Socialist Alternative: Our Campaign for Nader

Socialist Alternative was the first US socialist organization to endorse Nader, the only one to foresee the impact his campaign could have and to develop a clear strategy and tactics for Marxists to intervene with. We argued that Nader’s campaign represented a huge opportunity to damage the two-party system and advance the struggle for independent working class politics.

Most importantly, the Nader campaign was the electoral expression of the embryonic movement of Seattle-DC-Philadelphia-LA, a step forward in the radicalization process of this emerging layer of activists. We wanted to join with them in this battle.

Our role as Marxists in the Nader campaign was two-fold. On the one hand, we strove to be the most effective builders of the campaign. On the other hand, we worked to build a strong socialist wing of the Nader campaign to advance working class and socialist politics and explain the limitations of Nader and the Green Party’s politics.

A National Contribution

Although we are a small organization, Socialist Alternative played an important role in the Nader campaign in the cities where we are most active. We helped provide the Nader campaign with the political backbone necessary to stand up to the assault of the Democratic lesser-evilists.

We raised our program of total independence from the Democrats, Papers for All, An End to Police Brutality, Abolition of the Death Penalty and socialism in general by having a visible presence at many key Nader events, at the R2K and D2KLA demonstrations, and in countless meetings and individual discussions.

At the Nader Super Rallies in Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, New York, East Lansing, and Oakland and at numerous smaller Nader rallies we had giant Socialist Alternative banners displaying our demands and several literature tables. We sold 7,500 copies of Justice in six months and distributed tens of thousands of leaflets urging people to vote for Nader and join the fight for socialism. These interventions made socialist ideas a feature of the Nader landscape and played an important role in reconstituting a socialist current in the newly emerging mass movements.

Socialist Alternative also sought to strengthen the ties of the Nader campaign with the emerging youth movement. In keeping with this strategy, Socialist Alternative launched a national youth initiative on twelve campuses across the country. We held public meetings related to the Nader campaign and topics of broader interest, like the Revolt Against Globalization. Peter Lahti, a representative of the Committee for a Worker’s International, came from Sweden to assist in this effort. As a result of this initiative, dozens of young activists joined Socialist Alternative and helped campaign for Nader.

Below we present a sketch of the ways we helped advance the Nader movement:

In SAN FRANCISCO, Socialist Alternative linked their critical support for Ralph Nader to the campaign of working class and socialist candidates for local offices (see article on page 17). They formed coalitions with other groups supporting Nader to organize events and activities. They were the only organization to establish the Nader campaign in San Francisco’s Latino community. Hundreds of young activists signed contact sheets and dozens participated in the campaign. At their tables, activities, and door to door campaigns the San Francisco Branch distributed more than 60,000 leaflets and brochures promoting Nader and their local candidates.

In SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, Socialist Alternative approached the Green Party in March to form a broad, democratic Nader coalition. The Seattle Greens declined, arguing that they were the sole “institutional vehicle” of the Nader campaign and asked us to wait until the end of the summer to start campaigning for Nader. We refused to go along with their proposal and proceeded to build the Seattle Nader coalition with weekly public meetings and activities, a core of 20 activists and many more coming and going.

The Seattle Nader coalition organized a successful caravan, mobilizing 75 people and 23 vehicles, giving out close to 4,000 Nader fliers and visiting all the main neighborhoods of Seattle. In August, the national Nader campaign set up an office and a full-time organizer in Seattle, which became the focal point for the citywide Nader campaign. This citywide coalition was based on the principles Socialist Alternative had proposed: a broad Nader coalition encompassing many organizations, not only the Green Party.

Socialist Alternative shifted gears in September to carry out an intensive recruitment drive at the University of Washington (UW). Socialist Alternative launched a Nader campaign at UW with the objective of strengthening their base. The UW campaign organized a protest of 100-150 people on October 17th to let Nader into the presidential debates. The UW campaign also held a public debate with the Gore campaign on campus, along with regular tabling to convince students to vote for Nader.

