Students and non-students alike filled the Statler Auditorium last night in anticipation of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ Union Days kick-off speaker Jim Hightower.
Termed Americas most popular populist and the author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time To Take It Back (Viking), Hightower was quickly introduced amidst a frenzy of cheering.
Hightower began by saying that the present as an essential period in our history, “[a period in which] a tiny handful of people determine our lives.”
He argued that greed is the most fundamental problem in today’s America and emphatically stated that we are no longer a democracy.
Hightower was also critical of President Bush and his economic policies. Referring to Bush as “King George the W.” Hightower described the administration’s spending as a “loot[ing] of our natural treasury.”
He accused the administration of “defoliating our unions, [and] attempt[ing] to privatize everything.”
The audience was strongly supportive of Hightower’s accusation, cheering several times while he spoke.
“Imagine what they would be doing if they had actually won the election,” he said.
Yet, Hightower was not merely critical of the current presidential administration. He also criticized the Democratic Party, accusing it of being inactive and too passive.
“Why aren’t they standing up to this?” Hightower asked.
“It is no longer good enough to be passively progressive.” Hightower added, “We need to become aggressive.”
Hightower then moved on to elaborate on his statement concerning the present deterioration of democracy.
“The common good is what matters,” Hightower said.
Citing statistics, Hightower explained that over 70 percent of the net income in the United States is typically distributed amongst wealthiest 1 percent of the nation.
“I got mine, you get yours that is what they are saying to us,” Hightower said.
Afterwards, Hightower once again stressed that his main point of discontent with the world of today’s politics is greed.
“What we are opposed to is greed.” Hightower said, “There is nothing wrong with making money.”
Hightower criticized lawmakers’ refusal to address minimum wage issues and the tendency for large companies to seek cheap labor outside the United States.
He condemned caps on the amount of income that can be taxed for Social Security and what he described as “legal corporate tax evasion.”
“Two thirds of America’s corporations now pay zero income tax,” Hightower said.
“The people of America are revolting.” Hightower said, “The people want their country back.”
Hightower explained that most Americans are in agreement with him on his key criticisms.
He congratulated strides in Maine towards campaign public financing and called for a grassroots movement.
After speaking, Hightower entertained questions from several audience members.
“I am an organic farmer,” said the first audience member, a middle-aged male, “and I would really like to encourage self-employment. Please speak for the self-employed.”
Hightower responded by explaining that he is very supportive of self-employment and that he is self-employed himself.
Hightower cautioned against favoritism that might pit group against group.
“We ought to realize that we are allies,” Hightower said.
Some audience members were concerned with the atmosphere of the event.
“I am a little concerned with the lack of opposition in the audience,” he said. “Have you made an effort to get on the mass media?”
Hightower responded rapidly explaining that he has tried multiple times to spread his message through the mass media, but that “they wont have it.”
He explained that the mass media is a under total corporate control “[and so] the only show I got on was with John Stewart, The Daily Show.”
Another audience member raised questions concerning the foul nature of the dialogue between political activists from opposite viewpoints.
“I am a little concerned with the jeering that has become discourse,” the audience member said. “I think we have lost the ability to talk more.”
“It is not new in our country [and] I don’t think it is that bad,” Hightower responded.
“But, when it becomes the only form of discourse then that is bad and that is why no-one is voting,” he added.
After the event, Hightower held a book signing in the lobby.
Archived article by David Andrade
Sun Staff Writer