Ralph Nader Sponsors Four Days of Civic Mobilization at "Breaking Through Power Conference"

Posted May 18, 2016

MP3 Interview with Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, author and four-time independent presidential candidate, conducted by Scott Harris


Citizen activist & four-time independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's latest book is titled, "Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think," which is also the name given to a very special four-day event sponsored by Nader's group, the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, that will take place in Washington, D.C., May 23 through 26. The event, which commemorates the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Nader's first book, "Unsafe at Any Speed," is dedicated to exploring ways to mobilize the public to break through the structures of power holding back democratic solutions to our nation's and world's many crises and conflicts.

Each day of the conference that will be held in the capital's historic Constitution Hall is focused on one of four topics: How It's Done, The Media, War and Congress. Speakers engaging on these topics include activists, academics and authors from a wide variety of disciplines and political perspectives. On the final day of the conference a new Civic Agenda will be unveiled to be advanced by citizens in each congressional district across the U.S.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Ralph Nader, who talks about the objectives of his Breaking Through Power conference and offers some observations on some of the major issues that have emerged in the 2016 election campaign. [Rush transcript]

RALPH NADER: The four days are broken down into four categories and the theme is, it's a lot easier to make change than most people think. And some people may say, "Oh yeah? Prove it." Alright, well Day One is "Breaking Through Power: How It's Done." And there are 17 groups who've been doing it on small budgets and great stamina, by a few people, for years. I think the total years' work by these greats is about 800 years. Don't say you can't make change in this country with a small group, especially if it reflects what Abraham Lincoln called the "public sentiment" and what we call today "public opinion." No one in history has brought together more groups on more redirections and reforms for our country under one roof and it wasn't that hard because most conventions as you know and conferences are single-issue. People have conferences on health care. They have conferences on zoning issues. They have conferences on taxes. Well this tries to get over the silo effect and show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What is your hope for any concrete goal to come out off all these luminaries of activism on the whole range of issues as you just said, breaking the silo. What would you like to see come out of this four-day conference?

RALPH NADER: One, I'd like these groups to get more visibility and support from around the country. They don't brag very much. Number two, I'd like in an election year, to have this be a re-assertion of the civil society without which we don't get good politics. We get terrible politics. And if we're all going to just focus on the candidates until November, and not support public movements, public demonstrations, then we're not going to be able to nourish the election campaign with all subjects and issues that are being ignored and taken off the table by both the Republican and Democratic parties. The third thing we want accomplish is to form two groups: one, voices which will go and challenge the commercial media and cable monopolies for not allowing enough serious content. Just look at Saturday morning NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC and look at the cable stations on Saturday morning and afternoon and you'll say, Why are they using our property this way? We own the public airwaves. We're the landlord, the TV, radio stations are the tenants. Nothing else going in America? There's no labor channel? No consumer channel? No consumer channel? No student channel?

I think our expectation levels have been too low, Scott. You have to raise them because if we don't raise the expectation levels, we don't heed was said so many years ago by the great abolitionist when he said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

BETWEEN THE LINES: Ralph, you've long railed against the disservice of our corporate media system especially when it comes to politics and economic issues. Maybe you could name for us what we're seeing unfold here, especially the Trump where he's gotten billions of dollars of free airtime because it boosts their ratings and it seems quite clearly profit-driven in terms of how much attention Donald Trump is getting. But how do we fix the media system so they are more driven by issues in the public interest that their short-term next quarter profit statement.

RALPH NADER: Well, there are some easy ways. One is to intelligently demonstrate right around a TV station. Usually they have a big parking lot and they have their own building and when they go on the evening news at 5 o'clock or whatever, they got 300-400 people outside basically saying let us in, it's our property, you're not covering the local community, you're not covering the state. You're not adhering to the 1934 Communications Act which requires you to recognize the public interest, necessity and convenience, and can you imagine yourself, Scott. You're about to deliver the 5 o'clock news, and all of a sudden 300, 400 people are surrounding your two-story building. (Chuckles.) What are you going to do? Are you going to ignore it?

And that's a good educational technique to show people. A lot of people don't realize that the public airwaves belong to us. And we're giving it away free, 24x7, to very profitable commercial radio and TV stations, unregulated by a supine Federal Communications Commission, battered by a supine Congress greased by campaign funds from the communication, broadcast and cable industry, and fearful of their coverage back home if they take them on.

For information about Nader's Breaking Through Power Conference, visit breakingthroughpower.org; Breaking Through Power: A Historic Civic Mobilization at breakingthroughpower.org/a-pioneering-civic-marathon; Breaking Through Power program at breakingthroughpower.org/#program; Breaking Through Power speakers at breakingthroughpower.org/#speakers.

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