Last night, a diverse crowd of 2300 people filling the Ben Light Gymnasium greeted consumer advocate and political leader Ralph Nader with loud applause and a standing ovation. Described by event organizer Eric Leib as an “activist extraordinaire,” Nader ran for president of the United States in the 2000 election under the Green Party, has established a variety of environmental, political and civic organizations and has published several books. Visiting Ithaca College for the Earth Day 2002 celebration, Nader spoke about the corporations, environment, poverty and politics.
Beginning with a discussion of the first Earth Day in 1970, Nader briefly mentioned his opinions on former Vice-President Al Gore and President George W. Bush.
“Gore spoke to the American people as if they didn’t understand the English language and Bush spoke to the American people as if he didn’t understand the English language,” he said.
Nader then discussed his opinions of corporations and their control over society.
He described corporate America as, “commercializing everything it touches, putting a for sale sign on everything it touches.”
Currently, he believes that corporations commercialize core values, such as education. He believes people ignoring the idea of a liberal education and only focusing on a narrow set of skills.
Nader also spoke about his belief that global corporations are inherently destructive to both themselves and the society they affect.
“Commercialism … has to be saved from itself,” he said. “The civil society in a democracy has to be supreme over the commercial society.”
To help alleviate the problems caused by corporations, Nader believes companies should begin to expand beyond a short-term view and internalize societal costs, such as pollution. He offered Interface Corporation, one of the country’s largest producers of carpets, as a model of socially responsible action by a corporation. Interface’s CEO put the company on a 0% pollution and maximum recycling track, resulting in higher profits and lower societal costs, according to Nader.
After a brief discussion of mass media coverage of corporate behavior, Nader continued on to discuss his concept of pollution. His perception of pollution includes air pollution, medical negligence and highway accidents, among other factors.
“We need to conceptualize pollution as a silent, deadly form of violence,” he said.
Nader then described six methods of changing corporate behavior: moral shame, procurement, regulation, competition, litigation and consumer feedback.
By utilizing reports from the EPA, communities can look into exactly how local corporations pollute the area and use those reports to induce moral shame.
“They start feeling the sanctions of community disapproval,” he said.
Procurement is government action that does not set regulations, including the control of what the government chooses to buy from corporations. In particular, Nader strongly advocates the legalization of hemp production.
“It is time to liberate the plant known as industrial hemp,” he said.
Although regulations in the past have led to improved fuel efficiency, Nader expressed his dissatisfaction with the current regulatory agencies.
“The automobile companies now regulate our government rather than the reverse,” he said.
He then described his opinions on current automobile technology.
“We have to get rid of … the internal combustion engine,” Nader said.
Nader sees civic ideals as the foundation for such varied topics as alternative energy, organic farming, reductions in packaging, mass transit and universal health care.
“The first thing is a level of civic confidence in ourselves,” he said. “We do it by example rather than exhortation.”
Nader concluded his speech with a rhetorical question.
“If someone asked you ‘who are you?’ you would say your name. At what point would you say, ‘I’m a citizen’?” he said.
After his speech, Nader held a 20 minute question and answer session during which members of the audience asked questions addressing topics ranging from eco-feminism to similarities between the Republican and Democratic party.
The audience appeared to respond positively, giving Nader a standing ovation.
Danby resident Will Parker attended the event with his wife, Julia and his parents, Bob and Gene Parker.
“[Now] I feel more enlightened than when I walked in. I think very highly of him,” said Will Parker.
“I was impressed by the depth of his knowledge. He has spent a lifetime and it shows,” said Gene Parker.
Ithaca College sophomore Julie Keech also appreciated the lecture.
“I thought it was very powerful. It was nice to see someone speak positively about change, rather than being stuck in the status quo,” she said.
Organizer Eric Leib, participant in the Ithaca College Environmental Society and the Ithaca College chapter of Habitat for Humanity, saw Nader as an ideal speaker for both organizations.
“What he stands for and speaks about is heavily encased in issues of poverty and the environment and speaks for those who aren’t normally heard, and in speaking for those, challenges the status quo,” Leib said.
Overall, Leib was pleased with the result of the event.
“What he spoke about preached to the choir, reminded the choir or raised the consciousness of people who don’t pay attention to the environment and poverty,” he said.
Archived article by Shannon Brescher