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Winter 2001

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Huge crowd greets Ralph Nader

     Listening to one of the presidential candidates in November, Skidmore students got so excited they actually did “the wave.” It was the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, speaking on campus just ten days after the election, who rallied the spectators to such a pitch. His visit to Skidmore was organized and sponsored by several student groups, including the Speakers Bureau, the Skidmore College Greens, Turn-Left, and the Environmental Action Club. As Molley Carleton ’01 told one newspaper, “There’s big, big support at Skidmore for Nader.”

Green candidate Ralph Nader speaks to Skidmore students, who helped him take 7 percent of the vote in Saratoga Springs, double his rate nationwide.

     In fact more than 2,000 students, faculty, and citizens from around the region crowded into Skidmore’s main gym to hear the longtime consumer activist and Green Party campaigner. And they got an earful. After giving a press conference from 4 to 5 p.m., Nader gave a speech that lasted from about 9 to 10:30 p.m., then fielded questions from the audience for a half-hour, and then gave live interviews to TV reporters for the 11 o’clock news.

     A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Nader has said his dream of becoming a “people’s lawyer” was inspired by his parents, Lebanese immigrants who conducted noisy, free-for-all family seminars on the duties of citizenship in a democracy. After briefly practicing law, in 1963 Nader hitchhiked to Washington, D.C., where he landed a job at the U.S. Department of Labor and also advised a Senate subcommittee on federal oversight of auto safety.

     His 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile hit the bestseller list and proved Nader’s core belief that one person can make a difference. He later played a key role in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Freedom of Information Act. Through his “Nader’s Raiders”—task forces primarily consisting of student volunteers—he researched and publicized the unsanitary conditions of meat and poultry plants, the dangers of natural gas pipelines, radiation emissions from TV sets and X-rays, and the health risks to coal miners.

     Nader ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000. At his Skidmore appearance in mid-November, Nader denied that he’d “spoiled” the 2000 election for Democratic contender Al Gore, who “ran a terrible campaign against an awful candidate.” It was Gore who took votes away from him, added Nader. And he blamed the news media for ignoring the Green agenda and focusing only on the two traditional parties, both of whom he said are tainted by corporate influence and serve big business rather than protecting the health and welfare of average citizens. Nevertheless, Nader maintained, the Greens are gaining momentum in their bid to “dislodge the grip of the two political parties and bring back the sovereignty of the people.”

     And the people clearly include college students. Nader urged them to get serious and stop talking about being uninterested in politics—“Stop trivializing yourselves,” he said. Considering the crowds, TV cameras, traffic, and general enthusiasm they generated on campus, at least for one night, Skidmore students had to have felt anything but trivial. —SR, AW


© 2001 Skidmore College