Beyond Nader's Raiders
“What you have to do is step back and start by trying to help organize people and trying to get them to see citizenship as a profession. And then, out of this kind of grassroots effort will come better candidates.”
Grassroots Citizens Activism
Nader’s Raiders served as a successful example of grassroots citizen activism. Hundreds of “ordinary citizens” came together driven by common beliefs and affected social change—without necessarily working as elected public officials. As former Nader’s Raider Joe Tom Easley says, “We bought Ralph’s idea. We were going to make the country what it ought to be by working and pressing the system to work.”
Citizen advocacy groups are often non-partisan organizations working at the community, local and/or national levels. In recent years, the Internet has helped to further mobilize like-minded citizens in activist efforts, and emerging and veteran grassroots groups have advocated issues ranging from the environment to election reform.
Today’s Nader’s Raiders
Today, there are countless citizens’ advocacy groups centered on a variety of progressive issues similar to those of Nader’s Raiders. The League of Women Voters claims to be one of the oldest grassroots citizen groups in the country, serving as a model of non-centralized organizational structuring and working to influence public policy through advocacy. Common Cause is another organization that aims to hold the government more accountable to its citizens, leading efforts in campaign finance reforms and ethics and accountability in the U.S. government.
U.S. PIRG, the federation of state public interest research groups, works on behalf of American citizens on issues including consumer product safety, political corruption, voting rights and prescription drug prices. The federation involves a network of advocates, organizers, researchers and students based in state capitols across the U.S.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a citizens’ advocacy group that works mainly in areas of nutrition and health, food safety and science. Recent campaigns include the improvement of food safety laws, accurate nutrition labeling on food packaging and restaurant menu boards and the reduction of junk food in schools and sodium and partially hydrogenated oil in processed foods.
Another organization combining science-based non-profit work and citizen action is the Union of Concerned Scientists, which uses scientific research to develop changes in corporate practices, government policy and consumer choices. Campaigns include nuclear safety, climate change, global warming and alternative energy sources.
Public Citizen, the Nader-founded public interest organization led by Joan Claybrook, also continues to work with issues such as auto safety, global trade, health research, government policy and energy legislation. Through such organizations, the spirit—and politics—of Nader’s Raiders lives on.