by Jan Baughman
Vsych, Jürgen: What Was Ralph Nader Thinking?, Wroughten Books, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-9749879-2-7, 194 pages.
TheWomanDirector.com is having a Summer Sale -- save $5 on What Was Ralph Nader Thinking?, and proceeds go towards funding Ralph Nader video projects! The book is only available at TheWomanDirector.com.
(Swans - July 28, 2008) It is difficult to imagine the vast organization and logistics that go into a presidential campaign, from fundraising, strategizing, the recruiting and coordination of tireless volunteers, to petitioning for signatures to get the candidate on the ballot in a system in which each and every state has different requirements. Then add to those challenges the name Ralph Nader and the vast sums of money the Democrats spent to block him from running in 2004, and the obstacles seem insurmountable. That is, if you don't believe passionately in that for which you are fighting. Jürgen Vsych is one of those fervent Raiders for the Nader cause, and as she told me in my recent interview, her involvement with his presidential bid began not in 2000 when it was sexy and exciting, but in 2004 when the going got rough. Her book chronicling that campaign, What Was Ralph Nader Thinking?, could easily have been titled What Was Jürgen Vsych Thinking? Long before the ending, the answer to both questions becomes more than obvious.
Vsych never considered herself a political person, but she recalls her first introduction to Ralph Nader when, at the age of three, she saw him on the cover of Time magazine and was drawn to his honest face. Her mother read her parts of the article about his book on GM's unsafe cars, and when she asked for the magazine for her scrapbook, her father summarily tore it in two. Years later in the fourth grade, her selection of Nader (along with Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock) as a hero in a fourth-grade essay led to the school principal crumpling up her paper while mumbling anti-Arab epithets. After that, she learned to stop talking about him, but her admiration never waned. Over the years she followed his consumer activism without quite understanding his undying battles against corporations, until her self-financed, corporate-bashing film, Ophelia Learns to Swim, was released with unfortunate timing post 9-11 -- and promptly buried.
She was thrilled when Nader ran for president in 2000, extolling her support to everyone around, only to be blamed, as Nader and his supporters ultimately were and still are, for eight years of Bush and his every wrongdoing. Yet when she got the call to petition in 2004, she thought, I can do that -- I'm a film director, I play bagpipes, and I'm as tough as they come. And that she is. Tough, and indeed creative. What Was Ralph Nader Thinking? is not a dry chronology of a campaign; it is a humorous diary of the grueling campaign activities, with photographs, witty footnotes (designated by a sketch of a tiny foot), and a glossary of terms, such as:
Naderhoods (chiefly Brit. Nadourhoods) small collations across America of injured folk formed to fight local corporate injustices, such as "Nader's Neighbors" in Toledo, Ohio, who attempted to stop Daimler-Chrysler from tearing down their small business [neighborhood].
Ralph German counsel wolf (Verb) 1. to do the right, moral and just thing, even if financially inadvisable and physically exhausting 2. to vomit, usually out of disgust (American slang) 3. to vote for a candidate who shares your beliefs at the risk of being ridiculed by one's family, friends and coworkers (Bush and Kerry made me Ralph) [After Ralph Nader].
Rommelesque exhibiting characteristics of Erwin Rommel, aka "The Desert Fox," or Jürgen "Rommel" Vsych such as tenacity, cunning, and refusing to carry out insane orders.
As the story unfolds, the woman director introduces the vast supporting cast, among them Ralph's niece, Rania Cruz, and nephew, Tarek ("rhymes with car wreck") Milleron; attorney Greg Kafoury; Ralph's aid, Matthew "the Ukrainian Boy Wonder" Zawisky; and Kevin Zeese, campaign spokesperson who had the insight to tap into Vsych's filmmaking skills. Much of Vsych's story covers the four weeks, not the intended two days, she spent collecting signatures in the grueling heat of Texas, the state with the first ballot access deadline. While not exactly Nader territory, it was the ultimate challenge for the Desert Fox, who rewarded and cooled herself with ice cream and quickly learned to profile potential signatories.
Saturday May 1 I'm now targeting dog-walkers, people with tattoos, and smokers (i.e., laid-back people), gay and lesbian couples (I remind them that Ralph is for equal rights for everyone), interracial couples (they're open-minded), fat women (they're used to being ignored), and anyone wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt -- 100% guaranteed they'll sign. Got 95 today.
Thursday May 20 11:10pm Ralph met with John Kerry yesterday. Kerry told reporters, "I hope I can make people aware that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush. A vote for John Kerry is a vote for the principles and values they care about." I hope Ralph doesn't start referring to himself in the third person. He usually refers to his accomplishments in plural, as in, "We did this," a salute to all his Raiders.
One of our 18-year-old petitioners freaked when he learned that Ralph is 70 years old. Jason [Kafoury, son of Greg] reassured him, "Ralph's dad lived to be 98. Ralph's mom is 98 and still cooks dinner -- so we've got at least another thirty years of Ralph!" In 1972, Ralph said, "The only real aging is the erosion of one's ideals."
