Publication Date: 2006-05-22
You can hear Jim deliver this speech by buying a disc, cassette, or download from Alternative Radio, an outfit that definitely deserves to be supported.
Read this/listen to this and ask yourself, "Why/how have we become so inert?"
by Jim Hightower, Grand Junction, CO
October 8, 2005
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer and public speaker. He is noted for his biting wit. He broadcasts daily radio
commentaries that are carried on more than 100 stations. His award-winning newsletter, "The Hightower Lowdown," is the fastest
growing political publication in America. Author of numerous books, his latest is Thieves in High Places.
Agitation is what America is all about. Were it not for agitators,
we would be here today wearing white powdered wigs singing
?God Hail the Queen.? Agitation built America. And I'm not
merely talking about the founders. At some level they were the
least of it. The founders made possible levels of agitation and
made possible democracy, but they didn't create much
democracy. In fact, in the first presidential election, that chose
George Washington, only 4% of the people were even eligible
to vote. You could not vote if you were a woman, of course.
Certainly not if you were an African American. You were a
slave. You could not vote if you were a Native American. You
were heathens. You could not vote if you did not own land
because you were riff-raff. So only 4% of the people were even
allowed to vote in that first presidential election.
So it's not the founders and the writers of our documents of
democracy?the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Declaration
of Independence?that we celebrate. Rather, it is ordinary folks
like you right here in Grand Junction and all the areas of the
Western Slope that have dared to challenge authority, to
challenge injustice over the years, and make possible greater
levels of democracy. I'm talking about the pamphleteers and the
Sons of Liberty, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, the
abolitionists and the suffragists, Henry David Thoreau and John
Muir, the populists, the labor movement, Mother Jones and
Woody Guthrie, Rachel Carson and Karen Silkwood, Martin
Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. And now it's down to us
again to be the agitators. And when the powers that be come at
you and say, ?You're just an agitator,? you say right back to
them, ?That's right. The agitator is that center post in the
washing machine that gets the dirt out.? We could use a whole
lot more of that, couldn't we?
It's never easy, of course, to confront power in any form.
You get to feeling somewhat sometimes like that guy B.B. King
sings about in the song that says, ?Nobody likes you but your
mama, and she might be jivin' you too.? It's not easy but it is
essential to have people constantly confronting power. G?nter
Grass, the Nobel Prize winner, once said, ?The first job of a
citizen is to keep your mouth open.? It helps, of course, if that
mouth is attached to a brain. And that's the importance of you in
this organization, in reaching out to people, in giving them the
information and the training and the skills that they need to be
the brain to attach to the agitation, putting organization to
agitation. Agitation without organization is just frustration. But
with organization, agitation becomes success. We need your
agitating spirit more than ever before, pushing harder than ever
George Bernard Shaw about a hundred years ago said,
?You don't make progress by standing on guard but by attacking
and getting well hammered yourself.? The fact that I used to be
6 foot 5 will give you some idea of some of the fights that I've
been in. But my message here is that it is not enough for us
these days, these particular days, 2005, 2006, and on in the next
few years, to be progressive. We have been passively
progressive for a long time. We've got to become aggressive
again, because the powers that be are now radically regressive,
running roughshod over working families and family farmers,
running roughshod over old folks as well as children, roughshod
over our air, our water, our food, roughshod over our very
sovereignty, our right to be a self-governing people.
Think back, if you will, to 1980, the founding of the
Western Colorado Congress. We had just come through the
Nixon years. We were then at the cusp of the Reagan years,
James Watt in charge of our environmental policy. And you
might remember back then thinking, Well, at least it can't get
any worse than this. So here we are, gathered in Grand Junction
in open defiance of King George the W and his autocratic,
plutocratic, corporacratic regime of thieves. These are people
who never met a natural resource that they would not clear-cut,
stripe-mine, drill in, or piss on.
Think about it. In only four years in office they have
looted our public treasury of hundreds of billions of dollars for
no more noble purpose than to give it away to their wealthiest
campaign contributors. They have defoliated our environmental
and safety protections in this country, they've shredded our
Constitution and Bill of Rights, they're out to castrate labor
unions, they're seeking to privatize everything from Social
Security to the military. And now we're in a maniacal,
messianic, testosterone-driven global war to make the world
safe for Halliburton. Four years. They say that in sex using a
feather is erotic, but using the whole chicken, that's kinky.
