During his wide-ranging speech at the Occupy Peace rally September 20, Ralph Nader invoked the name of a hero of his, someone whose name he suspected the crowd might not recognize.
“Does anybody remember the name of the great reformer Eugene V. Debs?” he asked.
A thin cheer went up in response.
Nader explained his interest in talking about Debs, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (aka the Wobblies) and five-time candidate for president in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Nader said that at the end of his career, after 50 years as a labor leader and progressive activist, he was asked by a reporter what was his greatest regret?
“He said that the American people can have anything they want but don’t seem to want much of anything.”
After his speech, Nader was asked the same question: did he have any regrets after 50 years of progressive activism and if he did, what was it?
“Same words. I’d say the exact same words as Debs — I couldn’t say it any better.”
Nevertheless, he explained a little further:
“If the public doesn’t raise its expectations of what this country could be, what the politicians and corporate leaders have to change, nothing follows.”
“It’s the same with young people — if you have low expectations for them, then they’ll oblige you. But if you have high expectations, they’ll surprise you — it’s true of all of us.”