‘If You Create The Democracy You Want To Have…’ – Interview With Jim Hightower

jimhightowerAaron Cynic writes at Chicagoist:

“Agitation is what America is all about. If it were not for agitators we’d be wearing white powdered wigs singing ‘God hail the Queen.’ Agitation built America,” said Jim Hightower to a packed hotel conference room on Sunday. The author, radio host, former elected official and “progressive populist” rabble-rouser was speaking at an event put on by a group called Common Cause, which was celebrating a recent victory in the movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. At the end of May, Illinois became the 14th state to adopt a resolution supporting the reversal of Citizens United V. FEC,, the Supreme Court decision which allowed even larger unfettered corporate spending in elections.

The push to amend the Constitution to reverse Citizens United is just one step in trying to get money out of politics, something Hightower, along with a growing number of Americans across party lines, have been fighting for. Before he spoke, I talked with Jim for almost an hour, flanked by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington and Gapers Block contributor Emily Brosious.

“That we’d be having this discussion is insane. Jefferson warned about this at the start, about monied corporations, there to usurp power,” Hightower told us. This is a man who sees the inter-connectivity of issues, from corporate spending in elections to organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council writing public policy and beyond. He also understands how to motivate people to fight for a better future, even in the face of what seems like insurmountable odds. The movement to repeal Citizens United might seem small now, but in nearly all of the 14 states that have passed resolutions, almost three-fourths or more of voters supported it. While it can be demoralizing to see billions in corporate checks pouring into the campaign coffers of elected officials — from mayoral to presidential candidates — Hightower says it’s the first step in a long game:

“That’s why I’m here and that’s why these people are doing what they’re doing, which is to show ‘we know you’re pissed off about this and we’re trying to do something about it. Let’s get organized.’ My final thing today will be ‘you’ve made a terrific start. You’ve established a model of action here. Now you have to build on that, you have to reach out to more people—organize, strategize, harmonize, all of that, and keep pushing, to make Congress do what you’ve asked them to do.

They’ve also got that component of saying that the legislature is asking Congress to do it and putting pressure. Then you have to organize delegations of them to team up with other states to begin to go meet with members of Congress and create a real push. Two years ago when it was first starting, Public Citizen and the Move to Amend—two groups working together—people on our sides said you can’t have a constitutional amendment it’s not even worth trying. But now they’re not saying that anymore. I’m talking about foundations and people who put money into this kind of thing. Now they’re saying it seems to be working, people are getting it. Corporations are not exactly popular. You don’t have to tell the people about it, they already know about it. But you do have to organize it and show that it’s going to go somewhere and that’s our responsibility as a grassroots movement.”

Even if an amendment passed overturning the decision, however, corporations have armies of lobbyists in Washington furiously fighting for them. It’s not hard to imagine a similar piece of legislation making its way through Congress, which is why Hightower says the public needs to remain vigilant:

“It doesn’t end. But it becomes a huge step, if you say they can’t spend that kind of money in a constitutional amendment, then that changes the dynamic, even of what they do next. But they will certainly keep pushing to try to find a way through it. Willie Nelson says it’s the early bird that gets the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese. You don’t necessarily win when you win. You’ve got to keep alert, keep your group together, and that’s what democracy really is, it’s quite hard.Just passing that amendment is a tremendous organizing tool. You have generated all kinds of new talent in the field, in the countryside, both in terms of campaign management, candidates themselves, volunteer base that is trained, etc. If you create the democracy that you want to have, the democratic force that you want to have to enforce the continuing democratic possibilities and then there’d be other battles to fight.”

Ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments and organizing around elected officials isn’t enough however. Now more than ever, information and messaging is everything. People like the Koch brothers know this, and it’s why big business has thrown more money at media than ever before. Thanks to legislation passed in the 90’s which allowed and encouraged media consolidation, the American “marketplace of ideas” has grown stagnant. We might have thousands of channels to choose from, but the opinions and views on those channels have become increasingly monolithic…

Read the full post at Chicagoist.

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