February 25, 2008
Act civically instead of corporately
By Carol Clark
“How many of you have never been at a mall? At McDonald’s? At Wal-Mart?” Ralph Nader asked the students gathered to hear him as part of the College Council’s Great Debate. It was not until he asked who had never been at a city council meeting that dozens of hands went up at Glenn Memorial. “That’s part of growing up corporate,” Nader said. “Growing up corporate is the process of controlling people, so that the good of the people is subordinate to the supremacy of giant corporations.”
The renowned activist for consumer rights and democratic government urged students to think and act civically instead of corporately. “Freedom is participation in power,” Nader said, quoting the Roman philosopher Marcus Cicero. He added that it isn’t enough to perform charitable acts — people need to get involved in civic pursuits to get at the root causes of injustice.
College is the best time and place to develop civic skills, Nader said. “This is probably the last time that you’re going to have your own newspaper, your own radio station, your own chemistry lab, your own biology lab, your own physics lab, your own gathering centers. Imagine if millions of Americans had those? They don’t.”
Nader began writing consumer safety articles while a student at Harvard Law School. His study on automobile safety, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” was published in 1965, helping lead to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. He went on to found the advocacy group Public Citizen, which paved the way for landmark legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.
Nader has run for U.S. president four times as a write-in candidate. He said he will decide soon whether to run in the upcoming election. At the end of his talk, he was asked how he could justify his controversial candidacy of 2000, when some called him a “spoiler” of the close race in Florida.
“Washington is occupied corporate territory. It doesn’t matter, increasingly, who is in the White House as long as there is overwhelming corporate power,” Nader said, while acknowledging that Al Gore would likely not have invaded Iraq.
“Don’t you think Gore won the election in Florida?” he added. “Why don’t you demand reform? Why don’t you demand instant run-off voting if you don’t like third parties and write-in candidates?”