Ralph Nader, February 19, 2001
Contact: Miriam Gennari, Press Secretary, Virginia Green Party, 703-549-1422, firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is a transcript of a speech by Ralph Nader, on February 19, 2001, at a fundraiser to jointly benefit the Richmond Greens and the Green Party of Virginia. The event was held at the Student Commons of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Transcription courtesy of the Richmond Greens.
"Well the election is over and you know who won?.....(Crowd
laughs) The corporate government is.... up to control one
department agency after another and the politicians are
struggling to see who is going to take marching orders from
their corporate fundraisers in great demand now...and they
raise millions of dollars each week talking about campaign
finance reform legislation which may pass, its very modest
it just gets to the soft money it may have to increase to
in return, to hard money limits per individual from two
thousand dollars an entire election season to maybe four
thousand. That's what the opposition may trade off for
But lets not get too absorbed in intricacies of the two
parties, strategies of protected imitation, and rhetorical
We have to wise up to what this country needs, what the
world needs, and move to build a political movement in that
direction and one of humility about our generation which has
such great technology, we are in about 150 year low in the
ability of a society to organize a political movement. Just
think of that?
We are nothing compared to the Abolitionist Movement,
Women's suffrage Movement, Trade Union movement, Civil
Rights Movement, fire? And Progressive Populist movement,
if they were around today they could teach us some lessons,
we are amateurs by comparison.
Well someone says " that's because slavery is not around,
in any institutional sense, women have the right to
vote,and workers can ban together to form trade unions, so
maybe its not as, necessary. Well everything has its grave
challenges and we have our own.We live in a world where we
have the technology to destroy the planet, inadvertently,
when we have weapons systems that can destroy it directly.
And there are more people dying of malaria in the world
today than ever before, despite the availability of modern
medicine. That doesn't get distributed, mass starvation
around the world serious malnutrition, and we are leading
the history in the world in terms of devastation of the
environment, so its not like we are lacking for challenges
right, or serious injustices to deal with?
The question is what lessons of history haven't we learned?
We have the model of our forefathers who took on giant
corporations, who took on cotton plantations, ignorance and
bigotry, and moved the society forward.
Not with total victory, but a lot better, remember until
1832 in Britain people who were debtors were executed. Can
you imagine how many people would be executed today in the
That was abolished in the early 1830's, in England, which
at that time was supposed to be one of the more enlightened
countries.So we start out with what the challenges are, and
there is obviously a huge consensus in this world if you
just count people for all these things I have just
mentioned. For environmental preservation, for abolition of
poverty, for a real major assault on global infectious
diseases, and for the democratization of society, and
whether there are totalitarian authoritarian symbolic
democracies or thin democracies. There is just a lot of
consensus for all this, but the consensus doesn't have the
power that the opposition to these changes has. And that is
what democracy is all about, to connect justice, truth,
civic access to power.
Cicero put it best, he said, " freedom is participation in
power". That is not a definition of freedom I learned about
in my political science courses in university, and without
community there's crisis.
The distinctive impact of corporations, among many others,
is that it advances excessive individuation. It basically
does everything it can to break up community.
It doesn't like environmental groups. It doesn't like check
off systems for labor unions.. It doesn't like a whole host
of ways that people can band together in various areas of
their life and various themes of their life as workers,
consumers, taxpayers communities, whatever.
Whenever you see efforts to do that, you'll see
corporations on the other side.Now a corporation is a
community and they love to have all the privileges and
immunities that lets them band together as investors and
executives of corporations, board of directors, etc.But
somehow they don't like others to have that same facility,
they want a full right to go to court, and sue anyone they
want, but they pressure legislators here and in Congress to
restrict ordinary peoples rights to go to court.
Virginia is one of the culprits here. You ask yourself if
you are subject to a deadly mal practice that disables you
for life, ask your self how much can you get in Virginia.
What is the maximum?One and a half million dollars. Let's
say you are a teenager you become a quadriplegic you have a
life expectancy of 50, 60 years, given inflation eroding
thatwhat is left of that one and a half million dollars?
There are corporate executives who make that in a week with
out any pain and suffering.
So why should the lawmakers in Virginia be able to enact a
law, which says no matter how serious the injury by a
criminally negligent corporation or hospital, no matter how
expensive your maintenance is going to be in terms of
rehabilitation and care throughout your life, no matter how
much a jury and judge subject to appellate review decides to
reward you, you can't get more than a million and a half
dollars in a court of law.
