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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: 6 / 7)

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  Ralph Nader

What does it take to be a leader, to do what you've done and are still doing?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: Well, I think the first step is a certain personal equanimity. You have to be at peace with yourself. You can't have a lot of internal demons and anxieties and psychoses and hang-ups and addictions, and be overly concerned with what people think of you if you have different kinds of opinions. So obviously, if your personal life is not in order, you are not going to have a very vigorous civic life. You are going to be very introverted, you are going to be worried sick over brown spots on your hands if you are middle aged, or if you are a teenager, over whether your nose is shaped just right, or you are pretty enough for your friends to associate with you. And if you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, you are not going to be an effective citizen.

The beauty of citizen involvement is that when your horizon expands and you think more of your own personal significance, then all your little personal hang-ups, which loomed so large in your daily life, suddenly begin to recede and fall and melt away. And you look back and you say, "How could I have ever been bothered by whether my appearance was just right according to the latest Vogue magazine, or the Revlon ad?" That's why it's so important to look at citizen action as a form of human happiness. It is a form of human happiness. It is a discovery of human happiness to go into this society of ours and grapple with problems and come out looking back and saying, "Well, the life of a lot of people is better because of what I did." If people will look at citizen action as a source of joy, I think they are more likely to go into it. There are tremendous rewards. You can't put a dollar figure on them, but you can put a permanent impression on them. You'll find they are the most enjoyable times of your life.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

If there was one problem you could solve in this country, what would it be?

Ralph Nader: How to get more people involved in making a democracy work.

The theory of democracy is that the more people that are knowledgeable about what's going on, and are involved, the more likely the better ideas are going to come to the forefront. But, if just a few people dominate many in various areas, whether it's in a city, or in a nation, or in one direction or another tax policy or foreign policy, they may make mistakes because they don't have all the wisdom in their heads. This whole idea of a marketplace of ideas is also a marketplace of engagement and involvement. Once we can develop opportunities and institutions for people of all ages and all backgrounds to get involved in the civic challenges of their choice, then a lot these more 'headline problems' are going to be addressed, whether they're government deficits, or inadequate housing, poverty, discrimination, or what have you. That's what we are working on: to make it easier and easier for people to go into the democratic flow of things, with a sense of confidence that they can improve that school, they can reduce street crime, they can make Uncle Sam behave, they can tame the corporate tiger.

Looking back on it, do you have any regrets? Were there mistakes that you wish you could have another crack at, or things you'd do differently?

Ralph Nader: Oh, a lot of mistakes. The biggest one is that I would have done differently, I would have almost immediately, in the late 60s, tried to work with educators to get citizen training courses in elementary schools and high schools. So instead of studying a dry civics book, we'd get the children involved in problems in their own community, or in their neighborhood -- that also connect to their books, their classes and their libraries and their laboratories. So for example, they say, "I wonder how clean the local water system is for drinking?" and they learn how to do the test for cadmium and lead in their chemistry lab, and they connect with the purification department in the community, learn about the water purification technology, what is available that isn't being used. They put out a report, have a news conference. You see, they've learned chemistry, learned a little bit about human health, about bureaucracy, about how to get the issue across. That is the biggest mistake we made that we didn't make a major effort in that area because think of the thousands of youngsters who would have come out with that pleasure in their background of having made a difference at age ten or twelve, or fifteen. Now they could be the leaders in the country. We are recovering from that lapse and we are now working on a civic curriculum for the schools.

What do you say to a young man or woman who comes to you and seeks advice, who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: I'd ask them what's their passion in terms of justice. They usually have one or two areas that really affect their sense of their mission, what they are all about. If there is an opportunity in our groups, fine. But if we don't work on this problem, there are catalogues of citizens' groups. We have a book called Good Works that now has 850 citizens' groups who would love to have young people consider being part of them. We did a report years ago with high school graduates, just out of high school, on nursing home abuses. They worked in nursing homes, they came to Washington, they researched, they wrote a book, and then they went on radio and TV, testified before Congress. And all this concern led to one of our associates starting the National Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, and she's still at it, with chapters all over the country.

Let me ask it a different way. Is that something that you can prepare for?

Ralph Nader: Yes. Citizenship requires skills like any other occupation or profession, and it's good to learn on the job. You can read about citizen movements, the farmer, Populist, Progressive movements at the turn of the century, and the Civil Rights movement. But, it's good to learn it by doing. And, you get better every year you get better. You know how to develop strategies and coalitions and how to get the attention of the media and how to use the levers of action, and how to be perfectly willing to generate controversy which gets people thinking.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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