Ralph Nader talks to hundreds of Stony Brook students and community members on March 22. (Adam Peck for Think Magazine)

Like always, Ralph Nader is mad as hell and doesn’t want you to take it anymore.

Nader, 77, did not mince words at a lecture last night at Stony Brook University, proving that he is as passionate, outspoken, and pugnacious as ever.

“We do not grow up civic,” the four-time presidential candidate told a rapt audience of college students and community members. “We grow up corporate.”

Nader’s speech, despite the buzz in the crowd, was not a warm-up for a 2012 run at the Oval Office, though he had no problem calling the campus crowd’s darling President Barack Obama a “Wall Street concessionaire.”

Launching his powerful voice from an animated, stoop-shouldered body, Nader decried the state of American affairs on all political, social, and economic fronts.

“This is a decaying society,” he said. “Nobody dies in Europe because they don’t have health insurance. Corporate serfdom exists because your expectation levels are so low.”

Nader’s familiar attacks on corporations in America which “have no national allegiance” were filled with urgent exhortations to fight back against their dominance. After arguing that corporations regulate American lives more than the government does, he said that citizens must push to “inject more humane values into the corporate machine.” The fight begins, in Nader’s estimation, with a wake-up call to reality.

“Serfs didn’t know they were serfs until the history books told them so,” Nader said. “Right now we’re paralyzed. The first step toward changing all of this is having a higher estimation of your own significance. You must learn what your predecessor students did to create change.”

When asked in an earlier interview session with Stony Brook’s Think Magazine about what chance people have of overcoming the seemingly unbeatable influence of corporate power in America, Nader bristled, then smiled, and spoke of the “fire in the belly” and “emotional intelligence” that every citizen needs to act. He said that universities should focus on creating civics skills courses that teach strategies in organization and activism.

Alarming facts, like that the real wage of the American worker once adjusted for inflation was at its highest in 1973, or that $80 billion dollars in military spending are used to defend “prosperous countries” like Japan, England, and Sweden “against non-existent enemies” while millions of Americans cannot earn a living wage any longer, or even that “a relentless decline in standard of living” has meant that one of three American workers earns “Wal-Mart wages” while the CEO of Wal-Mart himself, Mike Duke, earns “$10,000 per hour,” did not consume Nader’s speech.

He took a short break to play John Lennon’s 1970 song “Working Class Hero,” an indictment of capitalism’s effect on the working class that underscored many of his themes that night.

Nader’s speech, like the corporate powers he lambasted, was wide-ranging. He lashed out against Generation Y crown jewels like Facebook and cell-phones, painting them as purveyors of trivia and distraction. He said that “90 percent of radio and television are advertisements and cheap entertainment” and asked the audience if they owned their own network and radio station and why no citizens’ network existed. Following his dictum that “shame is a much better motivator than guilt,” he asked how many members of the audience had eaten at a McDonald’s and how many had attended a town hall meeting of any kind or witnessed a court proceeding. Predictably, all hands shot up for McDonald’s and very few for town halls or court proceedings.

Nader turned his critical eye to environmental issues and nuclear power, calling the lack of an evacuation plan for the Indian Point nuclear power plant, located only 38 miles from New York City, “technological insanity.” Solar and wind energy have not become prevalent yet, Nader said, because they would displace the gas, coal, and oil utilities, and thus upset the highly-influential lobbies that are attached to those utilities.

“Yours is the last generation that has so much to gain and so little to lose in gaining it,” he said.


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