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November 5, 2001

Nader energizes full house at Glenn

By Eric Rangus



Very early in his Oct. 31 address to a packed house in Glenn Auditorium—less than a minute after he took to the podium, actually—Ralph Nader offered up a challenge.

“Anything I have done,” the longtime consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate told the appreciative gathering, which had greeted him with a standing ovation only moments before, “you can do better in the 15,000 minutes before you turn 65.”

It was an appropriate beginning to an event titled “The Ethics of Public Participation,” in which Nader urged everyone in attendance to become actively involved in their communities and take concrete steps to solve problems. “That’s how you move from concern to seriousness,” he said.

A seasoned public speaker, Nader’s was an 75-minute speech that was at times inspiring, analytical, sarcastic, angry and idealistic.

Calling Nader, “a great champion of civic values and of an educated and active public,” James Fowler, Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development and director of the Center for Ethics, handled the introduction.

“This is a rare opportunity to hear Ralph Nader beyond the soundbites and the caricatures,” Fowler said. The Center for Ethics cosponsored the event with the College Council, the Student Programming Council and Emory’s political science department.

In a conversational yet passionate style, Nader dove into his speech, rarely hesitating and only occasionally glancing down at his notes.

Nader fired off zingers on a variety of subjects, but saved his strongest comments and criticisms for corporations.

“We all grow up corporate,” Nader said. He then dissected the reasons why this happens. The fashion and cosmetics industries define beauty, Nader said, and Americans buy into it. We look at cars the way automakers want us to see them—as status symbols, he continued.

Then a growing amount of his classmates deaths in automobile accidents helped get Nader started in his fight to make automobiles safer (the dangers posed by cars were documented in his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed), which started him on his decades-long quest as a consumer protector.

Nader took his anti-corporate rhetoric to many levels throughout the evening and expanded his scope in interesting ways.

“If do not have a comprehensive public policy on violence,” Nader said. “Our focus will only be directed on those forms of violence that challenge the power structure. Criminal justice classes do not talk about corporate crime, which takes many more lives than street crime.”

To illustrate his point, Nader quoted recent government statistics stating that around 15,500 people died of homicides, and that number is dropping. Many more people, Nader said—again quoting government statistics—died from medical malpractice, pollution and workplace toxins and trauma. All of them, he defined as forms of violence.

Perhaps surprisingly, Nader did not discuss politicians or his well-documented disillusionment with the two-party system until about two-thirds of the way through his speech. One of the reasons why Nader ran on the Green Party ticket during the last two presidential elections was the increasing corporatization of both the Republicans and the Democrats. The parties’ “similarities tower over their dwindling differences,” he said.

He spared no one from his wrath: not Bill Clinton and Al Gore (Civil rights reforms and many environmental and consumer protection programs were at their lowest levels in years during their administration, Nader said.), nor our current president (“George W. Bush is really a giant corporation running for president disguised as a person,” Nader quipped).

Nader drew on many serious emotions during his talk, but he was downright hilarious as well. Particularly when discussing his days at Harvard Law School (he graduated in 1958). Even back then, he noticed that things appeared to be titled against the disenfranchised.

"We had a class called ‘Landlord/Tenant,’" he began. "We never got to the tenant!" Another class was creditors’ rights. “But we didn’t have course on debtors’ remedies.” Each comment drew sustained laughter.


Back to Emory Report November 5, 2001