On a campus that has long had a reputation for students who cared little about the world around them, calls for collective action against the powerful were met with excitement, respect, and admiration.
“The people who are not organized become serfs of those who are organized,” said Ralph Nader, author, activist, and former Green Party Presidential candidate, to great applause during a talk in Kendall Hall.
On March 1, the College Democrats hosted an event entitled “The State of the Economy,” in which Nader and civil rights activist and former Democratic Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson spoke on a variety of issues which currently face students and workers in the United States.
As the event began, the pair was met with a standing ovation from the audience, although neither of the speakers had yet spoken a word. It was already clear that the audience greatly respected and admired Nader and Jackson.
Jackson strutted onto the stage with a beaming smile, while Nader, slightly hunched over, clumsily handled a stack of books as he took his seat on the stage.
In spite of Nader’s less than powerful body language, the pair both delivered their messages through fiery rhetoric.
Nader, well-known for opposing both the Democratic and Republican parties, called for an end to the “two-party dictatorship” of the United States, citing the parties’ reliance on corporate funds as the cause of regressive taxation and spending policies.
The top 1% of households in the United States, Nader alleged, have as much wealth as the bottom 95%.
Jackson pointed out that the recent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2% of income earners could have covered all of the state deficits combined.
Both called for an emphasis on “civic values” over “commercial values,” to put more power in the hands of workers and students.
The two devoted much of their time to discussing faults in higher education in the United States.
Nader criticized the College for not having a major or courses in civics, a topic which he considers crucial for a functioning democracy, and for having brought speakers such as Ann Coulter, stating that she represents nothing more than “nonsense.”
Nader, lamenting the dominance of corporate higher education and the trade-school values it promotes, warned the student body, “Do not let your talents be trivialized.”
When asked why West European students largely pay no tuition while college students in the United States have been seeing substantial tuition increases, Nader pointed to the Western European tradition of collective political action.
Both Jackson and Nader insisted that the best method for effecting change regarding these issues is through direct action.
“The one thing worse than slavery is to adjust to it… The one thing worse than oppression is to wallow in it,” Jackson said. “You are unfit for your dream if you don’t fight back.”
In spite of the College’s popular image as a politically apathetic campus, the audience seemed to strongly support this message.
In addition to constant applause and cheering from the sizable audience, the questions posed by the audience were largely uncritical, suggesting approval of the speakers’ call to action.
“We have our self-respect, and we have our moral indignation,” Nader said, calling for students to assert themselves.
Perhaps the students of the College of New Jersey are ready to shake the label of political apathy, in allegiance with their “moral indignation.”