Corruption Politics Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: Keep Calling Powerful Players–Even If They Won’t Answer

I am confident in saying that members of Congress and their staff have never been more unresponsive to serious petitions (letters, calls, emails and old-fashioned petitions) on important issues than today.

By Ralph Nader

Most of us play both roles of the Caller and Callee. Guess which role rules? The Callee. I’ve lost count of how many older adults tell me, week after week, how hard it is to get through to powerful Callees. Especially by telephone! The latter include your local electric, gas and telephone company, your bank and insurance company, your members (or their staff) of Congress, your local, state and federal government agencies. It never used to be that way.

Imagine the days when you’d pick up your phone, dial and get through to a human being. You couldn’t be waylaid by the evasive robotic operator who gives you the “press one, or two, or three or four” drill. Unfortunately, when you select “one” you often get another automatic recording. At some point you get a voicemail opportunity which is really voicefail.

Oh, say the younger people – what about trying email or text messaging? Clutter, filters, distractions and sheer overloads can’t adequately describe the ways Callees can keep you from getting through to a human. The more difficult it is, the more people repeat their attempts, and the more overload there is for the digital gatekeepers. Call this the Callees’ power plays.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures white-collar labor productivity. If they measured the sheer billions of hours wasted by people trying to get through to do their jobs, white-collar labor productivity would be far lower than its present level.

Here are some areas of abuse. Our Constitution’s First Amendment protects more than freedom of speech, press and religion. It adds the “right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” “Grievances” include more than personal affronts or injustices, such as petitions to get the government to enact or repeal policies, practices or other behaviors. I am confident in saying that members of Congress and their staff have never been more unresponsive to serious petitions (letters, calls, emails and old-fashioned petitions) on important issues than today.

Their prompt responses are reserved for donors and ceremonial requests (graduations, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and friends). Civic groups supporting a member’s already chosen legislative priorities find their staff have a working relationship with a congressional office. But try to get through to a member of Congress to sponsor a Congressional hearing or expand their portfolio to new urgent arenas – yes, keep trying.

It is near impossible to get through to even friendly members (or senior staffers) of Congress on grave matters of undeclared wars, starving the IRS budget to aid and abet massive tax evasions by the super-rich and big companies, serial lawless rejections of Congressional authority under the Constitution by the White House, or even restoring the staff of Congressional Committees that Newt Gingrich cut in 1995 when he toppled the House Democrats. Non-responses everywhere.

It is so bad that we wrote to every member of Congress and asked them what their office policy toward responding to serious communications was. Only one in 535 offices responded.

Of course, there is the absorbing activity known as “constituent service” – intervening for people back home not getting responses from federal agencies for their personal complaints. Some responsiveness to constituents’ personal stories is widely believed to be good for re-election. (See my column, Does Congress Need an Ombudsman to Look After Its Case Work? https://nader.org/2022/04/30/does-congress-need-an-ombudsman-to-look-after-its-case-work/, published in the Capitol Hill Citizen newspaper – https://www.capitolhillcitizen.com/).

If the Congress in the sixties and seventies was as unresponsive as Congress is today, ironically in the midst of the communications revolution, we couldn’t have gotten the key consumer, environmental, worker safety and health laws, the Freedom of Information Law and other laws enacted. Clearly, if you cannot communicate consistently with the 535 members of Congress and staff, who are given massive sovereign powers by “We the People” (right in the preamble to our Constitution), you cannot even start to get anything done on Capitol Hill.

There is one democracy wrecking exception – corporate lobbyists who grease the system with campaign money and assorted inducements and temptations dangled in real time and in the future. The lobbyists for the oil, gas and coal industries, the banking, insurance and brokerage companies, the military weapons manufacturers, the drug, hospital and nursing home chains, corporate law firms, the corporate media and others of similar avarice do get access. They get the private cellphone numbers of our elected officials, because they invite members and staff to luxurious gatherings and travel junkets, as well as more formal fundraising or Political Action Committee (PAC) venues.

This phenomenon of elected officials being incommunicado toward the civic communities is a controlling process by the powerful over the less powerful. Make no mistake.  This same tale of two systems of access is everywhere. Big banks (Bank of America is one of the worst) and utility companies have algorithms that tell them how they can hire fewer workers for customer service if they can make consumers wait on recorded lines, or fail to answer emails and letters. The big companies want customers to just give up.

The courts are culpable as well. People have complained about not being able even to get through to Small Claims Court for hours at a time. The Postal Service is not known for quick telephone pickups, still under control of Trump’s nominee Louis DeJoy. Not to mention what the GOP did to the IRS ordinary taxpayer response budget.

But some companies are a bit more responsive such as FedEx or your local small retail family-owned business.

