in their right to vote after they’ve served their term and returned to normal life. And that, of course, is used often to strike from the rolls people who aren’t felons and never were felons. And that was shown in Florida, as well.

The third is just the logistics of precincts. Some of the precincts are too large. In Canada, no precinct is more than 500 voters. That’s why by 11 o’clock at night in this gigantic country on Election Day in Canada, using paper ballots and marking the ballots with an X by the voters, they know who won the elections. And maybe without going into heavy high-tech stuff, we can look to Canada, which is low-tech and which does it. And when the precincts address moves, all that should be noted, so that people don’t show up and say, “Oh, you’re in the wrong precinct. This has moved,” or “This precinct is no longer here.” So, these are some of the things that need to be done. The ballots have got to be made very simple, so that anybody can use them.

AMY GOODMAN: Winona LaDuke, are you and Ralph Nader planning to run again?

WINONA LADUKE: We will see. We will keep building our work in the Green Party, as well as just in general citizen activism. And I’m going to be encouraging a lot of folks to run for office. And then, in a little while here, I’m going to talk to Ralph, and we’re going to see what’s up.

RALPH NADER: We’re going to see probably over a thousand Greens, easily, running for office next year at the local and state level. They’re beginning to win. Five Greens in Wisconsin ran in Milwaukee and Madison and won, five out of five, this last spring. Three out of three won in Massachusetts. You’re seeing a great opportunity. You know, there are over 2 million elective offices in our country — the water authority, the development authority, the city council.

WINONA LADUKE: The drain authorities.

RALPH NADER: You know, just there’s no end to the opportunities. I tell the Greens, “You’ve got 2 million seats open for you to challenge. Go for it.”

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you both for being with us, the former Green Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.

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