Andrew Egendorf was one of the original Nader’s Raiders in 1968 and co-founded the dotcom start-up Symbolics.com.
In the film, William Greider talks about how Nader originally objected to the term Nader’s Raider. What did you think of it?
Well, I know some of the people, I think particularly Bob (Fellmeth), objected to the term “raider” because it implied we were throwing bombs and going in there with a suit of armor and a sword. But I just thought it was a nice handle. Plus it added more… you were real, now that you had a term that you could be referred to by. So I didn’t personally think it was so terrible. We weren’t raiders in the standard sense. But in the grander, broader sense we certainly were. We went in digging out facts, so we raided it and that’s us.
What did you learn from working with Nader?
Some of the things I learned by working with Ralph were that you always have to use original sources. You can’t rely on anything that is secondary, unless that’s all there is. And then you have to be skeptical of it. He told me when you go to interview somebody, I guess in general meeting people, don’t posture yourself either above them or below them. In other words, being inferior to them or superior to them in some dimension in which you’re going to engage the person, because often that’s wrong and it also affects how you behave.
How would you characterize Nader’s consumer movement in the sixties?
Everyone gives Nader, I think, an unfair reading. Everyone says he’s anti-business, and he wants to tear down the capitalistic system. He’s not like that at all. His view was simply that the interest of the producers ought to be to support the interest of the consumers, because the whole system is based on consumption. So why don’t we have a system that has constraints on it that require the producers interest to be aligned with the consumers interests?
The problem was that the producers were all monopolies or oligopolies, and the consumers were just all individuals with no clout at all. All he wanted to do was level the playing field, give consumers the same kind of clout as an oligopoly.
James Fallows was a Nader’s Raider in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He went on to become a speech writer for Jimmy Carter and is currently a national correspondent for Atlantic Monthly.
What were your role and day-to-day activities as a Nader’s Raider?
I plunged right into what seemed… could seem dreary moment by moment, but actually it was exciting in the larger perspective, of going through these halls at the Department of Agriculture, where I don’t think anybody other than a bureaucrat or a petitioner had been in centuries, and interviewing people about what they did and why they did it and what larger perspective it had. I can only imagine how much they detested us. You know, these smart-ass kids from fancy schools coming to say, “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?” But nonetheless, amazingly, in retrospect, they put up with it.
Do you remember your colleagues from that time?
In addition to this very good relationship with my mentor at the time, Harrison Welford, whom I’ve known since, my day-to-day working partner was a man named Julian Houston, who is now a judge in Boston. He was maybe four or five years older than me. He was from Richmond; I was from Southern California. He was black. I was white. We’d kind of cruise up as this mod squad unit to go into the Ag Department and ask people about things. So I enjoyed it—we had different kinds of amazement at the life in Washington that we were seeing.
What made all of that amazing?
What was probably most exhilarating about the whole thing was the sense of shared, collective—and I don’t mean collective in the ‘60s sense—I mean sort of collective in those terms of cooperative sizing up of what was happening day by day and seeing how things were unfolding. You’d come back to these dingy offices on Q Street or else to the dorm house in George Washington University and say, “I heard this from the guy who’s handing out grants in North Carolina; I heard this about pesticides in Georgia; I heard this about X & Y & Z in Florida, and what we’re beginning to see is the following.” And that was exciting.
Harvey Rosenfield was a Raider in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Congress Watch. He now heads his own consumer watchdog group in Santa Monica, California.
Talk about what you remember from your days at Congress Watch.
I remember my apartment on Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.—the bathroom window overlooked the Capitol and the Capitol dome always has a light on when Congress is in session. We used to say that as long as that light is on, then the American public is in danger. And my job, I felt, was to be the guy who made sure that somebody was always watching Congress. And I would on many nights read the Congressional Record in the bathroom just to watch the light until it went off.
Not many people would be that vigilant.
I think that the people he (Nader) attracted came principally because they wanted the opportunity to work for justice in the country, and he created an environment where you could do that. If you did it well, there was no limit to how much you could achieve. He never stood in the way of anybody. He never demanded the credit if somebody else was doing the work. He was happy to have them get as much credit as they could get from the public or from the news media.
What did you learn from working with Nader?
In the work we do, we have so much information and data that comes in that the real creative aspect of it is to link things that don’t seem to be connected, to develop a pattern that nobody else sees. An important thing that he taught me personally was never to throw anything out. If you look around here you will see that there are files upon files, and we have storage centers where we file even more files. And every time I think that I have to get over this compulsive sense I have of filing something, I will employ that skill that Ralph taught me, which is to reach back into other events and pull out something that is exactly the evidence you need for the latest injustice.