Naders Speak at Redlands

(Sept. 29, 2011) Consumer advocate, attorney and five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his sister, social scientist Claire Nader, took the stage Sept. 29 at the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel to address the packed house on the importance and power of community.

Nader said problems in America have worsened over the past 30 years—citing 50 million people without health insurance, skyrocketing consumer debt, and inadequate public transit and law enforcement.

“And things keep getting worse. So I think the theme this evening there is another way to approach our political economy—local community congress,” Nader said.

“Small communities are about the only hope. The only revolution that ever works is one that works. It starts with individual conversations, groups in the neighborhoods, and then builds up through the city, the county, the state, the region and national level. Mostly power for the people grows vertically.”

Nader said people aren’t currently getting involved at this level because of what he refers to as the “four pillars of civic excuse building”—a lack of time, a lack of knowledge, fear, and the belief that it won’t make a difference.

“Politely as possible, we have to disabuse our neighbors and friends of that exit strategy,” Nader said.

“Every local community has extraordinary resources. You have used some of yours. You can see it in the buildings, the library. But you also have a lot of problems, a lot of unmet needs. These problems need to be confronted with a very controlled focus.”

Claire Nader explained how the idea translated in the Nader hometown of Winsted, Conn., where the Nader family founded The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest, to honor their deceased brother.

Through that trust, of which Claire Nader is the director, the concepts of the “community lawyer” and the “community technologist” were pioneered.

The purpose of the community lawyer is to teach citizens to effectively advocate on their own behalf, help them do the work of “citizenship” and empower them with the tools necessary to be a voice for affecting change. The community lawyer provides legal representation for the citizenry and litigates when needed.

The community technologist gathers information on city projects and assesses it, studies best uses for buildings and land, makes recommendations on projects and suggests ways to best care for parks, trees and other infrastructure.

Claire Nader shared some of their hometown successes that utilized the community lawyer and community technologist, including the preservation of a local health care facility in their hometown.

“It can be very energizing to become confident in your public sphere,” she said.

The Naders’ hope is that the community lawyer and community technologist concepts will become a model for other communities, and they encouraged people to sign up on a list if they were interested in creating a similar program in their town.

Many lined up to ask questions of the Naders including one University student who asked Ralph Nader for one piece of advice to herself and her fellow University students.

“My advice to students of your generation is to grow up. Become serious. Do not allow the entertainment industry, the gossip electronic industry, to absorb your waking hours and trivialize your potential.”

The Naders were invited to speak at Redlands by Esri Co-founder and President Jack Dangermond, who referred to the Naders as his “good friends” and “remarkable people.”

“(Ralph) motivated me to do what I do; he and his sister have shown me a way to be involved, to make a difference, to focus on being somebody or something in my life.”

University President James Appleton reinforced the significance of community at Redlands.

“We have enviable town and gown relationships in Redlands,” Appleton said. “We are very committed to working diligently to translate our town into a community of people who care deeply about improving community, with qualities that I think, if we do it right, can extend beyond our own borders.”

The Nader speaking engagement was part of the Redlands Forum, an education and cultural series presented by Esri and University of Redlands Town & Gown. Future events will be listed on the Esri site and on the University Town & Gown site. Most events are free and reservations are required.

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