Nader calls for ‘permanent patriotism’ in Northrop speech

by Jessica Thompson

Ralph Nader might have lost in his bid for the presidency last year, but the grassroots activist hasn’t given up his crusade to increase civic involvement.

In a speech at the University’s Northrop Auditorium on Tuesday evening, he called on students to demand a rational government reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s up to us not to simply stand aside. It’s up to us to exert a permanent patriotism, not just a patriotism when we’re under attack,” Nader said to an estimated 2,200 audience members.

“Permanent patriotism means we must have the freedom of our minds to comment, reflect, and feed back because our government can make some serious mistakes, as they have in the past,” he said.

Nader asked students to contact members of Congress, who he said fear that criticizing Bush’s agenda will lead to being branded anti-patriotic. He said Congress is in “stampede mode.”

He criticized Democratic Sens. Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone, who he said are not as “prominent as I thought they might be.”

“You must give them their backbone,” he said.

Nader asked audience members to consider why U.S. foreign policy is creating enemies.

“We have to begin putting ourselves in the shoes of the innocent, brutalized people in the Third World and ask ourselves, why do they dislike our foreign policy?” he said to a cheering crowd.

The entrance to Northrop was crowded with activist groups – including members of the Green Party, Women Against Military Madness, and the Alliance for Democracy –who came to see Nader and to get their message across.

“If Ralph Nader were responding to this (as president), I’m pretty confident we wouldn’t be needing anti-war demonstrations,” said John Coutley, a political science major and member of the newly formed Students Against War.

But some of the students attending the lecture were less resolute in their support for Nader.

“I’m interested in seeing where he’s coming from,” said Alek Cannan of the Socialist Alternative. “But whether we support him directly or not I’m not sure.”

The Socialist Alternative supported Nader during his 2000 presidential campaign, but Cannan said the group thought Nader catered too much toward the middle class instead of paying attention to the needs of lower-class workers.

For members of the nonpartisan Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, the event posed an opportunity to help students register to vote in the Nov. 6 mayoral and City Council elections.

Nader spent most of the two-hour lecture talking about the corporatization of America.

In a pre-lecture interview, Nader said he came to the University because it’s an easy gathering place.

“Lots of people want to have an open discussion on all these issues, but it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg,” he said. “(Students) are supposed to be in the reflective years of life … they’re asking questions and thinking about these things, so it’s a natural audience for this.”


Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]