You see, there is an asymmetry isn't there between
corporations who have all the rights we have, as real
people under the constitution and a whole host of
privileges ands immunities, that we do not have.
Corporations are quite different than you and me, it's good
for you to make a list of this somehow. You just keep adding
to it; they can be in a thousand places at once around the
world, you can't.
They create their own parent called a holding company for
evasive maneuvers, you can't.
They could move their wares and transfer their pricing
into foreign jurisdictions like tax havens and get away
with not paying taxes.
You are often responsible for what happens try to find out
who in a corporation is responsible when a product like a
Dalkon Shield, made by the A. H. Robins corporation here in
Richmond mutilated 10's of thousands of women, try to find
out who in the company is responsible for that. They have
limited liability, that ability to stand selling and
profiting and then going into chapter 11 bankruptcy so they
can deal with their creditors in a very minimal way.
It is hard for individual to do these things, not to
mention a whole host of others. In any civic movement you
have to pay attention to its growing into
big multinational corporations.
It really makes a mockery out of equal justice under law.
You don't really believe that you are equally just under
the law with General Motors or Exxon, it's apples and
oranges. (Crowd Laughs)
They [Corporations] are not real Human beings.
They [Corporations] dominate all media. Media on the
airwaves that we own legally as a people and the radio/
t.v. stations pay nothing for use of these airwaves. 24
hours a day it's free, compliments of the federal
communications commission and congress.
They are the tenants we are the landlords, and we can't
even get on, we have to beg.We have to work hard as a
citizen group in Richmond and do something, make a
proposal, have a press conference, then have our fingers
crossed, and hope the TV and radio will come. If they come
will they give us 30 seconds on the evening news which is
filled with four minutes of weather,four minutes of sports,
nine minutes of advertisements, and one minute of chit-chat
and street crime scenes.
Then they say they don't have time for what is going on
here in Richmond, Virginia.
Well you say, that's our property! Oh no, you think its
your property, but they control what you own
. We own a third of the United States as a people, the
public lands with all the minerals and timber and grazing
lands and we don't control it. You know who controls it.
We own five trillion dollars worth of pension money of the
workers, and the banks, insurance companies, GE and IBM and
othersdon't want you to control the investment.
And all of these huge assets that the people legally own
together with one another, if we ever began to control
that, could you imagine how we could reshape the future of
this country. Could you imagine the priorities that could
be redirected? (applause) If you look ahead in the next
thirty, forty, fifty years, we have got to transform our
nation into a soft energy path, solar energy efficiency. We
can't keep going with coal, oil, gas & nuclear even if we
have plenty of it for thousands of years for the
environmental reasons. You know, as well as I do the
geopolitical struggles that come over oil, etc. We have got
to do that. Who is going to do that? The oil companies have
no interest in it. The nuclear power companies, they have
their own little concentrated capital investments. Oil,
coal, gas, nuclear, no one else can really compete with
them, and they control the policy of energy in
Washington.. That gives them all kinds of tax credits and
free research and development and other subsidies and
. Meanwhile solar energy is trying to make it on its own.
And it's advancing, it's advancing, but not as fast as it
needs to. Wind power, solar thermal, solar portable... eh,
some of you may be leaders in that global energy renewable
movement someday, it takes a political movement to catapult
it to a higher level in our political priorities.The same
with poverty. You know there are lots of European nations
that abolished poverty in the 50's an 60's. Out of the
rubble of World War II they managed to cobble themselves a
social safety net together to do so.
We still haven't done that! We still have the highest
percent of our people living in poverty including children
of any western country, including Japan. Where 20 % of
California's children, 25% of the District of Colombia's
children, 33% child poverty. Just think about that, the
richest country in the world?
What are we sitting around doing?What are the students here
going to think of themselves in 60 years. Look back and say
what did you do with your life? Well, had a house in the
Hampton's. ( crowd laughs) Bought a nice boat, what else?
Earned a lot of money. You'd have an empty feeling if you
didn't make some justice. We really did interview some of
these people, who are now in their 70's, former corporate
lawyers retired, they have an empty feeling. They missed
the justice train. They spent their lives representing
corporations in evermorenarrow areas of specialization. So
they didn't have a broad point of references as to what
they could do to advance justice as lawyers. If anybody
could do that, people trained in the law, and how to deal
with raw power could. They knew they blew it and they
knew that the money that they piled up in their investments
just wasn't satisfactory enough, but by the time they had
realized it, they had retired.
