Taking Back Power
“A few determined citizens can change almost anything.”
Ralph Nader shared this belief in an interview with David Barsamian in the May 2019 issue of The SUN. (Until the 2000 election, I was a great admirer of Ralph Nader. Reading this article helped redeem my perspective about the incredible work Nader has done in his 85 years on this planet. I hope you will also keep an open-mind as I share Nader’s thoughts from The SUN interview.)
Nader explained that “every major advance for justice in our country took no more than 1 percent of adults – around 2.5 million people – with public opinion behind them, mobilizing to change government policy.”
One example cited in this article is that “in August 1964 fourteen thousand retirees went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to lobby for the passage of Medicare.” Within months that bill was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Harry Truman who had tried to pass a national health insurance plan in the late 1940s was present at that signing.
Today more and more Americans support Medicare for All. Nader contends this goal is possible to achieve. He says, “If 2.5 million people each gave three hundred volunteer hours a year across every congressional district, we would have full Medicare for All in two years of less. Why? Because the majority of people want it. They don’t like our healthcare system.”
Nader believes that too many people have internalized a sense of powerlessness that also makes them comfortable. They make excuses for themselves so they don’t have to do the hard work of becoming involved.
Adapting the language of Daniel Webster, Nader says that “Justice is the great work of human beings on earth.” He believes that without justice there is no freedom. He quotes the definition of freedom by Erich Fromm, the psychologist from Yale. Freedom has two parts: “freedom from oppression, arbitrary authority, dictatorship, and harassment; and freedom to be civically involved in the shaping of local, state, national, and international policy – to be a citizen, to have a voice.”
Nader’s words from 1972 are still relevant. “Let it not be said by a future, forlorn generation that we wasted and lost our great potential because our despair was so deep we didn’t even try, or because each of us thought someone else was worrying about our problems.”