Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, proclaiming that he was creating a new kind of "civic festival" that would sweep the country, attracted about 7,000 people Saturday to an evening of political activism at the Rose Garden.
Although short of the 10,000 who turned out a year ago to hear Nader at Portland's Memorial Coliseum, the 67-year-old consumer activist said he was pleased so many people would pay up to $10 a ticket to attend a summer political event in a noncampaign year.
"If we reach 6,000 or 7,000 people, that's a great success," Nader said before addressing his supporters. "You just have to ask yourself, is anyone else doing this, is anybody else bringing out thousands of people?"
Ralph Nader makes a point during the Nader 2001- Super Rally at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2001. Over 7,000 people attended the rally which was the first of a nationwide tour. Saying his presidential campaign had created a ``rumble'' felt by the political establishment, Ralph Nader urged thousands of supporters Saturday night to keep going and use ``civic power'' to make themselves heard. (AP Photo/John Klicker)
Just as his Portland event a year ago launched his campaign on a series of "super rallies" around the country, Nader said the success of his Rose Garden appearance would spark more in other cities.
The rally capped a day of workshops and lectures designed to channel people into a series of grass-roots causes on the left side of the political spectrum. The crowd was then channeled into a curtained-off section of the massive Rose Garden, which can hold about 20,000.
The rally was the most visible coming out for Nader since last year's presidential election, which left many Democrats embittered at the consumer advocate, feeling he helped throw the election to Republican George W. Bush.
But on Saturday night, Nader was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation after the crowd was warmed up by appearances from such figures as singer Eddie Vedder, actor Danny Glover and spoken-word artist Jello Biafra.
During his 56-minute speech, Nader mixed a critique of the control he said that corporations exercise over the lives of Americans with repeated calls for people to get involved in causes including traffic safety and solar energy.
"I say citizen action is fun," said Nader, urging the crowd to take on "the global corporations and their indentured political servants."
Nader's targets ranged from the Fortune 500 corporations that are patenting genetic sequences to local television newscasts that tend to emphasize stories that won't antagonize advertisers.
"We've got to raise our expectation level, folks," Nader said.
The atmosphere in the Rose Quarter was different from Trail Blazers games or musical events. The area was buzzing with Nader fans milling among petitioners gathering signatures for initiatives, Greenpeace representatives seeking new members or Green Party members handing out papers.
Inside the Rose Garden, dozens of organizations offered information on everything from fluoridated water and logging to animal protection and abortion rights. Visitors could buy concessions such as pizza, Nader pins for $1 or "People Have the Power" T-shirts for $10.
The common message? Get involved.
"This event is a wake-up call," Lisa Melyan of the Tualatin Water District told the audience before Nader's speech. "If you don't like the government, become the government."
Signature gatherers said the liberal crowd was fertile territory.
"This is the easiest I've ever done," said Diane Kahl as she lined up endorsements for an initiative to abolish the death penalty.
But the main draw seemed to be Nader. Chris Ost of Castle Rock, Wash., said he had arrived at noon to attend informational events.
"I wanted to come check it out and see what he's up to now that the election's over," Ost, 24, said.
The most heated debate came outside the rally when several Nader supporters argued with about a dozen Democrats who carried satirical signs pretending to be Bush supporters thanking Nader for helping him defeat Al Gore in the presidential election. The group carried signs with sayings such as "Greenhouse Gas Polluters for Nader" and "Citizens Against Tundra."
"The point we're trying to make is a lot of right-wing causes we don't agree with were advanced by George Bush being elected to the White House," said protest organizer Marty Smith of Portland.
Groups presented more than 30 hour-long seminars on topics such as drug prohibition, labeling of genetically engineered foods, alternative transportation modes, renewable energy and racism.
At one, former U.S. Senate candidate Harry Lonsdale urged participants to help collect signatures for an initiative that would limit political contributions. The initiative has not been approved for gathering signatures.
Lonsdale, who said he switched his political registration from Democrat to the Pacific Green Party in the past few years, said campaign reform would be crucial for environmental protection, defense reform and controlling tobacco use.
"In my opinion, not one of those things is going to happen in my lifetime without getting money out of politics," Lonsdale said.
Other speakers said an Oregon Supreme Court ruling last year that allows Fred Meyer stores and other businesses to bar signature gathering on their property would make it difficult to collect enough signatures for the campaign finance proposal and other initiatives.
"Maybe we should come up with buttons that say 'I don't shop where I can't sign petitions,' " Portland attorney Dan Meek said.
© 2001 OregonLive.com