For Bleeding Hearts Everywhere...
Year by year, big
corporations gain a tighter grip on life in America. Tax breaks and so-called fair trade agreements allow them to shift thousands of jobs to low-paid, Third World workers. Employment opportunities not shipped abroad are given to temporary workers, thus allowing the same companies to avoid costly benefit programs. Elsewhere, traditional mom-and-pop businesses are being destroyed by a wave of nondescript chain stores that have swept the country like wildfire. Even sports franchises now conspire against the working man, moving from city to city as new stadiums promise a few billionaire owners huge revenues from the sale of lavishly furnished, corporate-owned "luxury boxes."
Scary stuff. But America as a "corporate state" is not a new concept - we've been heading in that direction since the industrial age of this country began. Such trends have also drastically impaired the ability of American media to cover these issues. The independently owned daily paper is largely a thing of the past, replaced by a bland publication whose parent company probably has significant holdings in radio, television, and cable throughout several U.S. markets. As for the major networks, they now represent a small bump in the extensive portfolio of some giant entertainment conglomerate. Speak out and you might wind up like Jim Hightower, whose controversial call-in radio show was canceled shortly after ABC was purchased by Disney.
But there's always hope that this unfortunate trend can be reversed. Or at least that's the prevailing logic behind the Progressive Populist, a new monthly publication edited by Austinite Jim Cullen, a former associate editor of The Texas Observer. Printed in tabloid format, the inaugural issue boasts contributions from Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, Ronnie Dugger, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, media critics Jeff Cohen and Normon Solomon, plus a host of accomplished freelancers. Stories in this 24-page issue cover everything from union-busting to the struggles of the family farmer, the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit to ongoing attacks on environmental regulations.
"The basic philosophy of this paper is that people are more important than corporations," explains the 41-year-old Cullen. "We believe that corporations have taken too great a role in government and that the people need to work to reestablish democracy." Also noteworthy is the populist belief that the political landscape must be viewed from top to bottom - wealthy to poor - not left to right. Cullen stresses the importance of papers like Progressive Populist in delivering this message, since it is one routinely ignored by traditional press outlets: "The mainstream media does not address the issue of the concentration of power in corporations because by and large these outlets are owned by the same large corporations."
Nor do a lot of mainstream politicians. The inaugural issue of the new paper contains essays from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and former Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-SD). The publication also contains the promise that "we will not be a Democratic Party organ; we will support progressive Democrats, progressive independent or alternative candidates if they have a chance of winning, and, if any progressive Republicans shows themselves, we will give them a hearing." To this end, Cullen concedes that one of the more confusing aspects of the current political spectrum is that GOP candidates are often more skilled at marketing their concerns as those of the common man. Notes Cullen, "Republicans have done a lot better of taking populist symbols and drafting it into their corporate agenda."
As for the paper's role in this dialogue, Cullen summarizes it as such: "We aim to make the Progressive Populist the antidote to the monopoly daily news, throw a lifeline to progressives who feel like they are stranded in a sea of conservatives, and maybe play a role in reviving political debate." He views the target audience as working people, small business owners, farmers and ranchers: "A lot of people are surprised when you say you are trying to attract small business owners, because they often characterize these people as conservative. But a lot of these small business owners are very, very concerned about the increasing power of large corporations, especially those who live in smaller towns."
Take away the small town caveat and Cullen could well be describing his own foray into the world of publishing. Operated on a shoe-string budget (brothers Art and John Cullen design and print the publication at their Iowa-based Storm Lake Times), the paper only needs a few thousand subscriptions to reach the break-even point. Eventually, Cullen says, he'll try to sway a few advertisers, but only after he's completely satisfied with the editorial content. And he remains undaunted by recent encroachments of electronic media to a world once dominated by print: "There's still a big role for print media in our society. Some people just don't want to read a newspaper over the computer."
For those who do, however, the Progressive Populist has its own web site (http://www.eden.com/~reporter), a site that has already generated about 200 subscriptions. Or call 447-0455 for a free sample issue of the new paper.