Frogs in the Wheelbarrow By Jim Hightower Such a warmth and power is in this room ... Gunter Grass once said the job of a citizen is to keep your mouth open. Molly Ivins, right? That's the first thing I thought of. Ronnie Dugger kicked this whole thing off with his piece in The Nation. He wrote it out in Wellfleet and I called it the Cape Cod rebellion at the time. I had no idea that we would actually get this movement together out of it but by golly here we are. It's really terrific to come together and I'm just happier than a flea in a dog show to be hear and feel the energy and excitement in this room. My simple message to you today is I feel the same energy and excitement all across the country. As I travel and as I talk to folks on the electric radio, on my talk radio program, again progressives feel that progress might actually be possible again, to put it crudely, I guess, the people are revolting - and not a moment too soon. Our happy task is to try to help organize and to focus this rebellion against the corporate powers that be. Corporate powers that are running roughshod over working folks, over the middle class as well as the poor folks, over old people, over children, over our environment over our values, literally over our destiny as a nation. Now this is no job for the meek. Henrik Ibsen once wrote, "One should never wear one's best trousers when going fighting for freedom and truth." And it is after all freedom we are fighting for, freedom from corporate domination of every aspect of our society and culture and the freedom to create an electoral democracy, a political democracy but through that to create economic democracy in our time and that's really what it comes down to. The powers that be, whether it's on Wall Street or Washington, and the establishment media as well, they try to minimalize, trivialize, marginalize folks like us. And they'll try to do the same about this meeting here today. They try to minimalize what it is we're fighting for and say you workers just want another dollar an hour, that's all it is, and you farmers want another nickel a bushel and environmentalists they just want more regulation, that's all. Well hogwash. What we're about is not picayune matters like that. We're fighting for the extension of the original American revolution, the implementation of the founding values of this country. I'm talking about economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all people. It's those values that we're talking about. Benjamin Franklin ... once wrote America's destiny is not power; it is light. The light he was writing about there was the light of economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all people. Now this is a light that no political party in Washington today wants to see, much less to turn on in America. Of course our problem in Washington is we have too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets up there. The point of all that is that reform from the top is impossible for both major parties. And I say that to you as one who has been elected not once but twice on the Democratic Party ticket and consider myself an old-time unabashed, unapologetic working people's Democrat. But I look up at Washington, D.C., at my party and I see them strutting around not in Sears Roebuck workboots but in the same Guccis and Puccis as the Republicans are running around in. Both parties are terminally corrupted by the narcotic of corporate money in our society today. Any people out there who still harbor any illusions about the intentions of Clinton II, the sequel, need only look at where Mr. Clinton has chosen to take his victory lap. Did he come to meet with progressives wanting to reform of campaign finance? Did he dare to go with labor to hammer out a jobs policy for this country, good jobs for good wages? No no, little Mary Sunshine, he did not. He went to the Philippines where he is meeting, believe it or not, with the heads of 18 Asian nations and an entourage of global corporate executives to create a new NAFTA, this one with Asian nations, where they don't pay 50 cents an hour like they do in Mexico but they pay 15 cents an hour, a nickel an hour, slave labor and child labor wages. As Lily Tomlin once said, "No matter how cynical you get it's almost impossible to keep up." Any of you who might harbor any illusions that the two-party establishment feels our pain and wants to reach out in any reform manner need only look into this group: its called the National Commission on Civic Renewal. ... Who's doing this? The co chairs of this are William Bennett, and representing the left, Sam Nunn; funded by the Pew Charitable Trust; executive director is William Goss, he's been a senior adviser to the Democratic Leadership Council, who's done so much for the Democratic Party he wants to extend that; Lamar Alexander, I guess he'll be wearing his plaid shirt; John Cook, the executive vp for corporate affairs for Walt Disney Inc.; right down the line ... If ignorance is bliss, these guys must be ecstatic, don't you think? The notion that they're going to reform anything ... Roll Call ... reported what Mitch McConnell has said about campaign finance reform: "We will kill it. Write it down." ... All of this ignorance and arrogance is why you exist and why the Alliance is at the right place at exactly the right time. There's a song by the rocker Patti Smith, "People Have the Power": People have the power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools," and that is the assignment we have from this meeting, is to wrestle our world from the fools. It's no longer enough