PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 5 "We've got to raise our expectation level, folks!" Ralph Nader shouted to a thunderous ovation here on Saturday night at what he billed as the first major rally to kick off a new "grass-roots movement" that he calls Democracy Rising. "We've got to raise our expectations!"
"Our elections are not for sale!" said Mr. Nader, applause from the crowd of 7,500 people nearly drowning him out. "Our democracy is not for sale! Our government is not for sale! Our children are not for sale! Our environment, not for sale!"
Ralph Nader, right, with Craig Winter of Seattle at a rally in Portland, Ore. (John Gress for The New York Times)
Plenty of people may still be furious with Mr. Nader, believing that his Green Party presidential candidacy did little more than tip the 2000 election to George W. Bush. At least two dozen of them showed up outside Portland's professional basketball arena, the Rose Garden, to protest Mr. Nader's speech.
They carried satirical placards, all depicting Mr. Nader, the 67-year-old consumer advocate, as a pawn and a dupe: "Right-wing freaks coalition for Nader." "Back-alley abortionists for Nader." "Defense contractors for Nader." "Citizens against tundra." "Unelectable at any speed." They handed out leaflets pleading with people going inside to persuade Mr. Nader not to run for president again, but instead to use his influence to move the Democratic Party to the left.
But in the 20,000-seat arena, which was curtained off, giving the illusion of being packed, it was hard to find anyone with a negative word for Mr. Nader or his candidacy. Nearly all in attendance had paid $10 to hear him speak, and others contributed even more in the "democracyrising.org" cardboard boxes that were passed among the crowd.
Though Mr. Nader made virtually no mention of presidential campaigns past or future in his 57-minute speech and declared that the rally was "not a political or Green Party event," he remained unrepentant at a news conference just before about any corollary effects of his candidacy last year. He reiterated that his sole regret was that he had not received more votes. (He got about 3 percent nationwide, ranging from 10 percent in Alaska down to zero in the five states where he was kept off the ballot.)
Mr. Nader brushed aside a question about all those self-identified progressives who believe his campaign helped nudge Mr. Bush into the White House. These included protesters outside the arena like Marty Smith, 34, a Web site developer who said progressives should strive to be "that `nutso,' must-placate faction of the Democratic Party in the same way the religious right is something the Republicans have to deal with," and those who took note of the Nader trip to Portland with a letter to the editor in The Oregonian, the state's biggest newspapers, urging him to "be an organizer and evangelizer, not a candidate."
Mr. Nader snapped: "They're getting over it I mean, it takes a few months. I was under the impression that Al Gore won the election. I thought that's what they believe." He depicted his candidacy as having ultimately helped tip the Senate to Democratic control because, he said, Green Party voters were clearly a factor in the razor-thin victory of Maria Cantwell, the Democratic candidate in Washington state.
In any event, he added: "All this talk really comes down to one issue. They don't think the Democrats should be challenged by any party of the progressive wing. They haven't been challenged since 1948, with the Henry Wallace progressive party. They've gotten used to not being challenged. They've gotten used to telling progressives they have no place to go."
For a man who disdains professional politicians, Mr. Nader has gotten one trick of the trade down pat, the standard assertion that he is "not even thinking" about whether to run next time.
"I don't believe in long campaigns," he said, "it's far too early."
And in his depiction, he never really wanted to run in the first place but saw no other choice. "I'm a civic advocate; I have been for 40 years," he said. "When the doors are closed on citizen groups in Washington, you've got to go into the political arena, but that's just a means to a broader strengthening of the citizenry. I read my Jefferson early."
Mr. Nader said he was hoping that the Portland rally would be the first of several in big cities that were ultimately designed to spark a "million-hundred-hundred" movement of the citizenry: one million people devoting at least 100 hours a year and $100 to a variety of causes like economic and environmental justice, universal health care, campaign finance revisions, union organizing, solar energy and better public transportation.
He received prolonged applause during an attack on genetic engineering. "The new slavery," he said, "is the ownership and control of the genetic inheritance of the world the flora, the fauna and the human genes."
The "Nader Rocks the Rose Garden" Portland rally included speeches and singing by a variety of Green Party figures and professional entertainers like Danny Glover, Jello Biafra and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Mr. Nader declared it all a big success.
"You just have to ask yourself, is anyone else doing this, is anybody else bringing out thousands of people?" he said. "That's really the comparative measure. There's a lot of empty arenas in this country, built by taxpayer money, I might add, and they need to be filled."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company