A member of Socialist Alternative led the successful struggle to get Teamsters Local 174 to endorse Nader.

The MINNEAPOLIS Branch of Socialist Alternative was born out of our Nader campaign. Starting with 1 member, over the past 3 months they have grown to a functioning branch of 7 people, mostly students at University of Minneapolis (UofM). The branch launched a broad Nader coalition at UofM. After fighting off an attempt to transform the campaign into a Green Party front group, the campaign took off with 20 consistent activists attending its weekly meetings.

The UofM campaign organized a 200-strong demonstration on campus against the exclusion of Nader from the Presidential debates on October 3rd and a slightly smaller protest for the second presidential debate. When Al Gore spoke in Minneapolis on October 30, over 15 students from the campaign snuck Nader shirts, buttons and signs into the rally past the extremely tight security. Once in, they began chanting and holding up Nader signs. Security quickly tore the signs out of protesters’ hands, tearing them up, and the crowd booed the protesters and tried to physically intimidate them.

Despite the ferocious attacks against Nader by Minnesota Democrats, the UofM campaign stood up to the pressure. This would not have been possible without the intransigence of Socialist Alternative. An excellent basis has been laid for the growth of a radical student movement and the re-building of a revolutionary current in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The EAST LANSING Branch of Socialist Alternative was re-invigorated and re-born during the student recruitment drive and the Nader campaign. A public meeting at Michigan State University (MSU) at the beginning of the semester attracted 50 people. They organized weekly Nader tables at MSU, and participated in Nader work organized by the new East Lansing Greens,. On November 3, Socialist Alternative organized a Nader rally at MSU with speakers from Socialist Alternative and the Green Party.

In OBERLIN, OHIO, Socialist Alternative began preliminary discussions about building a broad Nader campaign at Oberlin College in the Spring of 2000. At the start of the fall semester, Socialist Alternative took the initiative to launch an Oberlin Nader for President Campaign.

The first meeting attracted 50 students to develop a plan of activities. The campaign organized a major on-campus presence and held weekly public meetings. Two public debates were organized between the Nader and Gore campaigns, attracting 100 students to the first and 50 to the second. By the end of the campaign, approximately 15% of Oberlin students supported Nader.

While the vast majority of the campus supported Al Gore, the Nader campaign was more energetic, organized and committed. Both campus newspapers endorsed Nader for President.

The center of the Oberlin Nader campaign, however, was in the town of Oberlin itself. The campaign raised $1700 to rent an office in downtown Oberlin. A giant 50 foot banner hung outside the office reading “Nader for President” with four demands: Universal Healthcare for All, $10/hour Minimum Wage, End Corporate Welfare, and End the Racist War on Drugs. Having an office in the town was a key asset to building the campaign off campus. The office, open 7 days a week, received hundreds of walk-in visitors interested in the campaign. The campaign also organized door-to-door canvassing throughout Oberlin.

The Oberlin Students for Nader felt the full force of Gore’s attack against Ralph Nader during the two weeks leading up to the election. Nader signs were torn down, the Nader campaign was regularly attacked, and activists were confronted on a daily basis by students angry at Nader for “helping Bush win.”

The BOSTON Branch of Socialist Alternative began doing regular Nader tabling over the Summer and participated in the “October 3rd Task Force” to organize protests at the Presidential debate at UMASS-Boston. Socialist Alternative fought for the task force to campaign for Nader to be let into the debates. Unfortunately, the tired leftist leadership of the task force refused to raise this demand, not wanting to come out clearly for a progressive alternative to the two corporate parties.

At the start of fall semester at UMASS Boston, Socialist Alternative immediately launched a Nader campaign and began organizing UMASS students to protest the October 3rd debates. At the protest, Socialist Alternative marched as its own contingent with a giant Socialist Alternative banner supporting Nader for President.

In NEW YORK, Socialist Alternative did regular street tabling for Nader and actively participated in the NY “Labor for Nader” committee which organized fund-raisers for the Nader campaign.

Justice #22, December 2000-January 2001