"...the vice president spoke candidly about criticism from local filmmaker Michael Moore that the Clinton administration has ignored Flint while trumpeting economic improvements in most other parts of the country. Moore and others have charged that Gore's recent interest in Flint is merely a symptom of a candidate willing to pander to voters, especially in a state like Michigan considered key for his hopes of victory. 'When we talk about how to help Flint, I want Michael Moore at the table even though he is not a supporter of mine,' Gore said." -- The Flint Journal
As I write this, it is early in the morning on the East coast on Election Day, 2000. On TV, I watch the footage of yesterday's campaign stops. Al Gore is in church in Flint. Behind him is the choir that sang at my wedding. He says I am welcome at his table should he be elected.
I'd rather he invite my sister-in-law in Flint to that table. She is a single mother who makes a little over $20,000 a year lifting manhole covers and inspecting sewers for the city of Flint. Her son has muscular dystrophy. Four years ago, Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton (over the objections of his own wife) decided to harm the lives of my sister-in-law, her son, and the 300,000 other disabled kids who had their benefits cut under the law that eliminated our federal welfare programs. These have not been easy years for her.
My wife and I and other family members have done our best to help her. I asked the President then -- and I ask Mr. Gore now -- what did she and her boy do to deserve this kind of treatment? Most Americans, I suppose, have been conned into believing welfare recipients are a bunch of lazy people who are leaching off the rest of us. The reality, of course, is that some of us are dealt severe blows in our lives. We are the only country of wealth that believes when one of our own citizens falls upon hard times, they should be punished and made to crawl on their knees for help.
So I sit here and watch Mr. Gore in that Flint church. I wonder if the preacher reminded the vice president that we will be judged by how we treat "the least among us?"
Twenty-eight years ago this morning, on the day of the 1972 election, I was filled with passion and an enthusiasm to vote for an honest and decent man who would immediately end the Vietnam War. I was 18. My friends Rod and Jeff and I were running the McGovern campaign for the eastern half of Genesee County in Michigan. We knocked on just about every door because we believed we had a chance to throw Nixon out of office. Of course, the next day, McGovern was trounced.
For some reason, I never grew up, and, I guess, weirdly enough, never gave up hope. To hear my fellow baby boomers this past week instruct me in the intricacies of "strategic voting" and "the lesser of two evils" and "you see, a vote for this guy is really a vote for that guy," made me wonder how I missed the boat -- the one on which you learn to act "responsible," and be "pragmatic," and, of course, "compromise."
That's why it's been so refreshing to be around the young people who have thronged by the hundreds of thousands to the Nader campaign. They don't want to hear about settling for the second worst guy. They can't comprehend their elders' pleas to abandon their conscience and do something in the voting booth they don't believe in. These young people are filled with a fire to stand up, speak out, and make this world a better place. Nothing -- not even the fear of the Bogeyman Bush -- will smother their passion to do the right thing.
Today, my daughter will vote in her first election. I believe the worst thing I could do as a parent is to tell her that she should not be following her own conscience. I will not tell her to be "realistic"; she will have plenty of time to deal with the harsh realities of this world. Why should she begin her adult life having to settle for something she doesn't believe in?
I have seen the slippery slope that type of behavior leads to in the baby boom generation. First, you start with little chips away at your conscience. You agree to do things that don't seem to directly harm any living thing, actions in which you convince yourself, "I guess I can live with that 'cause the alternative would be worse!"
But bit by bit, as you start to abandon what you believe in and compromise your values, you end up being able to rationalize any action. You learn to turn your head the other way when you see something in your workplace that isn't right. You settle for relationships you don't belong in because you fear the alternative.
Before long, you give up and head to the middle. You learn that it is safe there. If you strive for complacency and mediocrity, the system will reward you. Promise not to upset the apple cart and you will end up with more money, a nice house, lots of gadgets, and oodles of things. Who wouldn't want that!
But all of this compromise -- not doing what you know in your heart of hearts to be right -- not only destroys you as an individual, it weakens our democracy. After McGovern, many decided that in the next in election, in order not to "lose," they would "settle" for Jimmy Carter. He was the first president to put restrictions on abortion rights, but we looked the other way because the Nixon/Ford era had to end.
And each time, for the last 25 years, we have continued to settle for less and less, to the point where we have so depleted the political gene pool, the Democrats are now almost indistinguishable from the Republicans.
Has our willingness to compromise, to vote for the lesser of two evils, gotten us better candidates? Has our abandoning the beliefs and positions we once so strongly fought for resulted in a better life for the poor and the working class?
You know the answer. Real wages have not gone up for the majority. Union membership is at an all-time low. Corporate profits and executive pay are at an all time high. Mergers and takeovers have set a record every year for the last five years. Access to abortion is now available in only 14% of the counties in the U.S. I don't need to recite the list, do I? We all know where the lesser of two evils has gotten us. Somewhere between nowhere and worse than nowhere. It has set us back and made our work for change all the harder.
