Dec 15, 2008

What will become of consumer protection?

The era of 'rock star' advocacy is over.
The woman largely responsible for vehicle air bags, Joan Claybrook, who announced last week that she's stepping down as president of Public Citizen after 27 years at the helm of the consumer watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader.  No successor at Public Citizen has been named.
The consumer movement is at a crossroads. After becoming a force in the 1960s with Nader's rise to prominence, it has since struggled to connect with the media and public.
"In many ways, there's less of a movement now," Claybrook acknowledged. "Now there are specific advocates for specific issues.
NADER -  There's so much clutter in the media marketplace, so much noise from competing interests that it's increasingly difficult for a nonprofit group to get its message across, much less stir up sufficient outrage to catalyze political action. "We used to put out press releases and they'd be on the evening news," he said. "Now you can't even get them on cable."
"The indications are very bad," Nader, 74, said of the future. "We all thought the Internet would give us a resurgence. The big hope was that you could band people together quickly and cheaply, but it hasn't worked out."
For his part, Nader makes no effort to hide his frustration. "It's been very difficult holding back the hordes of corporatism," he said. "It's become more defensive than offensive, just trying to save what's been achieved."
They aren't easy acts to follow. "Nobody will ever be a rock star again like Ralph Nader," said U.S. PIRG's Mierzwinski, 55.
The Internet has yet to live up to its potential as an engine for consumer protection, but it still can.
Ultimately, it's up to us -- consumers -- to demand accountability for unsafe products and stronger regulation of businesses, and to remain engaged with the legislative process.
This movement was always about one thing -- you. Isn't that worth fighting for?
Read full from David Lazarus' LAtimes  Consumer movement at a crossroads