“One time when I was around ten, I went home from school, went in the backyard, and my father was there. And he said, ‘Well, Ralph, what did you learn in school today? Did you learn how to believe, or did you learn how to think?’”
Ralph Nader was born on February 27, 1934 in Winsted, Connecticut. His parents, Nathra and Rose, were Lebanese immigrants. He received a B.A. from Princeton University in 1955 and graduated from Harvard Law School three years later. In 1963, he abandoned his Hartford, Connecticut law practice and hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. to embark on a lifelong career as a public citizen. He worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Labor and founded the Public Citizen research group.
One of America’s most diligent social critics, Nader’s documented criticism of government and industry has been a catalyst for legislative change, creating public awareness and challenging bureaucratic power. Nader first made headlines in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, criticizing the auto industry for producing unsafe vehicles. This book led to congressional hearings and spurred the passage of a series of automobile safety laws in 1966.
Since then, Nader and his organizations have been responsible for major federal consumer protection laws including the National Auto and Highway Traffic Safety Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act; the launching of federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Administration; the recall of millions of defective motor vehicles and increased access to government through the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.
The late 1970s were a turning point for Nader as the business community became more emboldened and energized. A showdown came in 1978 over the Consumer Protection Agency Act, which was strongly opposed by big business and not supported by President Jimmy Carter. In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, many of the consumer regulations that had been put in place in the previous two decades were reviewed and dismantled. Recreating himself as a grassroots activist, Nader took his movement outside the Beltway and scored a number of successes on local issues around the country.
Finding that no presidential candidate was willing to speak up about issues such as consumer rights, health care and education, Nader decided to run for president himself in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections. When he ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000, many Democrats blamed him for tipping the election away from Al Gore in favor of George W. Bush. In 2004, despite many protests from friends and allies, he ran as an Independent.
Today, Nader mainly lectures on the growing imperialism of multinational corporations and on the dangerous convergence of corporate and government power. Multinational Monitor, a magazine Nader founded in 1980, tracks the global intrusion of multinational corporations and their impact on developing nations, labor and the environment.
Nader was instrumental in enacting scores of influential consumer protection laws.
Learn more about his career as a consumer activist >>
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Crusader or spoiler? Love him or hate him?
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