December 5, 2016


The NRA, to my knowledge, has never held a mass demonstration or march. You know why? Because, like all the most effective lobbies in this country, it focuses on just 535 human beings called senators and representatives. That’s where its efforts begin and end. The NRA knows everything about these politicians: who funds them, what primary challenger they’re most afraid of, who their doctor is, who their lawyer is, who they play golf with, what their personality and character weaknesses are, whether they are susceptible to flattery and like to be taken on junkets. That’s why the NRA is so powerful. Add to that the NRA’s political action committee, which rewards obeisant public servants on Capitol Hill with campaign contributions. And the NRA knows how to punish, too. If a politician stands up to the NRA, it will back a candidate in a primary to try to beat him or her. Members of Congress are afraid of people who are extremely energetic on a single issue. That’s the secret.

Activists usually hold mass rallies against war or climate change in Washington, D.C., on a weekend, when members of Congress aren’t there. All this energy that it takes to put together a rally sort of goes up into the ether. The event doesn’t get that much coverage either, because there are not as many reporters working on the weekend. The activists don’t take up a collection at the rally and raise money to open an office with four full-time employees. With two hundred thousand people, you can quickly raise enough to pay four people’s salaries for a year. Then, when the members of Congress came back on a weekday, they would find more than just a bunch of crushed cups and soda cans on the Mall. They would find four full-time advocates who are connected with a lot more people.

We have to be smarter in the way we lobby. I always say, “Don’t just hope that the government will hear you. Summon the senators and representatives to your town meetings.” We are the sovereign people, and we have to make our hired hands in Congress come to our events and do their homework on the issues. Then we’re up there on the stage, and they are in the audience with their staff. Why don’t more people do that? It’s so much fun to make these politicians squirm.

Ralph Nader, interviewed in The Sun

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