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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Uncovered Bicentennial Story

Of the millions of words written about celebrating the Bicentennial, very little space has been devoted to the valiant Americans who have been actively exercising their citizen rights and duties for better communi­ties. They are not national celeb­rities. They are only our domestic patriots using their constitutional rights to make democracy work. There is 73-year-old Ada Vladimir of West Palm Beach, Fla., leading a growing group called “Consumers Against Higher Prices” in a variety of causes on behalf of voiceless resi­dents.

Near Pittsburgh, Michelle Madoff mobilizes the community against the disease-producing pollution of U.S. Steel’s plants.

In Los Angeles Ed and Joyce Koupai launched the. People’s Lobby a decade ago which is revitalizing the instruments of direct democracy — the initiative, referendum and recall — in numerous western states.

Out of Princeton, N. J., Kenneth Wooden, author of the new book, “Weeping in the Playtime of Others,” has started a nationwide drive to end the incarceration of innocent children in cruel human warehouses.

From Philadelphia, the untiring Maggie Kuhn spearheads, at age 71, the retired citizens’ movement throughout the country that she has dubbed the “Grey Panthers.”

This list of domestic patriots could go on and on to make the further point that the cities with homegrown leadership, could be the noblest and most inspiring, though most uncover­ed, story of this Bicentennial year.

Reporters who have been covering the fashion show of partisan politics may want to take a break and cover the citizen politics now spread­ing in one state after another. They will find community and neighbor­hood groups defining their grievances and reforms in impressively concrete and informed ways. They also will see these groups are shap­ing impressive innovations in organ­ization and strategy to strive for jus­tice.

A harbinger of what is emerging in this community action area is the Illi­nois Public Action Council, 39 E. Van Buren, Chicago, Ill. 60605.

This group is carefully developing a federation of local citizen groups for statewide action on local problems. This is being done after exten­sive intergroup meetings, training sessions, fund-raising development and building staff skills. The agenda for this month’s statewide conference in Springfield, the Illinois capital, is grounded in solid research.

This Investigative effort has documented major problems shared by many communities and the institu­tions primarily accountable for the injustice, waste or corruption. The council will focus on the inequitably high tax burden on the average citi­zen while large property owners re­ceive a windfall.

Unethical real estate dealers, developers and mortgage bankers, neighborhood deterioration, soaring utility rates and problems of senior citizens rank high on the list of con­cerns.

Funding of these groups to main­tain a full-time staff is coming from the communities themselves in order to lay the basis for keeping the civic action close to the people it is to re­flect and serve.

After Several decades of wholesale delegation of peoples’ hopes and rights to frequently remote and insensitive governmental depart­ments, these accelerating signs of di­rect democracy are refreshing.

On July 4, this country will spend $240 million on fireworks in celebration of its 200th birthday. Whatever such pyrotechnics may do for the spirit that day, they will do little for the nation’s soul and less for its fu­ture.

It will take daily celebrations of citizenship to ennoble the soul and se­cure the future. It was Thomas Jef­ferson who typically put it so well: “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied burst of emotion but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.”