The Alliance From a Personal Perspective
Three quarters into the nineteenth century the Farmers' Alliance, started by seven Texans in a farmhouse in Lampasas County, Texas, launched two million Americans into the Populist movement to fight the corporations and the banks. That movement has now revived in Texas, a century to the year since the American Populists made the historic mistake, in 1896, of "fusing" with the Bryan Democrats and disappearing from the scene.Over the past few months in Texas, substantial local Populist Alliances have formed in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, and Waco, and more are to come. Nationwide, there are now forty-one Alliances formed and meeting, dedicated to a long-term movement to end the de facto corporate domination of our country, establish economic and political self-government, and help precipitate, out of all our scattered and contending organizations, one new national people's movement.And during November 21-24--after the 1996 election whose outcome will make no real difference in who governs us for whose benefit--we will launch, an hour north of San Antonio at the Mo Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, the real campaign to reverse the corporate usurpation of American democracy. On those four days we will found the national Alliance and determine its principles, goals, and work, at the first authentic national Populist convention in 100 years.This working convention will feature learning and skills-building workshops, presentations by Alliance work groups and task forces, and such speakers as Jim Hightower, former Texas Observer editor, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, and until ABC dumped him, ABC Radio's answer to Rush Limbaugh [Hightower can now be heard on the new UBN radio network]; Molly Ivins, another former Observer editor, now a syndicated columnist and populist/progressive superstar; Lawrence Goodwyn, an Observer associate editor in the late '60s, who became the leading historian of nineteenth-century American Populism with his book, The Populist Moment; Howard Zinn, the populist historian whose People's History of the United States has long been an underground bestseller; David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World, published last year; and additional serious students of corporate culture and ideology, including the corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris and Peter Kellman of the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy, myself and others. Jesse Jackson, Marion Wright Edelman, and national labor leaders have also been invited.During the past few months in Texas, about two dozen of us have met for supper, and 130 people came to the organizing meeting of the Dallas Alliance, including many current Dallas activists (Jan Sanders, who is now leading the Dallas peace movement, and old-timers Otto Mullinax and Nat L.N.D. Wells). Nancy Campbell, a sociology teacher at SMU, has become our South-Central member of the Alliance steering committee, and Lew King and Beth Johnson have taken lead organizing roles there. In Austin about fifty (including Ruth and Wally Ellinger, attorney Elizabeth C. Flynn, Anne McAfee, Tony Switzer, and professor of economics Dan Morgan), assembled to continue the work of Todd Basch's organizing group there; their contact person is Lynne Hays. (One of the participants in Austin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, said he had come to learn what he should be looking out for on the SDEC.) In El Paso, where U.T.-El Paso sociologist Tim Dunn and activists Veronica Escobar and Richard Simpson have taken leads, about fifty people gathered to discuss the Alliance, and form one, at the Sojourners Coffee House. Bob Comeaux, long-time labor organizer and candidate for the important water board in San Antonio, assisted by Professor John Donahue of Trinity University and others, set up the founding meeting there, attended by sixty or so, including some long-time friends and allies of mine in the Texas political wars. Boyce Vardiman started up the Waco Alliance, with about thirty-five at the first meeting; people left the Austin meeting vowing to set up Alliances in Houston and Corpus Christi, which are coming.As a result, also, of the September formation of local Alliances in Oklahoma (one in Tulsa, one in Norman) planners for the national Alliance are considering a daring undertaking concerning the U.S. Constitution--in pursuance of the mission of building a new country in this one.Even beyond that, since the multinational corporations that now girdle and govern the world cannot be subordinated to democracy by a movement in only one country, the Alliance has set, as its longest-term goals, a global people's movement and international democracy.This revival of American Populism, designed to include also, of course, liberals, progressives, and people of many other descriptions, grew out of the 1,700 letters, faxes, and e-mails I received in response to my article, "A Call to Citizens: Will Real Populists Please Stand Up," in The Nation of August 14-21, 1995, and the Observer and other publications. Now hundreds of new-found colleagues and friends, serious, idealistic, and experienced activists from around the country, are building the Alliance for a long-run, nonviolent democratic rebellion to end corporate rule and establish (or re-establish?) our self-governance.Alliances are also formed and meeting in California in the San Fernando Valley and at Santa Cruz, Orange County, Long Beach, Sonoma County, the Westside (Santa Monica), South Pasadena, Redding, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco, and East Bay; in Seattle; Anaconda (Montana); Burlington (Iowa); Kansas City; Boulder and Denver (including Denver's Metro State College, the first on-campus Alliance); Chicago; Indianapolis; Birmingham (Alabama); Washington, D.C.; New Haven; Providence; Brooklyn and Manhattan; in Massachusetts at Amherst, Berkshire County, Boston, the North Bridge (the suburbs west of Boston), in the Merrimack Valley, and on Cape Cod; and in Portland (Maine). New chapters continue to form-coming next, for example, in Albany (New York), Montpelier (Vermont) middle Tennessee, the University of Missouri at Columbia.Many of you have been with the Observer since Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Mark Adams, Bob Eckhardt, Frankie Randolph, Franklin Jones, Sr., Jimmy Strong, Dell Sackett, and a score of others launched it in December, 1954. I believe that we are driven now, by our present history, to form a new people's movement, modeled in many respects on what happened here late in the last century, and independent, as the Farmers' Alliance was, of the government, the corporations, and both the Democratic and Republican parties. I hope the formidable Observer community will be strongly represented at the Mo Ranch in November, as it has been in the newly-formed Alliances around the state. Neither presidential voting nor party politics is a reason not to come. Although I personally am supporting Ralph Nader this year, plenty ofAlliance people are voting for Clinton--this is a movement, not a political party, and the Alliance has not endorsed any candidate. Although I knew I was speaking for many when I wrote the Call last summer, I felt fairly alone doing it, and nothing could make me happier now than rejoining my lifelong friends, side by side, in this new adventure for the twenty-first century.We also seek to reach out to every other kindred organization, prominently including unions and religious groups, in this nation and beyond, promoting coalitions in action until, by acting together, we all become the new, broad, and powerful people's movement. Consanguine organizations are urged to send representatives to the convention and to join with us in this common work.The Alliance is open to all. We reject exclusionary, racist, or xenophobic strains that work their way into Populism, and we welcome all who want to stand up for popular self-determination. While we intend to end corporate control of our public and private lives, we are not "anti-business"-we actively support locally-owned small businesses, family farms, democratically-run co-ops, worker-owned businesses, community-owned businesses, skills banks, local currencies, community banks, credit unions, Grameen banks that make "micro-loans," and many other alternative forms of economic endeavor, and we accept such larger enterprises as can be made to serve the common good and be denied any role in our democratic political life.We in the Alliance believe that there is no more important challenge than this new work, so similar to that undertaken by the Populists and the Knights of Labor in the last century. All the other changes we need and want, we cannot have, unless we the people take our power back. If we keep on fighting one issue at a time, or one kind of social cause (the environment, say, or racism, or jobs) at a time, the corporations have us.To join the Alliance at-large (fifteen dollars a year), join a chapter or form a new one; or, for more information, you can reach the Alliance at PO Box 1011, North Cambridge MA 02140, (617) 491-4221, fax (617) 259-0404, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.