You don't want to get into that level, but there are just
so many unacceptable injustices that are systemic in nature
we have got to do something about it and if we want to do
something about it that means we are concerned, but that's
The difference is being concerned or are you serious. You
will find out today in this little fundraiser through the
Green Party. You will find out whether you will give to the
Green party or McDonalds, just a few yards away, with that
greasy, fat ridden, anti-nutritional junk. ( roar of
applause) Because when the Greens raise money they only
raise it for people, individuals.Our campaign refuses to
take corporate money, soft money, or political action
committee money. For which we got no credit in the
editorial papers, and news papers. I'll tell you it is a
great relief, never once did we ever have to say in our
minds,"We are getting money from this source, what do they
want back?" Often times you don't have think what they want
back, they tell you. They(Richmond Greens) are starting out
on the right level and they want you to help them. Let
them do that.
First we have to realize that that we can move forward much
faster than we've been moving. When you reach a period of
stagnant status quo when it comes to the advance of justice
in a society you have to think it's very hard to achieve it.
Therefore you tend to feel overwhelmed, and therefore you
tend to feel more powerless, and therefore, you tend to
become more apathetic.
And if you're really apathetic ,you're part of a mass of
people who when asked, "What's the difference between
apathy and ignorance", you'll say, "You don't care, and you
That's the bottom level.
On the other hand, if you look how people in the past have
took on these big challenges you'd be ashamed of not doing
it here, because they did it without electricity, without
telephones, without motor vehicles, without fax machines,
How did those farmers 120 years ago start this great
populist progressive revolt in America against the banks
and the big railroads? They didn't have telephones! They
had no cars! But in six months they organized in east
Texas, 200,000 dues paying farmers who were dirt poor. six
months door to door, person to person. See the difference?
They weren't just concerned, they had a sense of urgency.
Our society has contented classesand the contented classes
often are the ones that can change things. They are the
ones who get their calls returned. But the problem is they
are contented. They may be in the upper the upper 15% of
the income level and you'll be in the upper 15% . . .
you'll be in the upper 5% . . . 10% . . . 1%. You got to
watch out for a system that makes you so contented about
yourself that you're indifferent about others.
It's an inter-connected world today, tuberculosis is coming
to the U.S. in a drug-resistance form. International travel
being what it is, environmental degradation being what it
is, there's no such things as national boundaries sealing
us off and that will be even more explicit as genetic
engineering gets underway with Monsanto
wanting to transform the genetic inheritance of a plant
into a 20-year patent property monopoly
. You'll see more of that in terms of artificial
intelligence . . . and you'll see more of that remoteness
in absentee control, just the way millions of farmers may
be absentee controlled by a couple of corporations who
control the patents of certain seeds. You'll see more of
that and you're going to see more,"A Brave New World," by
Aldus Huxley . . . you're going to see more of the kind of
remote control of peoples lives. You're going to see more
repressed expectation levels, you're going to see more of
this kind subtle controlling processes taking hold in one
area after another so that you don't even see what's wrong
after a while.
You watch the evening news and you don't say, "Hey that's
our property.Why don't they really report and give voice to
what's going on here in Richmond. That's our property!
Are we going to do something about it, they just lease it
from us for nothing." Instead we sit watching the news and
we spend four minutes watching the weather. You know,
starting in the North West and coming across the Great
Plains heading over the Allegheny's into Richmond. Telling
us the different temperatures between suburbs three miles
apart, and what the temperature was 20-years ago...and
you're saying why isn't this time being used to report
(people laughing) on important activities, serious
activities, serious injustices?
Well, because we don't control what we own, that's why. We
don't have our own audience network, that's why. Because if
you don't have any expectation levels that can critique the
evening news in contexts of public ownership of this
Commonwealth, which has been the case since the 1920's. As
Congressional activists, you'll say, "I guess that's the
way it is" and you'll define freedom as flicking off the
In other words, you'll define freedom as exit, not voice
and that's what a concentrated system of power does in a
It makes you think you are free because you can quit.
So if you've got the money, you quit the public school
systems for your kids. You can have your own private
clubs. You can have your own way of traveling without
having to use a degraded mass transit.
It's an easy way to exit, but most people can't exit and
some people who can may be just fooling themselves over a
period of time in thinking that they can go through their
whole life with that kind of exit.
