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Public Citizen Celebrates 50 Years

Public Citizen News / March-April 2022

By Robert Weissman

This article appeared in the March/April 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

This year, Public Citizen is celebrating our 50th anniversary!

It’s been an amazing five decades – and we’re more excited than ever about the work ahead.

Anniversaries are a great time to look back and appreciate achievements, and also to take stock for longer term planning.

As I look back at our first 50 years, I couldn’t be more proud – and, as a supporter of and partner in our work, you should be, too.

We could write a whole book on Public Citizen’s history (we have, actually!), but consider just a few of our accomplishments: Getting air bags in all cars. Removing dozens of 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 and forcing 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 so many advocacy tools and prevailing over so many powerful interests.

How did we do it? We start by demanding what is right, not what people tell us realistic. Then we campaign, advocate, educate, organize, and litigate to get there. We change the terms of debate. We marshal the facts. We protect our independence, taking no corporate money. We build power. We innovate creative strategies and build broad coalitions. We never cower in the face of corporate goliaths. And we stay on the case until we prevail.

As we look forward, we continue to be animated by that same commitment to justice, passion, fearlessness, and persistence. We face great challenges – and great opportunities:

Democracy: Against a rising proto-fascist movement, racist voter suppression, and Big Money dominance of elections, we are building a powerful movement for transformative democratic reform. Earlier this year, our organizing took us to the brink of major legislative victory in the U.S. Congress. Going forward, we will build on the base of support we built and win the far-reaching reform – from expanding the freedom to vote to ending Dark Money to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision with a constitutional amendment – that our country overwhelming 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 – and 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. And we continue to monitor drug safety and fight to keep dangerous drugs off the market.

Climate Justice: Humanity faces an existential crisis, as fossil fuel corporations race us forward to climate chaos. We are identifying strategic levers to spur the fundamental changes in our energy systems and global economy needed 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 limit carbon emissions to forcing a rapid transition to electric vehicles, and much more.

Taking on Corporate Power: Connecting all our work is a recognition of the fundamental challenge that concentrated corporate power poses to a functional democracy, a fair economy, our health and safety, a just society, and a livable planet. On the one hand, that recognition informs the way we campaign on every issue and the solutions we advocate. On the other, it drives us to challenge corporate power directly, with sophisticated and hard-hitting campaigns to limit corporations’ political influence, break up monopolies, defend the justice system, impose strong regulatory controls, punish corporate criminals, and more.

I should be very clear about all this: We know this is an outrageously ambitious agenda (and it’s only part of our plans)! We know we’re not going to achieve all this right away.

But here’s what else we know: Being outrageously ambitious is what has fueled our success in the past. If we don’t aspire to make the world truly just, we’ll never get there. If we do embrace that challenge, of course we’ll far short – there’s no end to the work – but we’ll make far more progress than if we lower expectations.

That’s how, together, we do great things.