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Nader to breach political divide

Will speak to sold-out crowd in Shelburne Falls Wednesday

SHELBURNE FALLS — When consumer advocate/social critic Ralph Nader ran for president in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, the biggest surprise for Nader — who says he was “stereotyped as an ultra-liberal” — was that he received slightly more support from Republicans than from Democrats.

He mentions this in his latest book “Unstoppable” and on Wednesday, Nader will be in Shelburne Falls, talking about the book and about how breaking down barriers between “left-wing” and “right-wing” groups, to work together on common goals, can lead to better governance. His sold-out talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center on Main Street, hosted by Ken and Nancy Eisenstein of Boswell’s Books.

In a recent telephone interview, Nader, 80, says he won’t be running for president again in 2016, but instead will be focussing on the message of his latest book. “I’m just trying to put these subjects on the table,” he explained.

“When you get down to where people live and work, where they raise their families, there are a lot of similarities,” he explained. “People all want the same basic things.”

Nader, who grew up in Connecticut, says that the American Revolutionary War really had its roots in political activism by thousands of people in western Massachusetts, who opposed the Massachusetts Government Act that the British imposed after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The new law was to have taken effect in August 1774 and it prohibited any town assemblies without permission from a British-appointed judge. As a result, tens of thousands of western Massachusetts farmers assembled in Worcester, a town of about 300 people at the time, to depose these new Crown-appointed judges.

“It all started where you are,” he said. “We grew up and were taught it all started with Paul Revere and (British) General Gage. They just usurped it. Boston got all the credit for the American Revolution. But it all started from Worcester to the west. These were the driving forces in 1775.”

“Unstoppable” lists 25 proposed reforms through “convergent action,” citing reforms that Nader believes would be supported by both political conservatives and liberal/progressives. They include such things as annual audits of the U.S. defense budget and disclosure of all government budgets; ending “the ineffective war on drugs;” ending “corporate personhood” and getting tough on corporate crime; along with “protecting children from commercialism and its physical and mental exploitation and harm.”

When told about local concerns over the recently proposed natural gas pipeline going through Franklin County — and concerns over a possible threat of eminent domain if the landowners aren’t willing to allow geological surveys of their land — he said the organized opposition to the pipeline “is a natural (example) for convergence”— since the pipeline would run through many properties regardless of the owners’ politics. “The thing that gets people pretty upset is when a company can invoke eminent domain.”

Nader said convergent politics were also part of the process that resulted in the 1966 federal motor vehicle safety laws enacted after Nader’s first book, “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

Nader was a Harvard Law School student when he first criticized the automotive industry in an article for the Harvard Law Record, called “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy.”

“Unsafe at Any Speed” came out in 1965, and the first chapter, “The Sporty Corvair — The One-Car Accident,” was about the Corvair, made by the Chevrolet division of General Motors, which had been involved in accidents involving spins and rollovers. Nader based his initial investigations into car safety on the lawsuits brought against GM as a result of accidents.

Nader said fighting for more automobile safety regulations was a very divisive act “that ended up as convergence,” because people wanted safer cars and fewer accidents. The book was a factor in Congress’ unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

“It started out quite ideological,” Nader said of the crusade. “At first, there were anti-regulation right-wingers and Libertarians saying: ‘I don’t want to be forced to use a seat belt.’ But the more information that was put forward, it became a matter of recognizing the reality — that we couldn’t buy safer cars, because all the manufacturers were producing ‘style-boats.’ You couldn’t buy a seat belt or a padded dashboard,” he said. “Riding in a car was like bouncing around in a room full of knives — no seat belts, no padding — I had high school and college friends lost or crippled because of car accidents. That was always in my mind.”

“People were more than four times more likely to be killed on the highways in 1964 than they are now, and that is measured by vehicle miles traveled,” he said.

Nader went on to fight for other consumer protection laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Meat and Poultry Inspection Rules, the Clean Air Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.

Ironically, he will be speaking within five miles of Clark’s Corvair Parts, a 41-year -old Shelburne business that restores and keeps Corvair cars restored around the world.

Co-owner Calvin Clark remembers seeing Nader speak — at, of all places, the 1991 convention of the Corvair Society of America, which was held in Washington D.C. Nader not only spoke there about Corvairs and car safety, but he posed for a picture in a 1962 Corvair Monza convertible.

“I believe they invited him,” said Clark. “He came in, and I do remember it was quite packed.” Clark said Nader talked about “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

Clark said he thought Nader made some good points about car safety but felt Nader hadn’t done enough research about the Corvair itself. About seven years after “Unsafe” was published, a safety commission report on the Corvair for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the 1960-1963 Corvairs possessed no greater safety threat than other cars from the 1960s.

“Before that book came out, I had never heard of a recall during the 1960s. So, I think, probably, in a way it was good. My feeling is it’s a little too bad that everyone remembers what he had in the book about the Corvair and that almost nobody knows that the car proved to be no more dangerous than other cars of the 1960s.”

Nader is the author of several books. When asked if he’s working on a new book, Nader said he is, “but I never talk about it until after I’ve finished.”

And, while he’s not running for president, he hopes that new candidates will emerge in 2016. “It’s going to be pretty dismal if somebody doesn’t run. It looks like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton reruns,” he said. “What do they have to offer? Pretty much, the same.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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