In a great interview with Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader explains why he thinks reform is virtually impossible without professional and sustained activist organization:
While protests are useful, Nader does not see any possibility for reform until there is a widespread effort to organize a sustained and radical opposition movement. This will come by building a movement that offers an alternative ideology and vision to that of unfettered capitalism, consumerism, empire and globalization. It is something Nader tried and failed to do during his own presidential campaigns.
“There is a tremendous asymmetry,” Nader said. “Seven hundred thousand people demonstrated in London. But where are they the next day? And where are their adversaries? The next day their adversaries are on the job. Where are the 700,000 people? They are out of there. How many organizers are on the ground in the 435 districts? Could labor unions have been organized without organizers? Could the suffragist movement have been organized without organizers? Could the anti-slavery movement or the civil rights movement been organized without organizers? If you don’t have organizers on the ground you know ipso facto that your demonstration is going nowhere.”
One major problem with activist organization in my opinion, is its branding. There simply hasn't been a movement that has caught the attention of the public, and often times, this comes down to perception. If advertisers can get us to spend thousands of dollars a year on different mp3 players that do exactly the same thing, it must be possible to create some sort of political movement that resonates with the younger generation. Too often, political activism is associated with unkempt hippies who smoke pot and don't like doing any work. This is of course completely unfair, but more needs to be done to change the image of the regular political activist.
I've spent a lot of time talking to Republicans and mainstream Democrats, and they simply switch off when you mention people like Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. I'm a fan of both men, but recognize that their language is deeply unappealing to the educated middle classes. I'm not suggesting Nader, Chomsky or the progressive movement change their message, just their delivery of it. Writers like Naomi Klein do a good job of making progressive political analysis digestible to the mainstream. She doesn't shout, call people names or use hyperbole to characterize entire classes of people (something Chomsky and Nader are most definitely guilty of) and she manages to provide intelligent and seriously critical analysis.
Nader is right - there is a desperate need for a serious alternative to the mainstream parties - it just needs to be appealing enough for people to get behind it.