The following is a transcript of Bill Moyers’ interview with Jim Hightower from the final broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal. It has been edited for length.
BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, a whole lot of just plain Americans woke up to realize the economic system was working against them. They had believed in it; they worked hard to make it work for them. They knew its shortcomings but saw in it the way to a decent return for their labor and a better future for their families.
Then, one day, calamity struck: The system turned on them. And they discovered that they had been betrayed, bamboozled, by the people at the top.
But they didn’t hang their heads and turn tail, like a dog whipped by its master. They organized and fought back – millions of them in a grass roots movement for democracy. What they did became known as the Populist Moment, an extraordinary time in our country’s history.
But, the flimflam gang returned with a vengeance in our time – the monied interests and political mercenaries who connived to bring on a calamity that lost eleven million Americans their jobs, robbed people of their homes and pensions, and brought the world’s economy crashing down.
But once again, people are organizing and fighting back; as they did in that early Populist Moment that took on the monopolies and financial trusts. The stirrings of a popular insurgency could be seen late this week as thousands marched on Wall Street. These people are angry at the banks that have cost them so dearly and they want reforms to prevent similar disasters in the future. They want to break up the Wall Street oligarchy and require the banks to use their capital to build and revitalize and innovate, to create jobs and security.
Similar protests occurred this week in San Francisco, North Carolina and Kansas City, where people rallied to demand an accounting from the giant Bank of America.
Among their ranks was a contingent from Iowa, proud and vocal inheritors of America’s populist spirit. We first met them at a rally last fall.
MIKE MCCARTHY: We’re losing jobs. We’re losing state employees. We’re losing industry and businesses. We’re losing farms and homes. And meanwhile, these people across the street are trying to divvy up their record profits, in tens of millions of dollars worth of bonuses. And that’s not fair, it’s not fair. …
BILL MOYERS: Mike McCarthy and a busload of his Iowa neighbors rode almost six hours to get here. … They belong to an organization called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Or CCI. They take their fighting spirit, everywhere they go.
LARRY GINTER: If you’ve seen your pensions or retirement take a hit, stand up. Dissent is apple pie and ice cream. If you think it’s time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up. Our founding fathers spoke out against the injustice. I mean, they were great populist, great radicals. … You just can’t sit back and let the big boys walk all over you. You have to stand up and fight. Give yourselves a hand!
BILL MOYERS: Larry Ginter still lives on the Iowa farm where he was born. He spent two years in the army, and more than fifty on the prairie scratching out a living from the land.
LARRY GINTER: I seen a lot of heartache out here on the farms family farmers not getting the fair prices. And then you see workers not getting a fair wage. And things like this always got to me. I always felt I had to get involved in that. There’s a saying, “Revolution begins in a peasant hut.” You got to fight for the justice. You got to fight for the fair wage. You got to fight for housing. You got to fight for healthcare. Fight for the elderly, fight for family farmers and workers. Fight for the environment. And that’s what Iowa CCI does.
BILL MOYERS: For more than thirty years, they have marched their Midwest brand of outrage through city streets, rural towns, and bank lobbies. … I don’t know anyone who embodies that old-time, populist gospel, the high spirits and fierce commitment to justice that you just witnessed among the good people of Iowa more than my longtime friend, Jim Hightower.
With a down home wit and a finely honed outrage, Hightower pins the tail on the plutocrats.
A recovering politician, one time commissioner of agriculture in Texas, he now broadcasts daily radio commentaries and publishes this indispensable monthly newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown.” I admire the journalism in “The Lowdown” so much I helped raise money to raise its profile some years ago. In the spirit of fair trade, Jim has allowed me to borrow some of his best lines, including that rousing populist cry from deep in our native East Texas, “the water won’t clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek.”
He’s been at it so long that this weekend, Jim is being honored at Texas State University in San Marcos with an exhibition celebrating his life’s work as a populist journalist, historian and advocate.