Note: In April 2004, I was an apolitical filmmaker whose career crashed when I supported Ralph Nader in 2000. When Nader’s campaign put out a desperate call for volunteers to come to Texas to gather signatures to get Nader on the ballot, I hopped on the first flight to Austin. This is how my adventure begins:
April 27, 2004 — The ballot access laws in Texas are CRAZY (or, as Ralph more eloquently put it, Machiavellian). If you’re an independent party, you need 45,540 valid signatures by May 24th. Ralph really wants to be on the ballot in Texas, and the Green Party isn’t even choosing a nominee until their June convention (the disorganization of the Greens is beyond belief), so Ralph is running as an independent candidate, and Texas makes independent candidates collect 64,076 valid signatures by May 10th…? Huh? Yeah. Welcome to Texas! Or should I say, Welcome to America! — because each state has its own laws. Some states are easy, like Louisiana — round up yer electors, pay $500, and you’re on the ballot. But in Oklahoma, where it’s very rural, the population is spread out, there’s no culture of petitioning, and it has only 500,000 registered voters, you need 37,027 signatures. Ralph wants to eliminate the Electoral College and create a federal standard of getting on the ballot for federal elections.
I don’t get why someone of Ralph’s stature has to jump through all these hoops. Christ, if you ran for president in the last election and you got three million votes, shouldn’t that be enough? Apparently not. Oh — and if you voted in Texas’s primary election, you can’t sign our petition — which eliminates the most politically aware people who would be most the interested in signing petitions. So we’re targeting 18-year-olds — new voters who probably didn’t vote in the primary.
Most of the University of Texas students who signed the petition told me they’ve seen Ralph speak on campus. 90% of the students I approached just walked past me. Where did they learn to be so apathetic? From their professors, no doubt. Only two members of UT’s faculty looked me in the eye, and that was so they could describe me to the campus police, who threw me off the campus. The custodians and the people who work in the campus food court all signed: underpaid workers understand the importance of democracy, fairness, and being allowed to say what’s on one’s mind. Personally, I think every professor who refused to sign Nader’s petition should be escorted off the campus by the police and sent back to junior high school, where tthey can take a remedial history class and learn how the United States political system works.
In the evening, Albert Marino and I went to an amphitheatre/barbecue/bar called Stubb’s. Albert was born in Romania, grew up in Israel, and, like most foreigners, knows more about America than her citizens (the world is affected by US policy. We only seem to be affected by the world’s cuisine, music, and the occasional scary contagious disease). The bouncer at Stubb’s yelled at us, “Move — or I’ll call the cops!” Albert said, “Yo, dude, you see this? It’s called a ‘sidewalk’ — you don’t own it!” The cops came and tried to pacify our bouncer (a Democrat who wants Nader supporters hanged, drawn and quartered). Albert grinned and told me, “In Texas, we call them ‘Yellow Dogs’ — Democrats who would rather vote for a rabid
dog than a non-Democrat.”
Almost everyone who signed Ralph’s petition was 18–25 and/or laid-back. I got some people who said, “I don’t agree with the things Nader says, and I’m not going to vote for him, but I think he has the right to be on the ballot.” It’s heartwarming to meet people who paid attention in the fourth grade when our teachers taught us, “This is America and our nation was formed so everyone could speak freely without fear of persecution” (actually, America was formed so a lot of white people could get filthy stinking rich, but that’s a whole ‘nother book). Austin is the one Democratic hot spot in Texas (Ralph got about 10% of the vote here in 2000), so even though there’s no way in hell Texas would ever, ever swing to the Democrats, they keep hope alive: “Anybody But Bush!” “I like Nader — I voted for him last time. I agree with everything he says…but we HAVE to get that guy out of office!”
“He can’t win, so I’m voting for Kerry.”
“What has he done since 2000? Nothing!”
I remind these dimwits, “Just because the corporate media isn’t reporting on Ralph every day doesn’t mean he hasn’t been kicking ass. He’s done forty-five fundraisers in thirty states for the Green Party! What issue of Ralph’s don’t you agree with?”
“He’s a spoiler!”
Rommel [me]: “What issue?”
“He cost us Florida!”
Rommel: “But over 250,000 Democrats in Florida voted for Bush!”
“Yeah, but if Nader hadn’t run, Gore would have won!”
Rommel: “He DID win!”
“Yeah, but he would have won by more votes!”
Rommel: “Can Gore help it if his brother wasn’t the Governor of Florida? 62% of Nader’s votes were from NON-Democrats — oh, I give up. Have an Al Gore day!”
At the mere mention of HIS name, two 40-year-old guys exploded like Ford Pintos being rear-ended: “He got rid of the Corvair! Man, that was the most beautiful car.”
“And deadly,” I said.
“So what if morons didn’t know how to change the tire pressure — they deserved to die!”
I got off the street and hurried into a store, just in case these guys were driving one of the damn things.
People don’t get why Ralph never ran for a lower office and “worked his way up.” As a watchdog, he had a greater ability to get things accomplished than he would have as a senator. People want Ralph to snuggle up to Washington and get himself made Attorney General. That’s a nice fantasy, but Dan Rather put it best on Election Night 2000: “I think you would likelier see a hippopotamus run through this room than see George Bush appoint Ralph Nader to the Cabinet.”
Contrary to what the newspapers are reporting, very few of our signatures are from Republicans. One man grinned as he signed the petition, “This will help get Boosh elected!” (True fans pronounce W’s name Boosh.) A few said, “I’m voting for Bush,” (not real big fans) “but…yeah, okay, I like Ralph! He’s a good guy,” but the majority said, “No! I support Bush!” and stormed into the nearest bar. The right-wing version of the “Anybody but Bush!” mantra is “I Always Vote Republican!” But one man told me, “I’m a Conservative. I’ve always voted Republican, but I hate Bush. He got us into this huge deficit, he gives corporations subsidies…and the Patriot Act — what the HELL is that? So I’m going to vote for Nader.”
Quite a few people have heard Ralph speak. Unlike the Democrats — who don’t want to “waste” money in states they think they can’t win, so they completely ignore huge sections of their country — Ralph comes to Texas and the South often to keep up-to-date on what’s going on.
I got 76 signatures. So, after one day of working on Ralph’s campaign, here’s The Problem With America: People don’t know who Ralph Nader is, where he comes from, what he’s done, or what he wants to do. A wee problem…easily fixed by A Major Motion Picture! Alas, it’s unlikely that a major studio will ever finance or release a film about Ralph; e.g. Universal Pictures is owned by General Electric, a company Ralph has publicly bashed because GE poisoned the Hudson River with PCBs, lied to the public about the dangers, and avoided paying to clean their mess by endless legal maneuvering and threatening to pull jobs out of New York and paying off politicians…
So the odds of a big film are slim…unless GE and Universal think they can make a bloody fortune and win an Oscar, which will give the film a higher profile and they’ll make even more money — which IS likely.