Spoiler. Egomaniac. Rich white guy. Ralph Nader has been called all of those things, and much worse, in the aftermath of his failed 2000 presidential bid. There's a lot of vitriol directed at the citizen who brought the nation seatbelts and rid it of that car bomb Ford called the Pinto.
But Nader's not dwelling on the critics and the naysayers. He's doing the work he's always done as one of America's best-known citizen-activists: rallying the progressive troops to join in the battle for truth, justice and universal health care.
With the nation at war under a Supreme Court-appointed president, Nader and his latest group, Democracy Rising, are touring the country with a reminder that in a democracy it's the people who govern. Really.
Their stop in Tampa on April 13 will feature underground music icons Patti Smith and Jello Biafra as well as progressive muckraker Michael Moore. The evening is intended to reinforce the belief of the Nader faithful that, in the battle for the soul of America, they are indeed the chosen ones. Thus refreshed, they can return to the battle with renewed vigor.
As Nader discusses in his recently published book, Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run For President, all real change requires is time.
"If we put in as much time in trying to get universal health care as we did watching the Super Bowl, imagine what we could accomplish," Nader said earlier this month in an interview with Weekly Planet. "Organized time will beat organized money any day in this country." Part of Democracy Rising's purpose is to connect local groups that are working on issues like poverty, the environment and health care to a larger national group. Nader said he has done a lot of work on issues like redlining in minority communities and can offer suggestions on how to combat this form of banking racism.
Before coming to each city, Nader learns about the local issues that concern people. This keeps him abreast of what the citizens are working on and he can get fresh ideas from them, Nader said.
Jason Kafoury is Nader's advance man, ensuring that the featured speaker's message reaches as many as possible. Kafoury admits, though, that Nader will be largely preaching to the choir when he gives his sermon about civic duty. "You're going to see a lot of middle-aged and young idealistic white folks," Kafoury said.
Democracy Rising established its temporary Tampa headquarters in Seminole Heights, a hotbed of Green Party supporters who voted the Nader-Winona LaDuke presidential ticket two years ago.
Since his presidential campaign, Nader has been criticized for his lack of appeal to minority groups. It's not that the issues he deals with — health care, poverty, the environment — don't appeal to minorities. More people of color would be on board if they knew more about his ideas, according to Nader.
That's where Kafoury comes in. He contacted churches and organizations whose membership represents every community, Kafoury said. But with just a few weeks from the event's inception to its arrival, there isn't enough time to really reach out to communities that haven't heard Nader's message.
At stops on the People Before Profits tour, the group tries to bring in speakers like Harvard intellectual and best-selling Race Matters author Cornel West. For entertainment, the group attempts to have acts like socially conscious rappers Public Enemy. West and Public Enemy would be more likely to draw African-Americans. But that doesn't always work out.
"You get who you get," Kafoury said. "This time we got four or five different people and it just happens that they're white."
A Democracy Rising event is scheduled in Atlanta for the night before the Tampa stop, featuring Headliner, co-founder of Arrested Development, the disbanded hip-hop group. So far, the tour has staged rallies in Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Toledo.
In spite of who's on the bill, the idea is always the same, said Nader. People can't continue to shirk their civic duties while corporations and government officials run amok.
We should have learned a lesson from our previous experience in Afghanistan, fighting the old Soviet Union by proxy, said Nader. But Americans didn't, in part, because we just don't pay enough attention. If people want peace, there needs to be more activism, more responsibility and more of an engagement with life outside of our line of vision. "That's what democracy is," said Nader. "More."
Nader is optimistic that the little guys can make positive change in our society, he said, because there's simply no other choice. "Pessimism is a form of intellectual self-indulgence," said Nader.
For more information about the People Before Profits rally at the USF Sun Dome, call 813-232-5300 or visit www.democracyrising.org.
Contact Rochelle Renford at 813-248-8888, ext. 163, or [email protected].
THE UN-POLITICIAN: Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, human rights champion and former presidential candidate for the Green party, speaks at a rally at the University of South Florida on April 13.