These people are using the whole chicken. They have been
intently, audaciously, voraciously, and gleefully pushing
America down a deep, dark, dangerous hole of right-wing
I've been watching these folks for nine years now, five as
our governor in the state of Texas and then, of course, in the
White House, and I've come to this scientific and academic
conclusion: These people are nuts, just absolutely bull-goose,
loopy zealots. Their attitude could be summed up?I use this in
my latest book. It's a story about a small island out in the
Pacific, and the U.S. Navy wanted to use this small island for
target practice. It was uninhabited by human beings but was a
habitat for various migratory birds, indeed protected by the
Migratory Bird Treaty. Yet Navy lawyers representing the Bush
administration argued before a federal judge, that although the
shelling of this island would certainly kill the bulk of these
birds, it would not totally eliminate these species. And this
might be a better thing, because ?in some respects bird watchers
get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a
common one.? You can't make stuff like this up. My friend Bill
Moyers said it well. He said, ?The delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe to sit at the seat of
Something fundamental is going on these days. I had a guy
come up to me in Austin, Texas, where I live. I was at an art
gallery thing, and some of his stuff was on display. He
recognized me and came over, and he said, ?They're changing
America, aren't they?? I said, ?Yes, they are. They're changing
America.? What's at work in this cabal of ignorance and
arrogance between the White House and Wall Street is the
undoing of something that is essential to America, essential to
our society, and that is the notion of the common good, the idea
that we're all in this together. This is the glue that holds this big,
brawling, sprawling, diverse, dispersed bunch of people, 280
million of us, together, the idea that we're all in this together.
I wrote about it in an earlier book. I had a chapter called
?Daddy's Philosophy.? You have to beware of Texans telling
daddy stories, but I had a pretty good one. My old daddy in
Denison, Texas, came out of the Depression, off a hard-scrabble
farm, a tenant farm. His mother told him, ?Get off the farm, boy.
There is nothing here for you.? He managed to find his way to
Denison and to work and start a small business with my mother
there that supported my family, my two brothers and myself, in
a very wonderful upbringing in that town. But he never felt he
did that by himself. He knew that there was a larger community
that he was a part of, and he knew about the New Deal that
made it possible for ordinary people to have a middle-class
opportunity to rise up.
And he expressed his philosophy to me. He did not know
he had a philosophy. He would have been embarrassed to have
been told he did have one. But it's about as good a one as I've
ever heard in all my travels. His philosophy was expressed to
me at various times in these words. He said, ?Jim, everybody
does better when everybody does better.? That's what passes for
a philosophy in Denison, Texas. And I think it works for us
But they, the Bushites and the Wall Street powers, are
displacing this uniting, egalitarian ethic with a new, pernicious
ethic of greed that says, I got mine, you get yours; never give a
sucker an even break; caveat emptor; I'm rich and you're not;
adios, chump. That?s pretty much what they're saying to us. So I
think it's time that we, the broad, progressive, independent
community in this country, the majority, face a reality, and that
is, we are in a war not in Iraq but here at home - a war between
the moneyed elites and the rest of us. It's not merely a fight over
environmental exploitation, wealth distribution, any of the other
myriad issues that we all care a lot about and are involved in.
Those issues absorb us, but there is something enveloping about
all of what's happening to us, and that's a historic war over
America's values. We?re in a battle over what kind of a country
we're going to be, what kind of a society, what kind of a
civilization we're going to have. Will it be one focused on the
pursuit of egalitarianism, which began with the founders, or one
dedicated to the pursuit of individual greed? All of our issues
come down to this war of values.
And you express it well in this annual meeting here with
your theme of challenging injustice, because that's what
America's founding was really about, the founders' vision of the
general welfare, the common good, the pursuit of happiness.
Benjamin Franklin wrote about it. He said, ?America's destiny is
not power but light.? Light. And the light he was talking about
were the founding values of economic fairness, social justice,
equal opportunity for all people. They didn't practice it then
and we haven't reached it yet. But we've been striving for that
light for 225-odd years. That's what makes America important,
those values. Of course, I think our problem now is we've got
too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets in terms of
leaders. And as a result of their dimness, we've got a darkness
descending across our land.
Challenge injustice. You want injustice? You encounter it
every day in environmental policy. Pollution, after all, tends to
be a class issue. Follow the toxic fumes. If it spews, burbles,
oozes, blasts, emits, gushes, radiates, or otherwise does
something unpleasant, dangerous, or deadly, chances are it's
located in a working-class, rural, minority, or low-income
neighborhood or all of the above. If you're poor, your chances of
living next door to Mr. Toxic are quite good. If you're rich, your
chances are zero.
