Straight-talkin’ Texan

Jim Hightower champions grassroots movements

During his recent visit to Chico, Jim Hightower spoke more folksy anecdotes than a Southern preacher on a Sunday morning.

During his recent visit to Chico, Jim Hightower spoke more folksy anecdotes than a Southern preacher on a Sunday morning.

Photo By alan sheckter

This was no Tea Party.

Texas author, political satirist and rabble-rouser Jim Hightower gave plenty of grist for the liberal-camp mill, with clever sound bites, cynicisms, folksy anecdotes and advice for organizing community political activism.

“We don’t want charity; we want economic fairness, equal opportunities and social justice for everybody,” was the general notion he professed in his soft-spoken Texas twang more than once during his appearance at the Arc Pavilion in Chico last Thursday (Oct. 7).

The event was a fundraiser for Chico community radio station KZFR and the ARC of Butte County, a local social-services agency dedicated to individuals with developmental disabilities. “Hightower Radio,” a daily two-minute, nationally syndicated radio commentary, has been a staple on KZFR for more than eight years.

With trademark cowboy hat on head, the 67-year-old former two-term Texas agricultural commissioner worked the room by meeting and greeting many of those in attendance during a pre-talk social hour. Hightower, whose book titles include If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They’d Have Given Us Candidates and Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, then moved to a speaker’s podium and was greeted warmly by the full house.

Predictably, his 45-minute lecture, followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer period, was sprinkled with critical words about such topics as the Tea Party (“They are farther out than Neptune” and “They are as confused as goats on AstroTurf”), Meg Whitman (who is “spending $150 million to buy the governorship of California”), Wall Street bankers (“Goldman Sachs will give $20 billion in bonuses again this year”) and big-time politics in general (“In Washington we have too many five-watt bulbs in 100-watt sockets”).

Hightower, however, reserved some of his most critical verbiage for what many consider to be President Obama’s lack of follow-through on campaign promises.

“He won from the outside but is trying to rule from the inside, where the lobbyists and the corporate money are,” Hightower said of the Obama administration.

“Democrats seem to be unwilling to offend the party they threw out of office in 2008,” Hightower offered. “We should allow the drug companies to collude and come up with a new Viagra that will stiffen the backs of Democrats.”

But Hightower said that we the people should not cast all of the blame on the president, the Tea Party, or any political party.

“We have the power to ‘wrestle the world from fools,’” he said, quoting a Patti Smith song. “We’ve been too inactive, too obedient. We worked for it [getting Obama elected] but then we went right back to our La-Z-Boys after the election.”

Using co-ops, the slow-food movement and farmers’ markets as examples of people and groups generating positive change by living their core values in communities all over the country, Hightower said the pieces are all in place for the Democrats and other progressives to make their voices heard.

He urged local residents, through potluck dinners and other informal gatherings, to get together to discuss and act on issues important to them, and that together they can make a difference, first on the local level. He also advised working with one’s political adversaries to find common ground and try to begin a dialogue to address shared community concerns.

One issue, the mounting citizen uproar in Chico to get rid of mandatory $1,500 to $3,000 municipal zoning code permits required to own chickens, was brought to Hightower’s attention, to which he said simply, “Fight the bastards!”

After all, each person can make a difference, he said. “Even the smallest dog can lift its leg on the tallest building.”