I've been "hooked on Hightower" ever since Jim's seminal 1973 book, Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, which documented how America's agribusiness interests used political connections to garner taxpayer subsidies to develop such "foods" as tasteless "hard tomatoes" that could be trucked long distances.
After penning this expos, Hightower immersed himself in Texas politics. He twice served as the state's agriculture commissioner (1983-1991) and promoted farmers' markets, organic farming, pesticide regulations and rights of farm workers.
About a decade ago, I had the pleasure of working with Hightower on several projects. Today I consider him a friend, a mentor, a visionary and the funniest political commentator alive. I admit I am biased.
That said, Hightower's Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow is a laugh-out-loud treasure chest for activists and entrepreneurs seeking an America that is more fair, inclusive and sustainable. It introduces people not only enriching their lives but creating deeply democratic models for our nation.
In 1979, five taxi drivers in Madison, Wis., tired of being in dead-end jobs, banded together to create Union Cab, a worker-owned cooperative that today is the largest taxi company serving Wisconsin's capital.
In 1988, seven family farmers started jointly marketing their produce. Two decades later, that co-op is the $350 million Organic Valley: Family of Farms, controlled by more than 1,200 member farming families.
In the early 1990s, 60 San Francisco strippers were getting no respect from their bar owner. To fight back, they joined a union. In 2003, after six successful contract negotiations, the owner shut down his operation, rather than continue to deal with these uppity females. But instead of disbanding, these women created their own club, the Lusty Lady Theatre, which thrives today. As one dancer comments, "We're learning about accounting, about insurance things I never thought I'd be doing when I signed on as a stripper."
One especially pertinent tale for us locally features the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that represents 10 percent of all Americans. In 2004, the NAE board of directors unanimously adopted "An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which formally expanded their mandate beyond "pro-life" and "traditional family values" to include "human rights," "peace and working to restrain violence" and "creation care."
On that last point, the NAE board wrote unambiguously: "We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth ... We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats."
Rev. Richard Cizik and the NAE are taking vigorous action in this arena: "Unlike our evangelical fathers who sat on their hands and tolerated racism ... we will not have to apologize to our children for doing nothing about what is a threat to our entire biosphere."
Focus on the Family head James Dobson has called Cizik an "anti-capitalist" who reflects "an underlying hatred for America." Fortunately, not only is Cizik still with the NAE, he'll visit Colorado Springs this September. (For details, e-mail me.)
Hightower reminds us that the Rev. Martin Luther King did not stand at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to state that he had a position paper. He had a dream, laced with rich biblical imagery. For America to meet its promise, we need millions of citizens to create their own dreams.
Swim Against the Current gives readers inspiration and hope to do just that.