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Nader's Raiders

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of dedicated young activists rallied to the side of Ralph Nader, committed to working towards causes such as consumer advocacy. Dubbed “Nader’s Raiders” by the press, these volunteers, student interns and staff members investigated federal bureaucracies; shaped the modern consumer activist movement; and called for protecting the environment, workers rights and limited corporate power. They researched and prepared reports that helped spur legislative change.

Former Nader's Raiders talk about what life was like working with Ralph Nader during the consumer movement.

Jim Musselman

Jim Musselman was a Nader’s Raider in the 1980s and is now a record producer.

What were your role and day-to-day activities as a Nader’s Raider?

Ralph called me up New Year’s Eve and offered me the job, which is typical Ralph, you know, working on New Year’s Eve, planning out his next year. When I went down there, he basically said, “These are your missions.” It was like, “Get airbags in cars.” He didn’t say how. It was just various different things he had given me to do. But Ralph was a person who trusted people very much. It was like, this is what I want you to do, and you can get started working on it.

What is your job now?

I own a record company called Appleseed that features politically and socially conscious artists, planting seeds of social justice through music. The name was inspired by Ralph. He actually has an Appleseed Foundation. I always thought music was a way to reach people directly. But it was also important for musicians to talk about social issues and also to build bridges between communities—to use music as a way to heal and to give hope to people.

Has your support of Nader changed over the years?

I lost a lot of my business after my support of Ralph in 2000. Then, when he ran for President in 2004, I said, I’ll sit on the sidelines and not do anything about it. In Pennsylvania, there was this movement in the Democratic Party to keep Ralph off the ballot. I got so upset at the tactics that they used, so I wrote an email to about 100 famous musicians and actors, saying, “I’m not saying I’m voting for Ralph. But don’t we need to stand up for democracy at some point and say, ‘Keeping somebody off the ballot is not the American way?’” The personal abuse from the left was mind-boggling.

Headshot of Joe Tom Easley

Joe Tom Easley

Joe Tom Easley was a Nader’s Raider in the 1970s and is now a law professor.

Tell us about your role and day-to-day activities as a Nader’s Raider?

I was assigned to the Department of Agriculture team. Ralph wanted us to get into this agency and try to find out from talking with people inside and outside the agency everything we could about pesticides regulation—how open was the process; what chemical companies played disproportionate roles in the evaluative and approval process, if any; what role did the public have in this; and finally to what extent did the bureaucrats running that particular operation seem open and interested to receive public opinion and to protect the public health.

What do you think drives Nader?

For Ralph, the overriding issue that really blocks out everything—everything else—is the power of corporations in our public life today, the power of corporations to get their will before Congress, the power of corporations through advertising and the media to present their views or their spin on events. And this power has so distorted the political process that I think it has led Ralph to take some misguided positions recently regarding the 2000 election and the 2004 election.

Many have called Nader an egomaniac. Do you agree?

Nobody is more critical of Nader and what he is doing right now than I am—but I am annoyed with people who criticize him saying, “Oh, this is just an ego trip. He’s just out there for the glamour for the photographs and all that.” I think that is very unfair to him. And given his track record and given his history in this country, I think we should give him some slack on that. We should still criticize him for doing what he’s doing but not just kind of dismiss it as though, oh, he’s just on some ego trip.

Headshot of Robert Fellmeth

Robert Fellmeth

Robert Fellmeth was one of the original Nader’s Raiders in 1968 and is currently executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego and the Children’s Advocacy Institute.

What were your role and day-to-day activities as a Nader’s Raider?

We started that summer working on the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Turn on the television, you know. Tired blood and Geritol? Every ad I saw I thought was totally misleading. We interviewed a lot of people, and we tried to figure out what it (the FTC) was doing, and we used all of our learning as we developed as young lawyers to try to analyze the legal system and looked at it kind of from the outside, at these deceptive ads going on.

How intimidating was it to be so young taking on this government agency?

When you’re young, you don’t realize you’re doing something you have no business doing. How are you qualified? They’re professors who should be there who have studied the agency for 20 years. What are you doing? It doesn’t even occur to you. And in fact we did write a good critique that stands the test of time. And the year after we wrote it, President Nixon asked the ABA to look at the agency. Sure enough, they came up with the same critique that we did, and it lead to some changes in the statute.

What did you learn from working with Nader?

The key to being an advocate, as Ralph has taught me, is you cannot care what anybody thinks of you. You’ve got to be a little bit arrogant and think what’s important is not what you think of me but what I think of you, and what the people who follow me are going to think of you. You’ve got to have this future perspective. Don’t care what people are saying about you now because they are not as important as the people in the future are, because that’s who you are working for. Those are the core values that I learned and that his behavior reflected.

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