Returning to Stony Brook University for the first time since the 1980s, consumer advocate and attorney Ralph Nader spoke before a nearly full auditorium in the Student Activities Center, praising the values of concentration, passionate curiosity and imagination as well as denouncing the growing trend of apathy among youth.

After a brief introduction by Undergraduate Student Government President Matthew Graham, the Green Party’s three-time presidential candidate took the stage at 8 p.m. He touted his lecture as being “to the mind like what a massage is to the body,” and decried the state of current world affairs in the hopes of galvanizing students into civic action.

“Just $60 billion can cover tuition costs for all students,” Nader said, noting that the United States’ military expenditures for Iraq in 2010 cost about $66 billion. “Does it occur to you to grasp the reality limiting your education?”

Invoking the name of 20th-century socialist Eugene V. Debs, Nader recounted an anecdote from the union leaders’ life, in which Debs was asked his greatest regret.

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“My greatest regret is that under our Constitution, the American people can have anything but don’t want much of it at all,” Nader said, paraphrasing Debs and at the same time referring to what he called the “Revolution of Lowered Expectations.”

He noted that even after the devastation of World War II, European society rebuilt itself and even granted its citizens “free higher education, paid maternity leave, and universal healthcare.” He lamented the state of American social welfare, saying “sixty-six years later, we have none of these for everyone and all of it for few.”

“Cicero said that freedom meant ‘participation in power,’” Nader said. “How much freedom do we really have?”

The state of American television was not safe from his wrath either; Nader tore into television networks, claiming that channel executives are using the American peoples’ own property to exclude citizen networks from the airwaves.

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“Instead, look what’s on TV,” Nader said. “It’s junk that could be called cruel and unusual punishment.”

Nader chastised audience members, deriding iPods and cell phones as “trivial diversions” and claiming that students were “all too busy updating Facebook profiles.” Nader’s main goal for the night was to steer his audience away from a future doomed by complacency and idleness, or in his words,  “spark a fire in your bellies.”

During a short intermission, John Lennon’s 1970 anthem and harsh criticism of capitalist society, “Working Class Hero,” was played. The song’s somber refrain, “A working class hero is something to be,” was a message that resonated throughout the duration of Nader’s speech.

“This is a song with a deep message,” Nader said. “The question is, what do we do about it?”

He urged students to look to the past for inspiration, a time when student activists organized protests and sit-ins, and made conserving the environment a major issue. Now that technology and communication have evolved, Nader asked students, “What’s your excuse?”

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“What is it that the youth can do? We need you,” Nader said. “We haven’t served you well.”

Nader praised groups such as the New York Public Interest Research Group, better known as NYPIRG, which is an advocacy group he helped student activists found in 1973. He urged students to do their part by petitioning for civics courses teaching skills such as coalition building and how to use the Freedom of Information Act; skills which Nader hopes will be the foundations for “never before seen strategies to get people off their couches and start locking arms.”

“We have courses on all the skills, but what about citizen skills—the most important skills of all,” Nader said.

After his speech, Nader hosted a short question and answer session with audience members, in which he was asked if he would seek another presidential run in 2012. Though Nader said he was “not inclined to run again,” he hoped that others would take up the Progressive banner.

“I’ve done it three times already,” he said. “Some people never even saw me on their ballot, which cost me tens of thousands of votes. I was also tired of people encouraging me, saying ‘run, run, run, we’ll vote for you,’ and then getting cold feet and voting for the Democrats.”

A book signing was then held in the SAC lobby, during which Nader mingled with his supporters and signed copies of his newest book, a novel titled “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.”
Junior Italian literature major Puneet Singh enjoyed the event, describing it in just one word: “Wow.” However, he  felt that the speech was poorly advertised.

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“My friends are Nader supporters, and I know they’d have liked to see him,” Singh said.

However, Sean Thomas O’Shaughnessy, a sophomore majoring in political science and psychology, said that he was drawn to the night’s events because Nader was a guest on one of his favorite programs, “Democracy Now!”.

“People think the Green Party is made up of just treehuggers, which is the biggest misnomer,” O’Shaugnessy said. “If more people knew about Nader, they’d align with him.”

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2 comments

  1. A man out of touch with everything from the constitution to the power of modern technology to drive activism. What a joke.

  2. Actually Nader ran as a Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000. And ran as an Independent in 2004 and 2008.

    He’s sympathetic to the Greens, but I wouldn’t say he self-identifies as “party of the Green Party.”

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