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 Montpelier Magazine

Presidential candidate Ralph Nader:

'Put human need over corporate greed'

"People who don't turn on to politics will find politics turning onto them in a very disagreeable manner," says the nation's foremost consumer activist Ralph Nader. Fittingly, on St. Pat-rick's Day, the former Green Party presidential candidate spoke to a capacity crowd of students in Wilson Hall on the consequences of "growing up corporate" and other issues surrounding his consumer-based ideologies.

"Growing up corporate has a lot of consequences," says Nader. "It's not just paying more, it's not just having a less safe society, it's not just losing control of our government, it's not just jeopardizing and ruining our environment - it's damaging our own self-respect. We need to put human need over corporate greed."

Nader's speech was sponsored by the student-led University Program Board and was part of a week of campus events celebrating James Madison's 250th birthday. His three-hour presentation included a question and answer session for the 1,200-plus students in Wilson. More students and professors watched the speech via closed-circuit television at three campus satellite locations.

Nader is best known for his leadership of "Nader's Raiders," a group of activists who have successfully fought for improvements in the safety and environmental responsiveness of American industries and corporate products. His lifelong crusade was honored on TIME magazine's list of the 100 most influential Americans in the 20th century.

Nader described a multitude of aspects that surround his belief that Americans have grown up thinking of life only in terms favorable to the corporate world. For example, he said, "The news media needs to be reclaimed by the people. Mass advertising is one of our big-gest belief systems, but a few corporate advertisers should not be telling us what we want to see on television. We deserve time to rebut, time to reject, time to bring the best out of people, time to give the best ideas. Instead, we have allowed ourselves to define freedom in terms of television and radio as the freedom only to turn it off - instead of saying 'that's our property,'" Nader said. "We should be saying that we want our own programs and production facilities to fund the public's radio and television programs so that all the things going on in the community can have

a voice and compete for the public's attention."

Reiterating his mantra that growing up corporate has dire consequences, Nader explained that people tend to assume things are "out of their control." He urged students to buck the assumption. "Corporations were conceived in our country to further public purposes and to be our servants, not our masters," he said. "Now they are our masters and they define our purposes through control over the government. Our corporate attitude has helped enable the corruption of the political process. Eighty percent of the money contributed to federal elections comes from businesses, and many large corporations spread millions in campaign contributions over both parties in what amounts to equal opportunity corruption."

Those monies enable lax enforcement of federal regulatory laws, protect private corporations' lucrative government contracts and promote expensive bailout programs - all of which hurt taxpayers. "Even local governments are not immune to the corporate trend," said Nader. "In many cities, taxpayers are funding stadiums and arenas while their schools are crumbling."

He added, "We've thrown in the towel when it comes to democracy except for a very few. But when democracies weaken, injustices arise. … The two parties write laws that discourage third-party competition, keeping their power duopoly in tact."

Prompted by a student's question on "how to overcome the feeling that one person cannot make a difference," Nader said "Get involved in politics at the local level by running for local and state offices on the Green Party ticket. Form local civic clubs that sponsor accountability sessions for political representatives. People often ask me how I got started, and it was because I attended a big rally like this one."

Nader also encouraged students to obtain a "civic education" and follow in the footsteps of James Madison in trying to learn about all subjects and get a strong liberal education as opposed to just learning a "vocation." He said, "On Madison's 250th birthday, I want to punctuate that when those 100 people came to Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a constitution, none of them were experts in stage coach design. But they were very knowledgeable in public philosophy, comparative government and literature. ... Help set your curricula. Tell your faculty what civic skills you want to learn. Be activists in your education."

Nader added to his call to arms, "For people your age, apathy is a cop-out. This is the freest time of your life. When else in your life will you have your own laboratories, ample meeting places, specialists (faculty) to tap into? Be activists for your beliefs. Third parties are the leaders of such social movements, and young people are usually the leaders because they have a higher expectation of what should occur in today's society."

By Michelle Hite ('88)