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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Abuses Aired; Solutions Ignored

Early in our country’s history, fire was a major threat to whole towns and cities. So citizens got together and formed effective volunteer fire departments.

Other citizens worked to establish public libraries because they be­lieved books and publications should be accessible to all. Like educational Johnny Appleseeds, farsighted pio­neers gathered funds to establish colleges throughout the land.

In the 19th century, neighbors peti­tioned the post office to expand its services, and it did. Farmers, ex­ploited by railroads and financiers, organized their own civic action groups.

We need to recall these and many additional examples from the past to understand better the need for new civic institutions to respond to the aggregations of power and abuse which have evolved in the last generations.

Ours is a society beset with prob­lems, but its leaders and power hold­ers seem indifferent to solutions. What is worse is they expend much effort keeping people from com­municating and working together to find these solutions at the community or neighborhood levels.

The media doesn’t help much. There is nothing more calculated to bore the media than answers to widely reported abuses. Thus, there is proper emphasis on recent govern­ment and corporate crimes, from Watergate to the current revelations of big-business bribes and payoffs.

But the media are singularly uninterested in reporting about proposals to correct these abuses or actual models of countervailing jus­tice that are in operation in one place or another. Questions at presidential and other press conferences reflect this indifference consistently. Cam­paigning politicians behave accord­ingly.

Often there is a need to look sys­tematically for these proposals or models that work around the land, as Peter Jennings of ABC recently urged. But frequently, no such fer­reting is required.

Take the pending legislation to establish a national consumer coop­erative finance bank which would help consumer cooperatives help themselves through the extension of credit and technical assistance. An impressive coalition of consumer, farm and labor groups are backing this idea.

I believe it to be a major innova­tion in strengthening consumer-owned private enterprise in the areas of food stores, housing, health, serv­ice repair and other retail outlets.

This is not only necessary to provide consumer bargaining power against monopolistic practices but also to reconstruct large areas of the cities abandoned by business, partic­ularly by the banks and insurance companies.

Hearings earlier this month were held by the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Institutions, chaired by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thomas McIntyre, D-N.Y.

With few exceptions, the media, on the Eastern Seaboard at least, ignored the hearings. Yet the testi­mony provided exciting material about specific food, auto repair, opti­cal service, housing and other coop­eratives that are meeting abuses common throughout the land.

These abuses, such as auto re­pair gouges or overpriced eye­glasses, have been widely reported during the last five years. Along come thriving examples of reform, and they are ignored.

One of our recent books, “Proudly We Hail” by Kenneth Lasson (Viking Press, New York), brought together in short, human interest descriptions the civic accomplishments by vari­ous citizens and groups. These people are doing things for health, safety, justice and democracy that many other Americans could also do to im­prove their community.

It helps, however, for people to learn about these successful models. Can they, when so much of the media is overwhelmingly absorbed by such distractions as the Hearst trial, prominent divorces or the latest burps of the mimeograph politi­cians?

On April 8, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (1757 S St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009) will launch its second annual Food Day.

All kinds of learning and action projects, dealing with nutrition, diet, vending machines, hunger and high food prices, are being distributed around the country.

Yet the nonprofit center almost has to rely on the mails and word of mouth to reach people with its materials and examples of individu­als (the Terrific Ten, they are called) who have shown what can be done for better food policies.