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If you like Ralph Nader's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Willie Brown,
Millard Fuller,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Rudolph Giuliani,
David Halberstam,
Wendy Kopp,
Mario Molina,
Barry Scheck,
Anthony Romero,
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:
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 (page: 3 / 7)

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  Ralph Nader

How did you begin? How did you move to Washington?

Ralph Nader: It was all but the proverbial knapsack. I hitchhiked to Washington with one suitcase. I stayed overnight for three nights in the YMCA and then got a room in a boarding house. The plan simply was to build enough power in Washington, by getting to the media on the issue, columnists, getting to members of Congress to start Congressional hearings to regulate the auto industry for safety. To say to the auto companies -- who were wallowing in stylistic pornography over engineering integrity -- those were the periods of real stagnation that was being watched very carefully by some people in Japan and western Europe - to get them moving. To push them to produce better, safer cars. So it was a conscious effort.

Nobody was listening to you when you got here. How did you get them to listen to you, to hear you?

Ralph Nader: First, I got a consultantship for the Department of Labor.

How do you initiate change? How do you initiate reform?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: You look at what the objective should be. Let's say you want a safety law, you want a company to do something different, curb pollution, for example. You want to try to get an inventor who has got a great way to filter water to get the marketplace to accept the invention, and you say, well what has to be done? Well, the first step is people have to be aware of the problem. If they are not aware that their drinking water is contaminated, or that their friends might have been killed because of defective car design, like an easily ruptured fuel tank, they are not going to be interested in your solution.

Ralph Nader: In the auto area, you have to get across to the public that even if it was the driver that caused the car to veer out of control and hit a tree, that doesn't mean the car should collapse like a Japanese lantern and the steering column spear the driver. So, the auto companies had a responsibility to build a crash-worthy car, and the driver had a responsibility to drive safely. So making that distinction, more and more people were able to say, you know, cars can not only prevent accidents if they have good brakes and good handling, but they can make accidents safe. In other words, like the Dodge'em Car when you were a kid. The whole idea was to crash into another car, a Dodge'em Car at the recreational park and have a safe crash. So all right, you've got the problem in the minds of people, they're hungry for a solution, you propose the solution. Well, who is going to implement it? If the marketplace doesn't implement it, the government is a candidate to set safety standards. It's a kind of police power for corporations. So how does the government get interested? Well, since there's no department of auto safety, you start with the Congress. The Congressional hearing usually gets good media, and leads to legislation, creating or authorizing the government to do research in auto safety and establish safety standards and recall defective cars. And that's what I did.

Did you ever have any doubts that you were going to be able to do that? To pull that off?

Ralph Nader: You always have doubts because you've got a real powerful industry, like the auto industry. But you outfox it. See, they're like big water-logged elephants; they can't move quickly. They can't make decisions quickly when they are challenged, especially when they are not used to being challenged. So you look at it as a real intellectual challenge. The tactic, the strategy, the timing, what reporters you get on your side, what editors, what members of Congress. How do you get a key member of Congress who can lever other members of Congress to do the right thing on this issue? And, it gets very complicated. And you often beat them on weekends. You see, they stop working Friday at 5:00 p.m. And it's on weekends that you really make the difference.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

And what was the reaction in the market place? What was the reaction of General Motors to all of this?

Ralph Nader: Well, they hired a private detective firm to tail me. And they tailed me once down to the Senate office building and were caught by the Senate police. And of course, that started the whole congressional investigation. And, the head of General Motors came down and apologized and said that of course he didn't know about it. But, it turned out that GM had hired the same detective firm to trail and put under surveillance about 25 other critics. People in the community who just criticized GM for one means or another and got a little press on it. But, it was good that they did that because it really outraged some members of Congress, and helped the legislation.

So their idea of how to deal with this problem was to try to discredit you, and not deal with the problem.

Ralph Nader: Yeah, they were memo'd through their law firm. They hired a law firm to hire a detective agency so they'd have a buffer between them and the detective agency and the memo from the law firm they hired, to the detective agency was, you know, follow this guy. Get some dirt on him so that you can discredit him and therefore, discredit the cause of auto safety standards.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 19:21 EDT
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