Notes on Ralph Nader, by Gabriel Draven

November 7, 2001

Last night I saw US Green Party Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader speak at York University. Over an hour or so, he magically wove his way back to his core message: are you a citizen or a citizen in waiting?; is your life to be about success - that is material success - or significance?

For those of you who have never seen Ralph Nader, he's about as unassuming as a TTC transit inspector waiting to collect his pension. He even wears the same clothes: a drab gray suit of middling quality, unpolished black shoes, a baby blue shirt (like I wore in my grade 8 grad picture) and a dull burgundy tie, again of middling quality. He steps up to the podium, sticks a couple of shocking-pink Post-it notes with scribbles on them on the podium and then begins to speak. It is then that you see he's a man who is at the absolute top of his game and knows about power and how to wield it like no other.

His knowledge, breadth, scope and depth is encyclopedic in calibre. And with crystal-like clarity and laser-like precision he keeps coming back to his core message: are you going to make a difference with your life by being a citizen? Or, as I said to one student as I was organizing for the Greens on campus when she said she wasn't turned on by politics, if you're not turned on by politics, politics is going to turn on you.

In case one thinks that this is all about grim revolutionary struggle, Nader is shockingly funny. On branding and consumer culture he said: 'I grew up at a time when car companies gave their cars masculine names like Cobra, Mustang and Marauder. Marauder, it means one who pillages and lays waste to the country-side. How appropriate'. On GM and their opposition to padded car interiors in the 50's and 60's when they said there wasn't evidence that padded interiors added to passenger safety: GM says there's not enough research into padding. The Romans padded their chariots as they went off to war 2000 years ago. How much lead time does GM need?'

The context of his address was the increasing and ceaseless corporate sponsored globalization agenda that would treat our planet like a slave plantation. He spent much time commenting on, and documenting, the erosion of government in civic life. At one time, governments did things because they were in the public interest. They educated citizens. They built and run hospitals. They created infrastructure that made our lives better and safer. But over the past 30 years we've been convinced by business interests that corporations can do these things better and more efficiently. And, gradually we began to listen. So now we have corporations that want to build toll roads in Toronto for profit and corporations that want to run our nuclear plants and corporations that want to run our health care system. The problem is that there is an inherent conflict of interest between corporate goals and civic goals.

He discussed the disaster of train de-regulation in Britain. He discussed the disaster of power de-regulation in California. He discussed the disaster of the for-profit medical system in the US which leaves 20% of Americans without any coverage and creates an environment in which unplanned medical emergencies result in 45% of all personal bankruptcies. Yet, the Americans spend 14% of their GDP on health care versus the 9% of GDP Canadians spend while providing universal coverage to all. Yet, in Canada, we're seeing increasing pressure to privatize the sector.

Most importantly, he challenged us to challenge the plutocrats and oligarchs who run our governments, schools and corporations. He challenged us to become leaders who have the courage to fight a system that, by it's sheer arrogance, power, wealth, momentum and single-minded pursuit of profit at all cost, treats us as insignificant and worthy of nothing but contempt. He challenged students to write term papers investigating and studying how much their faculties would sell their best research, minds and facilities to corporations for. He challenged us to organize and act.

Nader ended where he began, with the Athenian creed which paraphrased goes something like this: I pledge to leave Athens a better place and I a better person than before I arrived. He said to the student audience to make their lives about significance, not success; to become a citizen as opposed to a citizen in waiting; to ensure that they don't look back on their lives at age 65 with a hollow feeling in their gut knowing that they really did nothing of significance. He said we will never be younger and more idealistic than we are now; go out and make a difference. He told us to become leaders who are committed to finding new and better leaders.

Personally, this resonates with me. Six months ago I was considering a PhD but eventually realized that it would prevent me from learning anything. I realize that I leave four years of graduate business school knowing how to sell products for companies but not how to buy products - that is, holding companies accountable for the products they sell and government accountable to the decisions they would make - as a citizen. I leave business school knowing how to run a business but not knowing how to grind it to a halt by applying citizen pressure to leverage points because it is not acting in the best public interest. (now there's a graduate program waiting to be developed at a progressive university: civil disobedience and enacting civic change)

This said, I've made a decision to end my academic career once and for all and devote the next phase of my life to enacting change through action and electoral means. One month ago I submitted my candidacy to the Green Party of Ontario to represent them in Toronto Centre Rosedale in the next provincial and possibly federal election. If selected, I would like to run for the Greens as I am convinced that the Green political movement is the only global electoral movement with the will, courage and vision to solve our problems at a systemic level.

