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Nader Encourages Students To Take Power, Action

WINSTED — About 150 students from Winsted and Northwestern Regional middle and high schools were treated to a free movie, inspirational talk and book signing by Laurel City native Ralph Nader Monday afternoon at the Gilson Cinema, where Nader joined his sister, Claire, and community lawyer Charlene LaVoie in celebrating the showing of "An Unreasonable Man," the two-hour documentary film about his career in consumer activism and politics.

Nader actually ran a few minutes late for his post-screening appearance, and LaVoie commented that the past presidential candidate is always busy doing something. "He has no sense of time," she joked. When Nader arrived in the packed theater, he was met with applause and cheers from students.

Nader immediately took the microphone and told students that he continues to believe the people of the United States of America have the power to make positive changes in society and politics and that his achievements are an example of that power.

"In the 1960s, the people who came to work for me had no power," Nader said. "But they created power. Every movement in this country started with people who had no power who knew what had to be changed and they organized."

With two hours of Nader-oriented material still in their heads, students rifled off a series of questions to the consumer advocate, including a fundamental one that probably hasn’t been asked in a number of years. "Why did you become interested in the safety of cars?" a young man asked.

"I had lost a lot of friends to car accidents," Nader replied, recalling that an early friend named Ray Griffin died in a car accident, as did some of his college friends. "I decided to find out what the problem was, and I found that a lot of car manufacturers were sitting on things that you have in your car today now — seatbelts, padded dashboards and collapsible steering wheels."

In law school at Harvard, Nader developed a thesis, which turned into his seminal book, "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the Chevrolet Corvair, which led to Congressional hearings and new motor vehicle laws, but he said it all started at a personal level. "It started with losing my friends."

Asked why he made the shift from consumer activism to politics, Nader said he believes consumer groups have been increasingly shut out of Washington and that running for president became one of the only ways to bring national attention to serious consumer issues.

"The door was being closed on citizens groups in Washington. We couldn’t get a hearing because the corporations were buying up Washington — not only in the form of political contributions but by putting their own people from upper management into government positions."

Asked if he’ll run again for president in 2008, Nader was noncommittal. "It’s too early to tell," he said. "The Democratic party has found a way to keep minor competitors off the market. Anyone who wants to run a campaign has to have thousands of volunteers to organize petitions. It’s much easier in places like Canada, England, Germany and France to get on the ballot." Nader said the two major parties in the United States effectively tell voters who they can and can’t vote for. "Some day it will be considered a constitutional crime."

Asked about the current field of presidential candidates, Nader did not express much optimism, though he did say he respects Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich, the anti-war candidate who also ran in 2004. "[Barack] Obama is also one of the more interesting candidates. He’s just come out saying he wants to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy, but he’s also said he wants to modernize and expand our military."

Nader said Obama’s stance is typical of Democrats who appear afraid to challenge the country’s military budget. "There’s never been more abuse and corruption and they don’t challenge it."

Ultimately, Nader’s message to young people was laced with positive messages. "The thing is to do the right thing and get lives saved," he said. "You really can’t do this kind of work if you just want to be praised."

Nader also encouraged students to believe in themselves "Do not allow your talents to be trivialized," he said. "Have a high estimate of your own significance to make a difference and keep having a higher estimation of your significance. The forces of trivialization are all around us and we’ve got to find a way to fight them off."

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