One hundred years ago the United States was in the grips of a depression. Farmers were being driven off their land by monetary policy that favored bankers and corporations over individuals. A few "trusts" controlled much of the nation's industrial wealth. And deep divisions in American society, some of them festering since the war that had ended a generation before, prevented working people from organizing to improve their lives.
The captains of industry manipulated race and sectional differences to sidetrack the Populist movement of the 1890s. But the Populists awakened a Progressive conscience that moved Teddy Roosevelt and Congress in the early 1900s to break up industrial trusts, enact the first effective public health regulations and set aside public lands for national parks.
Still, it would take another generation before another Great Depression would shake the foundations of American politics. That social upheaval enabled Franklin D. Roosevelt to put together a progressive coalition to check the excesses of free-market capitalism.
That New Deal coalition of farmers, workers and businesses carried us through the Depression, World War II and the formation of the greatest economic engine in the world. But changing times have brought a new generation of industrialists the chance to consolidate their political supremacy, set aside antitrust legislation, weaken health and safety regulations, scale back Social Security and Medicare and sell off our national parks.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
The first step in fighting ignorance and greed is to be informed.
Voting for a Democrat no longer necessarily means you are voting for a progressive government that cares for people over what Teddy Roosevelt called the "malefactors of great wealth." But we find little to recommend in the Republican "Contract with America," which was dictated by corporate lobbyists and right-wing ideologues to provide tax breaks for the rich and greater profits for corporations at the expense of health, safety and jobs for working Americans.
Now, a handful of corporations are consolidating their grip on the nation's primary information sources. Megacorporations already own the major radio and TV networks, as well as most newspapers, magazines, book publishers and movie studios. Is it any surprise that editors and news directors reflect the concerns of their corporate bosses?
Little wonder that populism--the theory that people are more important than corporations--gets short shrift in public policy discussions, and politicians and journalists who question the power of corporate barons are dismissed as radicals.
Well there are a few people in the heartland of America, armed with the First Amendment, a printing press and a newspaper with a mission: to tell the stories of working people and how they can regain control of the United States.
The Progressive Populist, edited in Austin, Texas, and published in Storm Lake, Iowa, thinks people are looking for populist voices with progressive values. We plan to provide those voices and tell people how they can make a difference.
We want to rescue populism from the likes of the militias, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm and the right-wingers who have taken over the Republican Party and now are trying to move in on the Democrats.
The typical daily newspapers' op-ed pages are filled with conservative pundits such as George Will and Cal Thomas. In many newspapers David Broder, worthy mainstream journalist though he be, is supposed to represent the views of the Left.
The same is true of talk shows, where the debate generally runs from the center to the far right. Rush Limbaugh never misses a chance to lampoon the weak and dispossessed but he would not dare question the motives of his corporate sponsors. But rather than talk about the right or left, populists are more concerned with who is up or down. That gets to the heart of the matter, and that is why progressive populists, such as Jim Hightower, who criticize corporate control of politics, struggle to remain on the air. (In fact, Hightower recently was taken off the air by ABC after he criticized Disney's takeover of the network.)
ARE YOU GETTING ALL THE NEWS YOU NEED?
Progressive Populist will run Hightower's column (I'll bet you haven't seen those in your daily newspaper!). You'll read columns by Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, Molly Ivins, Eugene McCarthy and media critics Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon. You'll also find the views of Richard Rothstein on progressive economics and Peter Montague on health and the environment. Social critic Hal Crowther from North Carolina and libertarian editor Charles Levendosky from Wyoming have won the coveted Mencken Award from the Baltimore Sun for their thought-provoking columns, which we will publish here, as well as muckraker Carol Countryman from East Texas, militia monitor Dan Yurman from Idaho and others whose progressive alternatives and criticism of "business as usual" are absent from the monopolistic chain-owned media profit centers.
Does that sound radical to you? We hope to challenge some of the assumptions you have grown up with.