Got 90 signatures yesterday (I only had one scoop of ice cream). Got 107 today (a two-scoops day), and got three people older than Ralph to sign. One was a woman born in 1917; she sighed, "Is that poor young man still not on the ballot?"
While I was reading this chronicle of Nader's relentless road warriors, I began receiving calls from the 2008 campaign to solicit my help petitioning in California and thought, I don't have the fortitude of a Rommel to do this kind of work... (I hope this won't cast me as a raiderette [glossary: one who thinks it would be, like, totally cool to work for Ralph Nader but is thin-skinned and can't handle the low pay and number of hours required to accomplish raideresque acts]). Yet this book drives home the message that whatever our talents -- whether they be directing films and playing bagpipes; or writing; or fighting legal battles -- whatever efforts we can put forth in the preservation of the Constitution and the right of third-party candidates to run for office is a valuable and much-needed contribution.
As quickly as the book chronicles the petitioning victories, the disappointing results begin to pour in, with signatures deemed invalid and states thought to be successfully completed dropping like Texas-sized flies, thanks to the legal shenanigans of the Democrats.
Wednesday, September 22 9:30am We're back on the ballot in New Mexico! But there's more trouble brewing in Ohio. Like in Nevada, people who signed Ralph's petition got calls from the Democrats: "Did you sign this? Are you sure? Do you want your name off? You sure? -- we can take it off!"
7:40pm We're off the ballot again in Oregon! The Oregon Supreme Court said petitioners didn't always sign affidavits; they sometimes just initialed them. Thank heaven the Oregon Supreme Court, most of whom are Democrats, by the way, is protecting innocent people from evil petitioners: if they don't sign their full names with pride, they must be sneaky, sneaky cretins -- probably child molesters!
The crescendo of the story and Vsych's magnum opus of the campaign came in response to Ralph Nader's exclusion from the presidential debates. After much brainstorming with Tarek, Jason, Ralph, and others, they concluded that since Ralph wasn't invited to the debate, they would bring the debate to Ralph. Vsych edited clips of the candidates' comments in the first two debates; detailed all the preparations and set the stage; Tarek shopped for GI Joe dolls and costumes; and Jonathan Horton created Kerry and Bush heads for the dolls. Director Vsych had exactly one hour to shoot Nader's part of the debate, and, between the stand-ins for the two main candidates, "One-take" Nader responded seriously to their positions and completed his part, "no rehearsals, no practice debates, no play-acting with consultants beforehand, no focus groups." Then the silliness began, filming Bush wearing a cowboy hat and wrapped in an American flag with a sheriff's badge; Kerry's hair being coiffed by a miniature brush and nosediving off the edge of the stage on a stuffed donkey; their respective warmonger posturings; and the resulting video, Ralph Nader Crashes the Two Parties, made the national news and was seen by over eight million people.
While we already know the ending of the 2004 campaign story, this book provides a creative, humorous, personal, and inspirational insight into those dedicated individuals who work in the trenches every single day on behalf the very integrity of democracy. While one can read the little-publicized investigative accounts of voter manipulation and fraud, this book reveals in an accessible and very human manner the extent to which the two parties control the elections, the debates, and the media in order to limit our access to candidates who best represent the citizens' interests, not just corporate America's. This extends far beyond Ralph Nader -- it reaches back to the vision that was once instilled in every child: That in America, anyone can grow up to be president. The two-party system, the courts, and the corporate-controlled media are systematically dimming the lights on that vision.
In the words of Mr. Nader on the eve of the 2004 election:
Third parties broke the ground for political justice movements, these great objectives for a humane, sane society. So many of the peace movements, the anti-war movements, abolition, women's right to vote, the great labor rallies...it's always the third party, always the independent candidate who breaks ground, who has the new ideas about where their country should go. It's always these candidates who never win a national election, but they're willing to fight, even if they lose, and fight, even if they lose, and fight, even if they lose, until the agenda prevails!
People who marched and marched and kept the pressure on, and never gave up -- they were willing to lose and lose and fight and fight until they prevailed. That's the attitude we have to have for our political system. Without dissent, there is no assent...
That is what Ralph Nader -- and Jürgen Vsych -- was thinking.
TheWomanDirector.com is having a Summer Sale -- save $5 on What Was Ralph Nader Thinking?, and proceeds go towards funding Ralph Nader video projects! The book is only available at TheWomanDirector.com. Please support their ongoing efforts by purchasing this book. It's one contribution you can count on enjoying and making a difference!
Click on the link to see the trailer and order the book. You can also listen to Vsych's reading of the opening chapter to get a flavor for the book and its colorful composer.
Also, please do your part to demand that the media give coverage to the third-party candidates. Click here for media contact information.
Read Jan Baughman's interview of Jürgen Vsych - July 28, 2008