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"Independent-Minded"

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Interview with Ralph Nader following the 2004 Presidential Election

After the recent Presidential “election,” a lot of U.S. felt an utter sense of doom and hopelessness.  Many had reluctantly voted for John Kerry, in an attempt to get the current administration out of control of the government.   It is no secret that the Bush administration is an evil one, wrought with treachery, corruption, arrogant deceit, and an overall lack of interest for the American people (and pretty much anyone but themselves, for that matter). 

When Kerry failed to win even the popular vote, it was morosely apparent that Bush’s redneck, mafioso regime was in charge, and was happily leading the United States further down the toilet.  So much energy and passion had been spent trying to chuck G.W. and his cronies out of power, and we lost the battle.

Sadly, a good portion of folks that voted for Kerry didn’t even like him.  They felt he was the Lesser of the Two Evils, and voting for him was a compromise, one they felt they had to make in order to kick the vile pigs out of office.  But truth be told, Kerry represented merely another kind of swine, and whether or not he would have been better than Bush, he is still a crooked little piggy.

In the midst of all this stood a man that has always strived for a better America: Ralph Nader.  For decades now, Nader has fought relentlessly for the rights of all Americans, and he’s remained an inspiration to those who desperately want this country to live up to its potential.

Nader truly loves this country, and like so many of U.S., he feels deep within his soul that it still can be as great as we want it to be.  But it takes perseverance, and we should never compromise on our hopes for this wonderful nation…despite how ruthless and downright ugly the government may be.

Now that the “election” is over, what can people do now to take their country back?

Ralph Nader: Well, one of the top issues obviously is getting out of the Iraq quagmire.  The anti-war movement put itself on hold out of deference to Kerry in 2004, so there’s a big backlog of activities that need to be undertaken.  To focus the issue of accountability on George W. Bush, and to increase the pressure to have an exit strategy with a timetable, and a deadline.

That’s the only way we’re going to get the mainstream Iraqis to distance themselves from the insurgency, is to give them their country back. 

We’ve started an anti-war group, and the website is democracyrising.us.

Did Kerry ever apologize to you for all their tactics?

RN: No, they haven’t to this day.  Nor has Terry McAuliffe.  They committed what I believe is a constitutional crime, an act of political bigotry, denying our voters the opportunity to vote for Nader/Camejo.  Not by debating us, or taking away our issues, but by blocking Nader/Camejo from being on the ballot.  And that’s why I say it’s a constitutional crime.  They did it by harassment, intimidation, phony lawsuits.  They hired corporate Republican law firms through platoons of lawyers, and law clerks against us.  Even Ken Starr’s old law firm- the dreaded Ken Starr, the archenemy of the Democratic Party- they hired Kirkland & Ellis to do that.

And there was never any regret at all.

Do you think it’s stuff like that that helped Bush win?

RN: Well, to the extent that they concentrated on us to spend millions of dollars, instead of focusing on Ohio.  They spent millions of dollars trying to get us off the Ohio ballot, and they should’ve put their attention on Bush.

But, we’re trying to make (in the next year or two) a big issue out of candidates’ rights.  You hear a lot about voters’ rights, and quite properly so, with all the ways voters are blocked and not counted and so on.  But when all’s said and done, if you don’t have diverse candidates, if you just have one incumbent party through redistricting, controlling either Republican or Democrat, controlling 95% of the Congressional districts, you don’t even have two parties- and voting rights aren’t even worth that much.

So, candidates’ rights need to be put right up on a par with voters’ rights, ‘cause that’s what gives voters’ rights more meaning.  So we’re focusing very much on candidates’ rights, rights of access, to the ballot, rights to get on debates, and so on.

As it currently operates, is there still hope for the government as far as serving the citizens of this country?

RN: Well, the hope is to place in the near future people in the government- Congress, the White House- people who are more sensitive to the general interests of the American people rather than to the craven, avaricious demands of a few hundred giant corporations.  Right now, the corporations control Washington, and have turned it into corporate-occupied territories, a corporate government.  It transcends the two parties, and every department agency is now controlled by corporate lobbyists, corporate law firms, corporate trade associations, and corporate executives who are, because of the influence of their companies, are high in our government appointments.  They’re high up in the Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agricultural Departments, Food & Drug, and so on.

So, it’s a corporate government in Washington.  If you really want to make a contrast, the challenge is for the people to subordinate corporate sovereignty with their own sovereignty.

And with all the money going in, is it feasible that could happen?

RN: Yeah, it is, because one thing we have to remember is the corporations have huge amounts of money and power, but they don’t have a single vote.  And the people have a vote.  As Saul Alinsky (the Chicago organizer) once said years ago, the only way to deal with organized money is with organized people. 

So, it’s really organizing every congressional district.  Congress watchdog groups become stronger and stronger, and start conditioning the behavior of the incumbents, and also preparing the way to replace those who are entrenched against the public interest.