But the Progressive Populist won't just be a clip service of liberal opinions. You'll read about issues of interest to America's middle class:
--the plight of working Americans who face the choice of watching their wages and benefits be stripped to make their company more productive, or watching their jobs being exported to Latin America and the Far East;
--small, mom-and-pop businesses that are up against chain stores, tight credit and monopolistic business practices;
--government policies that give tax breaks to big corporations that move their operations overseas;
--farming families that are being whipsawed by government policies geared toward the multinational agribusinesses; and
--consumers (as well as workers) whose health and safety are considered to be secondary to the right of a corporation to make a profit for its stockholders.
We'll focus on people like Newt Gingrich who pose as populist revolutionaries but who pander to the plundering plutocrats. We'll talk about politicians such as Phil Gramm who say they on the side of the people who pull the wagon, but who vote with the high-hats who are riding in the limousines.
We also will tell the story of people such as Ernesto Cortes Jr. of the Industrial Areas Foundation, who has helped communities in the Southwest organize at the grassroots to force politicians to pay attention to their concerns and improve their neighborhoods.
We know you lead a busy life and you might not feel you have enough time to read another publication. But we offer a mix of easy-to-digest reports as well as substantial features that you can read according to your schedule. At least you will get ammo to counter the blather of Limbaugh and his dittoheads.
You will read interviews and profiles of newsmakers, progressive organizers and other Americans who are making a difference in fighting for the interests of working people.
You also will read the best work of alternative newspapers from the Village Voice in New York City to Willamette Week. in Portland, Oregon.
In an era when basic political and governmental reporting is dismissed by editorial consultants as "insider baseball," you will get hard news on the hardcases who are running Washington, D.C., and the state capitols.
YOU WILL LEARN WHAT YOU CAN DO TO TURN THINGS AROUND.
Fair trade laws should support the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, whether they are in Singapore, the Texas/Mexico border, or Iowa. Because in the New World Order, workers' rights in Singapore have an impact in workers' rights in Iowa.
With your help, we will support equal opportunity for all races and classes of people.
We will fight efforts by the Republican Congress, with the complicity of conservative Democrats, to enact the Contract on America that would roll back nearly every progressive advance since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. And we will resist attempts to amend the Bill of Rights, which we consider to be the greatest accomplishment of the American democracy.
How can political reform be effected? In this issue, we reprint Ronnie Dugger's trenchant call for a populist movement, along with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's rebuttal on behalf of progressive Democrats. In future editions we will explore alternative political movements, such as the Greens, the New Party, the Labor Party Advocates and United We Stand America.
We are not a Democratic Party organ. We are an independent newspaper. We will support progressive Democrats. If progressive Republicans show themselves, we will give them a hearing. And we will support progressive alternative candidates if they have a chance of winning.
We are not an apologist for President Bill Clinton, but we will tell you what his administration has done on behalf of working Americans. We will compare that with the records of his predecessors and the rivals who would take his place.
MAINLY, WE ARE A FORUM FOR PROGRESSIVE POPULISTS.
We will support candidates who follow the ideal of former U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, a hero of Texas progressives: "Put the jelly on the lower shelf, where the little people can get to it." Yarborough was elected--and re-elected--Senator in conservative Texas in the 1950s and 1960s because he spoke for working Texans.
Progressive Populist will take the people's side and will expose scoundrels like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole for the big-business shills that they are.
These are critical times, with Newt Gingrich in control of the House and Bob Dole depicted as the moderate--but not too moderate--Republican in the race for the White House. These are not the times to put up with business as usual or to settle for the lesser of two or more evils.
We will report aggressively and we will deflate pompous plutocrats. We will try to follow the advice of Archer Fullingim, late editor of the Kountze News, who wrote in 1979 from the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas: "Strike no glancing blows!"
Please consider us your hometown paper for progressive populists and your monthly antidote to the daily news. We hope to rehabilitate the ancient newspaper motto: "To afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted." Sincerely yours,
-- Jim Cullen, Editor, The Progressive Populist