Ralph Nader has dedicated his life to activism
and advocacy and is known for his involvement
in consumer protection, environmentalism, and
government reform causes. He founded several
organizations, including the Center for Study
of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research
Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public
Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability
Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center and the
Project for Corporate Responsibility.
In a discussion with Community College
Journal, Nader discusses the need for civic
engagement on community college campuses.
He also talks about his brother Shaf Nader’s
struggle to start Northwestern Connecticut
Community College. The story is told in the
book Democratizing America: Shaf Nader and
the Founding of the Impossible College.
CC Journal The 2017 book Democratizing America
talks about your brother’s work starting
Northwestern Connecticut Community College.
Why did he take on that responsibility?
Ralph Nader Winsted was a multiple factory town
that was losing almost all its factories. He believed
community involvement would turn his home
town around. A community college was the most
constructive response, though, to reviving the town
both in an economic sense—worker skills—and
in a democratic sense—enabling civic skills and
experience through a well-rounded curriculum
helpful to Winsted and the surrounding region of
CCJ Eventually, the community rallied behind
the creation of the college. How did Shaf help end
their resistance and get their support?
Nader How he overcame the town’s self-deprecation,
its lack of self-confidence and its collective
depression—following a devastatingly destructive
flood in 1955, and most young people leaving for
the “big city,” could become a course in leadership
training for students today.
He started with extensive research, building
relentless optimism. He found a small, committed core of like-minded believers, enlisted the
local media, business community, especially the
local Jaycees, and methodically outlined all the
steps needed, local and state, to establish this
institution. It helped mightily that the building
housing the Gilbert High School was available for
a campus after a new high school was built on
the other side of town.
CCJ What can current college and community
leaders learn from your brother’s experience?
Nader That a great deal of creative
energy and political support can
spring from tapping into local
initiatives and local knowledge to
strengthen the community college’s foundations, especially in an
era of budget cuts, as is the case in
That it is imperative to continue
dreaming about the many ways the
community college can educate students for the practice of democracy
and the way it can anticipate and
better resolve societal problems.
That in the words of author
Dimitra Doukas, they “can never
know too well that disappointment is
part of the journey—not a roadblock.”