Marriage made in eco-heaven for green giant

THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
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The Independent Online
Amid the madness of King Ross Perot's Reform Party, and the canned applause at the made-for-media Republican convention, the Green Party's first expedition into presidential politics was a breath of fresh, pollution-free air in the US election campaign.

At "Green Gathering '96", 62-year-old consumer advocate Ralph Nader accepted the party's nomination and vowed to take on the giant corporations crushing American democracy. In a crowded university threatre, he was received with standing ovations and occasional cries of "Go Ralphie". A nationally known veteran of fights to improve car safety and ban toxic chemicals, he promised a spirited but unconventional campaign where he will refuse political donations and spend less than $5,000 (pounds 3,300). "Like people eat Wheaties, I go on talk radio," he said.

The four day event at the University of California campus here drew 300 activists. Its high point came at a press conference when an Alaska delegate pulled out a whole salmon, dripping blood, to attack fisheries producing salmon eggs who discard millions of pounds of fish. Press passes were handed out freely and made of slips of blue recycled paper hanging on hemp string. People in red berets, straggling beards and shorts wore buttons that said "Freedom begins at home: Stop the war". "Optimism in the face of reality" promised the young man offering copies of the party's programme.

The document endorses that ultimate political no-no, gay marriage, and calls for a "none-of-the-above" option on future election ballots. Serious interest in the Green Party's electoral prospects this year focus chiefly on California, which has historically warmed to third parties. Polls this spring gave Mr Nader up to 7 per cent of the vote in a four- way race with Mr Perot, Bill Clinton, and Bob Dole.

But analysts are divided on the party's ability to draw liberal dissenters disgusted by Bill Clinton's move to the centre on the environment and welfare reform. In a close race, they may return to the Democrat fold. The Green Party's alliance with Mr Nader seems a marriage made in eco- heaven. He wears brown suits, watches a black-and-white television, and draws high approval ratings from the public for his work over 30 years as a consumer watchdog.

But the nominee has refused to join the Green Party, endorse its platform or even, it is said, share his schedule with party leaders.Instead he sees the campaign as a vehicle for attacking the corporate culture of America and the "flaccid, insipid, empty, cowardly platforms" of the "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" major parties in a system awash with company cash. It has brought rumblings of dissent from some who say the tiny party isn't ready for a national campaign.

"I didn't want the movement to run another straight white man," said Johann Moore, who promotes the medical use of marijuana in New York and came to the gathering by train. "He isn't green enough."

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