The lack of access is a serious problem that degrades quality of life with heightened stress and anxiety. And in some cases, during an emergency or disaster, the lack of a response can have dire consequences.

Fifty billion robocalls a year have disrupted seriously people answering their telephones, even from neighbors down the street. (The FCC and FTC just are not aggressively pressuring the communications companies to use the latest software to thwart these robocall outlaws). These agencies themselves are notoriously incommunicado.

What do to? Be more vociferous. Favor politicians and merchants who pledge to have humans answer phones and not make you wait, wait, and wait to give them your thoughts, your business and your complaints.

Your suggestions, readers, will be most welcome.

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

26 comments

  1. I applaud you Ralph Nader! Such a seemingly mundane concern – “getting”to actually talk with a human being about a simple request!!!
    Thank you for spotlighting the degradation in banking, health care , corporate and governmental human responsiveness to plain ole regular citizens without the “weight” of a billion or two in our pockets.

    1. then, on November 8th, put down your phones, get to a polling station, and vote to increase congressional Dem power!!! then, go back to your phones…

  2. Corporations value the “efficiency” with which they can “dispose of” callers without necessarily “helping” the callers. That’s the metric their phone systems have enshrined.

  3. Tell me something I didn’t already know….twenty years ago.

    Ralph the times have passed you by and then some. I will always respect your life’s work and what you accomplished with it. But times have changed and your way behind the curve. You have been for a while now. No petition has any meaning anymore. No letter writing campaign no matter how great, will accomplish anything. No protest will be met with anything but aggression. The days when you could be the loyal opposition are dead dead dead Ralph. It’s really not that hard to understand. Take the weekend and read 1984, Animal Farm….and Lord of the Flies and perhaps you will begin to understand.

    We are in a brave new world now Ralph.

    1. Agreed Mav. The deliberate blocking of everyday constituents’ calls and other forms of contact has been around for decades, yet Ralph is now just waking up to it. If I recall correctly, Ralph has a home in DC and has been known to periodically walk the halls of Congress, bumping into members. Maybe just now he himself is getting cut off which means it all started just now in his mind. Nevermind everyday people were cut off long ago. While Ralph’s life work has been exemplary, his approach to solutions are very archaic.

      I used to listen to RNRH until a year or so ago. His railing against Trump each and every weekly episode got tired, yet when Biden got elected and proceeded to break every campaign promise he made, Ralph mostly ignored it and largely went back to civil issues. That’s when I got permanently turned off. Every so often he will criticize the Democrats, but as with the fairly recent Scheer Intelligence episode in which he was Robert’s guest, it was clear at the end he began the herding of leftists into the arms of the Democratic Party.

      Good call on Animal Farm. While the left has long been obsessed with 1984, I think AF was the better book because it carried more meaning to everyday people considering the past 500 years of the capitalist mode of production. And capitalism drives it all.

    2. It’s curious – your condescension. As putting Nader down is the most important thing in your agenda. I’m glad for his two cents on this – as I’ve seen it nowhere else. Sounds like you have or if you haven’t , you assume his topic has no educable value for those young so conditioned to the manipulation they know no alternative. Unless objectionable things are named they continue contaminating the river, don’t they? Part of the
      power of Big Money are the consequences of their intentional strategies to hide and mask realities that do disservice to us so we keep quiet and don’t start brewing good trouble.

    3. To JustA,

      I agree that phone calls, petitions, even demos are pretty much brushed off – so what is your solution?

      Considering that the folks that are brushing us off are D/Rs – why not put non-corp ind 3rd parties in office? Why keep doing the same thing over and over as we have been for decades, now – and expecting different results? It seems we are essentially following the injunctive “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

      I have been posing this challenge for, yeah, decades now – and the majority of time I get a) claims that it wouldn’t work b) that it can’t be done c) stick with the LOTE (lesser of 2 evils) out of fear of the GOTE (greater) –

      Meanwhile we get all sorts of poison pills inserted in to legislation that ostensibly is “progressive” – the latest being those in the “wonderful” new bill being touted as “the most significant piece of (climate change) legislation” ever passed – Good grief! If this is the best we can do, we are screwed indeed … But as to the “poison pills” (mumble, mumble) the continued granting of oil and gas leases, before solar wind projects, and, so I understand, the permission to allow a gas pipeline through the State of – W Va! Surprise, surprise – so while we are so excited about electric cars, which the majority will still not be able to afford, and the other amenities, which will take time assuming they are adequately funded – the fossil fuel industry, aka the CC enhancers, proceeds apace ..

