By Ralph Nader
Though reluctant to admit it publicly, for the sake of morale and status, progressive citizen group leaders taking on the corporate supremacists and their political lackeys are in hard times. With few exceptions, they are neither adjusting with bolder strategies and tactics nor growing fast enough to spin off new divisions and groups. On the other hand, corporatists, driven by profits, have constant motivation and measurable yardsticks for defining their success. Corporatists, with their monetized minds, are not seized by internal worries and debates about how to address climate catastrophes, addicted customers (tobacco) and patients (Opioids). They are corrupting governments or becoming tax dodgers, all while demanding government handouts.
Against that background, I offer some suggestions. Progressives should:
1. Not succumb to the satiety of exposing and denouncing, without moving to action. Their reports gather dust. Be like law professor and leading child advocate Robert Fellmeth (See, Children’s Advocacy Institute). He has exposed wrongdoing, proposed reforms and taken them all the way through the California legislature to the governor’s signature.
2. Avoid being overly turf-conscious which weakens your group and rejects the reality that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In 1972, we produced magazine-size profiles of all the members of Congress running for re-election. This was never done before or since. We asked Common Cause – similarly committed to accountable, responsive lawmakers – to notice these profiles to their membership. They politely declined. Our groups, under my watch, always publicize the good works of other groups.
3. Understand that the affliction of aliteracy – knowing how to read but not reading – is widespread among progressives – outside of their narrow specialties. Trying to get progressive advocates or researchers just to read our new Capitol Hill Citizennewspaper (https://www.capitolhillcitizen.com/) and use its special contents to press their own causes is no easy feat. It is very difficult to break through the addiction of screens and unending voicemails. So, why not have communal non-fiction book clubs within the groups like Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Greenpeace, Sierra Club Et al. to bring people up-to-date on the crushing new swarms of corporate controls? Readers Think and Thinkers Read. Both motivate action.
4. It is too difficult to dislodge honest but ineffectual leaders of the larger citizen groups and their subdivisions. As baseball coach Leo Durocher used to say “Nice guys finish last.” To overcome normal sentimental feelings, think of all those people, families and children out there who are not being served, protected and encouraged due to weak, unimaginative or burned-out heads of civil rights/civil liberties, labor, consumer and environmental groups. They should realize their own limitations in their present positions and move on to tasks for which they are more suited, letting fresh leaders succeed them.
5. Wake up! There exists a truly irritating strain among both progressive lawmakers, staff and outside advocates, of prejudging their own defeat, of scrapping bolder or new initiatives for change or reform with the cry “It just ain’t gonna happen.”
Imagine if Newt Gingrich, a junior Republican from Georgia, had that attitude in 1991. He bullied his way to the top, and evicted two Democratic Speakers of the House of Representatives to become Speaker himself in 1995 and then started the GOP wreckage of the country.
Let’s face it, messianic right-wing ideologues have more energy and “We’re going to make it happen” fervor than many of their laid-back counterparts in Congress. Compare the sheer moxie and determination of the so-called House Freedom Caucus (eventually driving out their Speaker John Boehner) and taking no quarter from present Speaker Kevin McCarthy, with the years-long anemia of the much larger Progressive Caucus – just recently stirring itself a bit, but not enough to prevail on issues contrary to the corporatist leadership of the Democratic Party.
Justice Louis Brandeis was relating well-known history when he wrote: “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.”