The Green Party is a little party. A little party that is
trying to surmount a two-party duopoly.
It's like climbing a cliff with a slippery rope. The two
parties collaborate to exclude others.
They have control of this company, called the Debate
Commission. The gateway to tens of millions of voters
during the presidential campaign. They created it. They
They've had it funded by Phillip Morris, by Anheiser-Bush
and Ford Motor Co. and they decide the rules. They decide
who doesn't get on the debates. They decide the
questioner, Jim Leher. It's a nice little cushy thing and
that's has to be broken . . . And that's one of our
projects is to break the gripe of the debate commission.
(applause) They control the statutory variances for
getting on a ballot. . . What is it 10,000 signatures to
get on it, here in Virginia? Well, in North Carolina, it's
52,000, and you better get a 100,000 because they pick and
disqualify them for trivial reasons. And in Oklahoma, it's
got 3.5 million people or whatever, it's 38,000 and that's
the result of legislation passed by the Republican and
They control the money, they command most of the media and
they start out with 35% of the vote each; hereditary
Democratic, hereditary Republicans. And then they say, ok
folks, third party, challenge us.
Pretty hard. We're going to have to break it, and we will
if we want to. And if we want to, we will get it done,
right? But we got to have to (cheers) initiate it.
Here's Thomas Jefferson: He say's
"It behooves our citizens to be on their guard to be firm
in their principles, and to be full of confidence in
themselves, we are able to preserve our self-government, if
will but think so".
Just think of it, think of how many thoughts he had in that
Think of that concise nature of that civic self-confidence.
He once said, "The purpose of representative government is
to counteract the excesses of the moneyed interest". Today,
the corporate interests.
Make a list of the ten most serious problems in the world.
Ask yourself whether the now dominant and unchallenged
multinational corporations are contributing to worsening
these injustices, are indifferent to these injustices, or
are improving or reducing these injustices. Just test it
yourself. Dictatorships, environment, poverty, disease,
what are they doing? They're cutting deals with dictators
as long as they can make profit? Shoring up their
repressive regimes. They're selling arms to anyone who will
buy them, because profit is the bottom line. With our
taxpayer subsidies, they are selling these weapon systems
all over the world. The fossil fuel industry is
contributing heavily to ozone depletion and to global
warming. And it's keeping everything at bay when it comes
to displacement energy like renewable energy. They will
even buy up photovoltaic companies, make sure they don't
grow too fast. Who's behind the cutting of equatorial
forests? Big corporations in Japan, and in the U.S, and
South Korea. Who is doing anything about global infectious
diseases? It's the U.S army and the US Navy, it isn't the
big pharmaceutical companies. They don't make money with
vaccines, and drugs bought by poor people.
That's why we've been working on the AIDS medicines over
seas. One of our associates just got a drug company in
India to agree to break the price of AIDS medicine which is
now 10,000 dollars per person,per year in Africa, this
Indian drug company has agreed to do it for 350 dollars per
year. But do you see, look how long it takes, 3.5 million
dying of aids in Africa. But these drug companies are into
"lifestyle drugs", drugs you have to take everyday or every
week to grow hair on your bald head, etc.
And the fast food industry? What are they doing? What is
the food industry doing about world hunger? You'd think
they would want more customers? (crowd laughs) They are
trying to set up fat food, ah, fast food, dumping fat and
sugar into people's bodies, replacing their indigenous
diets so that heart disease rates go up etc. It's just a
You know all we are hearing is propaganda about how great
these companies are. When you really get down to the facts
and you read some of the best stories, in Business Week,
Wall Street Journal, New York Times, if you look, all of
this is reported. It is just that we are not doing anything
Our democracy is collapsing under these corporate
pressures, which now buy our elections and run our
governments. So that even when the mainstream press exposes
all of this, day after day, in page one stories , in Sixty
Minutes, 20/20, nothing happens. Nothing happens...
That's the symptom. You see that's the canary bird telling
you that we don't have an institution strong enough to take
this exposure and link it action.
Now we come down to how is the Green Party going to grow?
It needs to grow! It has a good agenda, the best, broadest,
deepest platform of any political party. Just look at it and
read it , it's on the internet. They need good people, who
are willing to work more than they talk. That's not a
difficult achievement. If they have that as a criteria,
people have to be able to work!
