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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: 4 / 7)

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  Ralph Nader

Did you ever imagine that Unsafe At Any Speed would become a bestseller and that suddenly you would find yourself in this rather prominent place in American life?

Ralph Nader: I entertained the possibility, but I always cushioned myself either way, so that if it didn't do well, I would not be disappointed, and I would be resilient, and find out a way to make it occur. But if it did well, I'd remember what my parents told me, which was the hardest thing is not attaining success, it's being able to endure it.

What's the toughest part of success? What do you have to endure?

Ralph Nader: First of all, people try to turn you into celebrities, and jet setters, and there are a lot of temptations and a lot of parties to go to, and a lot of celebrities to meet, and that takes up a lot of time. Also you can get into trouble that way, too. Second, all kinds of people want you to help them on their issues and their causes and their complaints and if you're everything to everybody, you can't get anything done. You do have to specialize a little bit. One thing at a time, until you get a capability to do more things. So, I got through the auto safety law, somebody came to me about natural gas pipeline safety problems, and I went into that area. Then I got more students involved, working with me, law students and undergraduate students during the summer. Then I opened up the first organization, and then started a lot of organizations, so that a lot of opportunities were opened up for young people in the '60s and '70s to be their own full-time citizens. Whether it deals with fire prevention, or pensions, or freedom of information lawsuits, or watching Congress, or environmental pollution control, we gave them opportunities and groups in all these areas. Food safety, drug safety.

Thank you for the Freedom of Information Act. How do you choose the issues? How do you decide?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: In two ways. One, you look around the world, and there are plenty of problems. You never have a difficulty in having plenty of problems to choose from. But you say, do we have a capacity to do something about this? If it's a purely biology problem, we don't have any biologists, we've never done anything in biology. We say we don't have the capacity to do that. Second is, do we have the resource to make a difference if we enter it? And thirdly, do we want to do just this one episode, or do we want to do it year after year? Do we want to just go after one problem with railroad safety, or do you want to set up a railroad safety group? So we try to make our decisions in all those areas.

The second way we make a decision is made for us. For example, when the Watergate scandal occurred, Nixon fired the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. We took his case, and won. He was illegally fired. So that was not something we planned, that was thrust upon us. And we always have to be flexible, so if a catastrophe occurs, we are flexible enough to move some of our people or resources into this area.

How do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as part of an American tradition? Do you see yourself as a voice in the wilderness? Do you see yourself as a lawyer in another arena?

Ralph Nader: Part of American tradition. A combination of the muckraking tradition and challenging corporate abuse and government abdication and not just writing about it, but actually having the ability with our associates and colleague groups to lobby, to litigate, to get it done. In that sense, we are pioneering new ground. We are trying to establish the role of a full-time citizen, people who have causes to change the country for the better, and who do it full-time, everyday. For this, we have to get the funding from foundations, philanthropists, people who provide bequests, cold mailings to people to contribute 20 dollars when they get the appeal in the mail. All of these are ways to get the job furthered, but I think there is an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of full-time citizens in this country, working on city hall, on the marketplace, trying to anticipate problems so they don't have a crisis on their hands. We could have anticipated the lead contamination problem with millions of children, for example. We could have anticipated in this nation the asbestos contamination disaster, which is leading to hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths. A lot of things we could have anticipated, if people went to work everyday as full-time citizens, not just working for other organizations to make a profit or to provide a social service, important as they are. There is a very important job to be done generating justice, producing justice in the country.

Of all the things you've been involved in, of all the things you've done, what are you the proudest of?

Ralph Nader: I think three things. One is the great advances in auto safety. I mean, there are tens of thousands of people being saved every year because cars are safer, and millions of people over a decade, injuries prevented. I think that's a good example of the need to make technology more humane. We may benefit from a lot of technologies, but they exact a cost. Emphysema, cancer, soil contamination, contaminated water, death and injury on the highway. We've got to put more effort on making them more humane. The second contribution is, Freedom of Information Act. Information is the currency of democracy. If people don't have information about business or government, they can't get to first base in trying to use their mind and their value system to make business and government behave better. We have the best freedom of information law in this country, and it's up to citizens to use it and enforce it. The government is not an enforcer of the Freedom of Information Act, unlike most laws. The third contribution is establishing a model for citizen action around the country. Establishing a motivation for people to say, "We can do it, too. They've done it, we've seen how they've done it, we've got their citizen action manuals and we can do it too. We can fight city hall. You can fight Exxon. We can get change for the better in the country." And these are people who often we'll never know, and we will never hear about, but they could be in Arkansas, or they can be in Montana or Florida, and they've taken heart from what we've done. And, they've felt that it can be done. There's a lot of intimidation. People are often fearful of standing tall, speaking up against local politicians, or businesses or powerful interests. I think that in that sense, that's probably our most enduring legacy. There's also in addition to the ripple effect, there's a deterrent effect. I've had people in business tell me this that what they used to get away with years ago they would never try now because they know there are citizen groups out there, environment, consumer, neighborhood groups who are going to watch them, blow the whistle on them. Make sure that they'll pay a penalty for being out of line and harming innocent people.

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