"The way I'm an activist, if I'm an activist at all, is try to be a good person, do what I believe in, in every way. Activism can start very small -- helping our neighbor, being less materialistic, not being mass consumers. All these things are active. If I can just be a good citizen and a good example that will radiate to other people?"
Patti Smith, internationally renowned recording artist
speaking at a press conference
in Tampa, Florida, USA on April 13th, 2002
(To read a version of this article which includes photos, click here.)
There was Democracy Rising Rally in Tampa on April 13th, 2002 on the campus of the University of South Florida. What is Democracy Rising? Perhaps it is best explained by its slogan "The People Have The Power". Incredibly it drew over 6,000 folks at $10 to $15 a head. The enthusiasm in the crowd was electric and reminded me the anti war rallies on campus in the late 60's and early 70's.
But, how can it be called Democracy Rising when we live in the greatest democracy in the world? Well, guess again, we no longer are even the greatest democracy in the Northern Hemisphere. (Biggest economy and strongest military does not a democracy make.) Many of us have been asleep at the switch since 1975 and the end of the Viet Nam War. We've been busy raising our children, pursuing our careers, and staying away from the polls in record numbers. What we have inherited is one of the most corrupt governments in the history of the American Experience.
A recent Presidential candidate was even heard to say in an inebriated slur " Thank God the American people are nanve." How dare him. What we deserve is a leadership that exemplifies the character and the many sacrifices of the American people. But this is America and maybe there is still enough time to have changes take place. Regardless of our politics, Democracy Rising will make us all a little less nanve.
Ralph Nader, one of the founders of the grass-roots movement "Democracy Rising", is an example of an "everyday person" who took action and made a powerful difference. His best-selling book "Unsafe at Any Speed", published in 1965, targeted the auto industry for designing automobiles for style, cost, performance and calculated obsolescence, but not for safety. He is responsible for the auto industry making drastic design changes for safer motor vehicles.
Nader has earned the reputation of being a "worker's hero" with his focus on consumer protection and consumer justice. His organizations have been responsible for the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and have launched federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environment Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Administration.
Who is Ralph Nader that he was able to accomplish all of this? Seeing him on TV as well as in person, he doesn't come across as a "Mighty Superman". He seems very shy, quiet, and unassuming. Yet, he himself is responsible for many of the changes in the USA that benefit "the little guy".
When Ralph Nader is asked to define himself, he always responds: "Full-time citizen, the most important office in America for anyone to achieve." He is one of America's most effective social critics. He has earned the trust, admiration, and respect of the American people by his actions, integrity, and commitment to the people. And this is what being an activist means: being a full-time citizen, having integrity and being committed and persistent in having our voice heard.
Another speaker at the rally was Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. To the cheers of the people attending the rally, he said "We love our country too and we are not with Bush or the terrorists. We care about the long-term effects of what we're doing."
Michael Moore, author of "Stupid White Men" was also a speaker. "All the great changes in this world have occurred when just a few people have done something. It doesn?t take a majority. Look at J.C. He only had 12 guys. That's all it takes. If just five of you tonight left here and did something, that would have a terrific impact? Don't count on us, me or Ralph or anybody, to do it for you."
That was the rallying cry of the evening.
"Doing something is better than doing nothing! Always!" --Jello Biafra
"Find out something you can do, any little thing you can do. Find out what concerns you. Give a little time. It will keep growing." -- Patti Smith
"The only thing that will defeat organized money is organized people" --Ralph Nader
When asked what we, the people, could do, Ralph Nader replied "Communicate with one another, and on public airwaves, on serious issues." Patti Smith echoed this sentiment: "The only way we can communicate globally is to start in our own backyard. Communicate with each other."
Ralph Nader also exhorted people to "commit their most precious commodity -- time." His definition of patriotism: "working hard? to make our country more lovable." He asked some hard questions: "What will we tell our grandchildren? That we didn't believe we had the power? We didn't believe in ourselves? We were too busy watching reruns on television?"
Mr. Nader pointed out that there are more than 2000 weeks in a person's lifetime from the age of 20 to the age of 65. Ralph Nader's purpose in these rallies across the US is to spark a "million-hundred-hundred" movement of the citizenry: one million people devoting at least 100 hours a year and $100 to a variety of causes like economic and environmental justice, universal health care, campaign finance revisions, union organizing, solar energy, and better public transportation.
Ralph Nader was an inspiration to listen to. "What is impossible is possible, and we're going to make it happen." As he spoke to the crowd composed of students, senior citizens, and "average Jos", he spoke passionately about the power of the people to make a difference. He spoke of his vision to "change ordinary people into extraordinary people". He affirmed: "I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and I'm going to hope others do what they should do."
It was a rallying cry for the people attending and the people across the country. If we want our environment protected, if we want health care for all, if we want education for our children, if we want a world at peace, we must do something -- we must take back our power. Ralph Nader received a standing ovation when he remarked: "Isn't is time that the government spend more money waging peace than waging war?"
If there are any things that we think can be improved or changed in our world, it is up to us to do something. We cannot sit back and expect things to change on their own. I am reminded of the slogan "Visualize World Peace". We must first have a vision of the goal we want to attain but then ultimately we must take action -- action based on a peaceful vision and actions. Only "the people" should have the power in America!
While we may not agree with all of Mr. Nader's politics, we can be sure that Ralph Nader is an honest man -- one which all public servants should be compared to. We encourage you to at least attend a Democracy Rising rally, and to become aware of the issues. Visit the Democracy Rising website at
http://www.democracyrising.org for more information.
RECOMMENDED BOOK: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader.
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Info/Order this book.
About the Authors
Marie T. Russell and bobby jennings are the publishers of InnerSelf Magazine as well as several other websites. Their publishing works reflect their "life purpose" and desire to "make a difference".