Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke to a sold-out crowd of students, faculty, staff and community members in Strong Auditorium on March 24. Before the speech, student expectations were high. “I respect him a lot, and I came here to see what he had to say,” senior Tom Breene said. “I’m looking to see how his campaign changes the other two candidates’ campaigns and how his campaign will have an effect on the outcome.”However, during his speech, Nader refrained from discussing campaign issues. Instead, Nader focused primarily on the issue of consumer advocacy. Opening with a number of criticisms against the auto industry, Nader moved on to discuss significant issues in which consumer advocacy has succeeded in making America a safer and healthier place. He cited the rising number of organic foods, fresh fruits and vegetables that are available in supermarkets as an example of how consumers’ buying habits can change what vendors will sell. As obesity in America becomes an increasingly more crucial issue, Americans have educated themselves about the risks that are associated with being overweight, and in response they are demanding healthier selections in their stores. Nader emphatically maintained that “consumers have a personal responsibility.” He added, “It is the buying part of the economy that shapes it.” He also highlighted the ways in which appealing to the government to make changes can be successful by discussing the lawsuits against the tobacco industry and the effect that they had in reducing cigarette use. Nader then turned his attention from national consumer advocacy to student consumer advocacy, particularly UR students. He encouraged the university to implement classes that would teach students consumer skills and citizen skill development. “[These programs] would allow students to hold news conferences or mobilize around an environmental issue,” Nader said. One of the most compelling points during his speech was when he blatantly attacked the UR administration. “Do we really need to say it? [UR] has long been known as one of the most corporate universities,” Nader said. He went on to state that the UR Board of Trustees was made up of high-ranking executives and lawyers from corporate law firms. He criticized the Board of Trustees, saying, “[UR] trustees should [implement civic classes], they should take off their corporate jackets and look out for the interests of the students.” This was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience. When asked what students could do in a university that is dominated by corporate interests, Nader encouraged students to react. “[They should] organize en masse, counsel with faculty and challenge the definition of the university,” Nader said.He went on to ask what exactly the purpose of UR was and warned students of the dangers that could occur with a university that was encroached in commercial interests such as joint corporate ventures. He warned against corporate science and promoted a university setting that is focused on academics. Nader emphasized the responsibility of students to shape the future. “[There is a] moral imperative for you to be leaders,” he said. According to him, students here are some of the most advantaged young people in the world, having great facilities such as libraries, laboratories and gathering rooms. Freshman Chelsea Allinger agreed. “I liked what he had to say about UR as a corporate university. [It’s good] to have students be proactive, to encourage them to affect change. He has given us an important reminder that the university is about the students.” The end of Nader’s speech was met with a standing ovation, despite misgivings some students may have over Nader’s decision to run in the 2004 election.While he didn’t touch on election issues in his speech, he did field questions about the election before his speech at a press conference. Of primary interest to everyone were the allegations that Nader had cost Al Gore the election in 2000 and the worry that Nader would again be a spoiler in the 2004 election. Sophomore Andrew McGaffey expressed his concerns about the upcoming election. “Nader helped save millions of lives by preventing injuries, but by running as president, he is helping keep in power a man who has cost millions of lives, and it’s a tragedy to his legacy,” McGaffey said. Nader countered these claims by saying that he will not only attract the votes of Democrats, but also the Republicans and independents who are disillusioned by the Bush administration which betrayed them with corporate subsidies, the Patriot Act, NAFTA and the budget deficit. In an interview, Nader remarked on Bush’s presidency. “It’s as though he thinks God ordained him.” He marveled during his speech that Gore had lost to Bush. He credited the Democratic Party for their own failures and challenges them to “face up to their own decay.” He also criticized John Kerry for not having the “guts and hunger to win.” In response to the claim that he cost Gore the election in 2000, he said somewhat humorously, “You’re blaming the Green Party for not anticipating the theft of the election.” He pointed out that Gore had lost due to the actions of Jed Bush and Katherine Harris in Florida. He also upheld the status of third party candidates asking that they not be treated as second-class citizens. “You would never ask John Kerry if he were worried about taking votes from Nader,” he said. Lindstrom can be reached at mlinstrom@campustimes.org.



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