Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Blog
Ralph Nader was born in 1934 in Connecticut to parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from Zahle, Lebanon. Nader’s parents’ Arab heritage played an influential role in his formation. Growing up, Ralph was taught Arabic proverbs to instruct every aspect of his life and engrain in him strong values of social justice and respect. Ralph was brought up not only with his parents’ cultural heritage, but also with their outspoken political minds. Mr. Nader opened a bakery and restaurant in Connecticut where, as Ralph says, ‘for a dime you got a cup of coffee and a political conversation.’ Ralph’s mother once refused to let go of her local Senator’s hand at a meet and greet until he promised to build a dry dam that would protect the town from floods. His parents instilled in Ralph the belief that being an active citizen was not a deviation, but the correct thing to do as an American. Ralph’s father once said, “If you do not use your rights, you will lose your rights.”
Nader excelled as a student and was offered a scholarship to Princeton, which his father refused so that the scholarship could be given to a student with greater financial need. Nader attended Harvard Law School and then served in the military before practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut until 1963. In 1964, Nader moved to Washington, D.C. and began to investigate automobile safety. In 1965, he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed which changed landscape for consumer advocacy forever. His book led Congress to pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which mandated that manufacturers install seatbelts, airbags, stronger windshields, and a variety of other safety features.
Nader’s work inspired many young activists to join him in investigating government corruption and consumer issues. This highly accomplished group, deemed “Nader’s Raiders,” founded Public Citizen, an organization that investigates congressional, health, environmental, economic, and other consumer issues, and they produced dozens of books that resulted in the creation of many regulatory laws.
In 1974, Nader championed the anti-nuclear energy movement by creating the Critical Mass Energy Project. Opening offices across the country, Nader’s organization provided resources and scientific information that helped communities campaign against expanded nuclear power plant construction. Nader was an early and vocal advocate for clean and green energy alternatives such as solar, tidal, wind, and geothermal energy which he argued was more environmentally friendly, safer for workers, and better for national security, disaster preparedness, foreign policy, government accountability, and democratic governance than nuclear or fossil fuels.
A tireless activist for consumer rights, environmentalism and humanitarianism, Nader exemplifies what it means to be a public citizen. This five time third-party presidential candidate is considered by many scholars to be among the most influential Americans of the twentieth century, a hero to social activists, and a man who has potentially done more for the American consumer than any other person in his time. At 80, Nader continues to advocate, commentate, and write books instructing citizens on how they can make America a more democratic and just society.
Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.