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If you like Ralph Nader's story, you might also like:
Willie Brown,
Millard Fuller,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Rudolph Giuliani,
David Halberstam,
Wendy Kopp,
Mario Molina,
John Sexton,
Antonio Villaraigosa,
Mike Wallace
and Bob Woodward

Ralph Nader can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ralph Nader in the Achievement Curriculum area:
Social Advocacy

Ralph Nader's recommended reading: The Jungle

Ralph Nader also appears in the video:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ralph Nader in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Justice & Citizenship
The Democratic Process

Related Links:
Nader Page
Public Citizen
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Ralph Nader
 
Ralph Nader
Profile of Ralph Nader Biography of Ralph Nader Interview with Ralph Nader Ralph Nader Photo Gallery

Ralph Nader Interview

Consumer Crusader

February 16, 1991
Washington, D.C.

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  Ralph Nader

How do you account for your lifetime of advocacy and involvement in public life?

Ralph Nader: Well, it's a thirst for justice. If you know what's going on and know how society can be improved and happiness advanced, you tend to focus on how to get things done that will help health, safety, opportunity, justice, accountability of powerful institutions to the people they are supposed to serve.

A lot of us experience injustice, feel angry for one reason or another, but you went out and actually did something about it. You knocked on the door of the corporation and the door of government and started yelling. Why did you actually go out there and try to do something about it?


Ralph Nader: I grew up thinking one person can change things. Where did I get that idea? First from my parents, and second from reading American history. So many of the major steps forward in our society's progress started with just a handful of people. The abolitionist movement against slavery, the women's right to vote movement started with six women in an upstate New York farm house where they met in 1846. The Civil Rights movement. Environmental rights. Worker rights. The whole labor movement. If you grow up in a mass society and think that nothing can be done unless you have masses of people who all agree all at once to start doing something, then you are not going to count yourself as very significant. You are not going to think that you can begin a thoughtful strategy to change things for the better.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


How do you think your parents influenced you?


Ralph Nader: We used to converse at dinner time around the table. Parents and children. We talked about all kinds of issues. From local, neighborhood issues to world issues. It was back and forth, very lively, and very critical. During our early years my mother would relate historical sagas to us for five or ten minutes every lunch hour, when we would come home from school, and it would be continued the next day. I think that built into us a sense that freedom involves responsibility. It isn't just waving flags and saying, "Look how free we are," while people's rights are being trampled sometimes overtly, sometimes beyond their control. Like, pollution for so long wasn't even viewed as pollution. It was viewed as the price of progress. "Oh, look at all that dirty smoke going out of the factory smoke stack. They must be working." We got involved in the local community. Little issues at first. We went to the town meeting. Talked about how the town could get a sewage system, instead of dumping the sewage in a local river. Little things that came up in school. We also had a library very near our home. We spent a lot of time in the library. We didn't have television to distract us, we didn't have video games to distract us. We had a lot of personal interaction. I can't imagine myself as a child spending 25 hours a week looking at a machine, called a TV tube.


Was there a particular moment as a kid that was a catalyst for inspiring you in this direction?

Ralph Nader: Not really.


It was a very gradual type evolution of thinking. Our parents never lectured us. They gave us proverbs, history, indirection, they set an example for us. They were active in the local community and I think, just by asking us questions. There were things that stand out. One time when I was nine or ten years old, I came home from school, went into the back yard, it was a nice spring day, and my dad said to me "Well Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe, or did you learn how to think?" So I'm saying to myself, what's the difference between the two? I go up to my room, scratching my head. I remembered that not many months earlier, I was in my classroom and the teacher said, "There is a public library here in town, right across the street." And I raised my hand and I said, "It's not a public library, it's a memorial private library that a philanthropist established." And she was so outraged that I challenged her in front of the other students, she put me in the dunce chair, in effect. You see, she wanted me to believe, not to think.


What kind of a student were you? What were you like in school?

Ralph Nader: Studious. But I liked to play informal sports. I didn't like to play in formal teams because I had too many things that I wanted to do, and I didn't have the time just to have a set time everyday I had to go on a baseball team. But we played a lot of sandlot baseball, and football, and hiked a lot. There were a lot of streams, and fishing, and there are a lot of woods. It was a very nice area of the country, where almost everything was within ten or 15 minutes' walk. You could go to the lakes, the rivers, the streams, the library, the schools, the stores, the city hall, the county courthouse, the firehouse, the hospital, not to mention your friends' homes, all the doctors, dentists' offices, the banks, all within ten, 15 minutes' walk. There is something different growing up in a small town, compared with a huge metropolis, where you look up and you can't see the sky unless you look straight up, because of the buildings.

You think that growing up in that kind of small town atmosphere, contributed to your sense of wanting to preserve something?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: Yes, definitely. First of all, it was to human scale. It was a town of about 10,000 people. It had at one time over 50 factories; it was a real production town. They produced clocks, and pins, and Waring blenders, and all kinds of things. You could hear the moo of the cows, and the next day you would be drinking their milk. It was very self-contained in that sense, but more important was that you got the sense that you could do something. There was the town meeting form of government and you could go to the town meeting, and the citizens could, in effect, enact laws just by voting in a town meeting or in a referendum. There was all too much apathy among some people, but in terms of a democratic structure, you couldn't do it much better, because the people composed the town meetings and they could overrule or establish policy in the town. So that gave you a real feeling that if we wanted to get off our duff and really get involved, we could. There were no excuses. You couldn't say, "Aw, it's that big company on the top of the hill," or "that big political machine," or a city hall, that's five miles away by subway. It was right down to human scale.

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