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America is not the greatest country in the world.

1.7.12 Ralph Nader



A month ago Ralph Nader honored the Gettysburg College community by speaking at the 2012 Fall Convocation.  I wrote this summary/reaction to his inspiring words:



Young people are the future.  We have the curiosity.  We have the commitment.  We have the imagination.  But we also have a problem: we grow up corporate.  And not just corporate, but also trivialized & commercialized.  We live in a society where everyone has been to McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart, but few have visited a town hall, court, or jail.  We are now in a time of our lives when we are free to define our own future and create our own path.  But we are taught to be uncertain, taught that we are not ready and must first learn.  But we cannot remain in a state of constant preparation, always second-guessing our capabilities and never moving forward.

Today we are a corporate people dominated by our gadgets.  Always looking down, forever removed from the world around us.  We are constantly enveloped in our personal problems, too busy to look beyond ourselves.  But these problems are eternal; our illness and injury are inevitable.  We need not dwell on out personal misfortunes, and once we dedicate ourselves to something larger these trivial things no longer seem overwhelming.  Impassioned dedication can even reinvigorate us and present new solutions to our problems by intimately connecting us to people who share our enthusiasm.

So what can we do as college students?  First, we must engage in civic learning.  Whether it be through academic courses or student organizations, we must become knowledgeable in how we can use our civic rights to “participate in power.”  Second, we must take “Congress 101” and monitor the daily activity of Congress.  You will be amazed at how powerful this monitoring can be when the knowledge we gain is diffused among the people.  Finally, we must return science to the people.  Citizen scientists must test our water, test our air, and test our soil.  They must disseminate this knowledge to the people.  We must act as watchdogs for the health of our own country.

I bet if I asked you could easily write a 1,000 word essay on your academic prowess.  Some of you could do the same for your athletic achievements.  But what about civics?  Do you have the knowledge, the power, and the passion to be an active citizen?  When your leaders, public or else, make grand claims, will you be prepared to evaluate their sincerity?  Will you ask them to reveal their evidence?  Will you make them define their legal authority?  Will you investigate if “they have any skin in the game?”

“America is not the greatest country in the world.”  Ralph Nader’s introduction began with this statement, and he warned that our country was falling into a state of decay.  But the message is not bleak; rather, it is inspiring.  The 99% may feel under-represented but it only takes the 1% of passionate and dedicated people working together to make a difference.  We must not only know the injustice we face but also act against it.  We must find what we care about and “feed the fire in our belly.”

–Many thanks to Mr. Nader for his inspiring speech.