Just like today, college students back in the 1970s worried a lot about gas prices, the high cost of textbooks and the horrors of war.
And just as students back then mobilized to create change, students today can improve their communities by connecting their studies with local problems needing fixing.
That was one of the chief messages to a capacity crowd at Valencia Community College’s East Campus Performing Arts Center Thursday from Ralph Nader, renowned consumer advocate, four-time presidential candidate and author.
Nader first came to prominence in 1965 following the publication of his book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” His inquiries sparked federal action to make cars safer and set the stage for decades of work as a tireless consumer advocate.
“Link classes to public interest issues,” Nader told the crowd. “Start civics skills courses. Ask powerful questions. Learn how to build democracy.”
Nader spoke at Valencia as part of the East Campus Humanities Guest Speaker Series coordinated by Professor George Brooks.
Through the years, college students have helped establish and grow public interest organizations founded by Nader.
On Thursday, Nader praised Susan Kelley, Valencia’s vice president of Institutional Advancement, for standing up to powerful interests in the 1970s in West Virginia who were damaging the environment and sickening workers.
Kelley was attending West Virginia University at the time she started volunteering for Nader’s organizations.
Challenging the coal mining industry and other big enterprises was unheard of in those days, Nader said, especially by college students.
“Yet she and others had the courage to take them on,” he said.
Kelley, who introduced Nader at his Valencia appearance, said her association with Nader inspired her to embrace advocacy as a career.
Nader’s consumer advocacy led him to found some of the most enduring and ground-breaking public interest organizations in the country, including Public Citizen; Public Interest Research Group, often referred to as PIRG; Center for Study of Responsive Law; Center for Auto Safety; and Project for Corporate Responsibility.
Student PIRG groups across the country are leading the effort to rein in textbook prices.
Because of Nader’s work to bolster laws and federal standards and regulatory agencies in the public interest, his biography states, “we drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water, and work in safer environments.”
Nader described how interactions with family, friends and the community put him on the path toward public advocacy. The biggest lessons he learned are outlined in his book, “The Seventeen Traditions.”
Discipline, patriotism and civics figure prominently in his part-memoir, tribute to his parents and guide to life.
An excerpt: “…I’ve always been grateful to my childhood, in all its fullness, for teaching me to challenge preconceptions and reject conformity or coercion, those influences that inflict so much pain, deprivation, and tragedy upon our communities and societies today. Despite all my years of higher education at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, I might never have learned to think this way without the guidance of my parents, my family, and the small-town community where I grew up.”
For more about the book: http://seventeentraditions.com/