Nader Criticizes State of American Politics
Issue   |   Wed, 10/07/2015 - 01:48
Katherine Hague '18 Staff Photographer
Political activist, lawyer and longtime presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke in Stirn Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Political activist, lawyer and longtime presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke in Stirn Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 6. Nader urged students to become politically engaged and argued that small groups of committed citizens can bring about change. The Amherst Political Union hosted the event.

“We called this event ‘American Juggernaut’ because Ralph Nader has been a tireless advocate for social and political causes for nearly half a century,” said David Atkins ’17, Amherst Political Union co-president. “No matter how you feel about his politics, I think you have to respect a man who has dedicated himself so tirelessly to this kind of fight.”

Prior to the talk, the Amherst Political Union held an hour-long reception for Nader at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, with several dozen students, many of whom were also political union members, in attendance. There, Nader spoke about the importance of citizen engagement and activism in affecting political change. He also criticized the two-party system and the power of corporations and the wealthy.

“We believe that Mr. Nader can offer tremendous insights into the realm of political campaigns, political parties and the status of partisan politics in American society; this is particularly salient at the moment given the upcoming election,” said Liam Fine ’17, co-president of the political union.

At the main event in Stirn Auditorium later that night, Nader delved straight into current political issues, including the ongoing presidential campaign.

“We’ve turned politics into hedonistic spectacles,” Nader said. “Just look at this presidential campaign, especially these past few months. In doing so, we’ve opted out from the essential rudiment of civil society: We’ve got to be engaged.”

Nader also talked about more general problems in American electoral politics, such as gerrymandering and the lack of third-party representation in the federal government.

“We allowed our country to be run by a two-party tyranny, increasingly looking the same,” Nader said. “We have a winner-take-all system where 49 percent of the voters get nothing.”

Nader then criticized political apathy, especially among youth. He encouraged students to use the wide variety of resources available to them on campus, such as student-run newspapers and radio stations, to educate themselves about political issues. He also said that major political movements usually involve youth to some extent.

“My experience and my knowledge of history tells me, if public opinion is on your side, it takes less than one percent of seriously engaged people for major changes in the direction of our country,” Nader said.

Nader closed the talk by speaking about the importance of engaging in local politics and discussing politics in a way that impacts the actual lives of people rather than dealing with abstract concepts.

“We love to have professors and experts who can speak objectively, but there is definitely something unique and valuable about hearing from people who have taken up one side of a cause and fought for it, which is exactly what Mr. Nader has done,” Atkins said.