So, if you have 2,000 people in each congressional district (which averages 600,000 people), as a congress watchdog organization or club, you really got something going there.

How do you think this has managed to happen- is it because not enough people have taken an interest in civic politics?

RN: Yeah, they basically undermine their own power by declaring their powerlessness.  When they feel powerless, then they can remain apathetic, which is the other side of the coin of powerlessness.  And so they’ve began to rationalize their own futility.

That’s what controlling processes do to people, they make the people think they’re powerless, so that the power brokers don’t have to exert much overt pressure on them.  Because the people have given up on themselves.

You’ve mentioned that the corporations are controlling our “genetics future”…

RN: Yeah, I said in my book, The Good Fight- where all this is outlined- that the corporations…you’ve got 1,500 multinational corporations that control the majority of Congress and the Executive Branch agencies and departments, and now they’re trying to close out people’s right to have their full day in court, that’s called Tort Reform.  And they are engaged in strategic planning of our economic future, of our job future, of our political & election future, of our government future, of our foreign and military policy future, of our entertainment future, of our environmental future, of our cultural future, of our food future, they’re trying to corporatize our water systems, and they’re even strategically planning our genetic inheritance, through biotech and patenting life forms and so on.  And that’s just the beginning.

They’re strategically planning our environmental future, for example, by pushing fossil fuels and opposing solar energy.

So, what I say is it’s time we started planning our own future.  Because if we don’t, it’s gonna be planned for us by giant global corporations, that have no allegiance to our country or our communities other than to control them or to abandon them to China or elsewhere as they see fit.

What is the Audience Network Act?

RN: That’s a proposal, which we’ve drafted legislation for Congress years ago, to revert one hour of prime-time and drive time for TV and radio back to a democratic group called Audience Network.  Anybody could join that group for very modest dues (10, 15 bucks a year), and that leads to the establishment of production facilities for TV, radio, reporters, producers, that program one hour from the grassroots, without worrying about advertisements and corporate censorship.

It’s a way to say, “Look- we own the public airwaves.  We have been leasing free, through the FCC, to you, radio & TV corporations, 24 hours a day on the spectrum.  We don’t charge you rent; now, we’re gonna charge you rent.  We’re gonna take back one out of the 23 hours a day, and we’re gonna use that rent to elaborate, fund, very proficient and modern television and radio facilities and staff, reporters, producers, and editors.”

Now that was subjected to a hearing in the House, chaired by Congressman Markey.  But it never went anywhere.  The broadcast industry pounced on it, and blocked it.

Are you guys still trying to push that through?

RN: Well, we’re trying to keep talking about it, because after all, the people do own the public airwaves, there’s no reason why we should give it all away.

Do you think the FCC’s fight against “decency” is a sham?

RN: Not entirely.  I mean, they should be fighting against monopoly control by fewer and fewer media conglomerates, instead of enhancing their control as they did two years ago, a year-and-a-half ago in a split vote.  But, there are some people who are going overboard in terms of the words they use, and if they want to do it on their own property, fine.  But it’s public property, and there’re kids listening to this.  So there have to be some sort of standards.

Why do you feel the government is so resistant to legalizing cannabis?

RN: Well, I mean, our campaign stood tall for decriminalizing marijuana, and regulating it.  And very strong for legalizing the agricultural production of industrial hemp, which has 5,000 uses including fuel, food, energy, clothing, paper.  It’s a very environmental benign plant, it can reduce our imports of oil, it would give farmers an added source of income, and produce paper without chlorine, reduce the number of trees that are cut down.

It’s insane that we don’t allow this to happen, because we do allow the importation of industrial hemp from Canada…it’s about $200 million last year, but the idea of, “It’s OK to import it, but not OK to let our farmers grow it,” it’s something that started back in 1937.   It was put in there by pressure of the paper industry- which is now either neutral or supporting industrial hemp; I guess they’re running out of trees.  International Paper, I know, supports the legalization of industrial hemp. 

We’ve filed two detailed petitions to the Clinton and Bush administrations, to take it off the DEA prescribed list, but those petitions were turned down by Democrat and Republican administrations.  Ron Paul, the Congressman of Texas, is just about to introduce a bill legalizing industrial hemp.  And finally, we have a website that details all of this: go to www.essential.org.  You’ll see lots of materials on the struggle to legalize industrial hemp.

Do you feel that if They were to legalize it all over, and regulate it, and have hash bars like there are in Amsterdam, do you feel that would overall be a detriment to society, or do you think overall legalizing cannabis and hemp would benefit our society?

RN: Well, I don’t care much for addictions of any kind.  However, when you make them illegal, you just drive them underground.  We tried prohibition of alcohol as a nation in the 20’s, and it helped build the underworld, and it discredited the law, and it was not a good experience, which is why it was repealed in the 30’s.

I don’t really go for people harming themselves, harming their bodies in any way, but if that’s their choice, then the product should be regulated, and they should be labeled, there should be standards of quality, and that should be subjected to taxation the way tobacco is.  All along, we should try to get young people not to get addicted, to either alcohol, drugs, marijuana, tobacco, whatever.

