Ralph Nader on the Threat Posed by Occupy Wall Street to U.S. Political and Economic Status Quo

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Posted Nov. 9, 2011

Interview with Ralph Nader, three-time independent presidential candidate, consumer advocate and author, conducted by Scott Harris


With thousands of new activists participating in hundreds of encampments across the nation each week, the Occupy Wall Street movement is moving forward, even if the eventual goals and list of demands are not yet clear.

The Nov. 2 general strike in Oakland, Calif., called on short notice to respond to police violence, organized thousands of activists to march downtown and close down the city’s busy container port. Many observers were struck by the success of that citywide action and diversity of participants, demonstrating the power of this new movement that wasn’t even in existence just two short months ago.

Now with ongoing police challenges to Occupy encampments in dozens of cities and towns, derogatory media stories focusing on "drug use" and "sex assaults" - and challenges of preparing for the cold winter ahead, many activists are sitting down to contemplate longer term strategies on how to grow the movement and more effectively disseminate their message protesting corporate greed, political corruption and economic inequality.

Many longtime progressive activists and intellectuals from across the U.S. have offered support to the Occupy movement and have visited encampments to conduct teach-ins and provide advice, if asked. Ralph Nader is among them. The three-time independent presidential candidate credits this new movement with changing the national conversation from one focused on austerity to unaccountable corporate crime and abuse. The protesters’ grievances echo Nader’s primary message through his five-decade career as a consumer advocate, citizen activist and candidate. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Ralph Nader about his impressions of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the threat it poses to the political and economic status quo.

RALPH NADER: Well, I think it's the early stages of repealing a long-repressed demand for justice. You know, you can't live in this country and see all those great reports on corporate crime and control over our government and Big Money buying politicians and Wall Street crash on the backs of workers and investors and taxpayer bailouts without having that start churning your core of decency and what you think fair play is among people in a country like ours. I think this came out of nowhere, in the sense that no one could have predicted this.

I wrote a column and you can see it on Nader.org, a few months ago, right after the Tunisian and Egyptian breakthrough. And, I said, you never know where the spark's going to come from. And when it comes, people are going to say, "Wow, how amazing. Where'd it come from?"

Well, the spark basically, was young people - it usually starts with people in their 20s, who are willing to camp out and march and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, and be arrested. And they took over public space; they took over the commons. And, in so doing now, they've planted themselves in dozens and dozens of communities, right down to Niles, Mich., which has 12,000 people. And, their signs indicate what they are going for, which is a broad range of justice, the deconcentration of corporate power, the end of the bailouts, a complete shift of public budget priorities to the needs and necessities of tens of millions of Americans, a public works program, getting out of those criminal wars. I mean, this is a very fundamental movement. So much so, that some of the tea partiers who visited the Occupy New York area in Zuccotti Park were ready for a friendly argument. They went away agreeing with the Occupy Wall Street people on about five major issues.

BETWEEN THE LINES: We just saw on Nov. 5th a transfer of about 650,000 accounts from the big banks to smaller community banks and credit unions. In your opinion, are the elite powers that be in the U.S., threatened by the Occupy Wall Street movement and how seriously do they take the threat presented by this movement to the economic and political status quo?

RALPH NADER: Well, I think some of them made fun of the movement at the beginning, and others, I think, felt they had some grievance. You had some surprising statements of approval by some Republicans. But, I think now, Scott, they're beginning to sweat a bit. I think, when they see movements away from big banks to community banks, that's language these big bankers understand. And if it wasn't for the fact that so many people have these bank accounts also have electronic payment connections - where their electric and telephone and other bills are paid electronically – it would be much easier to move. So, it takes awhile for them to disconnect, and that's why it's so impressive that 650,000 people in less than two months, have moved away from these banks to credit unions. And if that starts going, and more people vote with their consumer feet, they won't be laughing any more. These business bosses will start to buy more underarm deodorant.

BETWEEN THE LINES: (Laughs) That's good for them, and good for the cosmetic industry, too, I guess. I wanted to ask a question about the targeting of Congress. You recently wrote a column suggesting that the Occupy Wall Street movement might encircle the offices of members of Congress, especially those ones who are standing in the way of some common sense reforms and structural changes to this very unfair system. What's your view on that?

RALPH NADER: Yeah, I think that's the next stage. They're looking for more Occupy sites for demonstrations and I'm urging them, because they're so decentralized, to surround many of the 535 offices of their senators and representatives back home. And, you know, just look in the phone book under U.S. Congress, and you'll see where they are, the offices. And you surround them, just the way 10,000 people surrounded the White House to try to persuade Obama to block the XL pipeline. And, I think if they do that, the bubble in Congress - I mean, Congress has hardly felt this. I mean, they're still going about their oligarchic, plutocratic, narcissistic and ignorant activities there on Capitol Hill. They haven't yet felt it, but I think that's the next stage they should go through.

These people (the occupiers) are very computer-savvy. They've lived for years in virtual reality, looking at screens. And now they know that the action really is in physical reality. It's in reality, on the ground, here, there, everywhere. If they maintain their discipline and their nonviolent open civil disobedience, they will continue to generate that kind of moral authority.

Ralph Nader's newest book is titled, “Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together To Win.” Visit Between The Lines’ special Occupy Wall Street coverage and resource page for more information at www.btlonline.org/occupy.

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