Originally posted on mrchair, 4/6/2004.
Fiery Portlanders lined up outside in droves, so passionate about the liberal cause that they would support it to point of sabotaging Democrats in the 04 election. Other fiery Portlanders picketed the first crowd, so passionate about that exact same liberal cause that they would protest their own people to save the Democrats in said election.
Then there were the socialists, the mayoral race stumpers, the Greens, local petitioners, the press, and inside a woman was performing an awful lounge version of “Anarchy in the UK.”
I was there with a Democratic Party card in my wallet, a McCain 2000 T-shirt under my sweater, a Kerry for President button on my bag and no intention of signing a petition to put Ralph Nader on the Oregon ballot in November.
And the cause that brought us all to the Roseland Theatre last night became the punchline, when Ralph’s hopes of getting his foot in this progressive state’s race ended a few hundred people short. Nader needed 1,000 people to make it on our ballot, and after I stood in line to see the spectacle with hundreds of Portlanders (such a convention hadn’t happened in more than 20 years) it was pretty surprising that he didn’t make it.
The line outside was tense when I first showed up, wrapping around both ends of the downtown concert hall, with protestors telling the indies that they would waste their votes, prolong an unjust war and drive the country into the ground by sacrificing the state to Bush. Gore won Oregon by a slim margin in 2000, with a whopping 5 percent going to the Green Party spoiler.
A woman and her husband handed out $100 worth of flyers to try and sway the lined-up Naderites. When one person in line threw her pro-Kerry flyer back at her, her husband observed, “You’d think they’d at least recycle it.” One conservatively dressed man walked by with a sign stating that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Some shaggy people in line made fun of his shoes.
I couldn’t help but be impressed, if a little disgusted, that so many people in town were either this idealistic, this hopeless about the democratic process, or so completely irrational that they would make a protest vote for Nader. Equally impressive was the fragmentation visible outside the theater. It reminded me of the anti-war protest in March, which piggybacked the causes of justice for janitors, migrant farm workers, social anarchy, socialism and Dennis Kucinich along with the initial intention: “Peace.” You have to wonder if these are the people you want to line up with. I’ve always thought that liberals are more passionate, intelligent or thoughtful, and therefore harder to organize. But the result is kind of fucked up. The left is divided, make no mistake.
After a 30-minute wait I was accosted by a scrawny young man in a Nader T-shirt, guarding the door like a bouncer. Jesus, is this what the third party push is about? Giving assholes like this a chance to act like Pancho Villa for a night? He asked me if I voted in the last election, if I was registered to vote, if I had moved recently, and if I planned to sign for Nader on the ballot.
“Uh, no.” I said. That wasn’t going to fly, I figured, and I really wanted in. “Maybe, I don’t know.” That was good enough for him, but I wondered if I’d have been bounced if I held my ground. I later remembered my Kerry button and realized I was wearing rival colors at their homecourt. I thought it would be funny to get my ass kicked at a Nader rally. The inside was dark and packed and the lounge singer was doing some god-awful smutty song about Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush fucking each other. Gross. Pretty fun atmosphere inside though, and even a much-appreciated bar upstairs. I snapped a bunch of pictures of the hippies and punks and the wine and cheese crowd, and tried to call Catfish only to be later reprimanded for missing the NCAA championship. He had a point.
One more band and two beers later, I was positive Ralph had the nomination wrapped up, and was stewing over the fact that he would turn a Democratic state into a swing state so carelessly. He claims his candidacy will teach the Democrats to beat Bush, and draw Republicans as well as liberals. Huh? Following a “Ralph, Ralph,” chant, and one guy yelling “Slayer,” a Nader rep came out and broke the news that they didn’t make the cut. 750 people (minus me). They needed 1000 in the room at once, and then get them all to sign a petition. A spot on the ballot would now be very difficult. I was relieved, but honestly, not happy. A few plastic cups with shots of brown liquor were passed among the crowd. Ralph came on stage, and I watched the man I voted for in 2000 as he moved the crowd with a powerful rant against corporate America and the sorry state of the country. I loved almost everything he said and found myself applauding.
It wasn’t a happy moment to listen someone speak such strong messages to such a dedicated crowd, knowing that this country, this world would never have him as a leader. It wasn’t a happy moment to watch someone take his powerful grassroots movement on an ego trip, and fail. He pointed his finger at Oregon, saying we were losing our progressive tradition, and the NCAA, and Friends reruns for making us complacent. Called Dean all but a turncoat. I was watching Nader go down with the ship. I thought I saw an old college professor of mine, a brave and respected faculty activist, walk across the floor of the theater, but I remembered that he died a year or so ago.
I listened to the speech and left a little jaded, a little sympathetic. The sympathy faded though, as later on I realized that during the convention some fucker had, no shit, stolen my Kerry for President button right off of my bag. The left is divided, make no mistake.
(photo credit Flickr user soundfromwayout creative commons)