Hello, my name is Ray, and I am a Ralphoholic. As far back as I can remember I wanted to fight for the little guy against big, powerful special interests. I got used to fighting for hopeless causes before I learned to read. When I was a kid on the playground, and some third grade bullies picked on a fellow kindergartner, I’d jump right into the thick of it to try to defend him. So IÕd get the crap beaten out of me right along with him.
My journey into Ralphoholic addiction began in junior high, during the ’60s when all kinds of protests were going on. The symbolic issue that ignited our student body was the dress code, which said girls had to wear bras. Students were very divided on this issue: Half the girls didn’t really have reasons to wear a bra yet, but wished they did, and the other half, who had reasons, wanted to burn their bras and become liberated, like many of their older sisters.
Meanwhile, the boys were all hoping the girls would burn their bras: We’d hardly ever even seen bras, so we were eager for any chance to look at them, burning or otherwise. But the girls became angry with the most vocally supportive guys, who they accused of being sexist pigs, which of course they were. The girls secretly decided to stage a walkout and rally during gym period, to make sure no boys (or administrators) were able to ruin the protest.
I was on the football field that day, enjoying doing battle with slow-witted linemen twice my size, but when I saw the girls circling around a small bonfire I was compelled to act. I climbed over the chain-link fence that separated us and, in solidarity, flung my jockstrap onto the flames. “Freedom,” we shouted. “Throw off the bindings of your oppressors! Power to the People!”
Everyone involved in the protest was given two weeks of after school detention in the cafeteria. Since I was the only boy amongst 15 freedom-loving girls it was, by far, the best punishment I have ever received in my life.
One of the girls I met during this detention, Cindy, gave me my first taste of Ralph. I went with her to a meeting of a gang of Junior Nader’s Raiders, where we talked for hours about adulterated drinking water and seat belts. That night completely altered my consciousness. I started to write letters to the editor, and my congressman. Before long I was circulating petitions and attending city council meetings. I became hooked on citizen action.
My parents noticed the strange changes in my behavior. “What’s got into you, you never sleep, you hardly eat, and you never watch TV or play ball. There’s more to life than defective cars and contaminated hot dogs. You’re becoming an addict!”
I wouldn’t listen to reason. There were never enough hours in the day for Ralph. My grades began to suffer and I got thrown off the track team for missing practices, but I was helping Ralph win the fight for fairness in the government procurement process.
I became even more addicted. I cut off my long hair and started going everywhere in a cheap gray suit and skinny black tie. I joined the debate team, demanding to defend the most impossible and untenable positions, just so I could practice my techniques. I carried around briefing books, along with copies of the Congressional Record, and loitered on the playground after school trying to recruit more volunteers.
By the time I was in college, I was a Ralph junkie.
I started growing a PIRG on campus, and was soon dealing out important sounding staff jobs to unsuspecting freshmen. On weekends we made road trips to the State Capitol to lobby legislators about acid rain. I shared an unfurnished off-campus apartment with three other Ralphoholics, where we alternated mainlining sections of the Freedom of Information Act with nodding out on the futon.
I gave up everything for Ralph, every dollar I could spare, and many that I couldn’t, all my waking hours, and even my dreams. His ideals became my ideals.
Then came the 2000 election debacle. I knew there was a difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, but I wanted to believe Ralph. “We have to change the system!” I voted my conscience and saw the world crumble.
This year when Ralph was deciding whether or not to run, we tried to stop him. But it was impossible, because he’s the biggest Ralphoholic of all.
So I made the hardest choice in my life; I went cold turkey. I gave up Ralph. It hasn’t been easy. When I hear Kerry trying to explain his position on the Iraq war I start to get queasy. When I see that he, and all the other Democratic senators (except for Fritz Hollings, who is retiring) have once again caved in and voted with the Republicans for more tax breaks, I start to get the shakes. I hear Ralph’s voice in my unconscious, “Politics should return to its original meaning of the — citizens — not of the corporate fundraisers.”
No, stop! I must be strong. For the sake of the children! For the sake of the rivers and forests! We must defeat Bush on Election Day!
Of course, after we win, it won’t hurt anyone if I celebrate by starting a campaign to revoke the corporate charters of the 10 biggest polluters. I’ll bet Ralph would help.