Ralph Nader, the consumer rights advocate and former presidential candidate,
brought a rock concert and more to Portland on Saturday night.
Nader said the event at the Cumberland County Civic Center which featured
not only nationally-known and local performers but political activists
was designed to introduce young people to "the great civic tradition of our country."
Part of that tradition, he said, "is entertainment."
Headliners were Patti Smith, a longtime rock singer from the 1960s and 1970s
and a political activist, and Jello Biafra, former lead singer for the Dead Kennedys.
But the important message behind the music was that "People have the Power"
the title not only of a song Smith performed but of the entire rally.
The event was part of "Democracy Rising," Nader's nationwide road tour to
encourage citizens to become involved in fighting corruption in government and
business, and battling for issues such as universal health care, an end to poverty,
and environmental protection.
Close to 2,000 people attended the rally. Tickets were $10 to $15, and organizers
said proceeds and donations would go to cover costs and enable the tour to visit
more cities. It moves to New Haven, Conn., today.
Thousands have turned out in other cities for the Democracy Rising tour since
the first rally in Portland, Ore., last August. The tour has held rallies in cities
ranging from San Francisco to Boston.
Nader, the Green Party candidate for president two years ago, said the tour
is designed "to encourage people engaging in and producing a strong democracy."
He told the Portland crowd he was pleased with the turnout. "It's very difficult
to get people out to a civic rally, especially on a Saturday night," he said.
Speaking at a news conference earlier, Nader said a grass-roots democracy
movement is particularly critical now because "we're in a historic period of corporate
crime." He mentioned business scandals such as the one involving Enron and the
Arthur Andersen accounting firm.
He said state and federal agencies that are supposed to regulate corporations
are "understaffed, underwilled and underpowered." And he said state and federal
lawmakers are so indebted to corporations for campaign contributions that they
don't create new laws to help prevent corporate crime and don't insist that existing
laws be enforced.
Corporate crime affects the ordinary person, he said, and is "not just restricted
to Wall Street." It can damage pension investments, result in the loss of jobs
and in general undermine the economy, Nader said.
"It's up to the people of this country to do something about it," he said.
He got a round of applause at the Civic Center when he called on making those
responsible for corporate crime "pay up and go to jail."
During his hour-long talk to the crowd, Nader praised Maine as a national
leader for its initiatives on some issues identified as goals of the tour. For
example, a state task force is looking into the feasibility of universal health
care, and Maine has passed a law designed to control prescription drug prices
although the U.S. Supreme Court will review a claim that law is unconstitutional.
"You're really pardon the pun the Maine act for the rest of
the country," Nader said.
He also pointed to major accomplishments that have resulted from small groups
of citizens raising concerns about health, safety or environmental issues
bans on smoking in public places, safer cars and cleaner rivers.
He urged Mainers to hold local rallies similar to Saturday's event in cities
such as Bangor and Augusta. And he asked everyone to devote 10 hours a month to
the civic cause of their choice.
"When someone asks you, 'How's your social life?' ask them, 'How's your civic
life?' " Nader said. "Civic life is the best kind of social life."
Eileen Liddy, 57, of Wilton, attending the rally with her son, Pat Liddy,
22, of Portland, said afterward, "I really liked what he had to say."
Pat Liddy said, "He says the things that we don't want to hear, but we need
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