While the Democratic convention picks up speed, Nader supporters are toiling just to get their man on the ballot. The heated debate about Ralph’s role in the 2000 election has only gotten hotter this year and both supporters and opponents have become more firmly entrenched.
In Oregon, supporters have until mid-August to collect the 15,000-plus signatures needed to make Nader a presidential candidate in November.
Greg Kafoury, a Portland lawyer and local Nader organizer, speaks about his man with confidence born of long-time involvement and full moral support.
Gathering signatures has been a difficult process, he says, both from lack of organization and barriers from opponents.
“We heard Ralph was going be here in April. I got a phone call from him and we said, ‘Hey, let’s get a thousand people together, let’s get Ralph on the ballot. But we didn’t have much time and we did a pretty half-assed job,” Kafoury said.
The event brought in only 750 people.
Kafoury and his partner Mark McDougal organized a similar event at
Benson High School. Though their efforts were hampered by swamped telephone lines the day before the event, more than the required 1000 people showed up. At that point, Kafoury said, the Secretary of State stopped admitting people even though there were empty seats in the auditorium. Unfortunately for Nader, some audience members were there specifically to prevent supporters from signing the petition.
These kinds of tactics have forced the much more lengthy process of gathering signatures individually, but Kafoury doesn’t sound worried.
“We don’t have a count, but we’ll make it,” he said. He does not know how many volunteers are circulating petitions, and now paid gatherers are hitting the streets at the tune of 75 cents a signature.
Though he has little respect for either Republicans or Democrats, Kafoury’s enthusiasm for Nader seems to spring not so much from desire for another choice – that is, increasing awareness about the viability of a multi-party system – as it does from a dedication to Nader, the candidate.
“Anyone who talks to him for five minutes realizes he’s right,” Kafoury said.
“That’s why the press never talks about issues. The press is always out to get Nader; it’s corporate, he’s not. It’s always personal. He’s ‘the spoiler,’ he ‘steals votes.’ Never mind the 50 million Democrats who voted for Bush. Never mind the 100 million people who didn’t vote.”
In 2000, he recalled, he and McDougal arranged for Nader’s visit to the Memorial Coliseum. Ralph himself was nervous that event would be a flop, Kafoury said, and when they had to turn people away, Nader asked the two men to help him around the country.
“We had 10,000 people in Chicago. We had 19,500 people in Madison Square Garden. We blew the fucking lid off that place. And the New York Times didn’t report it. That gives you a bit of a sense of what we’re up against.”
Kafoury said that nationally, five percent of the population supports Nader, the same level as before the 2000 election.
The difference is that in the “anyone but Bush” climate, a Nader vote is perceived as even more threatening to the left than it was four years ago.
“We don’t have people who go to meetings, we don’t have people who go to rallies, we don’t have people who go to pass out leaflets (anymore). We’re trying to shame them into coming back,” Kafoury said. “If what’s going on at the Democratic convention doesn’t shame them though, I don’t know what will.”
His dedication to Ralph, combined with contempt for the Democratic Party and John Kerry in particular, helps him brush off criticism. As anxious as some Democrats are to keep Nader out of the running, Republican forces have come to Nader’s aid.
In Michigan, Nader supporters gathered only 5,000 signatures – 25,000 short of a place on the ballot, an Associated Press story reported. The state’s Republican party rallied and turned in 43,000 signatures, which Nader spokespeople first refused but then accepted.
In Oregon, too, Republican groups such as the Oregon Family Council and Citizens for a Sound Economy have encouraged their members to sign Nader petitions, Alternet reported. Though the organizations diametrically oppose Nader’s anti-corporate, pro-gay marriage stances, their leaders hope to divide Kerry’s support base, weakening his chances against Bush.
Kafoury dismissed idea that Nader’s constituency is turned off by the GOP stamp of approval.
“I think people who know about Nader are used to the fact that he gets smeared all the time,” he said.
But despite the tenacity he sees among the faithful, he’s vocal and angry about the loss of support since 2000.
“It’s very interesting. We’ve largely lost the left wing activists. They’ve surrendered to Kerry, and for nothing. Nothing!” he said. “They are going to the Democratic Convention where the war won’t even be discussed. It’s not polite to talk about. They’re putting protesters in a cage. This in Boston, the birthplace of democracy… shit, John Kerry can go to a Red Sox game but he can’t have anti-war protesters outside the convention?
“Even Dennis Kucinich has said, ‘Let’s drop the anti-war plank. We can’t be arguing about this at the convention.’ At what point do they say, ‘This is an indignity, this we will not tolerate’?”
In downtown Portland, the tolerance for Kerry is alive and well, but the desire for a more progressive candidate is pretty close to the surface. Caitlin Hanrahan and Reid Olsen, part of a larger troupe of fresh-faced kids from America Coming Together (ACT), say they make $8 per hour registering people to vote, specifically to vote Democratic.
“I would probably do this even if I weren’t being paid,” Hanrahan said. She explained that she’s throwing her support behind Kerry because “he’s not Bush.”
Both Hanrahan and Olsen initially supported Kucinich and would love to have him as the Democratic nominee. Since that isn’t an option, they said, they want a Democrat in office and therefore they’re for Kerry.
Olsen, a registered Pacific Green, said voting Nader in the close election is out of the question.
“I love the guy. It’d be perfect if we could vote over and over like in a European system,” Olsen said, referring to run-offs among multiple parties.
“As it is though, I’m not going to do anything that could add votes to Bush in any obscure way.” Kafoury isn’t sure how he’d like to see the presidential election come out.
“Ask me in November,” he said. “At this point I’m very undecided about whether or not we’d be better off in the long run with Kerry than with Bush… it may be better to (re-elect) Bush and start over again in four years.”
“Kerry seems to be so willing to sell (former Nader supporters) out,” Kafoury continued, citing Kerry’s tolerance for involvement in Iraq and recently announced plans for tort reform. “Maybe Kerry will find a voice and some courage. I’m just very doubtful,” he said.
“I think Bush is a spent bullet… I’m not afraid of George Bush anymore.”