Ralph Nader pushes students to get involved

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The lights dim as he walks to the stage podium. The spotlight shines bright on his face. Weill Hall fills with an energized audience that welcomes him with a long applause, happy giggles and loud cheers. Ralph Nader begins with, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge.”

Nader’s lecture, titled “One Person Can Make a Difference: Social Justice and World Affairs,” consisted of discussions on corporate strategy plans of economic influence, congressional impact, consumer protection, political activism, labor issues, financial distributions and military power. 

“An aircraft carrier today costs $13 billion,” Nader said. “The only country that has more than one aircraft carrier is Italy. The Chinese are just now building their second. We have 14.”

Nader also covered specific issues that communities tackle daily, like power in Wall Street, healthcare coverage, Flint’s lead-water crisis and the conservative-liberal divide. 

“They bleed the same way in the South as they do in the North when the insurance companies are denying benefits and denying coverage. They bleed the same way when they’re breathing toxic pollution,” Nader said. “And in Flint, Michigan they bled the same way with leaded-water; conservative or liberal didn’t matter.”

The 84-year-old political activist, author, lecturer and attorney was this year’s H. Andréa Neves and Barton Evans Social Justice Lecture Series keynote speaker on March 5. 

“One thing about Ralph Nader that I really appreciate is there is no contradiction,” Neves said. “He is who he is, a social justice person, and he doesn’t waiver. Some say we have changed our belief systems for something more convenient but not Ralph. He remains a monument to social justice.”

Fundamental themes of social justice are at the heart of SSU’s mission and a priority of the current administration, according to Sonoma State. 

“The principles and practice of social justice are woven into the fabric of this university,” President Judy Sakaki said at the lecture series. “Lectures series like this allow us to gather, to listen, to learn and to engage with one another on these powerful issues.”

Nader enforces one of Sonoma State’s mission values – “to be active citizens and leaders in society.”

“Politicians fool voters, confuse voters and lie to voters. You should never allow them to do that,” Nader said. “You should be so informed that you summon them to your town meetings, you put them on the stage and have them answer your questions with the local media, you tell them it’s ‘We The People.’” 

The last quarter of Nader’s lecture focused on the power of the active citizen. 

“Most social justice movements throughout American history have never involved more than 1 percent of active citizens representing the majority opinion with knowledgeable information,” Nader said. “You heard that those that occupy Wall Street are 1 percent of the rich – I was talking about the 1 percent capable of turning this country around.”

Sponsored by the Sociology Social Justice and Activism Club, Associated Students and other on-campus groups and endowed by Neves and Evans, this is the 14th year to host a social justice week with 30 or more events. 

“The question of ‘can one person make a difference,’ we all know that they can. We know a lot of one persons that have made a difference locally, regional, national and international,” Nader said. “The question is whether a hundred million people can make a difference together, a really big difference.” 

SSU’s Social Justice week continued through Friday, including other keynote speakers like Director of Project Censored Mickey Huff and Executive Editor of The Black Agenda Report Glenn Ford.