BuzzFlash Interviews Jim Hightower
March 20, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY JIM HIGHTOWER ABOUT THE ROLLING THUNDER DOWN HOME DEMOCRACY TOUR
Jim Hightower is a down home-progressive-populist Texan, which makes him the Lone Star State opposite of George W. Bush. Hightower is a radio commentator, columnist and legendary champion of the working class heroes and farmers of America.
"Reading Jim Hightower is like scratching where it itches. Fella goes right through all the twaddle and the bull that passes for political debate in Washington like a dose of salts. Hightower is pure populist, all wool and a yard wide. He takes on the real power in this country-corporate money. He slams corporate corruption of Congress, corporate polluters, corporate media, corporate welfare and the gooberheads that get along with them. But he's not just a get-mad guy; he's a fight-back and get-even guy. And besides that, he's funnier than the Texas Legislature and writes like a dream." -- Molly Ivins
BuzzFlash.com interviewed Hightower this week about his latest undertaking, the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour (http://www.rollingthundertour.org)
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BUZZFLASH: This Saturday, March 23rd, you are kicking off the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour in Austin, Texas. What is the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, our slogan is "Put the party back in politics." We think that it's time that progressives, at a grassroots level, begin to act more like a movement, and get to know each other to start with. So this is an effort to try to help grassroots groups strengthen their coalition efforts so that the whole of our efforts might be stronger than our separate parts. But, in addition to having a democracy fest (sort of a county fair of democracy with speeches and training sessions and workshops), we also want to see if we can't have some fun by having the very best music that we can surround ourselves with; have wonderful food and the lubricating power of beer and wine; and have stuff for kids. Bring the whole family. Rub up against each other, and see if we can't get to know each other better and begin to put a little "progress" back in progressive.
BUZZFLASH: How many cities do you anticipate the tour will stop in?
JIM HIGHTOWER: It's ongoing. We're starting with about six, though we have a number of other cities that have learned about it, and are asking now to be a part of the tour. We'll just keep on rolling down the road to any city that wants to do it, and we'll even keep coming back to the various cities. Democracy is not something that happens, you know, just at election time, and it's not something that happens just with one event. It's an ongoing building process. But it also ought to be a part of our culture, a part of our lives.
BUZZFLASH: And if a person - a BuzzFlash Reader - who's interested in having you come to his or her city wants to tender an offer to you, they should go to RollingThunderTour.org and contact you.
JIM HIGHTOWER: That's the perfect way to do it. And, you know, as I say, we're already in several cities coming up. We're kicking off in Austin, then we go to Atlanta and Chicago and, among the other stops we're anticipating this year, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Wisconsin, Seattle, Oakland, and possibly Washington, D.C. And then there are groups in Nashville, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New Orleans, Portland and New York State that also are planning for a Rolling Thunder visit.
BUZZFLASH: Now you mention on the site that this tour is patterned after Chautauqua. Can you explain a little of that history?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, it was a Methodist inspired enlightenment activity, after the Civil War, in which folks initially gathered around Lake Chautauqua in Chautauqua, New York, where they would hear great orators and performers. They would form glee clubs and put on plays. They would swim in the lake. They would camp there for a couple of weeks and have games, and generally improve their understanding of issues and culture, and have a good time. That caught on, so significantly, that within a short while there were a number of these Chautauqua tours that, in some cases, literally were on trains traveling on circuits around the country.
And by the early 1900's, the Chautauquas were reaching 35 million people a year, which was a pretty substantial democratic outreach. And this was all pre-television, pre-radio, so it was sort of a form of entertainment and enlightenment rolled into one. So we're trying to revive that spirit of going to the people with an event that is both civic and cultural. And getting people involved, not just in a high-tech fashion, as important as that is these days, but also in a high-touch fashion.
