It's a presidential election year, and an added attraction this year is a strong alternative party candidate, Green Party's Ralph Nader. This is certainly not a first in the history of the U.S., though standard history books don't tell about candidates like the Socialist Party's Eugene Debs, who received almost a million votes in 1912 while he was serving time as a political prisoner, or that in 1914 the state of Oklahoma elected over a hundred Socialists to local and state offices. But as a member of the baby boomer generation, a credible alternative party candidate is a unique election phenomenon, and tremendously exciting.
Nader's candidacy brings a new set of issues to the political arena, even before we start talking about domestic and foreign policy positions. Access to the public is a critical point. While the extent and type of voter contact, for both Republicans and Democrats, is driven by available money, the American public is well informed by the media - TV, radio, and print - without cost to the candidates, that there is a Democrat and a Republican in the race. The lack of coverage of alternative party candidates creates the public perception that they aren't viable, regardless of their platform, ability or personal credibility.
Creating this perception is intentional, not by chance or a consequence of other factors. For example, the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation controlled by the two parties and funded by large corporations (Anheuser-Busch gave $550,000 to become sole sponsor for one debate) limit participation by requiring candidates to have at least 15% support in five national polls. Given the corporate media blackout of alternative party candidates, this is almost impossible.
One striking twist this year is the growing demand by voters of all persuasions to open the television debates to Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchannan. This is an unlikely coalition, growing out of the recognition and resentment by American voters of the censorship of discussion among the people who are legitimate contenders in the arena of political leadership. And it is the continuing manifestation of the American people awakening to the result of extreme corruption within our government and its sinister alliance with big money interests.
Last November, Seattle was a benchmark in this current swell of activism. The successful shut down of the World Trade Organization surprised protesters, government, global corporations, and the international community, as well as politicizing and activating thousands of people, and expanding and strengthening coalitions. The momentum of public protest carried on in Washington DC in April against the World Bank/International Monetary Fund, in Philadelphia in July during the Republican National Convention, and in Los Angeles in August during the Democratic National Convention.
And now, all over the country record crowds are turning out to hear Ralph Nader, who speaks directly to issues like energy policy, health care, meaningful campaign finance reform, limiting corporate power and bringing democracy back to the people, issues which are avoided by the string of candidates paraded before us over the years. Nader offers an analysis that rings true for what's wrong in this country and what needs to change.
Voting for Nader is voting for critical, fundamental change in our political system, regardless of whether or not he wins. With enough votes, the Green Party will become a recognized official national party, with all the benefits (federal funding, media coverage, inclusion in the debates) now bestowed only on the Republicans and Democrats. The American voters will have a real choice in 2004, and our electoral system is too important to be short sighted about. Even in the short run, a strong Nader vote will move the agenda for whichever party takes the White House this year, as they respond to public opinion.
The year 2000...The Year of the Dragon. Is this the year of revolution here in the United States? Can we manifest this revolution at the ballot box? It's got my vote.
Copyright Mendocino Environmental Center 2000
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited