Ralph Nader Calls for People-Driven Change During Scripps Speech

Political activist Ralph Nader talks life and politics at Scripps College's Garrison Theater on Feb. 22. (Donovan New • The Student Life)

Activist, politician, and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader drew more than 500 people to Scripps College's Garrison Theater on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to listen to his thoughts on progressive activism under President Donald Trump's administration.

In a conversation moderated by journalist Giselle Fernandez, Nader shared his views on the Trump presidency, spoke of what he called a "strategically divisive and controlling" bipartisan system, and urged the American people to be proactive in using and protecting their rights. 

Ali Kapadia PO ’20 attended the talk and wrote in an email to TSL that “prior to the talk, Ralph Nader was one of my heroes. After the talk, not much has changed."

"The talk helped me further understand Nader’s accomplishments and shortcomings as well as understand truly how ahead of his times Nader was," Kapadia wrote.

At the event, Nader shared his disappointment with the level of participation in government.

“We have allowed (politicians) to run away with our democracy because we have low expectation levels,” Nader said.

Nader's pursuit of social change over the past 50 years has resulted in major federal consumer protection laws, including the National Auto and Highway Traffic Safety Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

After his victory against the automobile industry to pass laws requiring safety precautions in automobiles, Nader said that he felt a “huge burden of trust," as he felt that he was now expected to solve all of the injustice that he witnessed. This realization led him to recruit fellow social advocates to join him in his fight for progressive reform. 

“Mr. Nader holds a rare profile in this country as someone who has stayed resolutely outside of the mainstream, all the while working diligently to affect change and, in many cases, succeeding," Corrina Lesser, director of public events and community programs at Scripps Presents, wrote in an email to TSL.

On Oct. 10, Nader predicted in an interview with The Washington Post that a Trump presidency would result in the fastest impeachment in congressional history. After the first month of the Trump administration, Nader believes that his prediction is accurate, due to what he says are an increasing number of impeachable offenses—including emoluments, conflicts of interests, and lack of respect for judges and the law. 

“It is one thing for the rich and powerful to take away what is yours that you do not have—like clean corporate behavior, fair taxation, and universal health insurance," Nader said during his speech. "Trump’s big mistake is that he wants to take away what you now have."

When asked in an interview with TSL about his perspective on third-party candidates and the accusations of third-party candidates spoiling elections, Nader had an aggressive response.

“Last I heard, the two parties don’t own the voters’ votes. Last I heard, competition is good in a democracy. Last I heard, people want more voices and choices," he said. "‘Spoiler’ should not be used in democracy. That is a bigoted term invented by the two-party system. It's unpatriotic, and we shouldn't tolerate it.” 

Lindsey Michelle PO ’18, who attended the talk, said the event boosted her opinion of Nader.

“I'm not entirely convinced after hearing him talk that it's inaccurate to categorize him (as a spoiler), but I do have a much a broader appreciation for his contributions and success in lobbying for beneficial policies," Michelle wrote in an email to TSL.

Nader commended the surge of protests that followed Trump’s election, and said they are important for morale and the cultivation of citizen participation in the country’s governance. 

“Dropping out of democracy is the first way to destroy democracy. To know and not to do is not to know," Nader said. "I put my bet on the people of this country, who have, in one month, showed that they are not going to take it."

He directly addressed the 5C students in the audience, noting that "bringing this mission to life requires educational courage and a higher estimate of your own significance as students.”

Nader encouraged students to raise their expectations of the government and to challenge one another to promote liberty and justice.

"Institutions possess serious untapped potential in promoting change, especially if they made more of an effort of doing so instead of only focusing their efforts on theoretical applications and professional development," Kapadia wrote. "We must be cognizant of injustices around the world, and we must have the courage and recognition in ourselves that we have the potential to right those wrongs.”