Ralph Nader marks 50 years of consumer activism

Posted by on Dec 28, 2015 in Current Issues, Political U[niversity], Purple Politics, What do you think? | 0 comments

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

November 30 marked the 50th anniversary of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed. This book was a stern critique of American automakers who neglected safety in automotive design. It shook up the auto industry and brought Mr. Nader to the forefront in the new role of consumer advocate. Some may disagree with government regulation to protect consumers; but there is no question that his political advocacy in the last 50 years constitutes one of the greatest success stories in the history of political activism.

Having set the standard for consumer advocacy, Mr. Nader, now 81, turned his attention to humanitarian and environmental issues, and the problems of maintaining a democratic government. He ran five times for President: in New Hampshire for the 1992 Democratic Party nomination, as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, and as an independent in 2004 and 2008. (Wikipedia biography)

Since the purpose of A Bit Political is to encourage political advocacy, Mr. Nader’s most recent efforts are the ones most interesting to me. In the spirit of my Purple Politics, he wrote Unstoppable (2014), which highlights 25 issues for which the progressives and conservatives (and often libertarians) could work together to bring healthy change to the political system. While highly critical of corporatism in American politics and the economy, he does not easily fit into the stereotype of a progressive. The solutions he proposes in this book display true respect for the sensibilities of the center and the right, as well as of the left – and sometimes even of libertarians.

In a recent blog post, he writes of his father driving the family through his hometown, showing off the library, a school, a hospital, a park, and other institutions made possible by philanthropic gifts by wealthy people.

“See all those fine establishments in our little town?” his father asked at the end of the trip. “Think about how important they are to our community. Then ask yourself this question: Since 1900, there were and are at least a hundred townspeople as wealthy as those philanthropists were. What kind of town would this be if those people put some of their wealth back into the community the same way?”

Mr. Nader recalls that “we sat there together in silence, a light wind breezing through the open windows. While I’ve since traveled many miles to many places, I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned on that one trip.”

He believes one lesson he has learned from his experience is that the “tightening two-party duopoly” and the realities of campaign finance have effectively blocked everyone except the very rich from running for President:

Presently, only very rich modestly enlightened people could have a chance to break this introverting cycle of political oligarchy, which unenlightened rich people generally approve of, that sets its own rules, makes its own laws, appoints its own judges and even brazenly forces taxpayers to finance its quadrennial political conventions. Predictably, the shared monopolization of politics, as has been the case with corporate market monopolization, redounds to the disadvantage of communities, the environment and the citizens whether as voters, workers, consumers, or small taxpayers.

unsafe at any speedHe would like to see “modestly enlightened rich people” run, whom he believes can persuade mass media that they have the resources to overcome (at least initially) the obstacles our system puts up to necessary reform measures. He cites the example of billionaire Ross Perot, who in 1992 garnered 19,000,000 votes as a third-party (Reform Party) candidate despite having dropped out of the race once during the campaign. In 2014, he put up a list of 20 individuals he thought should consider a run for the Presidency; and no, Donald Trump was not on the list (for these reasons).

When Ralph Nader wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, he was a little-known lawyer. Few of us individually will make the impact Ralph Nader has; but many of us, by becoming “a bit political” can collectively accomplish just as much as he has.


Want to learn more about Ralph Nader’s movement?

Mr. Nader’s personal website is https://nader.org/. His radio blog broadcasts a one-hour program every Saturday.

He has founded a number of advocacy organizations. Contact one directly if you would like to support its work:

  • Center for the Study of Responsive Law. Sponsors a variety of books, projects, litigation, and hosts conferences focusing on government and corporate accountability. It focuses on a variety of environmental, consumer, and worker health and safety issues. The group issues action alerts and accepts donations.
  • Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The best known of Ralph Nader’s groups, the PIRG focuses on a variety of issues (too long to list here) in the areas of consumer protection, government accountability, transportation, closing corporate tax loopholes, and reining in Wall Street. The national organization also has student and state affiliates.
  • Center for Auto Safety. The Center provides information on common auto problems and advice on how to resolve them for most vehicles on the road. Individual involvement is primarily through donations.
  • Public Citizen “serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital.” The goal is to ensure that citizens are represented before Congress, the executive branch agencies, and the courts. Some issues include abusive practices by pharmaceutical, nuclear, and automotive industries; “undemocratic” trade agreements, and climate change. Click on their Action Center to plug into one of their current grassroots campaigns.
  • Clean Water Action Project. An environmental organization working for clean, safe, and affordable water, fighting pollution, and creating environmentally safe jobs and businesses. Click on their Action Center to engage in one of their projects. The list is long, but can be filtered by type of issue and/or state.
  • Pension Rights Center works to ensure that older Americans will have enough money to live on. An Action Center lists current campaigns.

Let us know what you think. Leave a comment below.



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