New Orleans Jim Hightower and his “Lowdown” crew happened to be in town and gave a call to join them for dinner, giving me an opportunity to catch up with a friend and comrade from Texas still kicking it hard after all of these years – thank goodness!
We go back past most people’s memory to the time we first met in the 1970s when Jim was running the Agricultural Accountability Project out of the Center for Community Change in Washington, DC of all places, Mr. Fish-Out-Of-Water, and I was a young buck organizer trying to figure out how the Center could give a hand to ACORN in Arkansas. We were with him in Texas when he ran first for the Railroad Commission which regulates a lot of what is important in Texas and not just railroads, and then when he served two terms as the elected Agriculture Commissioner there until Rick Perry of all people managed to push him out. In the succeeding decades Jim has been the energizer bunny speaking truth to power and pushing the populist message through his radio bulletins, run daily on KABF and a pile of other stations, his columns, books, and rip roaring speeches. He has continued the fine tradition of John Henry Faulk, another Texans based in Madisonville, rather than Austin, who also made his political points with humor and precision.
Jim’s board included Jay Harris, formerly of Mother Jones and The American Prospect, as well as John Weiss from the Colorado Springs Independent, a string of 14-papers there, and it was fun telling and listening to all of the stories at our end of the table through the loud roar at Jacques-Imo restaurant. The monthly Lowdown seems to be the heart and soul of Hightower’s operation now and with 100,000 paid subscribers, it darned well should be. Travel, speaking, and steady work keeps the numbers growing so the message hits home and then pay dirt.
Jim bemoaned the lack of organizing happening in so many of the flyover areas of America where the issues from fracking to railroad spills to pipeline proposals to just plain making a living are screaming with anger but having trouble finding organizational vehicles where they can have voice and impact. He runs into the vacuum there and hears about it all the time.
We talked about old friends and comrades still active and long gone, including ex-Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris and his presidential campaign as well as the Citizen Party effort with Barry Commoner and Ladonna Harris, Fred’s wife. Hilary Clinton and another Oklahoman, Elizabeth Warren were covered thoroughly, including the Wall Street Journal op-ed by a former Clinton pollster on the surprising closeness of Warren’s numbers to Hilary Clinton. Weiss made the point that she was an unknown in Colorado still, but of course that was the point of the Journal piece. She was polling within range, despite being an unknown, especially compared to Clinton. We went through a list of issues from organics to Comcast’s monopoly machine to money in politics, long a Hightower theme. The Koch Brothers 300 donors’ team and their commitment to spend almost $900 million on the coming election was mourned and bemoaned.
We didn’t need desert. We had enough to chew for days to figure all of this out, and work to be done.