The Essential Nader
Ralph Nader has been called one of America’s most effective social critics. He also has been called everything from Muckraker to Consumer Champion to Public Defender. His documented criticism of government and industry has had widespread effect on public awareness and bureaucratic power. He is the “U.S.’s toughest customer” as Time magazine noted. Life magazine called him one of the hundred most influential Americans of the 20th century and The Atlantic has called him one of the hundred most influential figures in American history. His inspiration and example have galvanized generations of consumer advocates, citizen activists, and public interest lawyers who in turn have established their own organizations throughout the country.
Nader first made headlines in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a scathing indictment that lambasted the auto industry for producing unsafe vehicles. The book led to congressional hearings and a series of landmark automobile safety laws.
Since 1966, Nader has been responsible for: several major federal consumer protection laws such as the motor vehicle safety laws, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pure Food Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Water Act; the launching of federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); the recall of millions of defective motor vehicles; access to government information through the Freedom of Information Act of 1974; and many lives saved.
Long ago Nader passed beyond simple concerns with seat belts and hot dogs. He has built an effective national network of citizen groups that have had a major impact in areas ranging from tax reform to energy policy to health and safety programs. The ultimate goal of his work is to give all citizens more rights and remedies for resolving their grievances and for achieving a better society. As the New York Times said, “What sets Nader apart is that he has moved beyond social criticism to effective political action.”
Nader’s original research organization is the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Study of Responsive Law. Since 1969, the Center has produced innumerable reports on wide-ranging subjects such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, food safety, pensions, corporate welfare, and government procurement.
Other Nader inspired groups include the Center for Auto Safety, Clean Water Action Project, Pension Rights Center, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Princeton AlumniCorps, the Appleseed Foundation and the American Museum of Tort Law.
Nader also helped establish the PIRGs—Public Interest Research Groups—the student-funded and controlled organizations which function on college campuses in 23 states. Their impact alone has been tremendous. The PIRGs have published hundreds of ground-breaking reports and guides, lobbied for laws in their state legislatures, and called the media’s attention to consumer, environmental and energy problems nationwide.
The largest of the Nader organizations is Public Citizen, founded in 1971. The groups under the Public Citizen umbrella include Congress Watch, Health Research Group, Energy Project, Global Trade Watch, and the Litigation Group. Public Citizen’s nationwide membership has grown to over 400,000.
Today Nader lectures on the growing “imperialism” of multinational corporations and of a dangerous convergence of corporate and government power. With the passage of autocratic trade treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), this merger of corporate and government interests is escalating.
Nader’s overriding concern is presently focused on empowering citizens to create a responsive government sensitive to citizens’ needs and defending the U.S. civil justice system. Corporate lobbyists and certain legislators have worked on both the federal and state levels to restrain consumers’ rights to seek justice in court against wrongdoers in the area of product liability, securities fraud, and medical negligence.
Recent books by Nader include Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President 2001-2015, and The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future.
Nader is undaunted by the de-regulatory setbacks posed by Congress. He says, “You’ve got to keep the pressure on, even if you lose. The essence of the citizen’s movement is persistence.” Nader certainly has remarkable tenacity, as well as an unshakable commitment to his mission. When asked to define himself, he always responds, “Full-time citizen, the most important office in America for anyone to achieve.” His forthcoming Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think will be published by City Lights Press later this year.
Nader’s impact on the American political spectrum is enduring. As former U.S. Senator James Abourezk observed, “For the first time in U.S. history, a movement exists whose sole purpose is to keep large corporations and the government honest.”