Consumer activist and U.S. Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke about his experiences as an activist at Concordia’s Hall building, urging students to continue the fight against corporate control of the government and universities.
Last Wednesday, Nader’s lecture was standing room only as students and faculty who had reserved tickets beforehand were allowed to gather in the packed H-110 room. Nader, who received about 2.8 million votes in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, warned students that they are growing up in an age where there is “a relentless shrinking of the imagination.”
“If you don’t believe it, ask any politician you meet,” Nader said. “Would the politician rather be questioned in a news conference by 10-year-olds or this press, and you’ll see they’re terrified of 10-year-olds.”
Promoting his newest book, The Good Fight, Nader questioned what university students are studying in school. Although he acknowledged the importance of a trade oriented post-secondary education, Nader asked if Concordia University offered any classes that deal with corporate crime or a civics training course.
“Do you have courses where you can negotiate the political economy as an effective citizen by learning the tools of democracy?” Nader asked, adding that most students don’t know how to put on a news conference, or use the Free Information Act and small claims courts.
Turning his attention to corporate control of universities, Nader said that while students are busy worrying about papers and getting into graduate school, corporations are swooping in and “endowing whole departments.”
“[The corporations] begin to reward certain changes in the curriculum, certain changes in the content of courses, and before you know it, this great independent sector of our society, university, becomes subordinated to the commercial dictators of the modern corporation,” Nader said.
“The key here is how you manage your time. You all have value systems, have your ways of making society better or thinking that society can be better. But you’re looking out 50 years or so and where are you going to place yourself?”
According to Nader, restoring the environment and dealing with corrupt politics are two major priorities that need to be addressed in North American culture. However, Nader also pointed the finger at corporations, stating that certain companies legally have all the same rights as human beings even though they are “artificial entities.”
“If [corporations] have all the rights that you have as a human being, and they’re 1,000 times bigger than you are, is that a system where you can have equal justice under the law?” Nader asked. “Once corporations have equal rights with you, they then have the ability to accumulate privileges and immunities that you can never aspire to or reach because you’re a real human being.”
Unless major changes begin to surface, Nader fears a future where a corporate connected government bureaucracy will become a dominant force. In doing this, Nader said the government will begin to look after commercial interests instead of civic security, and society will decay.
“This is happening in ways that would be unheard of years ago,” Nader said. “Gambling for example, is sweeping the United States. We’re being turned into people that bet on the future rather than build it.”
Criticized by one student for splitting the Democratic Party’s vote in the 2004 presidential campaign, Nader backed his decision to run by saying that he is tired of a two-party system where both parties are becoming more alike every four years. The Green Party leader said that the Democrats have become the “least worst” party in U.S. politics, but that shouldn’t be the only reason to vote for them.
“It’s very important to realize that once you are trapped in a least worst mindset, you are forever trapped because there will always be a least worst,” Nader said. “Every four years, one of the two parties will be least worst. But each four years they both get worse.”
To view Ralph Nader’s lecture, visit the CSU’s Web site at www.csu.qc.ca.