Srinivas Rao, Ben Adler, and Graham Webster
Wednesday April 4, 2007
If any American of the past 50 years can be called a professional citizen, it’s the famous–and infamous–Ralph Nader. Since the 1960’s, Nader has led the charge against environmental degradation, consumer manipulation, and all the dangers of a country dominated by large corporations. Flanked by hundreds of Nader’s Raiders, Nader successfully lobbied for the consumer protections that Americans now take for granted–without his activism, we would most likely not have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace protections, the EPA’s environmental reforms, the Freedom of Information Act, and much more.
Being the man responsible for seat belts is an understandably hard act to follow–yet, sure enough, Ralph found a way to expand upon his legacy. “He made the cars we drive safer,” explains The Atlantic Monthly. “Thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president.” Running on the Green Party ticket in 2000, Nader was supported by many prominent liberals, but scorned for potentially throwing the election to Bush by others. Sure enough, after Nader gained tens of thousands of votes in Florida–the deciding state that Bush carried by approximately five hundred votes–and exit polls demonstrated that Nader’s supporters would have been more likely to support Gore than Bush had Nader not been on the ballot, Nader came to be widely seen as a spoiler, even by many of his former supporters. 2004 saw another Nader candidacy followed with another, harsher, liberal backlash–and 2008 will most likely see a similar outcome if Nader chooses to run again.
For now, though, Nader is in the public eye again in a different role: movie star. Steven Skrovan and Henriette Mantel’s new documentary An Unreasonable Man takes a comprehensive look at Nader and questions whether he can really be blamed for the Bush presidency. Nader also continues his prolific career as an author with 2007’s The Seventeen Traditions, looking at the lessons his parents taught him and what young people everywhere could learn from them. Love him or hate him, no one denies that Ralph Nader has had a profound effect on the last half-century of American politics. He spoke with Campus Progress about his continuing fight against corporate globalization, his potential as a presidential candidate in 2008, and his opinion on what students can do to carry the torch of consumer activism.
Campus Progress: What are the most important consumer advocacy issues today and what can young people do to advocate for consumer rights?
Ralph Nader: You can define consumer advocacy in terms of the marketplace and public services–government services including police, fire, building codes, and a whole variety of social services. Today, students are really overwhelmed with their own personal problems–their own student loans, questions on whether they are going to get health insurance when they graduate, and whether their jobs are going to be outsourced, even if they are white collar jobs. So they have to develop a public philosophy and segregate a certain amount of time for their citizen responsibilities. If they do that, then that is the allocation of time that moves into developing their citizen skills, which they don’t learn in school. Whether they are specific skills, like how to use the Freedom of Information Act, how to build a coalition, or they are personality skills like how not to be discouraged, how to be resilient, how to share the credit when you are involved in the struggle, locally and nationally with your friends and collaborators.