Ralph Nader has a problem, except it's not really his problem. It's ours.
Nader says he's running for president on the Green Party ticket to
reinvigorate U.S. politics. It's about building a people's movement, he
says. The only snag: When it comes to people of color, queers, feminists
and a whole hunk of today's already pretty invigorated youth movement,
Nader and the people find it hard to get along.
During his September spin through California, Nader was told off by the
National Organization for Women, the (gay and lesbian) Human Rights
Campaign, and nine business-oriented people-of-color groups who complained
that Nader had marginalized their issues and failed to organize in
inclusive ways. NOW President Patricia Ireland called Nader "ill-informed
about abortion-rights" and noted that his 10-page mission statement did not
mention any explicitly feminist issues: not birth control, not abortion,
not violence against women.
Later, speaking on Radioforchange, Ireland claimed that her criticisms had
been overplayed. She wasn't "lashing out" as the San Francisco Chronicle
put it. She was just "pushing or pulling Nader to be better on women's
concerns" in the same way he's "pushing" Al Gore to listen to the left.
Nader was having none of it.
Clearly annoyed, he bit back: "I've been fighting for women's rights since
before Patricia Ireland knew the term."
Referring to NOW's concern that votes denied Gore might result in a slew of
Republican picks on the Supreme Court, Nader accused his critics of
reverting to "the politics of fear." "It's time for the constituency groups
of the Democratic Party to hold that party up to a higher standard," he
said, "instead of crawling on their knees to an endorsement because they
believe Republicans are worse."
The last weeks of a tight campaign are no time to get Nader's ear. With the
race between Bush and Gore too close to call in California, it was easy for
his defenders to join him in casting his critics as tools of
the Democratic National Committee (which sadly, they are.) But if Nader is
out to build a movement,
he can't just dismiss what he calls "constituency groups" and lecture them
about seeing things his way. "Although the most emotionally outrageous
things come from racial issues, we have to connect them to the larger
picture of class," he told a group of minority leaders in Milwaukee. "It
would be a mistake if we concentrate just on race and not class."
Maybe, but Nader has been in zero danger of making that mistake thus far.
By journalist Ruth Conniff's account, there were three black faces in the
Green Party convention hall in Denver. In Los Angeles, at the protest
around the Democratic convention, where the crowd was irrepressibly young,
articulate and not white, the Greens stood out as the one lily-white
cluster in every line-up. And the big Green banners and Nader puppets were
noticeably absent from some key events: the protest outside the LAPD police
headquarters and the march against the criminalization of immigrants and
youth, for example.
Airing this discussion on Radioforchange, I've heard from defensive local
Greens who say they recognize the problem. In an effort to broaden their
campaign's appeal, party members in Denver observed S26-a day of
international action around globalization-by teaming up with Jobs with
Justice in a Justice for Janitors rally. In California, Green Senate
candidate Medea Benjamin is touring state campuses and Latino communities,
where she's known for her work against sweatshops. She says "diversifying
the party" is the No. 1 priority.
But it makes life hard for these local party folks, when the top of the
ticket seems quite content to run with an all-white male crowd. On his
"Non-Voter Tour," Nader's headliners are Michael Moore, Howard Zinn, John
Anderson and Jim Hightower. His running mate, American Indian feminist (and
Harvard scholar) Winona LaDuke, has been away for much of the debate season,
touring with the Indigo Girls to raise funds for her organization, Honor
I'm not calling for "inclusion" Republican-style: line lots of people of
and wax lyrical about "us" for half an hour. Nader likes to say his campaign
about ideas, not emotions-well, talking about gender and race is talking
about ideas. Look beyond the "emotional outrage" of bigotry, Nader says, to
see the "larger picture" of class. That's where he loses us feminists and
anti-racists who've come of age out from under the shadow of the traditional
Race and gender discrimination aren't "emotionally outrageous." They are
pillars on which capitalism stands. Unpaid work by
women and life-destroying work by people whose lives are socially and
make possible the corporate profits-for-a-few that Nader attacks so well.
I long to vote for a viable left alternative. I'll do it, for the Greens,
most likely, just to make visible the existence of a defiant left. But the
people I love in the non-white activist movement won't be coming along.
I've not heard one say anything good about Nader. In the words of my friend
Peter Chung, a leader in New York's youth action group SLAM, "I've met the
Greens and they're all white."
I know the theory is that if the Green Party can win those federal matching
funds, they'll really get to take off after November 8, but I fear the
ballot box is no place to found a movement. You can't build a people's
movement without the people, I know that.
"The Laura Flanders Show" can be heard Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon (mountain time) on KWAB in Boulder, Colorado or at http://www.newsforchange.com/flanders
In These Times © 2000