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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Nader Factor

Air Date: Week of

Ralph Nader’s name may inspire many feelings among voters this election year, but host Steve Curwood talks with one Nader loyalist in the swing state of New Mexico, who says people should get over their fears and vote for social change.


CURWOOD: Whether or not one believes Ralph Nader tipped the last presidential election to George Bush, this year Kerry campaign officials say privately that if Mr. Nader polls just one or two points it could make a crucial difference in the swing states. Many of Mr. Nader’s supporters from last time have dropped away, some because he no longer has the backing of the Green Party, and others who fear a spoiler effect.

But not Sam Hitt. a former Green Party candidate for New Mexico’s land commissioner, and a long time anti-logging and water rights activist, Mr. Hitt is standing by his man, and he joins us by phone from Santa Fe. Hello, sir.

HITT: Hello.

CURWOOD: Now, I’m sure your friends and folks you work with in politics are asking you this. We have a winner-take-all system when you run for president of the United States, the electoral vote system and such, and that in a tight state, which is yours, New Mexico, votes for Ralph Nader could at the end of the day could end up supporting George Bush. So, what do you say to these folks?

HITT: Well, yeah, so that’s a real strong incentive it would seem to me for the Democrats, for John Kerry, to earn my vote. To get out there and make the environment an issue. He has not done that. He is talking with the coal industry making concessions and compromises. He has not addressed the public land issues, as far as I can tell, in the campaign at all.

CURWOOD: Wait a second, he doesn’t want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

HITT: Well, that’s true, and I appreciate his long history there and that’s great. Unfortunately, he’s told the oil and gas people that he’s going to allow them to drill elsewhere in the lower 48. And we have several very valuable and ecologically important areas here in New Mexico which would be opened up to oil and gas exploitation if he goes through with his promises. So I think that’s not something that’s going to earn my vote.

CURWOOD: But many environmental activists would make the charge that President Bush has a very poor environmental record.

HITT: Well, I think there’s no doubt there that he does have an extremely poor environmental record. I just have to part company with my fellow environmental activists and conservationists. We just don’t quite see eye to eye on what the environmental movement is. I have believed for decades that it’s a social change movement very much like the abolition of slavery and the suffrage of women and the populist movement in the 1890s. You know, those were movements that started from the outside. They didn’t rely on lobbying in Washington, D.C. to achieve social change. And I just believe if we’re going to have the kind of fundamental social change it’s going to come from the outside – that’s our history, that’s the way our system is set up and that’s what Ralph Nader represents.

CURWOOD: So, I’m sure your friends argue with you, look, how much are you willing to risk having Bush in office for another four years to send the message of social change?

HITT: Well, yeah, these are all serious considerations and I’ve weighed them very carefully. I’m tremendously enthused and excited by all the voices that have risen up – the Michael Moores and Amy Goodmans and the Tom Hartmans and many, many others that … You know, we just have this flowering of progressive political thought in America today. I think we’re really educating the next generation, and that would be a silver lining to the cloud, if you will, if Bush is re-elected. That that movement will not lose its steam, that will gather steam.

CURWOOD: Sam, I’m wondering, do you have kids?

HITT: Yes, yes I do have three children, yeah.

CURWOOD: And how politically active are they?

HITT: Well, my two boys in their 20s are increasingly active. They were both inspired by the Nader campaign in 2000. I think they both voted for the first time then.

CURWOOD: And which way do you think they’re going this year?

HITT: Well, that’s a good question. We’ve had a lot of heated exchanges and, you know, I think they’re weighing their options. They’re probably leaning toward a Kerry vote, but it’s hard to tell, at this point.

CURWOOD: Sam, wait a second. You’ve given them their political education in your household and they’re going to vote for Kerry? Why do you suppose they’re going to do that?

HITT: Well I hope I’ve given them the sense that we need to keep our eye on the prize and work for fundamental social change. You know, there’s a tremendous pull from fear, and they’re as susceptible of that as everyone else, including myself. So, I think it takes a very principled and a very determined attitude here to do what’s right, even if on the surface and in the short term it appears to be wrong.

CURWOOD: Okay, it’s November 3, 2004, the day after the election. President Bush has won re-election with the electoral vote margin that came from New Mexico. By a handful of votes – in fact, the margin attributable to those folks who voted for Ralph Nader. How do you feel?

HITT: Well I guess I would feel like William Lloyd Garrison did when he burned a copy of the Constitution back in the 1830s to protest slavery, which was written into the Constitution. You know, many of his supporters abandoned him. They thought he was off his rocker. Well, of course he was right, a slave isn’t worth three-fifths of a person. And that’s what the Constitution said. It was decades before he was proven right. So, you know, again, there has to be a few people in America, there has to be a Ralph Nader that’s outside the system to work for long-term social change. Which often takes more than just one lifetime, but is the only significant thing that’s going to make this a more livable planet.

CURWOOD: Sam Hitt is founder of the Wild Watershed Organization in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and a former candidate for state land commissioner on the Green Party ticket. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

HITT: You bet. My pleasure.

[MUSIC: Mark Isham “Coalwood” ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK: OCTOBER SKY (Sony Classical – 1999)]



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