BUZZFLASH: Now you've been a longtime progressive and populist, and have been through the darkest times and times when things shone a little brighter for progressives and populists. And certainly now, BuzzFlash readers would say it's one of the darker times, due to a gentleman from your home state who happens to be residing in the White House. If someone attends the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour, how will they be able to leave with more optimism that they can have some impact on the issues that seem to be getting steamrolled nowadays?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, it's certainly true that there's a darkness in Washington, DC, thanks to the dim bulb that we have in office there. But the good news is that out in the countryside, just about every place that's got a zip code has somebody or some group of people battling the economic and political exclusion that Wall Street and Washington are shoving down our throats. There's enormous progressive activism and, more often than not, success at the grassroots level -- everything from living wage campaigns to efforts to finance our elections are having terrific success. Students Against Sweatshops, Student Coalitions Against Hunger and Homelessness -- just a few of the terrific organized efforts that are underway around our country.
So somebody showing up at one of these Chautauquas, first of all, is going to be pretty impressed, if not actually wowed, by the amount of activism that is going on in their own city, that they probably didn't even know about. And that is one of the reasons that I thought of this. One of the sparks of this Rolling Thunder idea was my experience of going into a city and finding that folks on one side of town were fighting one tentacle or another of the corporate beast and didn't know the people on the other side of town who were fighting another tentacle of the exact same beast. So there's all of these prairie fires of rebellion that are spreading across our country, often below the radar of the media and the political elite. But once you bring it together, and particularly in the festival format like we're going to be doing, it's actually pretty exciting. And people will get pumped up and see that they're not alone, and that, indeed, progress is possible in this country.
BUZZFLASH: BuzzFlash often gets accused from people who supported Ralph Nader of being anti-Nader and we get accused from people who supported Gore of being pro-Nader, which means we must be doing something right if we're getting blamed by both sides. I'm kind of hopeful that the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour is the kind of place that people could walk in without party labels and come out supporting ideas, and not get caught up with whether or not one is wearing a certain party hat or not.
JIM HIGHTOWER: That's absolutely our goal. You can attend and be a participant in planning and putting on entire Rolling Thunder events, no matter what party you belong to, or if you don't belong to any party. This is about progressives getting together. And instead of quibbling with each other, beginning to look up at the real powers that be, and organizing our progressive grassroots strength so we can more effectively take on the powers that be, on behalf of the powers that ought to be -- the ordinary workaday people of this country.
BUZZFLASH: I know you have a quotation on RollingThunderTour.org, which is what we would call very "BuzzFlashian": "For too long progressives have walked fearful of their shadows, whimpering and whining about what's wrong and fighting amongst themselves over crumbs. That time is over. It's time to sing and work and build a new community dedicated to hope and real change."
BuzzFlash heartily endorses that. It certainly seems that people who are on the progressive, left, liberal side - whatever one wants to say - spend a lot of time pointing fingers at each other. Whereas, the right is very solidified, organized and marches to their message of the day. We're to be commended on our side for being very democratic and open. But on the other hand, that often leaves us in disarray.
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, it does. The right-wing, of course, is a whole lot more regimented -- not anything we consider a virtue. But nonetheless, it is imperative that we find our common ground on the progressive side and focus on who's really doing the damage. And it's not each other. It is kind of like trying to hold frogs in a wheelbarrow to get our side going down the road together.
But as we've seen in local living wage campaigns and other grassroots efforts, when we do get in the wheelbarrow together, more often than not, we win. And there's a lesson there. And so these Rolling Thunder Chautauquas are an attempt to see if we can't get together and have a better understanding that we're all in this together and have common goals that transcend the little petty bickering.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me move to another subject. You've obviously lived through the Bush governorship and Bush's political career in Texas. Do you have anything to say to BuzzFlash readers about living through his presidency?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, George W. is, and truly always has been, an absolute corporate wet dream. Basically he is of, by, and for the corporate powers in our country, and now around the globe. The question is not who he's going to be, the question is who are we going to be? Are we going to organize an effective opposition?
