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Ralph Nader Super-Rally at MSG

BY MOLLY BUCK AND ADAM BULGER
10.27.2000 | ACTIVISM

The crowd looked more like a Pavement show than a political rally: lots of blue jeans, indie rock tees, birkenstocks, and hemp-based accessories. October 13 in New York was not Seattle in November, nor was it DC in April. It was not a coup, not a revolution. It did not grab the world by the jugular and make it take notice. It was a night for the new progressive movement to take account of itself, to reflect and to get down.

And the folks who took the stage to support this movement were a hodgepodge of celebrities, politicians and musicians, propelling the audience to high spirits and heightened thoughts before Nader came out and took on the serious business of campaigning for president, Ralph-style. The momentum that built and kept the crowd buoyant for almost four hours was due in part to the carnival of speakers and performers. We were on hand to record the proceedings.

Tom Tomorrow Cartoon

Shortly after we sat down, the lights went off and the MSG overhead digital TV cube went on. Some media company's logo flashed on the screen. We braced ourselves, assuming that whatever was about to be shown was a commercial that preceded all MSG events. Then "Sparky the Penguin" appeared on the screen, and we relaxed. The cartoon was awesome. A little bit toothless when compared to a lot of Tom Tomorrow's other work, but it jibed with the general feel-goodness of the crowd. The scene where Ralph Nader took out 5 secret service agent Ninjas and dusted their remains into a recycling bin was heartrtbreakingly right on. (You can watch the cartoon online at www.thismodernworld.com.)

MasterCard Parody Ad

Aside from the "I like Ike" cartoon and Sinatra's "High hopes for Kennedy" ads, this might be the most effective political ad of all time. Rips apart Gore and Bush while underlining Ralph's brown shoes and charcoal gray suit integrity.

Phil Donahue

Adam:

I'm not sure if I was relieved or disappointed that Phil Donahue didn't take the mic into the crowd. The meta of Oprah, Ricki Lake, et al., channeled the energy of a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher and rocked the house in his initial MC spin off. He knew his crowd, eliciting cheers with attacks on the "rootin' tootin'" futile war on drugs.

Mark Dunue

Molly:

A slight young man in an oversized suit, an organic farmer and the Green Party candidate for Senate, Mark Dunue was the Green Party's Harry Potter. He was so impassioned by his words that he stumbled over them more than once, never pausing to get his bearings before leaping onto the next issue.

Denouncing the use of pesticides in NYC to kill mosquitoes, and advocating a vote for Ray Dowd, his party's candidate for the NY State Assembly, he cast the Green Party spell, getting us ready for the environmentally friendly, anti-corporate platform we would herald praises upon for the rest of the evening.

Company Flow

Adam:

There are appropriate times to throw your hands up in the air and wave them like you just don't care, extol the virtues of the Knicks, and incite the crowd to say yes yes ya'll, and, arguably, the Ralph Nader super rally at Madison Square Garden may have indeed been one of those times.

Unfortunately, the crowd was Ani-Di Franco-riffic, as in more likely to make batches of homemade jams than to kick them out, and these cats, Company Flow, didn't really have it in them to rock anybody's socks off. Presumably, one of them had a girlfriend on the rally organization committee.

Michael Moore

Molly:

Invoking the fiery courage of Rosa Parks, Michael Moore reminded us that we can't be seduced by the politics of fear, and that voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. Moore challenged us to name one piece of legislation that Gore or Bush has pushed through that genuinely affects the safety of workers and of American citizens. Then he shot off a long list of legislation that went through because of Nader's work--the creation of the EPA, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, major regulations for automakers, and on and on. And we thought Gore was a workaholic. He also reminded us that many of our founding fathers--Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln included--warned against a 2-party system. In fact, Washington wasn't affiliated with any party and Lincoln ran on a third party ticket. Let Lincoln Debate! Let Lincoln Debate!

Susan Sarandon

Adam:

I wasn't psyched to see Susan Sarandon. I associate her with indiscriminately attending celebrity rallies, like she subscribes to some kind of cause of the month club. I feared her presence would dilute the message of the event. Her leather pants were rad, though.

Then she put the lights on. We had sold out Madison Square Garden. I thought that clinched the night as a historic watermark, almost on par with Eugene Deb's running for President while in prison. I checked the Times the next day and they didn't mention the rally except for some crap A.P. article in the Metro section. Fuck them.

Ani Difranco

Molly:

I jumped up and cheered on impulse when Susan Sarandon introduced her as the "female Ralph Nader." She sang one of those breathy/rappy songs of hers about...well, it was about being confused by the system and wanting something more real. You know, Ani issues.

Adam:

I just don't get it. Sorry.