I've been around the country over the last few years trying
to get a simple rule adopted. I don't think we need all of our
environmental laws and regulations, etc. I think if we had one
rule?I call it the 100-Yard Rule?that we would be okay. And
that rule would be that any corporation can establish any sort of
polluting facility, toxic waste dump, anything they want, as long
as their executives and boards of directors live within 100 yards
of that particular facility. I believe they would clean it up.
You want injustice? Oil corporations are wallowing in
unprecedented windfall profits right now, and the CEOs of those
corporations are porking up on multimillion pay packages with
bonuses and stock options and platinum retirement plans. At the
same time, they're trying to take back the health care benefits,
knock down the wages, and bust the unions of their workers.
Some of these CEOs are getting so rich they can afford to aircondition
hell. And I'll tell you what, they'd better be setting
some money aside for that project, I think.
You want injustice? Look at America's minimum wage.
$5.15 an hour. This is our income floor. This is what we
established as an ethical barrier: we say we will not allow
American workers to be paid less than $5.15 an hour. It's been
stuck there since 1997. That's $10,500 a year gross, in both
meanings of that term. Yet Congress and the White House
continue to refuse even to discuss raising it. In fact, they said no
to it again this February.
But our Congress critters have given a big raise to one
important group of workers?themselves. In July of this year,
for the seventh time in seven years, Congress raised its own pay
again, to a total of $165,000 a year. Luckily, we had Tom
DeLay to explain this to us. The indicted majority leader of the
Congress said, ?It's not a pay raise, it's an adjustment.? The total
adjustment in the last seven years has been $32,000. That's three
times what a minimum wage worker would get working fulltime.
They've adjusted their pay. But DeLay says it's needed
because members of Congress should not lose their purchasing
power. And then he said, ?I challenge anyone to live on my
salary.? You look at a guy like DeLay and you think, 100,000
sperm, and you were the fastest? It really does not seem
You want injustice? Look at New Orleans and the Gulf
Coast. If you want to know what George W.'s grandiose,
laissez-faire, neocon, ownership society is going to look like,
there it was. The theory of the ownership society is that
everything public must be privatized, freeing people to get rich.
Everyone owns their own fate, don't you see? Everyone is on
their own. And in New Orleans they were. Step right up if you
want to own a casket, seems to be their message.
You want injustice? George W. is darting around the
country like a sand flea on steroids telling us that his Iraq attack
is a noble cause, that continuing the war is essential to
America's national security, and that it is worth the sacrifice that
we are making. Do we look like we have sucker wrappers
around our heads? We? Note that the Bush twins, Jenna and
Barbara, who are of primo enlistment age, are making no
sacrifice whatever. If the cause is so noble and so essential, why
are they not in daddy's war? And notice, too, that the eight
nieces and nephews of George W., who are of prime enlistment
age, instead of going to Baghdad and Basra, are going to bars
and ballgames. They're making no sacrifice. The Pentagon says
it's having a hard time recruiting new soldiers. Well, I just
named ten members of Bush's immediate family who would
make damned good prospects, it seems to me. Why don't they
go knock at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if they're really looking
Some say we've got to have a national draft, that that's the
only way for fairness. I think we need another of those rules.
This one I call the Leaders First Rule. All politicians who
support a shooting war will automatically have their family
drafted to be first in the line of fire. Is that fair?
There is a technical term for what Washington and Wall
Street are doing to us. The economists use this term. It's called
stealing. Faster than a hog eats supper they're stealing from us.
Remember that song that Woody Guthrie had back during the
Depression, about Pretty Boy Floyd, the outlaw, a story over
here in Oklahoma. There is a verse in it that says, ?Through this
world I travel/I see lots of funny men./Some will rob you with a
six-gun,/and some with a fountain pen.? It's the fountain pens
who are doing the serious stealing in our society today. Yet
these are the people who say that they represent the moral
values in politics. They loudly shout their Christian faith.
George W. bears his Christianity like a radiant cloak,
particularly at election time. Wait a minute, now. George W.
says he's a Methodist. I grew up in a Methodist church, the
Waples Memorial Methodist Church in Dennison, Texas, and I
never heard a preacher say a word about gay marriage in that
church. But I do recall Jesus's words in Matthew 19:24: ?It is
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a
rich man to enter the kingdom of God.? I recall that the greatest
sin of them all, according to the Apostle Paul, the root of all
evil, is the love of money. I recall Sunday school teachers as
well as preachers telling again and again the story of the time
that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. They
were charging a whole lot less interest, by the way, than we're
now charged on our MasterCard and Visa.
