In my Texas politicking period, I was able to score a couple of underdog victories for statewide office simply by going down the road. Instead of another high-tech, made-for-television campaign, I crisscrossed this far-flung state with high-touch populist politics, visiting with folks in just about every place that has a ZIP code.
By getting out to where the workaday people actually were–in chat & chew cafes and inner-city churches, union halls and community colleges, kitchens and bars–not only did I gain support but, more important, I learned what ordinary people were doing and thinking, and I began to see the possibilities for building progressive majorities.
While most Texans who rallied behind my campaigns would not call themselves progressive, neither were they the bland bunch of corporate conservatives, compliant workers and contented consumers pictured by the pundits and consultants. At their core, I found grassroots Texans to be anti-establishment mavericks–and a whole lot more savvy, activist, progressive and politically exciting than the Powers That Be could ever imagine.
Since those days, I’ve continued going down the road, working with grassroots groups all across our country–and absorbing the phenomenal energy and rebellious spirit that is steadily spreading across our land, albeit mostly beneath the radar of the cognoscenti holed up in the power centers. Trying to judge America’s political possibilities by focusing on the dismal waltz of the dead in Washington is like a cat watching the wrong mousehole. Our future is out here, where we can build on the work of hundreds of thousands of unsung people who daily are taking on the corporate greedheads and political boneheads. These people are lighting prairie fires of rebellion against the way things are, and from them, we can learn how to put progress back in progressive.
Winning Against Wal-Mart
I’ve learned that progress crops up in unexpected places, such as in hard-core conservative Arizona. I recently traveled there for a meeting of Local 99 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), where I met a scrappy and happy group of veterans from the Wal-Mart wars. They’ve been forging alliances with local businesses, neighborhood groups and just plain folks, and in the past three years these coalitions have stunned the company by stopping ten new Wal-Mart stores.
Why single out Wal-Mart? Because it’s a hog. Despite the homespun image it cultivates in its ads, it operates with an arrogance and avarice that would make Enron blush and John D. Rockefeller envious. It’s the world’s biggest retail corporation and America’s largest private employer; Sam Robson Walton, a member of the ruling family, is one of the richest people on earth.