Friday, July 24, 2009
Ralph Nader sez: "A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology."
Nader (b. 1934) has been called "the most vigilant citizen in America," and citizen Ralph’s first high-profile salvo against the automobile industry was a 1959 article called "The Safe Car You Can’t Buy," in The Nation. Nader wrote: "It is clear Detroit today is designing automobiles for style, cost, performance, and calculated obsolescence, but not - despite the 5,000,000 reported accidents, nearly 40,000 fatalities, 110,000 permanent disabilities, and 1,500,000 injuries yearly—for safety."
Six years later, in 1965, Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile and the consumer movement was born. The book meticulously detailed how car companies sacrificed safety in the name of profit, e.g. General Motors' Chevrolet Corvair had a suspension that made it liable to roll over.
The response from GM made Nader a folk hero. Private detectives were hired to trap the consumer crusader in a compromising situation, but they failed. Nader caught wind of the plot and sued the auto giant for invasion of privacy. The fallout was swift and far-reaching. GM President James Roche was forced to appear before a nationally televised Senate subcommittee and apologize to Nader; GM improved the Corvair's suspension; and Congress passed the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Nader used the majority of his $284,000 settlement to lay the groundwork for a long-term consumer rights movements. Public Citizen, the NGO founded in 1971, has been credited with helping to pass the Safe Drinking Water Act and Freedom of Information Act and prompting the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and spawned divisions such as Citizen Action Group, Congress Watch, Global Trade Watch, and Tax Reform Research Group. Non-profit organizations created by Nader include the Corporate Accountability Research Project, Disability Rights Center, National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, and the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest.
"Nader’s accomplishments have become part of the fabric of American public life," Karen Croft writes in. "He works harder than any president or member of Congress," says Croft. "He has affected your life as a consumer more than any man, but you didn’t elect him and you can’t make him go away."
Croft asked Nader how he wants to be remembered, to which he replied: "For helping strengthen democracy, for making raw power accountable and enhancing justice and the fulfillment of human possibilities."
Sounds like a template for all green activists, huh?
*There's a new Patriotism brewing in America, and it's got green written all over it: Patriotism 2.0.
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