I recall Mary's psalm in Luke 1:52: ?He hath put down the
mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree. He hath
filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent
empty away.? I recall, too, that Jesus fed all the masses that day
at the Sea of Galilee, not just those who drove up in Hummers
and had Platinum cards. He fed everybody that day. I recall the
rich man who would not give even the crumbs off of his table to
the beggar Lazarus. And I recall that Jesus flatly said, ?You
cannot serve both God and Mammon.? And, in fact, in the Good
Book Jesus talks more about economic justice than any other
single topic. The most important ethical, religious test in the
Judeo-Christian experience is how we treat the least wealthy,
the least important among us. That's Christianity.
And if the right-wing Bible thumpers want to really find a
conundrum, how about this? If you take the word Presbyterians
and rearrange the letters, it spells Britney Spears. What are we
to do? Yet they use Christianity, they use the war, they use
terrorism to shout down, intimidate, hush up anyone who
dissents. Here's a little tidbit. The founder of the International
Hummer Owners? Group?any members here tonight??said,
?Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed deface the
American flag and what it stands for.?
It's all an unprincipled effort to trivialize protest, to
minimize opposition, to say to dissenters, Be quiet. Be quiet?
Holy Thomas Paine Since when do freedom-fighting Americans
cower in quietude? If you don't speak out when it matters, when
would it ever matter that you would speak out? This is the time.
Mark Twain said it well. ?Loyalty to the country always.
Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.? A very different
thing. Be quiet? We have no right to be quiet. Too many
democracy fighters before you and me fought, bled, and died to
make it possible for us to be quite noisy. If we stay quiet,
freedom and justice lose, plutocracy and autocracy win. The
opposite of courage is not cowardice. The opposite of courage is
conformity, just going along. Even a dead fish can go with the
Now for the good news. People all across this country, red
states as well as blue states, are on to the powers that be. People
know that things are going wrong. The latest poll just came out.
The number of people thinking that America is headed in the
right direction is now 29%, the lowest it has been in memory,
29%. I saw a bumper sticker in Austin a couple of years ago on
the back of an old, beat-up pickup truck, which is actually kind
of redundant, beat-up pickup truck. This bumper sticker said,
?Where are we going and what am I doing in this handbasket??
People know. They've got a sense of it. They don't know the
details of it, they don't necessarily know what to do about it, but
they know that we've been led down some rabbit trail off of
America's true path, which is that path toward egalitarianism:
we're all in this together, the common good matters.
I'm a lucky duck in that I travel a whole lot. I've been just
about every place that's got a ZIP code. And I can tell you that
in every one of those places there is somebody or some group of
somebodies or some coalition of groups of somebodies who are
fighting back against this economic and political exclusion that
they're trying to hang around our necks. The people of this
country are revolting, in the very best sense of that term. They're
lighting little prairie fires of rebellion. People are not sitting
around waiting on Tom DeLay to pass a minimum wage.
They're passing living wage ordinances. More than
communities in America have already passed this, big cities and
a few states have done the same?7.50, 9.50, 11.50 an hour with
health care benefits, indexed to inflation in some cases?saying,
We're not going to let our wage floor be sunk down to a poverty
level. We're going to create one that lifts people up into the
middle class, gives them real opportunity.
I see communities all across America taking on the Beast
of Bentonville, Wal-Mart. It comes into our towns, knocks out
small business, and pays an average of less than $15,000-a-year
wage, no health care benefits for two-thirds of their employees,
50% turnover a year in Wal-Mart, all of Wal-Mart, 50%
turnover in staff. The largest class-action suit ever filed for
sexual discrimination in the history of the United States is filed
now against Wal-Mart. More than a million women are part of
that suit. Yet the people say, ?But you can't beat Wal-Mart. It's
too powerful, too politically connected. We can't beat Wal-Mart.?
I've got a two-page spread in my Thieves in High Places
book of the 180 communities that have not just confronted Wal-
Mart but defeated Wal-Mart, prevented it from coming into their
towns because they're saying, We're not going to have our town
taken over. They're asking the exact right question: Whose town
is it? Does it belong to us or some billionaires out of
Bentonville, Arkansas? Who the hell elected them? We get to
decide what kind of town it's going to be. I see folks taking on
the corrupt corporate money in politics to prevent public
financing of their elections. Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont,
Arizona, they've already passed it. Two other states have done it
partially: New Mexico for public utility elections and North
Carolina for their judicial elections.
