WALLA WALLA -- Former presidential candidate, environmental and consumer protection advocate and author Ralph Nader encouraged students, faculty and community members on Wednesday night to increase their participation in the democratic process and become more aware of corporate and environmental abuse in the United States.
Nader, who spoke at Whitman College, built his reputation fighting for an increase in consumer protection laws, particularly in the motor vehicle industry, and was one of the key figures in the founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
He was also the Green Party's candidate for president in 2000 and finished third in that year's turbulent election. He gave a spirited lecture to an auditorium almost overflowing with students and other attendees who gave Nader a standing ovation before he had begun to speak.
He explained how disappointed he was with the current political system in the U.S., a system he tried to change with four consecutive presidential runs, but he did not place all of the blame for the problem on the politicians themselves.
"According to the polls, people are losing confidence in the two parties and approval ratings for Congress are low," he said, "but people need to stop making excuses for themselves and assert the sovereignty of the people."
Part of that battle, Nader claimed, needs to be fought not just in the political arena, but in the marketplaces of the economic arena.
"We grew up corporate," he exclaimed, "Raise your hands if you've never been to McDonald's or Wal-Mart." Very few hands were visible, but nearly every hand was raised when Nader then asked how many in the audience had never sat in on a town hall meeting or gathering of a city council. He then continued with a few words on what it means to be a functioning civic society.
"It's about mobilizing consumers, taxpayers and small business owners -- that's what makes a democracy work. Otherwise it's just a plutocracy, run by the rich and powerful."
Nader also shared experiences from his struggle to bring energy independence and sustainability to America, and explained that being environmentally friendly in your daily life does not have to be an expensive endeavor.
His lecture was entitled "Going Green: Getting it to the Bottom Line," and he gave several examples of how citizens can help the environment on a personal level such as, "reading up on what you should or shouldn't buy" and shopping with reusable grocery bags. When these small actions are done "millions of times a day," Nader explained, it "adds up to (a significant) reduction of waste."
Nader also had plenty of positive things to say regarding the efforts the students and administrators of Whitman College have taken in recent years to make the school more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
"When I went to university they wasted so much energy you'd think it was their duty (but) if where you go to school is your lab for green activities, you're going to be a different person when you graduate."