Celebrating 50 Years of Public Citizen
Public Citizen News / May-June 2023
By Robert Weissman
This article appeared in the May/June 2023 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
We are thrilled to celebrate our 50th anniversary throughout 2023 and into 2024, including with a major gala celebration in Washington, D.C. in June.
At a time when so many are having doubts about the future, the celebration of Public Citizen’s 50th anniversary should help ground us. We’ve taken on great challenges in the past—in fact, we seek them out—and time and again we’ve made a difference and prevailed.
Anniversaries are a great time to appreciate our achievements and take stock for longer term planning.
As I look back at our first 50 years, I couldn’t be prouder. And, as a supporter and partner in our work, you should be, too.
We could write a whole book on Public Citizen’s history. (We have, actually!) Consider just a few of our accomplishments: Getting air bags in cars. Removing deadly and dangerous drugs from the market. Helping pass Wall Street reform and creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Winning the first fuel economy standards. Suing for release of the Nixon White House tapes, Trump administration White House visitor logs, Reagan administration records, and more.
It’s an amazing record across so many fields, using many advocacy tools and prevailing over powerful interests.
How did we do it? We started by demanding what was right, not what people told us was realistic. Then we campaigned, advocated, educated, organized and litigated to get there. We changed the terms of the debate. We marshaled the facts. We protected our independence and took no corporate money. We built power. We innovated creative strategies and built broad coalitions. We never cowered in the face of corporate goliaths. And we stayed on the case until we prevailed.
Looking forward, we’re animated by that same commitment to justice, passion, fearlessness and persistence. We face great challenges—and great opportunities—in the following important areas.
Democracy – Against a rising proto-fascist movement, racist voter suppression and Big Money dominance of elections, we are building a powerful movement for democratic reform. Earlier this year, our organizing took us to the brink of a major legislative victory in the U.S. Congress. Going forward, we will build on that foundation of support and win far-reaching reform—from expanding the freedom to vote to ending Dark Money to overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision with a constitutional amendment that our country overwhelmingly favors and desperately needs.
Health Care for All – Our national health care system is designed by and benefits health insurers, hospital chains and Big Pharma. But it is failing the American people. Here’s the Rx: We’re campaigning to improve and expand Medicare to cover more conditions and more people—and we won’t stop until everyone is covered. Our cutting-edge studies are generating support to overcome Big Pharma’s patent monopolies and lower prices. Wee continue to monitor drug safety and fight to keep dangerous drugs off the market. And we litigate and advocate for lifesaving health and safety protections.
Climate Justice – Humanity faces an existential crisis as fossil fuel corporations race us toward climate chaos. We are identifying key levers to spur the fundamental changes needed in our energy systems and global economy to avert the worst consequences of climate change. This means everything from making Big Banks and insurance companies stop financing fossil fuel development to adjusting global trade rules to limiting carbon emissions to forcing a rapid transition to electric vehicles, and much more.
Taking on Corporate Power – Connecting our work is a recognition of the fundamental challenge corporate power poses to a functional democracy, a fair economy, our health, safety, a just society and a livable planet. That recognition informs the way we campaign on every issue and the solutions we advocate. We challenge corporate power directly with sophisticated and hard-hitting campaigns to limit its political influence, hold corporations accountable in court, break up monopolies, defend the justice system, impose strong regulatory controls, punish corporate criminals and more.
Let me be clear. This is an outrageously ambitious agenda, and it’s only part of our plans. We know we’re not going to achieve it right away.
Yet here’s what else we know: being outrageously ambitious has fueled our success in the past. If we don’t aspire to make the world just, we’ll never get there. If we embrace the challenges—yes, we’ll fall short; there’s no end to the work—but we’ll make greater progress than if we lower expectations.
Let’s do great things together.