The result is more people participating in politics, more
incumbents being defeated, more contested races. In Maine,
they've now had two cycles with their public financing program,
and the result is one-half of their house of representatives and
two-thirds of their state senate have been elected without taking
a dime in corporate money. It completely changes politics when
that kind of change takes place. By the way, this is something
you can do. You do not have to wait for Washington to pass
campaign finance reform, you do not have to wait for your state
to do it. You can do it right here in Grand Junction. You can do
it in the county, the school district, you can do it wherever you
want to do it. You have the power to impose a public-financing
alternative to the receiving of corporate money. It works.
I see people taking on the war, Cindy Sheehan standing up,
one person making a stand at the Crawford ranchette down there
this summer and inspiring the peace movement. I was there
about two or three weeks ago in Washington when we had a
huge rally. It didn't get any media, but 300,000 people were on
the streets that day. Labor unions with kids and old folks
together. It was a terrific, terrific rally. It's on the move. It can't
be stopped. It's building. Many of you, as I, went through the
Vietnam War experience. We're so far ahead of the peace
movement today than we were back then in that war. We're
building. We have power, we have strength. And what I find is
that people want bold ideas, truly bold ideas that are grounded
in those values of fairness, justice, and opportunity.
For example, what an opportunity we were given on 9/11
and what an opportunity we were now given more recently with
Katrina to push a program for energy independence for
America. We could have said to the people, if we had a
Democratic Party willing to stand up and say something?I
come to you as a Democrat?we could have said to the people,
We're going to launch a ten-year moonshot-style program for
energy independence in America. We're going to take those
machinists that Boeing Aircraft says it doesn't need because it's
going to go to China to make its airplanes, and we'll have them
build a high-speed train system all across the country linking
our population centers. And we will take all of the backyard
inventors and all of the entrepreneurs, and we will turn them
loose. And all of the sheetmetal workers, etc. to retrofit every
building in America for conservation purposes. Every building.
This building, your home, your offices, your factories, schools.
Every building in America retrofitted for conservation purposes,
training people, millions of people, local people for new jobs,
good wages in the process. Then we will take our very best
scientists and lock them in a room and not let them out until
they solve the few remaining technological problems with solar
energy and when and all that to make mass production feasible.
And at the end of that ten-year period we will not need a
drop of Iraqi oil or Saudi oil or Kuwaiti oil or Alaskan Wildlife
Refuge oil or coastal water oil. We will not need a drop of any
oil. Moreover, we will never send our children to fight an oil
war anywhere in the world again. That would be a powerful
What an exciting thing that would be. That would have
enlisted the American people. Better than a moonshot. We just
watched that thing go off. Some people say it never happened; it
was just a set in Arkansas, that's all it was. This, we would be a
part of it, all of our communities would be involved in it, and it
would generate long-term jobs, economic growth at the grass
roots level. There is a group proposing this now called the
Apollo Alliance, modeled on the Apollo moonshot program.
The Apollo Alliance, ApolloAlliance.org. Check it out. A
We had another opportunity with Katrina. Not with the
hurricane, not with Bush's inept and callous nonresponse, but
the recovery. There were really three Katrinas: the storm, the
nonresponse, and the so-called recovery. The recovery may be
the greatest disaster of them all, because they're out to turn The
Big Easy into the big ersatz, build a sort of Disneyfied, upscale,
corporatized theme park there in which there will be no room
for the people who actually make New Orleans an interesting
place to be. Instead of that, what a Rooseveltian opportunity, to
come in there and invest in local people, saying, ?Come home.
We've got jobs, we?re going to organize all the unions here, that
are going to train you to do what's got to be done, to do the
heavy lifting, and not only clean this place up but indeed make it
better than other. But, more importantly, you're going to design
what the better than ever is. We're going to form a community
council and you're going to direct your own recovery here.?
How dramatic. That would enlist young people as well into it,
plus, of course, the environmental opportunity not only to
restore and protect what few wetlands there are but to restore the
ones that have been destroyed through stupid development
policies, and institute policies of using less toxics and cleaning
up the storage facilities that are down there in that toxic
cesspool of an area, that is beneath sea level, as we know.
