Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader stopped at the University of Maryland campus yesterday afternoon to denounce corporate control and the two-party system, tailoring his message to college students whom he believes have been lulled into a false sense of progressivism through Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) campaign.
The event drew about 300 people and raised over $2,000 for Nader's campaign, both numbers "paltry" compared to his other stops, according to Matt Zawisky, Nader's national organizer.
During his talk, Nader's most scathing attacks were directed at Obama for accepting money from oil companies, for voting for the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008 and for staying on the sidelines of the single-payer health care plan that Nader supports. Youth spokesperson Ashley Sanders, who warmed up the crowd, said Obama's campaign has repackaged grassroots and counterculture movements, even as Democrats have been complicit in government greed and excess.
Greg Schlein, a sophomore French major who collected donations at the door, said that votes for Democrats and Republicans are both votes for the corporations that own them.
"Obama plays on a false progressive movement in the sense that he's playing off hope, change and progress," he said. "He started out on the left and has raced toward the center, which is self-defeating for progressives. ... It's the job of the American people to hold him accountable."
Despite being barred from the presidential debates, Nader is polling at around 4 percent nationwide, a figure he said jumps to 15 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds. Sanders said the campaign, which is the only one to hit all 50 states, has generated great excitement among young people, whom she said are "extremely receptive" and many times trade in their Obama pins for Nader ones.
"They're both idealistic and realistic," she said. "They know how hard they'll have to work to get what they want, and are idealistic in that they don't want to have the same drab political conversation. ... They're motivated by the politics of compassion, creativity and joy."
Many are afraid that a vote for Nader will indirectly elect Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sanders said, an off-shoot of the so-called "Nader effect" on the 2000 elections. People should be as afraid of directly electing Obama, she said. Obama actually gets a boost when Nader is also on the ballot, according to five national polls including surveys by CNN, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.
Nader, who said he has spent most of his campaign merely trying to get on the ballot, sought to "induce higher levels of social indignation" yesterday. According to Nader's website, he will appear on the ballot in 45 states.
He urged a protest vote on Nov. 4, drawn from the 61 percent of Americans who believe both parties are failing, according to a recent Gallup poll.
As long as only two sides are presented, "prepare to be disappointed again and again and again," he said. A third-party presence must loom over Washington to make sure politicians are scared of the people instead of big businesses, he said.
Students identify most with his stance on student loan gouging, he said, as well his positions on health insurance, keeping jobs in America, providing affordable housing and decriminalizing marijuana.
Senior government and politics major Ben Sohl came to hear what Nader had to say because he has great respect for him, he said. But his vote is still going to Obama, he said, based on the advice of an aunt.
"There may not be much of a difference, but for the people in the margins, that little bit means the world," he said.
At the same time, Sohl said he worried about how voters who thought they were voting for change will react if Obama doesn't deliver on his campaign promises of reform.
"People have invested so much in him and have so much hope," he said. "If he doesn't follow through, the cynicism will be awful."