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Bill Moyers TV Farewell with Hightower -- The Fight of Our Lives: The Populist Battle with Corporate Power

"We need a lot more agitation. [T]hat's the only thing that succeeds from a progressive side in changing politics in America."

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BILL MOYERS: Populism began in Texas, didn't it?

JIM HIGHTOWER: It did. In 1877, out near Lampasas. A group of farmers sitting around a table much like this. And getting run over by the banks and by the railroad monopolies, not unlike what's happening today. People were being knocked down by corporate power. And that power was initially the banks that just gouged them. Usurious rates of lending. Cause farmers live on credit. You know, they were getting stuck with, you know, 20 percent, 25-30 percent interest rates. And realizing they were going to go broke. And said, "We've got to do something." And out of that, you know, that question has come up so much throughout history. We got to do something.

And people figure it out. And it became an incredible, they, the most extensive and most successful mass grassroots movement ever in this country around economic issues. It didn't begin as political movement. They found ways to get credit, establish their own credit system. Bypassing the banks.

Their own supply system. Seed, fertilizer and that sort of thing. And then their own marketing system. And then they began to build a cultural movement around it, as well. They educated people. They had a speaker's bureau. They had 40,000 members in it. So--

BILL MOYERS: They had quite a network of intellectual power, didn't they?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes. And it was an intellectual movement. It was an education movement, cultural movement, economic movement. Then it became political. They, and they elected all across the country, by the way, New York to California.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it spread from Texas to Kansas and--

JIM HIGHTOWER: Up to the Plains States. And over into the Upper Midwest. And then east and then west and then down through the South. So, it was everywhere. And a very powerful movement.

BILL MOYERS: They were the first party to call for a woman's right to vote. To call for the direct election of Senators. To oppose all subsidies to corporations. They called for pensions for veterans. They wanted to corral the power of lobbyists. What do we owe them?

JIM HIGHTOWER: We owe them imitation. We owe them the continuation of that spirit that we do not have to just accept what is handed to us. We can battle back against the powers. But it's not just going to a rally and shouting. It's organizing and it's thinking. And reaching out to others. And building a real people's movement.

BILL MOYERS: How does the Tea Party differ from the people you're talking about? We have two groups of Americans, both angry and defiant, and both calling themselves populists. What don't they have in common?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Here's what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that's one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can't say, let's get rid of government. You need to be saying let's take over government.

 
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