There is a massive grass roots movement?that's what I'm
here to tell you?that is steadily building. You're a part of it. It's
thoroughly progressive and it's aggressive. People are ready for
a new politics?fairness, justice, opportunity for everybody.
And I know some of you are looking at me and saying,
?Really, Hightower, are you just dumber than a dust bunny? Did
you not notice that unpleasantness of last November? Did the
people not choose George W.? Is he not now strutting around
with a Viagra-sized smirk on his face saying, ?I've got a
mandate??? Well, I did come out of that election with mixed
emotions. They say mixed emotions are when you see your 16-
year-old daughter come home from the prom with a Gideon
Bible under her arm.
But let's look at that election. First of all, we did not lose,
John Kerry lost. But he was always the least of it. Let's admit it,
he's heavy lifting. I worked hard in that campaign. He could not
connect with working people if we put him on a street corner
handing out free Budweiser and Slim Jims. But despite that we
got 55 million people to vote for him, more people than had ever
voted for a presidential candidate in the history of the United
States, with the exception of George W. Bush, who got a few
votes more. We increased our totals dramatically, particularly
among young people. A twenty-five percent increase in the
turnout of young people in that election. That was not done
because of the Kerry campaign or the Democratic Party or TV
ads. It was done because the young people organized
themselves. And those 55 million votes were all generated not
from the establishment but from grass roots actions,
MoveOn.org,, True Majority, Progressive Majority, The League
of Conservation Voters, The League of Women Voters, the
League of Pissed Off Voters. I don?t know if you?ve ever heard
about that one. That's a group of young people. They actually
exist. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds were in charge of it, and they
ran this program. They ran themselves for local offices, for
water boards and school boards, that sort of thing, and elected
about a third of them that ran in that election. None of this is
going away. Everybody is still out there, still pushing, still
organizing. We gained skills, we gained talent, we gained votes,
we gained new candidates. We're on the move. It's only going to
get better for us.
But, secondly, Bush did not win in the sense of getting any
kind of a mandate for sure. His actual vote total, he got 31% of
the eligible voters in America. That's who voted for him, 31%.
Kerry got 29%. Forty percent of the eligible voters still did not
vote. They didn't hear a message from either candidate that
appealed to them. Thirty-one percent is to a mandate what near
beer is to beer, only maybe not so close, as Bush has now found
out, because since that election, with his war proving to be
disastrous, with his Social Security privatization tour, and now
with Katrina, Bush's numbers are in the ditch. He's below what
Richard Nixon was during Watergate. If he drops one more
percentage point, he's going to be beneath mad cow disease in
So my point here is that it is not a question of what the
Bushites are going to do. We know what they're going to do.
They'll do what they've always done. George W. is an absolute
corporate wet dream. Any fantasy that a CEO has can come true
by putting money into his campaign coffers. I know he struts
around like he's supposed to be the cowboy president. That's
what the White House puts out. He's got that ranch over there in
Crawford. He's got 1600 scrub acres over there in an area that's
farm country, it's not ranch country at all. But nonetheless he's
got 1600 acres. He's got a 2500-square-feet ranch sort of
looking house and he's got those cattle in the background. But
wait a minute. Those aren't his cattle. He owns no cattle. George
W. declares no income or loss on his income taxes from any
agricultural operation. The cattle belong to the family that sold
the ranch to him in 1999, when he and Karl Rove decided he
needed a rancher image to be able to run for president. He owns
no cattle whatsoever. He does strut around in that hat. It's got to
be a $1,000 hat. He probably bought it at Nieman Marcus. But
there is a $1,000 hat on a 10-cent head if I ever saw one. This
guy is no rancher at all. He is what he is: he's a corporate wet
So the issue is not who they're going to be, it's what we're
going to be, what are we going to do. And too many on our
side?I'm not talking about the people in this room, but you
know them?too many on our side get to be defeatist. ?Well, we
lost the election.? And they drown their sorrows in a glass of
wine. ?Oh, woe is us. We cannot possibly win. They've got all
the money. The media loves them. We can't win.? Get a grip.
That's not us. We're actually on the move. This is a big time in
America. That's really what I'm saying to you, back to that
original point. It's a big time for us. It's about the values, what
kind of country we're going to have.