In the past few days, a blue ribbon United Nations study concluded that humans are plundering and altering our planet at an unsustainable rate that will lead to disaster. The report says that we cannot alleviate global poverty without reversing the environmental damage we have done. By 2050, according to the report, 4.2 billion people will not have the water needed to support daily requirements.

In the face of this, Exxon Corporation and its Canadian operation Esso publicly deny that global warming is happening and that if it is happening, it's not linked to human activity (actually, they appear to have recently updated their site to make it less antideluvian. Until recently their web site called global warming an 'unproven hypothesis', contradicting all credible research being done on climate change around the world today). I have even seen Esso linked to research (there you go, quack research for sale to the highest bidder) that states that global warming may even be a good thing because it will enable marginal climates to convert to agricultural production, thereby feeding the world. Don't take my word for it, go to their web site and find out for yourself.

This is what we're up against and why it's so important to act and create the world you want to live in. If you don't do it, believe me, someone's going to do it while you're not looking.

Gabriel Draven
Toronto


Comments

    Well said Gabriel - Go the Greens!!!!! [98]
    by Anne Goddard on Monday, November 26 @11:15PM
    Hiya Gabriel and anyone following this thread...

    First and foremost, well said, thank you.

    I too joined the Australian Greens about 6 months ago, and what a whirlwind I let myself in for. But it was what I wanted and needed desperately.

    Australia was heading for a Federal Election, I have always been an environmentalist deep down, despite many years of working "for the man". So I took it on myself to get as well informed as possible before placing my vote. So many issues needed serious addressing...
    Globalisation (before 9-11) as it still does even more so today,
    deforestation,
    nuclear weapons and development of nuclear power stations and mines...
    deforestation...
    the medical system...
    the education system...
    extinction of species...
    Global warming & climate change...
    oh you know how the list simply goes on and on and on...

    It all started when I sent an email asking questions of all the parties running in the election. The Greens answered me within hours. The (majorly "green") other minor party in Australia, the Democrats, took two weeks to get back to me, with answers that were simply not good enough for "saving the planet - NOW".

    The major parties did not even bother to reply.

    So impressed was I by the Greens quick and positive response to my questions, that I joined them as a member, for $10 as a low income earner! I then offered my volunteer support for their candidate in our electorate in any way they chose to use me. Shocked at finding that there was no suitable candidate in our electorate (one of the tightest seats in Australia), I was saddened as I wanted to vote for them.

    Then they actually offered little ole me the resposibility! woh! that was taking my ideals maybe a little too far...
    or was it...
    could "I" do it... the sead was planted...
    So many fears... So little self confidence and so much lack of self esteem...

    Never done anything like this before, not good enough, can't speak in public, won't be a good representative, will let the party down, face in front of the TV, on radio, in the newspapers!!! It could mean a complete change in my nice safe little life...
    oh my god...
    could I do it...
    There was only ever going to be one answer.

    Yes, and I did it. And let me tell you now, without one split second of hesitation, I loved it, every single minute of it. This "red neck" seat increased its vote (by a tiny margin), in the face of all the political propoganda and racist harvesting of votes by the major parties that they could pull. They prospered on fear and racism. It was quite sickening when the Liberal party was returned to power... A black cloud descended on me for a week or so after the election.

    However now I see light at the end of the tunnel because of the like minded, wonderful, helpful, caring, and now frustrated, people that supported and surrounded me whenever I panicked (and boy, did I panic at times).

    A branch will grow from these people, and it will be a good branch with a fine candidate next time round. A candidate with more experience than I could ever have offered the party, a candidate that does not lack what I lacked. And a candidate with the charisma, ethics, morals and purity of spirit that is needed to get the Australian Greens Party a few more votes in this tough seat.