The only place democracy comes before work is in the
dictionary. ( crowd laughs)
But that is not enough, it needs people who are long
distance runners. People who get personal gratification
from striving for justice. People who'd like to take on
the Goliath's. People who are willing to find other
people who are like themselves who can lock arms and move
The Green Party also doesn't spend much money, but
unfortunately doesn't get its phone bills free.
They hate to raise some money. They hate to raise money,
the Green party. They are some of the most anti-money
people you've ever met. But there are certain bills that
have to be paid! The printing bills have to get paid! There
needs to be an office here in Virginia with a staff, and
anything you can do to contribute to that would be good.
Just knock off 5 McDonald hamburgers in the next week, chew
on some carrots and give your money to the Green Party. (
applause )It will improve your health.
I have to ask you a question, who here has never been
inside a McDonalds? ( The crowd begins to turn their heads,
looking for any raised hands. A woman in the very back of
the crowded room holds up her daughter, who seemed to be
about 2 years old.)
The baby and me have never been inside a McDonalds. ( more
applause from the crowd)
Also this book we put out, which is available for those of
you who want to save money, this is "Wining the Insurance
Game", I co-wrote it with Wesley Smith. It can save you
hundreds of dollars a year, because most people don't know
how to buy insurance. They don't know what to buy, they
don't know how to buy, and they have trouble pursuing their
claims when the company doesn't want to pay up. This is the
guidebook for all of that. And this is one called "How to
get the best from your Doctor," which is very important in
terms of people knowing how to choose a Doctor, how to ask
the Doctor the right questions, and so on. So there are
editions up here to make a further contribution.
Finally, because I have been told we don't have much time.
Once you have a stronger third party other things begin to
happen. There are some states where students have powerful
citizen groups, called public research interest groups.
But not in Virginia, we tried it in Virginia, years and
years and years ago, but it didn't work. The regents and
the trustees and the presidents didn't want students to
have a referendum. Add 200 bucks on to your tuition bill,
the students who dissent can always decline to pay. The
money goes to a non-profit group run by students on the
board of directors elected by their fellow students, who
then hire economists, organizers, lawyers,
environmentalists, etcetera and go to work to improve the
state that they are going to school in.
In places like Mass. and New York, they have the most
powerful citizen groups. In New York they have a 3 million
dollar budget, 10 offices, over one hundred full time
staff. Some of the students get course credit for working
on the projects developed by their public interest research
groups. If you'd try that here in Richmond, in the
legislature, you'd probably get about 10 votes to permit
you to do that in state funded, state sponsored
You have a new party, a progressive new party, you are more
likely to establish that kind of organization. A lot of
other things flow from that as well. The main thing is that
you have the right to do it! So you need to get motivation
from three sources.
First, our forbears who did do it at their finest
moments. I mean when you see what they went through, how
would you have liked to have been an abolitionist in 1840,
in Virginia? Look what they went through! How would you
like to be a suffrage movement worker? You know they were
all beat and spit on, arrested just because they wanted
women to be given the right to vote. Or the workers hired
by the coal mines and the oil companies and then tried to
form unions when the working conditions were... you
couldn't believe the working conditions today. The deaths
and the injuries. More people, in our country, have died in
the coalmines from 1890 to today, from coal mine shaft
collapses , breathing deadly coal dust leading to
"coalminers <unintelligible>," more coalminers have died in
that period of time than all the Americans who were killed
in World War II. Not to mention slave wages, etc.So how
would you like to be organized? When you look back at what
they did and what they were able to achieve, and what we
have inherited by what they have achieved, these are really
tough odds we are up against. You feel like a jerk! So, it
is good to feel like a jerk. Let that motivate you.
The second source of motivation is the state of the world!
It's really a shame on humanity's conscience that we allow
such horrible brutality and viciousness and the destruction
of life's possibilities when we have so many capabilities
and so much knowledge to perform otherwise.
Third is your sense of legacy to children and grand
children. Posterity. When was the last time you heard a
politician use the word posterity? It's always used by
Jefferson, Lincoln, all these forbears that they were
actually very concerned of what future generations will
think of them.
But how concerned are we? Are we going to have future
generations curse us because we are the last generation who
had to give up so little in order to achieve so much. And
that's the difference between being serious with a sense of
urgency or just being concerned. That's the difference.
Thank You. (Applause)
Additional information on the Green Party of the United States
can be found at: http://www.gp.org
Additional information on the Virginia Green Party can be found
GPVA Press Secretary: Miriam