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Concerned Citizens, Progressive Voters Flock to Nader Rally

By Frank Dabek

STAFF REPORTER

When 12,000 supporters of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader rolled into Boston for a massive rally, it wasn’t surprising to see throngs of local college students or activists handing out flyers calling for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

But a retired schoolteacher from Arlington? Republicans? The 2000 version of Nader’s Raiders run the gamut in age from twenty-something Glenn Barnes of Waltham to Stella Benzer, a half-century his senior. And while most of those at the event were defecting from the Democratic party, Harriet Hope of Lynnfield votes Republican.

The causes espoused by those attending the Fleet Center event on Sunday represent a significant slice of the spectrum of progressive causes. Barnes was supporting Nader because he is “committed to public interest issues: protecting the environment, protecting consumers” and is “talking about campaign reform seriously.”

Benzer, a resident of Newton, Polish immigrant, and self-proclaimed “passionate peacenik,” is attracted to Nader’s foreign policy: “having been through the hell of the Second World War, I believe there is no good war and no bad peace.”

Liz Blumenthal, a retired schoolteacher from Arlington, looks to Nader to reduce the wealth gap in America.

David J. Strozzi G, head of the MIT Greens, said that Nader represents a number of causes that appeal to students, including the problems of “sweatshop” labor, environmental reform, and health insurance. “Our parents will be dead by the time global warming hits, but we won’t be,” he said.

David Van Strang, a retired Unitarian minister from New Hampshire, echoed the most common refrain. “We’ve got to do something to break the control of corporate control over our entire society.”

Nader for traditional populism

Nader and a bevy of warm-up speakers, including former talk-show host Phil Donahue, civil rights activist Mel King, political satirist Michael Moore, and Phil Zin, author of the populist tome A People’s History of the United States, managed to cover all of these topics in a rambling afternoon of speeches.

The topics, for the most part, were traditional Nader populism. However, the production, complete with confetti and a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack, was out of character for the usually austere candidate.

Nader’s address centered around the issue of corporate control. If given the chance to participate in today’s debate, Nader said that he would ask Bush and Gore how they planned “to shift power from the hands of the giant corporations which have a grip over our government, environment, workplace and marketplace ... to the workers, consumers, taxpayers and voters of America?”

From this core question, Nader called for a new national focus on domestic issues. “We need a Marshall Plan to abolish poverty and abolish class and race distinction,” he said. That plan calls for repairing schools, protecting the environment, expanding mass transit, guaranteeing health coverage, and providing affordable housing.

To fund this far-reaching program, Nader would dramatically reduce defense spending and put and end to what he termed “corporate welfare,” tax breaks and incentives offered to businesses. The government should “focus on human need over corporate greed,” he said.

Nader, as usual, snapped off a variety of figures to back up his arguments. Corporations, for instance, pay only 15 percent of the total tax burden in the United States, he said.

Nader also called for a reform of the “criminal injustice system” including a shift in drug policy to rehabilitation and prevention from punishment.

He showed a continuing willingness to attack his opponents. Gore, Nader said, “doesn’t know what it means to stand up.” His scorn for Bush was even more evident: It’s not a surprise Bush supports education, Nader said, since “he needs so much of it.”

Nader also continued to contend that the two major parties hold identical stands on important issues and have been corrupted by the current campaign finance system. “Our country is more important than your fundraisers,” he said. The Green Party is running without “soft money” or donations from political action committees (PACs). In one of his more colorful turns of phrase, Nader compared the reforms to “a great green wind of justice that is sweeping across this country.”

What really united the variety of supporters and smattering of causes was a will, as Nader urged, to “build a mighty progressive political movement.”

“Why not today?” he asked.