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Public Citizen celebrates 40 years of progress!

Last night was a night to remember. From the performance of Capitol Movement, to the rousing speech by Public Citizen’s keynote Bill Moyers, energy filled the ballroom at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C., where  public interest luminaries mingled with the next generation of Naders Raiders to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Public Citizen.

Cocktails were served beginning at 6 p.m. . Following this, attendees went to the main ballroom where dinner was served. Public Citizen board member Steve Skrovan, whose documentary about Public Citizen founder Ralph Nader is currently showing on Showtime, MCed the event and offered the following quote to start the evening off:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists”

Skrovan went on to say that he believed the ballroom of nearly 600 supporters was probably full of “unreasonable people.” One of those unreasonables: Joan Claybrook. Claybrook, who helped found the organization and served as president of Public Citizen for nearly three decades, spoke about her pride in the organization and all its accomplishments. Her remarks preceded a short video created to explain the origins of Public Citizen and highlight its accomplishments over the last four decades. It’s a must see! CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO WATCH THE VIDEO . . .

U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who worked at Public Citizen in our Congress Watch division a number of years ago, recounted the many lessons she had learned working at Public Citizen. Public Citizen board member and commentator Jim Hightower then spoke, telling the audience that he serves on only one nonprofit board. The reason he chose Public Citizen’s board: because Public Citizen knows you can’t sweet talk a pig out of a creek– you need to “get right up behind it and push it!” (He was explaining how hard we push to get things done and how we don’t back down.) Maybe you had to be there.

Hightower’s Texas humor was given a run for its money though when Public Citizen founder Ralph Nader took to the podium. While his remarks were earnest and provided often somber reflections on the history of the consumer movement he fathered and the challenges before our nation, his wit was clear. Nader, who once said the point of leadership “is to create more leaders,” said, “You can always tell a Public Citizen project director but you can’t tell them much.”

In his speech, Peabody Award-winning journalist Bill Moyers referenced the Occupy Wall Street movement and offered the following perspective-building thoughts:

So it’s no wonder to me as a journalist or a citizen that so many Americans have felt that sense of political impotence that Lawrence Goodwyn described as the mass resignation of people who believe in the dogma of democracy at the superficial level, but whose hearts no longer burn with the conviction that they are part of the deal.

And I will tell you that against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would still be waiting on these tables, women would still be turned away from the voting booths on election days, and workers would still be committing a crime if they organize.

So, don’t ever, as Ralph said, don’t ever count the people out.

The evening concluded with remarks by Public Citizen President Robert Weissman, who presented awards to our founders: Alan Morrison, Joan Claybrook and  Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who still heads up Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. Thanks to Wolfe and his researchers, more than 20 dangerous drugs have been taken off the market over the past 40 years, saving countless lives.

It’s hard to say exactly what the next 40 years will hold, but with the unrelenting work ethic that has defined the last four decades still alive and well, odds are there will be a at least a few hundred thousand some lives saved, corruption exposed, justice found and progress made. In the 40-year history of this organization Public Citizen has operated off around $200 million (total). As Nader pointed out, this is equal to the cost of one F-22 fighter, but obviously the public benefit of an organization like Public Citizen is much, much higher. Nader’s clarion call– “Think bigger.”

p.s. Tip from Lady Liberty: If you weren’t able to join us for the event– don’t despair! Bookmark www.citizen.org/40gala, where we will be posting new videos and photos all of next week. And, while you are at it– consider signing up for our emails so you can stay on top of the latest news and actions.