to be progressive. We have to become aggressive again. ... You are on target because you are focused on the real power in this country: the corporate rulers of America and the corporate rulers of the whole global economy. These are the powers that be, that separate us in this country, that have good people looking from side to side at each other, saying oh, that might be a lesbian. Uh-oh there's a union member. And there's an environmentalist. ... Instead of all of us looking up because that is where power is concentrated. We're not enemies - farmers and union members, union members and environmentalists, environmentalists and minorities -we're not enemies, we're natural allies. Jesse Jackson put it, we might not all have come over in the same boat but we're in the same boat now. That's a powerful political reality once we absorb that. Fred Harris used to say it just exactly on target: The central issue in this country is too few people control too much of the money and power. And they're using to get more for themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. They do this same thing. They try to divide us. They say the problem is government. They get us pointed at Washington. Well Washington, of course, is just the puppet. We've got to look up and follow those strings up to the handful of folks in this country - the wealthy and the privileged - who are pulling those strings. The good news is that the people know it. The people are fully aware of all this, they're mad as hell about it and they're ready to get after it. We do not have to create a populist political movement in this country because it is there. What we have to do is connect up to it and connect them up to each other. I try to do this some through talk radio because it is a very democratic little box. People can talk back and that is why talk radio is successful. And the job that I take there is connecting them up so that folks in Portland, Maine, who are fighting against incredible odds - as one of them put it to me, not only are the odds against us, some of the evens are against us too - but they don't know that over in Portland, Oregon, the same fight is being made against exactly the same forces of evil and they just have to be connected and begin to fight back. People know what's going on because it's happening to them. You don't have to be in Who's Who to know what's what. It's pretty common sense. I'm talking about that 75 to 80 percent of the American folks who don't own stocks and bonds; not through their pension funds, not through their mutual funds, not through anything; 80 percent of Americans don't own any stocks and bonds. They're less concerned by the Dow Jones Average than the Doug Jones average.... I'm talking about the 75 to 80 percent of Americans who make less than $50,000 a year. There's your middle class, right there. I'm talking about the people who have seen their incomes fall, 75 to 80 percent, not just in the last 20 years but in the last four years as well. I'm talking about the 80 percent of Americans who do not have a college degree, and do not anticipate that their children are going to get one either. I'm talking about the 80 percent of the American people who are either not voting or are voting no. This is the workaday majority of our country. It's not right wing, its not left wing. It's totally nonideological. The true political spectrum in our country is not right to left. It's top to bottom and the vast majority of folks out there, just like you, know that they're not within shouting distance of the powers at the top, whether those powers call themselves Democrat or Republican, and they're looking for change. Environmentalism: Powers that be say that's about elites, tree huggers, them, those damned environmentalists. Well, wait a minute, those damned environmentalists are us. They're not just card-carrying Sierra Club members, but members of Sam's Club as well. Might know more about the PTA than the EPA, but they know pollution when it hits them - and those are the people who are being hit by pollution. You don't find any toxic dumps in Highland Park. I've often thought that if you want to clean up the environment all we need to do is pass a law that says the corporate executives and board of directors need to live within 100 yards of any facility that they build and they'd clean up that sucker in a hurry. The great majority of the people in this country want clean air, clean water, clean food, period. Newt Gingrich found this out the hard way this last year - the Loudspeaker of the House - when he launched a corporate environmental attack so bad that his own party rebelled against him. You know they say the higher the monkey climbs the more you see of its ugly side? I think that's what happened to Newt. But our problem never has been and never will be the Newt Gingriches. Our problem is our own party, the old-time Democratic Party and that's what has got to change. And it won't change from the inside, only from the outside. Bill Clinton wants to do a little bit for the environment, but not enough to offend his corporate contributors. Well, that's not where the folks are, and I mean the workaday majority I'm talking about, the lower middle income living out in the farthest suburbs, up against the cotton fields, and their rose bush died after about the eighth spraying of cotton. And they remember last year; isn't this about the time the cat died? And they wonder if maybe that's connected to the rash the kids are getting. That's an environmentalist. I'm talking about the working stiffs down on the Gulf Coast of our state