October 14, 2000—The protest movement that has been growing on a
grassroots level, as evidenced by the World Trade Organization
demonstrations in Seattle, reached its political coming-of-age last
night. Before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, the Green
Party’s Ralph Nader and a roster of celebrities called for an end to
unchecked corporate power and a new era of fuller political
participation, including voter registration and the inclusion of
third-party candidates in national debates. And in response to criticism
that the presidential candidate doesn’t pay attention to issues of race,
gender and gay rights, Nader and company talked all night about social
The young audience of 15,000 was made to feel as if their political
interests were being addressed for the first time. With its suggested
minimum admission of $20 and a slate of rock stars and celebrities,
“Nader Rocks” recognized the kids in the crowd for what they were:
idealistic and politically savvy. There was no Clintonesque declaration
of the superiority of boxers over briefs. Rather, MC Phil Donahue
grabbed the mic and hammered away at “third-rail” issues left untouched
by the mainstream candidates—public finance, single-payer health care,
the war on drugs, capital punishment, labor unions.
Green party senate candidate Mark Dunau urged the audience to fight back
against the “fist of tyranny” behind drug testing, racial profiling, and
the mushrooming prison-industrial complex.
Filmmaker Michael Moore spoke on “lesser evilism”—the notion that people
should back Democrat Al Gore because he’s not quite as bad as the GOP’s
George W. Bush. “To the young people out there, if you don’t vote your
conscience, when will you start?” Moore said. “If you vote for the
lesser of two evils, you still wind up with evil.”
Actress Susan Sarandon spoke about voter apathy. “Kids aren’t voting
because there’s no one to vote for,” she said.
The evening was rounded out by musical performances by Ani DiFranco, Ben
Harper, Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, and Company Flow.
Defying the image of the youth movement as long on gripes and short on
attention spans, the arena was packed to the rafters for Nader’s
hour-long speech, even after Eddie Vedder’s short acoustic set.
The overwhelmingly young, white, and educated crowd was held rapt by
speeches on such diverse issues as racial profiling, genetically
modified foods, and environmental racism. According to Nader, all of
these ills boil down to one single factor—the corporate hijacking of
democracy. And answering critics on the oft-divided left, he made
explicit that this corporate rule directly harms those most excluded
from the political process, including immigrants, people of color, and
the poor. Nader brought the crowd to its feet with what has become a
signal theme of his campaign: “Freedom is participation in power.”
In an election year when the debate has been limited to a love-in
between a compassionate conservative and a pragmatic liberal, Nader’s
candidacy offered this urban crowd a reason to care.