    I will be moving on in a few weeks, once I know that the first meeting has taken place. From my new address I will probably do it all over again, if there is no-one found that is suitable (and more experienced than myself). If there is, I will make one hell of a campaign co-ordinator!

    This time, before I do it all again, I will have a year or two to get more experience in my greatest fear, which is speaking in public.

    And now I know I can do it, and I know I will love it if the party honours me again with such a blessing. I was never a leader, but the Greens Party needs no leader... the Greens Party is about you and me, grassroots democracy, getting the word out any way you can, and just having a go...
    and giving it your all, as best as you can with whatever you have got. And it will grow.

    And it's really good to be along for the ride.

    Good Luck my friend

    Warmest regards
    Anne

    Well said Gabriel - Go the Greens!!!!! [98]
    by Anne Goddard on Monday, November 26 @11:15PM
    Hiya Gabriel and anyone following this thread...

    First and foremost, well said, thank you.

    I too joined the Australian Greens about 6 months ago, and what a whirlwind I let myself in for. But it was what I wanted and needed desperately.

    Australia was heading for a Federal Election, I have always been an environmentalist deep down, despite many years of working "for the man". So I took it on myself to get as well informed as possible before placing my vote. So many issues needed serious addressing...
    Globalisation (before 9-11) as it still does even more so today,
    deforestation,
    nuclear weapons and development of nuclear power stations and mines...
    deforestation...
    the medical system...
    the education system...
    extinction of species...
    Global warming & climate change...
    oh you know how the list simply goes on and on and on...

    It all started when I sent an email asking questions of all the parties running in the election. The Greens answered me within hours. The (majorly "green") other minor party in Australia, the Democrats, took two weeks to get back to me, with answers that were simply not good enough for "saving the planet - NOW".

    The major parties did not even bother to reply.

    So impressed was I by the Greens quick and positive response to my questions, that I joined them as a member, for $10 as a low income earner! I then offered my volunteer support for their candidate in our electorate in any way they chose to use me. Shocked at finding that there was no suitable candidate in our electorate (one of the tightest seats in Australia), I was saddened as I wanted to vote for them.

    Then they actually offered little ole me the resposibility! woh! that was taking my ideals maybe a little too far...
    or was it...
    could "I" do it... the sead was planted...
    So many fears... So little self confidence and so much lack of self esteem...

    Never done anything like this before, not good enough, can't speak in public, won't be a good representative, will let the party down, face in front of the TV, on radio, in the newspapers!!! It could mean a complete change in my nice safe little life...
    oh my god...
    could I do it...
    There was only ever going to be one answer.

    Yes, and I did it. And let me tell you now, without one split second of hesitation, I loved it, every single minute of it. This "red neck" seat increased its vote (by a tiny margin), in the face of all the political propoganda and racist harvesting of votes by the major parties that they could pull. They prospered on fear and racism. It was quite sickening when the Liberal party was returned to power... A black cloud descended on me for a week or so after the election.

    However now I see light at the end of the tunnel because of the like minded, wonderful, helpful, caring, and now frustrated, people that supported and surrounded me whenever I panicked (and boy, did I panic at times).

    A branch will grow from these people, and it will be a good branch with a fine candidate next time round. A candidate with more experience than I could ever have offered the party, a candidate that does not lack what I lacked. And a candidate with the charisma, ethics, morals and purity of spirit that is needed to get the Australian Greens Party a few more votes in this tough seat.

    I will be moving on in a few weeks, once I know that the first meeting has taken place. From my new address I will probably do it all over again, if there is no-one found that is suitable (and more experienced than myself). If there is, I will make one hell of a campaign co-ordinator!

    This time, before I do it all again, I will have a year or two to get more experience in my greatest fear, which is speaking in public.

    And now I know I can do it, and I know I will love it if the party honours me again with such a blessing. I was never a leader, but the Greens Party needs no leader... the Greens Party is about you and me, grassroots democracy, getting the word out any way you can, and just having a go...
    and giving it your all, as best as you can with whatever you have got. And it will grow.

    And it's really good to be along for the ride.

    Good Luck my friend

    Warmest regards
    Anne