Jim Hightower Addresses Common Cause Supporters

I write about a lot of different things on my blog, psychology, politics, current events, technology, social networks, energy, the environment, media reform, education, global warming, and local activism; the list seems endless. So, it is great when I attend an event that provides an opportunity to tie many of these themes together, and the reception for Jim Hightower as he travels around the country promoting his new book, Swimming Against the Current provides a great opportunity.

We live in a society that worships the individual. It is part of the very fiber of our national character. Yet over the years, our schools, our media, our politicians have fought hard to thwart a key aspect of our individualism, the ability and willingness to question authority. Be a good individual, they tell us, as long as you go along with the flow, and don’t question our authority.

It starts in our schools. If you send out some emails urging parents to call up the school and ask the administration to justify a recent decision, it will get them upset. If you go home and write about it on a blog, call the upset administrators some choice words, and encourage other people to get them even more upset by questioning their authority, they will come down hard on you. They won’t challenge you on being a true American, showing your independence and questioning authority, they’ll attack you for doing something offensive, using choice words on your blog. They might not let you run again for class office, and you could end up with a freedom of speech case in the Federal courts.

If you try to run for office, the well moneyed donors will work hard to make sure that campaigns are not a level playing field. They’ll try to rig the system so that you need lots of money to run; money that comes from rich successful businessmen, and not from the public as a whole, because we all know that only rich successful businessmen know how to run a country. At least that’s what they’ll use the large corporately owned media outlets to try and convince us.

Jim Hightower has a different message. His book urges you to “question authority, trust your values, seek alternatives, break away, stand up for your beliefs, and swim against the current!” He provides examples of this. Last night, he talked about a single mother, working as a waitress in Maine. Because Maine has passed public financing of elections, this single mother has managed to run, and get elected to the Maine state legislature.

Personally, I think a woman who has to struggle to make ends meet might be much more effective at coming up with a budget, personally, and statewide than a rich successful businessman with plenty of disposable income. I think a woman who has to juggle work schedules with the schedules of her children as they try to get a quality education might be much more effective than a rich successful businessman whose schedule is carefully arranged for him in helping the state address issues of economic development, education and the environment.

Mr. Hightower talked about how her story is not an isolated story, it is the story of so many Americans who are trying to swim upstream. The corporate media doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about this; that might encourage more people to question authority. Yet the Internet is changing this. We can start sharing our stories. Jim Hightower is using the Internet to help this. On his website, he has a Storytelling Contest. It reminds me of the storytelling contests that are another piece of the fabric of American life. We’ve always told our stories around campfires, at bars, or gathered with friends in our living rooms. Now, we can use YouTube to share those stories, and the best stories will win “an autographed copy of Swim Against the Current and a gift certificate to their local greenmarket or Mom-n-Pop store.”

You see, Jim Hightower not only writes about the importance of individuals reaching out to other individuals and supporting them at locally owned stores, breweries and beyond, he lives and breathes it. Kim and I were fortunate enough to take him out for dinner after the reception. The waitress came around and took our drink orders. He asked what they had for a good local beer, and the waitress apologized that they didn’t have any local beers and he told her they really ought to. He talked with us about a great local beer he had had the other night. We talked about how local beers in reusable bottles are one of the most ‘green’ beers, or ‘low carbon’ beers you’ll ever find. It had been a long day, and Kim didn’t ask the waitress if she would be interested in running for State Representative.

What does all of this have to do with getting out of the hand basket? Well, Jim spoke about a bumper sticker he sees on beat up old pickup trucks in Austin, Texas. It says, “Where am I going, and why am I in this hand basket?” Well, anyone who has looked at the economy lately as well as what is going on internationally can probably make a good guess at where we are going. It seems like the only way to get out of the hand basket is to band together with people in groups like Common Cause, question authority, tell our stories, and have a good local beer. The only way to get out of the hand basket, is to swim up stream.

Even though there wasn’t a good local beer at the family owned restaurant we ate at with Jim Hightower, Kim and I were very fortunate to get a chance to spend some time with him, and I hope all of you get a similar chance as he travels around the country promoting both his latest book and great groups like Common Cause.

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