I voted for Ralph Nader for president in 1996. By my own reckoning, the first term of Bill Clinton and Al Gore had already done more environmental harm than the 12 previous years of Reagan and Bush. We knew that Ralph Nader's campaign would be token, but we wanted to establish the idea of voting for what we want, not what we least don't want.

Since then progressive trade unionists, environmentalists and human rights activists


have demonstrated the capability to create a new political movement in this country and across the globe. My own participation in this movement began in early 1999, when I helped the United Steelworkers found the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (ASJE). This alliance is best summarized by the Steelworkers' David Foster: "If you will promise to make sustainable jobs a product of environmental protection, we will promise to make environmental protection our most important job."

ASJE marched in Seattle along with tens of thousands of union members, environmentalists, and human and animal rights activists. Shutting down the World Trade Organization meeting was just the beginning. This much publicized but too little understood public uprising last November marked a turning point for progressive activism in America, yet it remains a political orphan in this election year. Subsequent rallies in Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have only strengthened our movement in spite of the increasingly unconstitutional crackdown on nonviolent organizers. Are the people who marched (or know they should have) and withstood police brutality to stand up for their convictions willing to swallow all that pride and vote for Al Gore, a pro-death penalty, pro-globalization candidate swimming in corporate cash? I wouldn't bet on it.

It's not enough to protest in the streets, we also need champions in the halls of power. We need to have a way to express, through the ballot box, both our dissatisfaction with our current political choices and our firm optimism that we can do better, that we must do better.

In this election, Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke provide a unique and wonderful opportunity to register that electoral expression. Are there risks in this strategy? Of course. But what about the risk of continuing to hold our collective nose and vote Democratic? Global Environmental Outlook 2000, a three-year study by the U.N. Environment Program, recently warned of mounting evidence that human beings are seriously destabilizing the nitrogen balance, a problem that could make fresh water supplies unfit for human consumption. The document states that 80 percent of the world's forests have been destroyed or degraded, 25 percent of all mammals are at risk of extinction, and greenhouse gases have quadrupled in just four decades. Do you think these trends reversed or even slowed during the blind growth of the Clinton-Gore years? Think again.

Rather than attempting to meet these undeniable challenges, both parties ignore them and remain unwilling to stand up to the oil, timber and mining barons causing so much of the damage. Our friends in the Democratic administration passed logging without laws, weakened marine mammal protection, extended the use of ozone-destroying methyl bromide and reversed the ban on PCBs. And this is the lesser of two evils!

Perhaps worst of all, this administration passed GATT and NAFTA, trade agreements that hand our environmental laws over to non-elected tribunals that meet in secret. Al Gore says he is for strong environmental laws (including many written by Nader), yet he champions a trade body with the power and propensity to remove these same protections.

Gore's trump card in this election is the strong economy. But what he calls a great economic boom is in truth a global liquidation sale. Gore and his even less-worthy opponent both demonstrate a failure to grasp the essential fact that the earth's natural capital (the life-supporting ecosystems) is being sold off for cash.

Ralph Nader understands this. He also understands that you don't shrink from challenge and let great opportunities pass you by. In These Times editor Joel Bleifuss recently urged progressives to vote for Gore, then start building "an independent political force" (see "Let's Win This One First," September 18). This is nonsense. The time to build a new political force is during an election campaign, when people are paying attention, when we have an American hero like Ralph Nader as our candidate. Once Gore is in office, our ability to pressure him will be greatly enhanced if we win a sizable vote in the election. If we capitulate again just to "win this one," we will be (and deserve to be) laughed off by the Democratic Leadership Council-dominated corporate pawn that is the Democratic Party today.

Don't sell your soul to fear in this election. Choose hope and vote for a future that is unpredictable, rather than the downward spiral we can see plainly in front of us. After all, risk is the spice of life, variety is just the meat and potatoes. Vote Nader, and begin to create a future you can really believe in.

David Brower is past president of the Sierra Club and the founder of Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute.

Read Brent Blackwelder's response, "Al Gore: Friend of the Earth."


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