Ralph Nader was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th century because of his dedication as a consumer activist. In Gasson 100 Wednesday evening, he stressed the importance of proactive civilian intervention and activism in American democratic government at an Undergraduate Government of Boston College-organized event. Nader made the purpose of civil engagement clear throughout his talk, speaking of it as the basis for all political advancements.
“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” he said. “You can’t start with political engagement, you can’t start with economic institutions, you have to start with citizens.”
Nader stressed the small amount of civil unrest that is necessary to elicit a response from the government. To do so only requires 1 percent of the group involved to participate in civil disobedience for public interest, he argued.
Civil engagement is not a Republican problem, or a Democrat problem—citizens of both parties ought to be involved in political processes in order to fully exercise their rights, according to Nader. He said that Congress would take advantage of the population less often if civilian members of these opposing parties were to unite. Thus, the U.S. needs active citizens who summon their representatives to advocate for their needs and truly represent them.
“Why don’t we pull together liberals and conservatives who agree on a whole lot of things that you never hear about?” he said. “The divide and rule strategy of the plutocracy and their political allies is to emphasize where the right and left ar eat each others throats.”
Taking into account the daily needs of citizens, some of the major issues discussed politically should not create an argument among politicians if there is a consensus among civilians. He explained, however, the four biggest excuses people express to defend their lack of political engagement: no time, unaware of ways to participate, sensitivity to political harshness, and ineffectiveness of their efforts.
Nader identified the education system’s inability to provide civic skills in secondary and higher education as an important contribution to the absence of civil participation in governmental processes.
To remedy this, Nader said that books must be utilized more in order to inspire young people to act. The fleeting nature of information via technology does not allow lengthy engagement with one particular subject, he said.
“[You] have to be booked, otherwise you’re hooked on the internet,” he said.
Students, he said, are in a good position to begin exercising civic duties and activism because of the opportunity to learn from professors who are experts in their fields and free space to congregate and organize active groups. If students learn how to exercise and appreciate them in these formative years, these resources can become available to the entire public.
He appealed to the BC students in particular, saying, “We have a vocational system of education—we don’t train for civic advocacy, we don’t train for civic experience we don’t provide students with the skills. How many students at BC know how to use the Freedom of Information Act?”
“You are in the top 1 percent of your ability to do it, your idealism to do it, your health, and the fact that you have the constitution at your back,” he said. “But you can’t get started until you make a personal decision called civic motivation.”
With this drive, politicians and lawmakers can be more representative of the population as a whole because of their direct interactions with those whom they are representing. By taking control of the opportunities available in the democratic system, citizens can ensure that they are satisfied and appreciative of the state of the U.S.
“The opportunity to help people live in a more just society is supreme—I don’t consider it a privilege, he said. “What’s the alternative?”
Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Staff