I was up in Vermont a couple of years ago now and a guy
came up wearing a political button. It was the best one I've ever
seen. It said, ?Wearing a Button Is Not Enough.? It's not going
to get it done. We cannot be a nation of button wearers. I believe
we're in another of those when-in-the-course-of- human-events
moments that Thomas Jefferson wrote about. They're stealing
our country from us. They're stealing what makes America
America from us, displacing our democracy with their
plutocracy. Sam Adams said it well. Sam Adams said, ?If ever a
time should come when vain and aspiring men shall possess the
highest seats of government, our country will stand in need of
its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.? That's us, that's
today. We're in that moment.
So, first of all, I say to you, just recognize your power that
you've organized so efficiently through this organization.
Extend it, extend it and reach out, forge coalitions. The powers
that be, of course, try to divide us. Oh, farmers don't be talking
to labor. Oh, labor, don't be talking to environmentalists.
Environmentalists, don't be talking to poor people. Right on
down the line. Jesse Jackson said it well, ?We might not all have
come over on the same boat, but we're in the same boat now.?
That's a powerful political reality. We are natural allies, and
we've got to have not just the bean-sprout eaters but those snuff
dippers who are out there, too. And more often than not they're
on our side. And to that point let me just say, do not discredit
the Evangelicals in this country. Four out of five of them who
voted in the last election, purportedly voted, for George W. Yet
the Evangelicals cannot be taken for granted by the
Republicans. They have earlier this year issued an Evangelical
Call to Civic Responsibility, calling for Evangelicals to address
racial injustice, poverty, human rights, environmentalism, and
peace. ?Evangelicals have sometimes been accused of having a
one- or two-item political agenda,? said one of the organizers.
He's president of the Evangelicals for Social Action. ?This
document makes it very clear that a vast body of Evangelicals
today reject a one-issue approach.? ?The litmus test is the
Gospel,? said another leader, ?the whole of it.? And that's the
Gospel I was talking about a while ago, with Jesus talking.
They take on environmentalism. Indeed, they formed the
Evangelical Environmental Network. They don't like to call it
environmentalism; they call it creation care. Why do we care
what they call it? It is same thing. ?The environment is a values
issue,? said the Reverend Ted Haggard. He is president of the
National Association of Evangelicals, 30 million members in
that organization. He was an originator of this Call to Civic
Responsibility, emphasizing that it is every Christian's duty to
care for the planet and the role of government in safeguarding a
sustainable environment. This was signed by James Dobson,
Chuck Colson, people like this. They say of global warming,
Christians should make it clear to governments and businesses
that we are willing to adapt our lifestyles and support steps
toward changes that protect our environment. Another one of
the organizers says, I don't think God is going to ask us how he
created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he
We've got allies in places we might not be looking. We
don't have to go to church with them, but we might want to be at
the caf? when they come out of that church and sit with them
and talk about what it is we have in common. I know a lot of
people say, ?The progressives are too many diverse people. We
can't get us get us all together. It's kind of like trying to herd cats
to get the movement going.? Anyone who says you cannot herd
cats never heard of a can opener. You can bring them to you.
They will come. And our can opener is those values of fairness,
justice, opportunity for all people.
The final thing I would say is, do what you're doing and
spread this to the other organizations that you're a part of. That
is, commit to the long haul. This is a long-term battle. We're not
going to win the first time out. Some of you gray heads, along
with me, we might not even get there. Most movements didn't,
the leaders. The suffrage movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
and the ones that organized that, none of them ever lived to
vote, but they created that possibility, they made it possible. My
friend Willy Nelson said it to me like this: he said, ?Hightower,
the early bird might get the worm, but it's the second mouse that
gets the cheese.? So take that long-term approach. Your boldest
ideas. Forge those coalitions, reach out there, and keep on doing
what you're doing. Mainly, trust the people. We live in a
remarkably progressive country, but it's got to be tapped into.
They're not given much opportunity to act on their progressive
impulses. Thank you very much. Thanks for what you're doing.
Proud to be with you.
Questions, comments, observations?
Do you have any ideas or any comments you could make about
the voting machines?
Yes, I do. I call it faith-based voting to use those machines. And
of course, obviously, we have to have a paper trail, auditable
paper trail, to every voting machine that we use. There is
legislation in the Congress to do that. California is already
requiring it in this next year's elections. Nevada did it for last
year. Maine has done it. It is coming. But keep pushing. Push it
in your state. You don't have to wait on Congress to do it. Insist
on it in your local community, that Diebold and the rest of these
things cannot come in here. Because they're nothing but ATM
machines, where you get a receipt. It's not like the technology is
anything difficult. The technology is available right now.
Is Pat Robertson helping or hurting our country?
