The consumer advocate, public interest lawyer and Consumer Watchdog Hall of Famer Harry Snyder passed away Friday.
Harry was a unique, gentle, kind and generous man, who not only made great changes for the public in the humblest of ways, but also mentored countless advocates, lawyers and researchers to work on the public’s behalf.
Harry created the toughest law for corporate executive accountability in the nation — requiring California executives to be personally liable for knowledge about defects or dangers in the workplace that they fail to disclose. As the West Coast Director of Consumers Union, Harry shepherded through other landmark changes to protect our access to high quality health care, reasonable financing on loans and our health and safety.
His powers of persuasion brought the Consumers Union powerful brand to bear against some of the most brazen power grabs by big corporations at the ballot box. Namely the “Terrible 200s.” Propositions 200, 201, 202 would have taken away shareholders’ rights to sue for securities fraud, limited consumers’ access to contingency fee attorneys, and replaced the effective auto insurance regulation under Prop 103 with the flawed no fault model. Thanks to Harry, none of the terribleness ever took effect.
What was so remarkable about Harry was that of all the reforms he worked on, it was never about him. Harry was all about we, never the me.
This reflected Harry’s deeply spiritual connection to the power of meditation. I met Harry through my friend and mentor Harvey Rosenfield, author of the landmark insurance regulation Prop 103 and founder of Consumer Watchdog. Harvey tells this story about Harry’s dedication to his meditation practice: “People often wondered how Harry was able to navigate California’s contentious political establishment with such grace and aplomb. It turned out that he would periodically slip off to meditate, sometimes for weeks at a time. There Harry found the deep reflection and renewal that empowered his passion for public interest work – and at the same time enabled him to elude the cynicism and pettiness that can afflict those who toil to make the world a better place.”
Harry spent the last couple of decades training other advocates, researchers and social workers through a curriculum he developed teaching at UC Berkeley School of Public Health with his teaching partner Dr. Anthony Iton. They published a book, “Advocacy for Public Health Policy Change: An Urgent Imperative.” It’s Harry’s playbook for making change in the legislative, regulatory and advocacy realms.
Harry can rest in peace now, knowing that those he trained, mentored and loved will continue to raise hell in his name.