Third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's campaign made a stop at the University of Massachusetts yesterday morning.
Although around 250-300 people came to see Nader speak at 11 a.m. in Stockbridge Hall, Bowker auditorium accommodates 700, Nader noticed.
"I guess UMass students like to sleep in on Sunday," he said.
Nader advocated increased political involvement from college students, particularly at the University of Massachusetts.
"This used to be a hotbed of student activism in the 1960's," he said. "That day could come again - should come again. You have the most at stake."
The Nader campaign attributed the lack of turnout to the "media blackout" that has left many voters unaware of Nader's candidacy.
"I didn't even know he was running until I got involved in the campaign," said Oliver Renau from the western Massachusetts Get Out the Vote campaign, who spoke briefly after Nader.
But Nader said that despite being ignored by mainstream media, his campaign has done far better than last election season. He is on the ballot in Washington, D.C. and every state except Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Michael Richardson, Nader's national ballot access coordinator, attributed this to the states' complex processes for getting third party candidates on the ballot, calling it "a logistical nightmare."
Richardson said Oklahoma doesn't allow any third candidates on its presidential election ballots.
Nader's speech addressed a broad range of topics including the recent Wall Street bailout, minimum wage, health care reform and the war in Iraq.
"Washington had Wall Street over the barrel and could've made them do anything," he said. "Instead, they stuffed Washington in the barrel and rolled it."
He was critical of Congress for passing the bailout legislation without holding public hearings.
"I'm searching for an historic parallel," Nader said. "In 230 years we've gone from having 13 colonies and King George III to having 50 states and King George IV."
Nader said that the Bush administration has weakened the legislative branch, and both candidates show no sign of strengthening congressional power.
"Congress is supposed to declare war; the last war it declared was on poverty, in the Lyndon Johnson era," he said.
Nader proposed an alternative to the bailout recently passed by Congress, in which a one-tenth of a percent tax on securities speculation would accrue several hundred billion dollars. Then, he said, Wall Street could "bail itself out."
The Nader campaign has also blamed the mainstream media for complicity in the bailout's quick passage.
"If you want to see the extent to which the media is on a string from the big corporations, just look at the fact that the term bailout plan fell out of designation a couple of days ago," said Nader for President spokesperson Greg Kafoury in an interview. "They started calling it a rescue plan - turned on a dime, calling it a rescue plan."
Nader said that while the two major candidates argue semantics over the war in Iraq, he's calling for a "six-month negotiated withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and corporate contractors, as well as continued humanitarian aid and U.N.-sponsored elections."
Nader also spoke of the refusal of major networks to allow him and other third-party candidates to participate in presidential debates, attributing it to a "media blackout" that has left many Americans unaware that he was even running.
He said the "Democrat-Republican party," despite rhetoric on both sdes, isn't offering much by way of change.
"How many decades are we going to give them?" he said.
He also argued that the U.S. should catch up with western Europe, offering the "basic social benefits of a civilized, productive society," including universal health care and a "living wage."
"If the minimum wage in 1968 was adjusted for inflation - the way Congress adjusts their own salaries - it'd be 10 bucks," he said,
Before concluding with a town-meeting style Q&A with Nader, the campaign asked audience members for substantial contributions. Donations ranging from $50 to $500 were given by attendees.
Christina Branche, a University maintainer, said she donated to the campaign because "they need all the help they can get."
"He speaks to the people," said Branche. "I think it's important at this time to do that."
Nader said that because Massachusetts will be an "easy win" for Obama, independent voters should feel free to "vote their conscience."
He said neither candidate is likely to come to the Pioneer Valley.
"Have you seen McCain or Obama in your state since the spring?" he asked the audience.
Nader left for Vermont immediately after the event. He plans on visiting all 50 states - campaigning as a write-in in the five in which he's not on the ballot.
"If you're running for president, that's how you show respect for voters," he said. "You campaign in all 50 states."
William McGuinness contributed to this report.