Ben Harper

Adam:

He shut the whole room down with his first song. Then... he covered sexual healing by Marvin Gaye. On an inappropriate-ness scale of one to ten, one being making a Monica Lewinsky joke and ten being a defense of Nafta, his choice of cover was about an 8. The crowd fidgeted, shuffled, talked, squirmed and collectively expressed "excuse me?" Molly suggested that maybe he was trying to make the association between Ralph Nader and sex, to which I replied "good luck."

Molly:

If he was really that hung up on Marvin Gaye, couldn't he have sung "What's Going On," or any other song from that album? He reminded me of Chef from South Park, who always offers the children advice by singing x-rated Isaac Hayes songs.

Tim Robbins (as Bob Roberts)

Adam:

Phil Donahue introduced Bob Roberts as a Senator from Pennsylvania who survived an assassination attempt. I felt on the spot and guilty for not knowing who he was talking about. Then he said Bob Roberts.It was the biggest Spinal Tap moment of the night. I gave him the secret Satan sign as he sang "this land is your land."

Bill Murray

Molly:

Bill Murray's admission of political naiveté only added impact to his endorsement of Nader. That and his fluorescent orange camouflage pants. The only bummer was he was the only one of the entourage who didn't come up on stage after Ralph's long speech. I guess he had to get back to Drew, Lucy and Cameron. Could anyone really blame him?

Adam:

Of all the celebrity benediction that Ralph Nader received that night, Bill Murray's approval was the one that I treasured the most. I grew up on his trademark insouciance in classics like Stripes and Ghostbusters, and have come to think of him as like a surrogate uncle. He announced that he was prepared to give the political speech of his life, meaning that he was going to give the first one of his life. He seemed nervous, out of place. He made some lame joke about the upcoming Charlie's angels movie that would have gone over like a Lead balloon in a less forgiving crowd. After regaining his composure he said he was proud to be there and that he was proud that everyone else was there as well. I felt good.

Eddie Vedder

Molly:

Eddie Vedder is my boyfriend. He came out on stage w/his guitar and his long scraggly hair amidst an introduction about his fight with Ticket Master, sat down in a fold-up chair and mentioned that he actually had played to a sold-out crowd at MSG before, "but this, this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." After apologizing for not writing a song for the rally, he announced that he would play one that was written over 30 years ago, though possibly even more relevant today.

And, as a poke in the ribs to the Bush & Gore campaigns, made it clear that he asked the author permission to perform it, before breaking into "The Times They Are A-Changing" to a slowly increasing lighter-lit crowd. In fact, two suburban moms seated behind us, who I earlier decided must have been bullied into going by their progressive kids living in Oregon, even broke out their lighters.

Adam:

I am now able to forgive him for "Jeremy."

Patti Smith

Molly:

Patti Smith sang the most bizarre rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" I could have ever imagined. It was as if Judy Garland smoked 300 cigarettes in one day, swallowed a bunch of gravel, shed her blue and white gingham dress for tight black duds and took some acid. It was beautiful. And what a fitting theme, really.

Adam:

She's like, crazy and stuff. And why didn't she do "Because the night?" Did not the night belong to us? Wouldn't that have been more appropriate than "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or whatever the hell it was she sang?

Michael Moore: Part Two

Adam:

Remember that time on TV Nation when he interviewed Newt Gingrich and he asked Newt Gingrich about how Newt Gingrich's county spent millions of dollars on a coast guard even though the county doesn't have a coast? That was awesome.

Super Ralph!

Adam:

During his rousing, epic length closing ceremony speech, Ralph Nader welcomed the capacity Madison Square Garden crowd to the "politics of joy and justice." Alliterative phrasing and sound byte length aside, the phrase distills Nader's polarity from the other players in the 2000 train wreck of a presidential race. Sincere and informed, simple and celebratory, the words encapsulated the change and action that informs Nader's Green party campaign, and which is absent from mainstream politics.

Molly:

The Teddy Roosevelt museum near Union Square has this write-up about TR's platform when he was running for governor of NY and it reads as if Nader came in and stole it for his 2000 campaign. TR was vocal about making corporations accountable for worker safety, cleaning up our natural resources, regulating business...and a lot of folks at the time thought he was way too radical.

Nader embodies the qualities that our founding fathers had in mind, two major ones being his genuine public service and his lack of obsessive political ambition. His speech was reminiscent of Micah Sifry's comment in a recent article that "Nader is probably more comfortable testifying before a congressional committee on C-SPAN than he is inspiring a mass audience with flowing rhetoric." His speech was completely inspiring however, by the sheer force of his unending knowledge (no cue cards in sight, no teleprompter) and his genuine concern for his country's well being. On the pre-rally TV screen, images flashed of a young Nader on Saturday Night Live, footage of Nader and John Lennon talking about Vietnam, a comparison of Nader with Spider Man and Super Man by his running-mate, reminding us what an enduring, trustworthy and approachable part of American culture he is.

About the Author
New Jersey native Adam Bulger currently resides in Hartford, CT. As a free-lance writer he has written numerous articles on booze, cops and robots.
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