I went to see Ralph Nader talk at the University of Waterloo last night. Holy smokes, he is a great man. He is on a mission to energize democracy with greater public participation, and he works tirelessly and effectively to pursue it.
I was not at all his target demographic. I'm 51, and he was talking to the students who made up the majority of the audience. Even so, and even though I'm already pretty political, he inspired me to be more politically aware, more politically active, and less accepting of corporate power.
Nader's last trip to UW was 35 years ago when he was urging students across the continent to start public interest research groups. The result of that visit was the formation of WPIRG. There are now PIRGs at campuses across the US and Canada. His mission in Canada now is to inspire the formation of a national PIRG (which the US already has), financed by student PIRGs but acting as a national lobby group. He is also urging students to demand that the university offer a course in civic skills. He urged students to use their university opportunities to pursue their ideals, choosing essay or thesis topics that further the public good. And he mentioned a few dozen worthy causes to help inspire us to be more active.
Like many, I was angry with Nader after the 2000 election when it seemed that he had doomed Gore's chances by running as a third party candidate. Later I heard arguments that the people who voted for Nader probably wouldn't have voted had he not been in the race. More importantly, I came to see that many Americans feel they have no voice in the two party system and cannot support the relatively right wing politics of the Democrats. This table comparing policy stances in 2008 really says it all: Nader was the only presidential candidate standing up for important issues like single-payer national health care, military budget cuts, aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare, and on and on.
Here are a few random nuggets of what he said:
* FDR said too much control by corporations is fascism.
* To see what one person can do, check out Democracy Watch. A young Canadian named Duff Conacher has started an organization that is helping to make Canada more democratic.
* We have a "civic motivation problem." All young people should attend court as a spectator, attend a city council meeting, spend more time developing civic knowledge and skills.
* "Pollution is a cumulative form of violence."
* The Unitarian motto is "One world at a time."
* "To know and not to do is not to know."
* Cicero said freedom is participation in power. That is civic freedom.
* "Let yourself be daily provoked or you will fall into a lifetime of serfdom."
* Look up Essential Information, Taming the Giant Corporation, and the Center for Progressive Reform.
* Nothing will improve unless we raise the expectation level of citizens.
* In elections, money nullifies votes.
* "Without persons nothing is possible and without institutions nothing is enduring."
* Nurture the fire in your belly.
* The 1979 Chrysler bailout was well-managed by Jimmy Carter. It saved the company and it turned a profit for the government. It was done by getting stock warrants from the company in return for loans.
* Commercial interests seek to individuate people in order to lessen their power.
* Democracy needs rights, remedies, and facilities.
* In 1993 Nader and his organization released a book called "Canada First" that listed the many things that Canada is first in.
* Consider making voting mandatory.