Jim Hightower visits Stop the Machine contingent of Occupy DC The commentator and writer spoke to the Stop The Machine contingent of Occupy DC today, saying this movement is part of the “march of democracy” that continues to this day, taking some steps forward while also, unfortunately, taking steps backward.

Hightower, who writes about the Occupy Movement in the November edition of his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, disagrees with what some commentators have said about it.

“You’re being condemned even by some progressives for not having an agenda. Well, hello ? Wall Street is in the movement’s name. Seems like an agenda to me. Right now, protest is the issue. Just being here is a big part of the battle.”

Hightower said there is no rush for having a list of demands or a manifesto. He said during the American Revolution it was years before that happened.

“You can’t ask people, initially, to come together and then rally around that. It would split the movement apart. The same with the protests against the Vietnam War. It was a long time before we ever came up with a list of specific legislation we wanted passed.”

Hightower said this is not about ideology but about reality.

“The vast majority of the American people are being knocked down and then stomped on.”

An older woman in the crowd mustered a raised voice to read aloud a poll from the New York Times in an edition she held in her hands. She said, “63 percent of those polled said they don’t know enough about the occupy goals to say whether they support them.”

Hightower said he’s seen other polls with results to the contrary. Whether that poll is correct or not, the occupy movement needs to keep reaching out, said Hightower. And he said part of the reason the general public may be confused about the occupations is that some mainstream media outlets are not accurately reporting on it. He said this is not something new for the progressive movement.

Jim Hightower visits Stop the Machine contingent of Occupy DC

“We’ve always had to fight the media. In 1954, we created the Texas Observer, because we couldn’t get the establishment media to cover progressive issues or candidates…We had a slogan. The Dallas Morning News: if it happens in Dallas, it’s news to us.”

In addition to using social media and alternative media, progressives should reach out in-person, said Hightower.

“Go to churches here and say, ‘please bring your congregations here after Sunday services or after Saturday services. We’ll have a bite of food and have a good time.’ That’s what it’s going to take.”

Tom Midlin who got to DC via a 15 day bike ride from Vermont to DC asked Hightower about the risk of hardship lead to political extremism and intolerance in the US.

“That’s the importance of the democratic efforts you’re making. What I’ve seen across the country is that you’re doing a remarkable job of keeping this clean, ideologically and politically, and making it clear about what you do and don’t stand for.”

Hightower said the Occupy movement should partner with “traditional progressive forces” such as himself. He said the Hightower Lowdown and other outlets should help explain the Occupy movement to the general public.

Hightower is raising awareness about the problem of corporate rule by working with Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation Magazine and Jay Harris of Mother Jones Magazine as well as Thom Hartmann, Laura Flanders and others working in progressive media outlets.

“We’re asking the progressive caucus to talk about this…on the floor this week. That’s where we have to keep the focus: on corporate power.”

He rejects the idea that fighting excessive corporate power is necessarily anti-capitalist.

“I’ve got a small business, but I want to make a living, not a killing. The anti-capitalists are the Wall Streeters.”

Hightower, who got involved with progressive activism thru the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War, said shareholders might push for change from within as they did in the 1960s against the war then. But he said better approaches to taking power away from huge corporations are the Move Your Money campaign and the cooperative movement.

“That’s where we need to be looking. To build alternatives to the corporate economy, we need to expand this co op movement. There are 73,000 co ops already in this country.”

Jim Hightower visits Stop The Machine contingent of Occupy DC

Hollis Mailen, a hunger striker from Wisconsin who was active in fighting Scott Walker’s attacks on unions, asked Hightower about “cutting off the main head of the hydra,” which he said is the American Legislation Exchange Council or ALEC.

“The Koch brothers, Coors, the Walmart heirs, and others are behind this thing called ALEC and what they do is run around the country and meet with state legislators, handing them legislation for them to carry. That’s where all this anti-immigration legislation is coming from.”

Hightower said ALEC is linked to the union-busting and voter-suppression policies of Governor Kasich in Ohio, Governor Walker in Wisconsin, and Governor Snyder in Michigan, among others.

“There is an effort by progressive groups to out ALEC, including confronting them at the secret meetings they hold …and John Nichols at the Nation Magazine has done a whole series on it. People are on to it.”

Hightower said the Koch brothers operated for 30 years in secret.

“Now suddenly, they’re exposed and they’re horrified. They’re defensive. They’re saying ‘this is just democratic participation with our billions of dollars.’ Nonsense.”

Hightower recommends the organizations Move to Amend and Free Speech for People. He also said cities can pass laws for public financing of local elections and against corporate personhood. Boulder, Colorado has the issue on the ballot this fall.

A person in the crowd asked about Obama’s jobs plan.

“I wish it was more sweeping, more Rooseveltian than it actually is. We need the WPA back in America and the CCC and the Writers and Artists Project. We need to put people to work, not keep subsidizing corporations in the hope that they might, somehow or another, have a tinkle down effect that will come to us. It (Obama’s jobs plan ) was not strong enough, but even that modest proposal was kicked in the teeth by Johnny Boehner and little Eric Cantor.”

Agreeing with input from a person in the crowd, Hightower said Occupistas could find common ground with Tea Partiers.

“The Tea Party came into existence--it was spontaneous combustion---because of the bailout. It didn’t have anything to do with small government or Grover Norquist. It was ordinary folks who were just mad as hell about the bailout. For the first time in a long time we had this thing shoved in our face which was about government power and corporate power being used to save the elites at the expense of the rest of us.”

Hightower said progressives should have joined Tea Partiers in the streets early on. He said Dick Army, running a Koch brothers operation called Freedom Works, co opted the Tea Party movement.

“ He brought Koch brothers money. He brought Republican political operatives. He brought experts and organizers. They took over the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party Manifesto was written by Dick Army, not people in the Tea Party. He’s a corporate lobbyist, a former Republican Majority Leader.”

Hightower said that is why the Tea Party movement has dwindled to about 18 percent of the US public saying they identify with that movement. He said progressives should reach out to grassroots aspects of what remains of the Tea Party Movement.

“Reach out to the churches, even Evangelicals. Most people in those Evangelical churches are working people or poor.”