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Working In These Times

Monday, Sep 13, 2010, 1:18 pm

Hightower, Jackson Urge ‘Fighting Bob’ Crowd to Combat Corporate Power

BY Roger Bybee

Rev. Jesse Jackson greets a very friendly crowd at this year's Fighting Bob fest, held Saturday, September 11, in rural Wisconsin.   (Photo by Meagan Yost)

BARABOO, WIS.—Progressives, set aside despair about November elections and get down to the task of talking about corporate power with neighbors and co-workers. That was the core message driven home by a lineup of fiery speakers at the 9th Annual Fighting Bob Fest, held Saturday on the county fair grounds in tiny Baraboo, Wis. Despite threatening weather in the morning, the event drew some 6,500 people from across the state.

"We need to learn how to wake up a whole lot of people," thundered progressive talk-show host and author Thom Hartmann. "We should keep in mind that even the Tea Party people are on our side when it comes to believing that corporations are not people," a reference to the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that declared that corporations have the same rights as human beings.

Added Texas populist writer and broadcaster Jim Hightower:

Polls show that 86% of the American people are with us against the notion of corporations as people. But many people have been used, abused, and confused, and they're leaning the wrong way.

We've got to win them over... We need to use Mr. Humor, he's our friend. We don't need to dump our full load of facts on people. As my friend Van Jones says, Martin Luther King did not say, 'I have a position paper.'

Jesse Jackson: Dems must help unemployed, under-employed

Named after the most towering progressive figure in Wisconsin
political history, Robert "fighting Bob" LaFollette, the event honored another progressive giant, Rev. Jesse Jackson for his 50 years of unceasing advocacy and leadership on behalf of workers, small farmers, single-payer healthcare, rights for Palestinians as well as Israelis, and a humane, non-militaristic foreign policy.

In an interview with In These Times before receiving the award, Jackson stressed the importance of maximizing Democratic voter turnout on November 2 in order to prevent the Right from blocking any space for progressive initiatives. "We have power that we are not using," he said. "We can win with the same coalition that we won with in 2008. We just can't let the media fake our voters out.

Jackson emphasized that the Democrats must address the burning concerns of working people, including the jobless and under-employed:

There are basic needs that we need to deliver on, The people need jobs. They need a moratorium on home foreclosures. We need to fight jobs going overseas through mass education, mass protests, and mass
change.

Jackson urged Democrats—with an implicit nudge to the Obama administration—to act more forcefully to serve human needs at a moment of acute economic suffering in the United States. "We're in charge of everything, so we should show some size. We should deliver for people."

In his address to the crowd. Jackson covered a sweeping range of issues, including an end to the war in Afghanistan, pushing ahead for single-payer healthcare, and the need for inspired activism this fall. "Don't complain—march," he implored. Don't complain—vote."

With "fewer and fewer controlling more and more while the masses have less to get by on," it is time to push for the restoration of public services like mass transportation and libraries and to create public-sector jobs programs.

In Detroit, where he recently took part in a major march for jobs, justice and peace with the United Auto Workers and Service Employees International Union, there are 90,000 vacant lots and homes. Jackson asked, "Why not create apprenticeships for home repair, landscaping, and weatherization to rebuild Detroit and other cities?"

More than ever, he said, America needs to elevate the economic rights of
ordinary citizens because of the expanding power of corporations:

We've been seeing a globalizing of capital without a globalizing of human rights, of labor rights. So we want to democratize our economy as we have our politics.

PALAST BLASTS BP, OBAMA'S STANCE

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money can Buy and Armed Madhouse (and an occasional In These Times contributor), capped the day with an electrifying speech focused on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

He began by providing one crucial but barely-mentioned fact about
the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska: while Exxon owned the tanker
that crashed, BP held the contract for responding to catastrophes
like the giant spillage.

But BP had fired the entire workforce of native workers it had hired for such work, and had none of the necessary clean-up ships and equipment available, Palast said. He challenged the Obama administration's slow (e.g., five days to declare disaster) and tentative (e.g., BP playing a controlling role) handling of both the BP disaster and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

FEDS ALLOWED WETLAND DESTRUCTION, HURRICANE HIGHWAY

Palast explained that Gulf residents successfully sued the federal
government for permitting the oil companies to remove vast offshore
wetlands that would have buffered New Orleans from the waves
unleashed by Katrina, and also built, at the demand of the oil
companies, a canal straight from the Gulf to the mouth of the
Mississippi River, which experts immediately recognized as the
construction of a disastrous "Hurricane Highway" leaving the city
vulnerable.

The Obama Administration and Department of Justice head Eric Holder had
two choices: counter-sue the oil companies for the vast damages,
or fight the Gulf residents in court by appealing the ruling.
Holder and the administration chose the second route.

SURPRISE VISIT

One surprise guest was gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett, currently the mayor of Milwaukee. Despite having served as a business-friendly (see here and here) mayor since 2004, Barrett took an unexpectedly populist turn in his remarks.

Blasting U.S. trade policies that have undermined America's productive base (and accelerated the loss of 80% of Milwaukee's factory jobs since 1977), Barrett said: "Simply put, we have to make more stuff here. We must address
our trade policy. First we lost jobs to the South, then to Mexico, and now to China."

Acknowledging the difficulties he will face governing a state with a
huge structural deficit, he said the state's problems would be multiplied by the approach taken by both Republican candidates, Scott Walker (see here) and Mark Neumann.

"The other guys are saying that they would cut $1.8 billion from the
taxes of the state's wealthiest and most privileged citizens." Moreover, while many pundits and political observers are predicting  a GOP landslide, "I haven't heard one person say, 'let's go back to the those George Bush economic policies."

OWNERSHIP SOCIETY = YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Wisconsin's first African-American in
Congress, delivered a thorough critique of the Republican policies,
charging that "a return to the 'ownership society' means that
average Americans are on their own."

Among the many other featured speakers were U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (his speech here), opposed for re-election by a self-funded millionaire Ron Johnson. The lineup also included talk-show host and author Laura Flanders (her speech here), voting-rights and campaign-finance reform advocate John Bonifaz, labor attorney and author (Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?)  Thomas Geoghegan, and California Nurses Association lobbyist and singlepayer healthcare advocate Donna Smith (her speech here).

Serving as the lively and light-hearted hosts for the day were labor attorney and FightingBob.com founder Ed Garvey and John Nichols, Nation correspondent and author, most recently with Bob McChesney, ofThe Death and Life of American Journalism.

Many thanks to Karen Chin for video footage of speeches and to Megan Yost for the photograph.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger's work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcommunications.org/zspace/rogerdbybee.

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