Democracy Rising over Sun Dome

The People Have the Power Tour will roll into USF Saturday promising Florida “freshly squeezed democracy.”

Headliner Ralph Nader, attorney, consumer rights campaigner, political activist and the 2000 Green Party presidential candidate, will appear at the Sun Dome to deliver his message of electoral reform, environmental protection and the need to free American politics from the “grip of corporate interests.” The Tour, which fuses politics and music, is seen by Nader as a vehicle to rejuvenate and unify local activists across the country.

The rally will provide Florida activists with the opportunity to share the stage with figures of national importance such as Nader and Michael Moore, a filmmaker and author of Stupid White Men, which recently topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. Saturday’s musical lineup includes Patti Smith, Jello Biafra and Iris DeMent. The nationwide tour, which began in Portland, Ore., in August, has visited San Francisco, Phoenix, Boston, Cleveland and Austin, Texas, and will play Atlanta Friday. Approximately 100 Florida non-profit organizations will use the occasion of the Tampa rally to solicit support for their causes.

The rally is sponsored by Democracy Rising, the latest in a line of political and social justice-orientated organizations instigated by Nader. Democracy Rising’s strategy is to integrate itself with local community groups campaigning on environmental, health care and social justice issues.

Katie Templin, local organizer for Democracy Rising, said one of the aims of the rally was to harness the appeal of Nader in order to promote participation in local activist groups.Templin said the event was tapping into a groundswell of opinions that believe corporations have too much influence in the United States.

“I think people are more open to hear (Nader’s message),” Templin said. “Everyone is frustrated with corporate rule. The Enron scandal has shown people how closely tied government is to corporations.”

Templin said media coverage of the war on terror has politicized many Americans.

“People that don’t consider themselves to be peace activists are seeing pictures of people being killed and reacting to that,” Templin said.

Rick Smith, international representative for the Service Employees International Union, who will speak at the rally on healthcare issues, said Nader’s event will provide a platform for people to express their outrage at current government policy.

“There’s a collective slow burn going on right now, that’s about to go into full burn,” Smith said. “There’s a great deal of anger and frustration.”

The man described by Time as the “U.S.’s toughest customer,” Nader has been in the public spotlight since the mid-1960s. He has been responsible for at least eight major consumer federal laws and the creation of federal regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Administration. Nader has also established numerous other pressure groups and single-issue organizations such as the Clean Water Action Project and the Aviation Consumer Action Project. For the past two presidential elections Nader has stood as Green Party candidate, polling just under three million votes in 2000.

Connie Burton, activist for the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, said her disillusionment with the mainstream political parties did not equate to unqualified support for Nader.

“I will be listening very closely to Nader,” Burton said. “I’m not interested in building a third political party so business can continue as normal.”

Contact Chris O’Donnellat