who work in those plastic and chemical plants down there, and learn that their lives are going to be 10 years shorter than what they normally would be because of where they work. At the same time the company is trying to bust their union, take away their health plan and loot their pension fund. [Responding to a shout of "Tom DeLay]: When you think that one of Newt's major programs was pushed by Tom DeLay [R-Texas], an exterminator, and Tom Bliley out of Virginia, a mortician, you get some idea of what they've got in mind for us. All those ordinary folks out there want the same thing you and I want: We want our country back. We want it back from the spoilers and the speculators, we want it back from the bankers and the bosses and we want it back from the big-shots and the bastards who are running roughshod over our country. One hundred million people didn't vote in the last election. ... Michael Moore pointed out that when you have 100 million people not voting, that's not apathy, that's civil disobedience. In that pool ... is our hope and our historic challenge. That's where we should be fishing. Not among the 6 or 7 percent that separate Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, but among the people who are not voting or are voting "no," voting against. My old aunt Eula used to say the water won't clear up until you get the hogs out of the creek. That's what we're talking about right there, getting the hogs out of the creek. How do you do that? Organize, organize, organize. ... First we have got to plant our flag and plant it proudly on the highest hill we can find for all the people to see, the boldest, most populist, progressive, head-on anti-corporate program that we can put together. And that is what we must plant because that is what will rally the people. Nothing short of it will. ... Then we need to go to the people, all the people, not just the bean sprout eaters. We've got to get to the snuff dippers out there as well. ... We need to go to their meetings. And here's a contrarian idea: Go to church. ... Talking to these people and what they believe in, yeah, they're against us on abortion, they're against us on prayer in school and they're against us on saluting the flag and some things like that, but they're 100 percent with us on all the economic programs that we stand for, because they're working people. That's who's in church. ... They are out there in meetings that we could get into if we had a speaker's bureau ... The Populists had 41,000 members of the Speaker's Bureau. Every night we could be out giving a speech. We don't have 10 going out every night. We need to learn the speech and we need to give it again and again and again. We need to be on the radio. That's where I am but I don't need to be the only one. It's kind of lonely; I'd like some company. That's where the people are. ... Wherever you are, try to get on the radio with a local show. ... We're in a battle for this 80 percent majority. It will go with Pat Buchanan or it will go with us. And it is only going to go with us if we are there with them, in their homes, at the churches and on their radios. The third thing we need to do is to forge coalitions. ... We cannot afford the luxury of scorning and rebuffing others. We've got to get our efforts together. There are those who will choose to make their fight through the New Party, some with the Labor Party, some with the Green Party, and some with the Democratic Party still. I say we must bless them all and when we can find ways to work with them, we should. The New Party for example is doing us a big favor with the lawsuit they are pursuing in the federal courts of appeal - in three districts they have won it - of fusion politics that allows cross-endorsing on ballots. That will change the rules for third parties in this country. ... The Supreme Court is hearing the case and Laurence Tribe is presenting our side and the decision to be rendered by next spring. Only we can do this. Its not easy of course. Getting progressives together is kind of like loading frogs in a wheel barrow, endless problems, but it's that loading - progress - we've got to make it. We've been here before ... They've got the fat cats but we've got the alley cats. Simply believe in what you're doing because it is right and trust each other and assume each other's good will and build on that. ... And I'll give you one final thought: No building is too tall for a small dog to lift its leg on." Jim Hightower got his start out of college as a former legislative aide to populist Sen. Ralph Yarborough. He headed up the Agribusiness Accountability Project, wrote Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times (Schenkman Publishing, 1973), a report on the failure of America's land-grant college complex, and Eat Your Heart Out: How Profiteers Victimize the Consumer (Vintage Books, 1975). From 1977-79 he edited the Texas Observer and in 1982 he was elected Texas agriculture commissioner, which gave him the chance to fight for the kinds of policy and regulatory initiatives on behalf of family farmers and consumers he had long advocated. In addition to his column, carried in The Progressive Populist, he syndicates a daily commentary on 70 radio stations and after being pitched from his national talk show on ABC radio in 1995 after he criticized Disney's takeover of the network he started a daily talk show on 120 stations of the United Broadcasting Network this past fall. Contact 512-477-5588 or check the World Wide Web at <WWW.ESSENTIAL.ORG/hightower>. He spoke at the Alliance for Democracy founding convention on Nov. 23.