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Jim Hightower on the Rails


Andrew Rodman
- Jim, you travel widely. What kinds of inspirational things have you seen since the ones you recounted in your last book, Swim Against the Current?

Jim Hightower - I guess you can call it spontaneous combustion, of all different kinds of groups against the Supreme Court decision on corporate money in politics, and the desire to rebel against it. It’s clear that neither the Republicans or Democrats really want to do anything about it. More interesting are the grass roots people who are really angry about this. I saw a recent poll that said that four out of five Americans support a constitutional amendment to overturn the ability of corporations to use their treasuries in our politics.
There’s a tremendous opportunity here to do something about that, so I’ve been working with some folks in progressive media, and folks in the progressive grassroots organizing world to see if we might make a difference.

Rodman - Today, the streets in Cairo are erupting with the democratic movement. Incredibly inspiring.

Hightower - Can it happen here? That’s the thing.

Rodman - How much do you see consumer-driven movements helping with this “spontaneous combustion?”

Hightower - Oh, huge. With farmers and artisans, the restaurants, and the schools now are in open rebellion and have created a new populist food economy in America, in a very short time, really, 20 – 30 years, we’ve gone from organic being considered absurd, to a major segment of the food economy, and the one that the public supports. 

So we’re definitely going to continue in that direction, that’s one to expand, not by accident, but by diligent efforts and organizations like Oregon Tilth, and the others to link up in coalition with consumers, with the environmentalists, local neighborhood groups, labor, working families generally. So there’s such huge potential there for things that make sense, and nothing makes more sense than good food rather than industrialized and monopolized and corporatized food.

Rodman - I’ve been listening to your radio commentaries, and they’re very well researched. You must spend a lot of time tracking the issues to distill these 15-minute broadcasts. Quite the breadth of topics that you take on.

Hightower - Well it is a lot, but it all circles around those issues of corporate power and the issues of democracy. Who the hell’s gonna be in charge? Whether we’re going to take charge of our own economic and political destiny, or let the powers that be pretty well run us. In Egypt and Yemen and Tunisia and places that you never would have thought there would be democracy leaders in the world, they’re leaving us in the dust because we’re going as a nation in the opposite direction, in direct opposition to what the people want. We’ve got to find ways to connect, to link up, to form coalitions and build a genuine movement that can actually move. 

We’ve got to find ways to connect, to link up, to form coalitions and build a genuine movement that can actually move.

Right now we have the components of a movement. We have all kinds of issue groups and expertise, we’ve got trainers and we’ve got some good political people who can handle this, office holders, we’ve got some funders, and we’ve got media people – We’ve got tools. But uh, we’re not connected. We don’t work together, much less know each other.

Rodman - In this country, we feel like we’ve got too much to lose to challenge the system directly. In North Africa there’s more desperation, that, coupled with the new communication tools, are having big impact on the way things are playing out on the streets.

Hightower - I think that the more coalitions come together, and certainly with the social media and other ways of communicating, people are at least in touch. And we’ll see if, I think it’s going to be like any other place in the world that once the spark ignites, then the whole thing goes. We can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen.

Rodman - You must get a lot of inspiration from the people you’re reporting on, and find a lot of hope in that. In your community, what are the big issues on the ground?

Hightower - Well they’re pretty much the same as everywhere, the dual economy. Those at the top are doing extremely well and those near the top are doing fine, and but then there’s the middle class that is sinking and the poor folks that are expanding and falling deeper. So that’s huge. 

You get into education and opportunities for upward mobility, or even opportunities for middle class way of life being shut down. That to me is how we need to be organizing a rally, for those issues and those people. For one, we ought to be organizing the unemployed in the country, not only the officially 15 million or so who are unemployed, but the additional 50 million who are underemployed or not counted, and then the many more who have been unemployed or anticipate being unemployed and are feeling very dicey about things, and not only anxious about it but mad about it. In terms of jobs, you know, slaves had jobs.

We need a movement that is not right-wing or xenophobic.

Rodman - What do you think are the biggest barriers to connecting people who are unemployed, or people who are looking for meaning in their lives, to places that need people to live and work on their land?

Hightower - What’s missing is a couple of things: One, a form of structure that would connect the need to the opportunity. You don’t hear politicians, progressives, they’re talking about those kinds of things, about what could be possible in this country. And then finding ways to link that to true progressive media, to true progressive organizations through the unions, through the organizing. We have all the institutions, but they’re not in any coherent alliance.

Rodman - Many people are disconnected from the so called “foodie culture.” What’s the part of agriculture culture you feel people are most connected to?

Hightower - Well I think farmers markets are huge. The surge of buying local producers, the food artisan movements, wines and cheeses, salsas are huge. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and link up to it in a personal way. And you know home cooking, cooking classes. Food unites us. And that’s a tremendous tool for building a movement.

Jim Hightower commentaries are on public radio everywhere, but can be found at

Hightower’s keynote address to the Organicology Conference is available as a digital file. Call (503) 378-0690 or email

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