There is, in my view, no excuse for him being president except that we did not have an organized, progressive, political grassroots, long-term effort that can appeal not only to card-carrying progressives, but to the Bubbas out there who are mostly on our side on the economic issues, the power issues, yet are not voting because they don't see our flag flying. And that's one thing that I'm hoping the Rolling Thunder Tour will accomplish, to raise our flag high and proud so that the working stiffs and family farmers, so that people -- just regular families that care about their air and water not being polluted -- can believe that there is a politics that seeks to involve them.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me ask you a question about the media in general. You obviously are a commentator yourself. You make use of the media both as a written commentator and, of course, on the radio. Many BuzzFlash Readers and readers of other Internet sites are very frustrated with the so-called mainstream media. What sort of hope can you hold out of breaking through that?
JIM HIGHTOWER: This is one of the tougher challenges that we face, but not a challenge that we face for the first time in our history. It generally is true that democratic movements, including the movement of 1776, the suffragist, the abolitionist, the populist labor movement, the civil rights movement and others . . . that people movements, tend to either be ignored or trivialized by the established media.
What's different today is that the media is so consolidated and increasingly monopolized by a handful of global corporate enterprises. So it makes it more difficult. But, as my mother used to tell me, two wrongs don't make a right. But I soon figured out that three left turns do. And that's the kind of savvy that is represented by BuzzFlash, by newsletters like my Hightower Lowdown, like community radio, like all kinds of other alternative sources of communication that are cropping up. And particularly among the younger people in our society who have grabbed onto the Internet for its democratic value and are being very creative in asserting that value.
While we face a major hurricane -- a major hurdle with razor wire strapped across the top of it in terms of "keep out of the corporate media" -- I do believe that the ingenuity, the street savvy, of the American people will prevail and find a way around these obstacles.
BUZZFLASH: Now you called the Rolling Thunder Tour the Down Home Democracy Tour, as we've mentioned. We're very interested that you've mentioned the word democracy many times. The right-wing is often successful in erroneously and maliciously stereotyping progressives as "unpatriotic." And yet we at BuzzFlash, like you, think of ourselves as being part of the pro-democracy movement. So can you just explain a little bit more on why the Rolling Thunder Tour is called a democracy tour?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, Ashcroft, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, and the rest of the Bush gang are not democrats at all -- they're autocrats, plutocratic autocrats who fear democracy. They are using the outrage and concern about terrorism as an excuse to clamp down on our democracy. So now is the time, more than ever, for those who truly value all the principles of democracy, especially including dissent, to be the most forceful in speaking up, standing up and speaking out. If you don't speak out now when it matters, when would it matter for you to speak out?
I think democracy is under attack in our country. I think it was under attack before September 11th, and now is under rather harsh attack. The good news, though, is that I find in my political travels that people, as regular citizens, are more interested than ever in getting together and having discussions. They want to hear about other viewpoints that differ entirely from what the administration is putting out.
There are the polls and the media -- and they are misrepresenting how the people actually feel. From reading them, you would guess that there's broad support for Bush as the wartime president. But if you probe, not deeply, but even just a fraction of a tenth of an inch into that support, you find that there is not support for the undermining of civil liberties, not support for the unended, unlimited war that the administration says will last the rest of our lifetimes. There's not support for militarizing our budget. There's not support for corporations looting the public treasury in the name of terrorism. There's not support for the majority of the things that the Bush-ites are doing.
BUZZFLASH: Jim, we wish you the best on the Rolling Thunder Tour. We encourage all BuzzFlash readers to attend when it comes to their city. And you can buy tickets online at RollingThunderTour.org. Is that right?
JIM HIGHTOWER: Indeed it is. We're coming to a place near you, if you'll have us.
BUZZFLASH: Great, Jim. And wonderful talking with you, and keep up your wonderful work.
JIM HIGHTOWER: And the same to BuzzFlash.
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For more information (including ticket purchase) on the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour, go to http://www.rollingthundertour.org
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