      This is clearly a desperate political maneuver to keep folks in the DP tent – to vote Blue no Matter Who – by promising a few VR crumbs, telling us to pay no attention to the men behind the curtain by exhorting us to not let the better be the enemy of the good, if we do happen to spot them …

      And when these “good” crumbs fail to take care of the problem and we keep circling the drain or making ashes of ourselves – they will keep tossing more crumbs until we are (burnt) toast …

      I don’t quite see why folks don’t seem to get this …

      1. Agree with Ralph 100%, except perhaps that I don’t trust the elections system at all. I think it is naive to believe that with all the spying, surveillance, and penetration/hacking power of the Security State, they can’t twist and switch the elections results as they please (esp. with the DHS “overseeing” the elections in most states) – which implies that the elections will always will almost 50%-50% (more like 49% Democrats and 51% Republicans) and any third party would be (a) minimized artificially and (b) considered the “bad guy” who caused the Dems to lose the elections (as happened to you in the 2000 elections). We are indeed toasted.

      2. “Toast”. Hmm. Sounds like either resignation or collapse. Or both.
        Where does that leave you? Us (being without you)? Democracy? Earth? The children? Beauty?

      3. Of course continue to support anyone on the real progressive side – what else can I do? I hope for a miracle.

  4. Exactly, Mr. Nader. Thank you for expressing what we all feel and go through on a daily basis with the so-called communication system which makes certain we can’t communicate with a human without endless trouble. Yesterday, I was on-hold for one hour and 3 minutes when all I wanted was an answer to a very simply question. We regular people are of no importance except as yahoos to be propagandized for votes.

  5. The plankton is dying, the next ice age cycle has been overwhelmed by co2. I think we lost.

    1. Well, we certainly could /will be/are. But, what’s the boon in collapsing? Warblers, polar bears, white orchids, fat wine red cherry laden trees, Bach’s partitas, fire flies, the muscled hands of workers, Wilbershoi’s interior landscapes, Wei Wei’s most recent astonishing construction, the scent of lemon trees blooming, children’s laughter, crystal clear fresh mountain air, learning, singing together, the miracle of La Vida everywhere oceanic…..isn’t it worth fighting for to one’s dying breath? How dare anyone steal it from us!!!

  6. Right on. Perhaps much weight on saving $$ on corporate representatives (cutting their jobs), seemingly replacing them by robots, just like in industry. The reps who are left (with more work and lower pay) are demoralized and don’t give a damn.

  7. “only in amerika do people act like machines are treated like machine and only in amerika are machine metaphors used to describe human behavior”. Geoffrey Gorer

  8. nadar cannot be more blind and ignorant—anyone that has bothered to read Gorer, Hofstadter, Riesman, Slater, Boorstin, Williams, Berman,Sennet, Lasch etc is fully aware there is nothing substantively different today than in the 1940’s, 60’s, 80’s etc

  9. *Write letters to the editor calling out the powerful on their non-responsive policies. These are free and some people claim LTEs are the most read part of any paper.

    *If you feel strongly about an issue and are knowledgable, write an op-ed. Most papers publish quality editorial content they don’t have to pay for (and yes, as a paid writer I know this is scab behavior — but sometimes the issue is important enough for me to step over this line).

    *Make a short video of someone who has been wronged by the powerful and cannot get a response. Share it everywhere.

    *Leave online comments calling out the powerful.

    *Write a blog or create a website shared via email.

  10. I have a suggestion, Ralph: give it up. The Dems absolutely despise you, even more than Sanders. As you mention here, it’s virtually impossible to get in contact with those bums, and if they know it’s you, forget it anyway. They still blame you for their new friend Bush’s stealing of the 2000 election. There’s only one hope Ralph–revolution.

  11. Yes, it’s frustrating to make a phone call any more. Especially to a member of congress. Write a letter? You get in response a form letter that gives you their spin on the subject, no consideration for anything you ‘ve brought up. I guess that’s the system. Keep calling? Keep writing? Our time is valuable, too. I’d suggest we change the system. Maybe start with term limits and head for a direct democracy that doesn’t have money and celebrity as a middleman.

    1. 4 stars and a heart to you Sally McMillan. Question: How? What does our body politic have to be filled with for those term limits and direct democracy be activated?

    2. Yes, I just received a boring and practically illedgeable form email form from my congress member, Carolyn Maloney, not responding to the issue I broached: Namely, punishment of whistleblowers….She went round and round and in the end I had no idea what her opinion was.

  12. Robert, I have been meaning to comment on your interview with Ralph Nadar from a few weeks (maybe months) ago. You got the upper hand–his letter writing campaign to Congress is a failure, a waste of time, stamps and paper. I love Ralph, voted for him twice and would again, and maybe this is his way of admitting it is a failure. My solution is total system change, which I am now calling revolution. It doesn’t have to be bloody, but it has to be a complete overthrow of what is, especially now as the duopoly has raised the bar for third parties to compete in electoral politics.

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