Any time you try to criminalize an addiction, it doesn’t work.  You can’t enforce it, it drives it underground, and the costs are far greater than they would be otherwise.

Do you think John Walters [ONDCP “Drug Czar”] is insane?

RN: [laughs]  Well, when federal agents swoop down on Sioux Indian reservation, the Rosebud Reservation, and pull out 3,000 industrial hemp plants at 5am in the morning with helicopters, with the Indian farmer looking at them totally astonished, that’s pretty medieval and ridiculous.  They felt ridiculous, actually, but they were just following orders…

Why do you think the trend, as far as the ONDCP’s tactics, have gone back to the 30’s?  Like, with a lot of the anti-marijuana commercials seeming to mirror things like Reefer Madness, and it seems like when Bush came into office, they suddenly went back to these old-school tactics.

RN: A huge bureaucracy for this.  The money could be much better spent on health care, and they spend far more money on the drug wars than they do on corporate crime, which has looted and drained trillions of dollars, and millions of workers’ pensions money, and their 401k’s, which has violated pollution control laws and other health and safety laws, resulted in death, injuries and disease.  And they’re spending their time on the drug wars.  Money, time, staff…

Are you planning on running again for President?

RN: It’s too early to say.  I think the system is rigged against third party independent candidates, in all kinds of ways, more than any other Western democracy by far.  So that puts in people’s minds that only one of two can win, and therefore they wanna be with the winner, and therefore they don’t wanna “waste” their vote.

So, they forget the history of our country, where the great changes came from little parties and candidates, even though they never won a national election.  They were the first up front against slavery, for women’s right to vote, for trade unions, for farmer populist reform, civil rights.  It’s always been the little parties, and the only reason they’ve been able to do it is because enough people decided they weren’t gonna vote for the Least Worst of the two major parties.  They were gonna vote for…

The best candidate.

RN: Yeah.  The best candidate who is on the ballot.

This time, they really prevented us from even campaigning, ‘cause we had 21 phony lawsuits in 18 states, and that is a huge drain, which is why we’re trying to pay off the debt now, so we can ramp up on all the other issues, like anti-war.

Do you think they need to get rid of the electoral college?

RN: Sure, that’s totally antiquated, useless, it induces all the worse aspects of American politics, winner take all, it tends to develop a single-issue power by people in a swing state like Florida or Ohio, and it deprives voters who are only 49%, saying they don’t get anything for their money, they don’t get anything for their vote.  It just has no utility whatsoever as far as I’m concerned.

If you can’t amend the Constitution, you can do what they tried to do in Colorado but narrowly lost, which is to just proportion it, so if you get 45% of the vote, you get 45% of the electoral college.

Do you think the next in presidential election, things might be better as far as how people can vote for who they really want to be President as opposed to two dogs up there?

RN: Well, people gotta become more independent-minded.  A third of the people call themselves “independent,” but that’s a far cry from being independent-minded.  The minute you vote for the Least Worst, you’re signaling to the Least Worst of the two parties that you can be had.  That you got nowhere to go, so they can take your vote for granted, and then move toward the corporate or right wing.  To try to clip off 3% or 4% on that edge.

And that’s what Kerry did.  He knew millions of voters had the following mantra: “Anybody But Bush; Leave Kerry Alone, Make No Demands Out Of Him.”  When the anti-war and pro-labor and environment and peace and consumer groups all made no demands on Kerry, he knew that he had their vote, so he began curtseying with the corporate interests.

What’s next?

RN: We wanna organize young people, ‘cause they are not connected with one another enough.  They’re not politically really connected.  And they could, for example, organize to get people on the ballot easily, in state after state.  But they have to be trained to do so, how to get signatures, how to verify them, how to do this and that, what the rules are. 

They can form their own party, and have a 12-year, a 16-year plan.  So the first year they get enough energy that the two parties have to pay attention to them, four years later they get more power and they get into one of the parties to try and take it over somehow.  By the time the 16th year comes, they’re there.

That takes about two to three thousand very mature young people, who really know where they wanna lead the country in the world, what policies they wanna pursue, and they stay with it.  There’s not much activity at the grassroots; that’s why these parties are controlled from the top.  Half of democracy is just showing up [laughs].  At meetings, rallies, marches, courts…

There’s another book written for young people, it’s only 50 pages.  It’s called Civic Arousal, and it’s out in booklet form by Harper Collins.  It’s about $5 or so.  It’s basically a response to two young people, one a waitress in Tallahassee, another a Princeton engineering grad, who wrote me letters (which I put in the little book), about, “Where are we going here?  What can we do?  What’s about politics?  Is there hope?”  So it’s my answer to those two letters.

Our website is www.votenader.org, for far more details including our youth program.  And our address, if anybody wants to write, is PO Box 18002, Washington, DC, 20036.

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