Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons from Nader

Ralph Nader was one of the key speakers at the anti-war rally on March 19, 2011 in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. Dressed in a dark overcoat, collared shirt and tie, he waited like a burdened prophet behind the stage for his chance to speak. Ever serious, ever the heavy-browed activist, Nader, though a political candidate for president in the last election cycle, is not a politician. He's too candid to be a politician. He is a grim realist, a man who for decades has been the messenger with the upsetting news and dire pronouncements.

Ralph Nader (r) waiting to address the rally

Mainstream Democratic politicians and their courtiers (to borrow the term used by Chris Hedges to describe sycophants like network TV anchors and White House press beat journalists who dutifully and unquestioningly disseminate the party line) long ago cast Nader out of the club. Many people with political views left of the centrist Democrats demonize Nader for, in their interpretation, helping ensure Bush's 2004 re-election by siphoning off votes from the feckless corporate Democratic candidate, John Kerry. For a strong rebuttal of this analysis, see Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class (pages 173-182), wherein he begins:

"The descent of Ralph Nader, from being one of the most respected and powerful figures in the country to being an outcast illustrates perhaps better than any other narrative the totality of our corporate coup and the complicity of the liberal class in our disempowerment."

Nader's address to the rally covered some of the usual anti-war and anti-corporate criticisms but also included practical instructions and considerations for the progressive Left.

Lesson #1. Because funding of the wars must go through "... those 535 men and women in Congress who put their shoes on everyday like we do ..." as a Movement we must focus our attention on them. But how do we get them to pay attention, to listen to the demands of the progressive anti-war Left?

Lesson #2. We must learn from other successful citizen action groups, in particular the most successful such organization out there today, AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), an organization now so successful that they "get over 95% of the members of Congress" to support their causes and issues. "That is the kind of citizen action to learn from!"

And this is where Nader's address got a little personal and duly critical of those to whom he was imparting these thoughts:

"How do they do it? First of all, they don't blow off steam unless it's focused, laser-like, on every member of Congress ... I can't emphasize enough that we can have massive rallies - there was one of 200,000 that some of you were at in 2003 - but if we do not take that energy and zero it in on each member of Congress ..." and relentlessly bombard them with our demands and our message then we won't succeed.

Lesson #3. Organize and fund raise and "connect with that general public sentiment" that is overwhelmingly against the wars and focus that sentiment on the members of Congress. The task must be to get Congress to shut off funding of the wars.

"Cutting off funding is what Congress can do. You see, the Executive Branch, the Imperial Presidency, has a momentum of its own and it can do whatever it wants - until the money runs out."

Finally, Lesson #4. Find some rich people sympathetic to the public sentiment because "it takes money" to hire organizers, pay for transportation, etc. "You've got to go back and assume that at least 1% of the really rich people where you live, some of them veterans, are gonna' put some money in - but they're never asked! Because they're just written off with the stereotype of 'rich people' ..."

Watch and listen to Nader's address:

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