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In what was billed as the largest political rally held for any candidate this year, Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader sold out New York City's Madison Square Garden on Friday night, with a little help from Eddie Vedder, Ani DiFranco, Ben Harper, and Patti Smith.
"I've been fortunate in my life to play to places that were sold out -- even this place," Vedder told the rally's energized crowd, estimated at 15,000 people. "But tonight is totally different, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Though not even Nader himself suggested that he's likely to win on November 7, the crowd matched Vedder's ebullience, breaking into chants of "Let Ralph debate" and "Let's go Nader" throughout the evening.
Nader, a lawyer and longtime consumer advocate, has not been allowed to participate in the recent presidential debates, which included only the Democratic and Republican nominees, Vice President Al Gore and
Texas Gov. George W. Bush (see "Pearl Jam's Vedder Explains Nader Support"). Nader had the support of 5 percent of likely voters nationwide in the most recent Reuters/MSNBC poll.
"Welcome to the politics of joy and justice," Nader told the rally, after taking the stage to a flash of lights and a shower of confetti. "We are building more than a party -- we are building a historical progressive movement in America."
The rally's performers and speakers reassembled at the end of Nader's speech to sing along on Smith's anthem "People Have The Power."
In his speech, Nader condemned the concentration of corporate power, advocated ending the war against drugs, suggested doubling the minimum wage, and called for increased funding of mass transit and other public-works projects.
Several members of the audience, which was made up mostly of people in their twenties and thirties, said it was their agreement with Nader's
positions, rather than the musical performances, that drew them to the rally.
"Why am I here? Did you hear the man speak? There isn't anything he said that I'm not in agreement with," said Kara McLaughlin, a 24-year-old from Garden City, New York.
Brian Mazzella, 25, said that he attended the rally solely to see Vedder perform, but added that Vedder's support for Nader impressed him.
"Eddie seems to be a very smart guy, so whatever he's up for, I'm up for," he said.