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A Progressive Call to Arms,
This review is from: Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Hardcover)
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I'm giving this Swim Against the Current 5 stars for the importance of its substance, but in spite of the style in which it is presented. To be fair, I reviewed an unedited draft, so the final product might be fine. For now, the text is a bit schizophrenic. The book is supposed to be written in Jim Hightower's well-known Texan voice, but is a collaboration between him and his long-time partner Susan DeMarco, and it shows. There's a failure to blend the two voices into a consistent presentation. The result is that the text will flow nicely for many pages, then out of nowhere some bit of odd Southern humor is thrown in and it's a bit jarring. I appreciate that Hightower is known first and foremost for his humor and his Texas origins, but his writing partner DeMarco is a Northerner. Hopefully their editor can smooth things out for the final draft. This is a wonderful book with great information, and I'd like to be able to recommend it wholeheartedly.
The theme of the book is that all of us, no matter who we are, can not only make a difference, but have an obligation to do so. We're treated to the stories of several citizen action groups and projects that were started by average people with no connections and not a clue how to begin. In spite ongoing challenges, these groups have made a difference in their own lives and the lives of those they touch.
The book is divided into three sections: Business, Politics and Life. In the Business section, we see workers overcome union-busting tactics in a Wisconsin cab company and a California strip club, both taken over and run successfully by their respective employees. We get a brief but enlightening history of Peace Coffee, a fair trade cooperative that is cutting out the middle men who have been making all the money that should have gone to the farmers growing the beans. A meeting among farmers in someone's kitchen grows to become the Organic Valley Family of Farms, a cooperative that eventually became the first group to say 'no' to Walmart's cost-cutting ways.
The reader is encouraged throughout to break the mold by redefining success in America. Rather than the cycle of fear and consumption that power structure uses to keep the public compulsively acquiring things, Hightower and DeMarco encourage us to look at sustainablity and quality of life, human rights and social justice as integral parts of business. A pharmacist leaves his 100,000 dollar a year job to provide discounts to low income customers with no insurance. He makes less money, but he has breakfast with his kids every day and he's back to helping people rather than turning them away because they can't pay for their medicine. Bankers defy the odds and conventional wisdom by moving into a troubled neighborhood and investing in the people who live there. The result is a thriving community and a profitable bottom line.
Section Two takes on the seedy practice of politics. Influence peddlers like Jack Abramoff are juxtaposed with citizen action groups that used persistence and bus-loads of volunteers to change the balance of power in their state legislatures. There's a very important chapter on Clean Elections, and the success that public funding has had in allowing ordinary people to run for office in six states and two cities. By removing the corporate money from the equation, politics is no longer exclusively for the wealthy and the powerful.
Section Three, Life, encourages everyone, young and even the very old, to get involved. A grandmother walks across the country in 14 months trying to end the war; a group of elderly women try to enlist and protest at a recruiting office; an unlikely alliance is formed between scientists and Evangelical Christians to encourage action to stem global warming.
Some of the statistics in the book are staggering. Only 18 cents of every dollar we spend on groceries goes to the farmers who produced the food. The National Association of Evangelicals represents 30 million activists awakening to "Creation Care" as a part of their beliefs, much to chagrin of Karl Rove. A CEO for Exxon/Mobil was compensated to the tune of $28,000 an HOUR.
There's plenty more to ponder here and a great list of resources to get would-be activists started. This is the kind of book you want to read then pass along to your local politicians. There's a real vision for a better world here, so jump in and get started.