Well, he's helping our side. Mama Bush, of course, I think her
pearls are a little too tight. You need to loosen her up there
somehow. The more they make these just absolutely idiotic
statements, it's just marvelous.
How to convert the inconvertible? I think with those folks
you do the best you can. But don't waste your time on people
who don't seem to have any likely prospect, because there are
masses of people who do have enormous prospects for you. And
have those conversations in the workplace, at your coffee
klatches, instead of at the caf? having small talk, make one day
a week to have big talk. ?What is this thing called CAFTA? Any
of you all know what that is?? Get into some topics. In the
grocery line talk to people. You're stuck. Have a conversation.
Alternative media is what the pamphleteers were at the founding
of this country. Alternative media is what the populists created
in the 1870s and 1880s when the establishment media locked
them out. They created their own magazines, a national
magazine. They created the first wire service, like AP and UPI.
They had a speakers' bureau with 40,000 members in it. They
had national, regional, state, and local lecturers, they called
them. On any given night 40,000 people could go out and give
the speech. It didn't have to all be high-tech. They found their
way around that media blockage.
That's what alternative media offers us today. We are not
without on the progressive side a powerful media. The
independent radio stations, the independent newspapers, the
weeklies, the MoveOn.org's, Public Citizen and Common
Cause. SEIU, and some of the other unions that really focus on
the Web. And then little things like my newsletter has got
125,000 subscribers, the biggest political newsletter in America
now. And just other outlets that we have. If there is not one
working for you in your community, then make one. That is the
American spirit, basically. That's how we have gotten around
media blockages in the past and what we must do today. People
say, ?Our little radio station, it's too little. It's not ABC Disney.?
Well, no, but it's part of a network of radio stations across
America that reaches millions of people every single day with a
very powerful message, and with the news you're not going to
get on ABC Disney. So we've got to take care of what we have
and try to expand it.
Where is the next group of national leaders?
You're the leaders. If we keep waiting on somebody to ride in
on some big white steed or something, then we're going to be
waiting at our deathbed. Where is that leader? We have to create
them ourselves. That's always the way it's been. You're not
going to read about it in The New York Times, you're not going
to see it on the news shows. But it's happening all across
America. There are so many progressive things that are taking
place and people that are coming up. We have to channel a bit
more of that energy now, I think, into elective political office, to
grow them, at the first getting elected?I care as much about
who is going to be state representative as I do about who is
going to be our presidential candidate next time, because that's
where you really build a movement, from the ground up.
Our Congress critters have no courage and no sense of
reality. The Democratic congressional leaders are locked in
Washington under the delusion that somehow or other they're a
part of the government, which is obviously not the case. It's
beltway-itis. And that's why what's important that's happening
that America in the Democratic Party and outside of the
Democratic Party is at the grass roots level. It's not coming from
big institutions that have been the leaders in the past. We can?t
wait on the leaders, because they're not leading. And so some
people say, ?We need a third party.? I wish we had a second
one. I want it to be mine. But that's why we have to keep
pushing. Having said that, we do have Raul Grijalva from down
here in Tucson, Arizona, we have Lynn Woolsey from
Massachusetts, we've got Russ Feingold from Wisconsin. We
have a number of people who are standing up on the war issue
and did march with Cindy Sheehan in the Washington march.
So we've got to build on what we have.
I'll just leave you with this thought. It's amusing to kick it
around and fun, over beers and stuff, to talk about who ought to
be the nominee, and that is an exercise worth playing with. But
really it's more important. Right at the grass roots level where
you are, elect your mayors and city council and state
representatives, and then to Congress. And move it up, move it
up. You don't create politics from trickle-down but by percolateup
at the grass roots. That's the importance of Western Colorado
Congress. Keep it going. Thank you very much.
For more information ?
Other AR programs ?
Cindy Sheehan ? Not One More Mother?s Child
Scott Ritter - Iraq Confidential
Zia Mian - The Project for a New American Century
Kenneth Roth - Human Rights & the War on Terrorism
Jodie Evans - Code Pink: Stories from the Anti-War Movement
Robert Fisk - War, Journalism & the Middle East
Norman Solomon - War Made Easy
Noam Chomsky - Washington's Messianic Mission
Jonathan Kozol - Education: The Shame of the Nation
George Galloway - Roots of Terrorism
Thomas Frank - What's the Matter with Kansas?
Arundhati Roy ? The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile
John Bonifaz - The Case for Impeaching Bush
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