At some point, you have to say enough is enough. Today is that day for me. I will go to the polls and vote for Ralph Nader. I am doing so for the only reason you should ever vote for anyone. I am voting for Ralph because it is what my conscience says is right. I am doing what they taught us to do in civics class -- vote for who you think the best candidate is. Period.
How many of you can honestly say Ralph Nader is not the best candidate? Don't reach into your bag of rationalizations -- just answer this one question honestly. If you want all the dirty money out of our elections, you HAVE to vote for Nader because he is the only one -- not Bush, not Gore -- who would eliminate it entirely. If you think the minimum wage should go up more than 50 cents an hour in the next year, then you HAVE to vote for Ralph Nader as he is only one who would raise it to a real living wage. If you believe there should be universal health coverage NOW, then you have to vote for Ralph Nader because he is the only one who would sign that bill. Click here ("20 Reasons to Vote for Nader") and look at this list. And if find yourself in agreement, then how can you NOT vote for Ralph Nader?
Oh, I forgot. He can't win.
And neither will my sister-in-law, or her disabled son, or the rest of us when Gore or Bush win by the end of this evening. That's the sad truth.
But you can send the "winner" a strong message that there is a movement afoot in this country and the new president had better pay heed to it. The ONLY way to send this message is to go into the voting booth today and vote for Ralph. If he scores big tonight, it will send a shock wave through the system. I am asking you to help me do that.
I know many of you in the "swing states" feel a need to vote for Gore to stop Bush. As I've said before, I respect your decision. But that also means if you live in the 37 other states where the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion, then why not use your vote like a political Molotov and vote for Nader? A vote for Gore in Mississippi IS a wasted vote! As it is in Texas, most of the Deep South, the plains states and the Rocky Mountain region. Bush is way, way ahead in these states. Your vote for Gore there will get ZERO votes in the Electoral College, but in the popular vote for Nader it could make a HUGE difference. The same is true in the states where Gore is far ahead like New York and Massachusetts. A vote for Nader there is a vote that will be counted in a very loud way. You can literally make history.
Do not vote from your fears, no matter where you live. Decisions made in fear are usually the wrong decisions and lead to lousy consequences. You have to find the courage to act on your convictions. Remember what that felt like? To believe in something, even if it was against all the odds?
When Rosa Parks took that seat at the front of the bus, do you think she was afraid? You bet she was. But she did not let her fear make her choose the safe path, the pragmatic path. Her decision to take that seat was based not in fear but in hope and courage. I'm sure there were those who told her "You can't win!" I'm sure no one thought she would win. But she didn't care about some imaginary horse race on whether or not she would "win." She just did it because it was the right thing to do.
Compromise, settling for less, putting off to tomorrow the fight that must be fought today has never moved the human race forward. The revolutionaries that founded this country were not stymied by their fear of King George. And they did not even have the support of 75% of the colonists! Nevertheless, they followed their conscience.
The civil rights heroes did not let their fear of George Wallace stop them for doing what was right, even if 80% of the state of Alabama was against them.
Why should anyone now let their fear of the current George -- the W. -- make them give up their sacred right to cast their ballot honestly instead of for someone whose main attribute seems to be that he ISN'T George W. Bush? Can we not aspire to what those who came before us were willing to do so that we would ALL have the right to vote our conscience today? Do we not dishonor them by our willingness to settle for less than our conscience demands?
Finally, to those of you in the majority who did not vote in the last election, I encourage you to take this wild opportunity today to really stick it to the whole damn lot of them! Go down to the local polling place and do the one thing the Democrats and Republicans hope to God you don't do -- vote for Ralph Nader! If you have ever had the fantasy of upsetting every rotten politician and guaranteeing that they will not be able to digest tonight's supper, then go to the polls and vote for Ralph Nader. Bring a friend or two and the weasels in D.C. may not sleep for a week.
Then let's all get ready for the work we have to do beginning on Wednesday. No matter who "wins" we all lose -- and we will all have to join together to make sure it gets better next time.
Thank you for enduring these long letters about the election. It is presumptuous of me to assume that you would want to read them, so at least I hope they have been somewhat informative or entertaining. I have appreciated hearing from all of you. One thing is certain: Wall Street may have bought up just about everything in this country, but they haven't killed the democracy yet. As I've said before, as bad as it may get, the head of General Motors still has the same number of votes as you or I -- one!
And there's more of us than there are of him.
Never forget that.
PS. As I was writing this letter, Letterman got in the last word: "Now, um, let me get this straight. They SAY a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. So, uh, who do I vote for if I wanna vote for Nader?"
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