The Hightower Report

The Nobel Prize for Greed; and Camp Wellstone Winners


THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR GREED

What a scream John Tierney is! I howled with laughter when I read this New York Times columnist's comic piece a while back promoting Wal-Mart for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, with perfect deadpan delivery, Tierney asserted that no one "is doing more to alleviate third world poverty than Wal-Mart." Seriously! Not even Voltaire at his satirical best could have come up with such a farcical plot. I'd love to see Tierney take it to the road.

The right-wing pundit playfully claims that Third World poor folks are lucky to get $2-a-day jobs in urban sweatshops making stuff for Wal-Mart because this is better than the dollar-a-day drudge of working with their own families back in poor rural villages. Yes, getting poked in the eye is so much better than getting shot in the head.

Wouldn't it be fun for Tierney to meet Ana Barahona? She's one of the lucky sweatshop workers that Tierney wrote about. Ana was recently brought from Nicaragua to the U.S. by the women's labor group, STITCH, to talk personally about how it is that Wal-Mart helps impoverished workers. "I wanted to vomit," Barahona said when she visited a U.S. Wal-Mart store and saw some $30 slacks that she'd been paid 12 cents to make.

Barahona tells of having to work with toxic chemicals without protective equipment, getting only two bathroom passes a day, sometimes forced to work 24-hour "shifts" with no overtime pay, and being subject to firing if she gets pregnant or "too fat." Oh, and that $2 a day that Tierney heralded? Barahona says the factory deducts $1 for lunch and about 50 cents for transportation, so the women skip lunch to "have something left."

It's always helpful to have six-figure pundits like Tierney tell us how great it is for impoverished people to work in sweatshops. I say, let's put him in one for a year! Then we can all laugh with him all the way to the nearest Wal-Mart, where he can buy some of that "cheap stuff."


CAMP WELLSTONE WINNERS

Democracy doesn't happen by accident. It happens when grassroots agitation melds with good organization.

One group that is doing a great job of applying organization to agitation is Wellstone Action. Named for the legendary progressive senator Paul Wellstone, this group holds intensive training sessions around the country to hone the political skills of potential candidates, campaign workers, and citizen activists. Called "Camp Wellstone," these sessions empower regular folks to act on their progressive principles, to challenge even the most entrenched political establishment … and to win.

Begun in 2003, Wellstone Action has been educating and motivating a whole new generation of grassroots leaders who are not beholden to money interests, not tied to old-line political hierarchies, and not afraid to offer a new politics based on ideas and ideals. And now, graduates of these citizenship camps are running winning campaigns all across the country.

In the Nov. 7 election, Camp Wellstone alumni ran for local, state, and federal offices, and 78 of them were elected in 18 states. They will now be state senators, country commissioners, secretaries of state, and even members of Congress – three Wellstone grads (John Hall of New York, David Loebsack of Iowa, and Tim Walz of Minnesota) were elected to the U.S. house this year. In addition, one of Wellstone Action's trainers, Keith Ellison, was elected to the house, becoming the first Muslim to serve in Congress.

Just as important are the scores of alumni who worked on winning campaigns – or who were involved in campaigns that didn't win this time but laid a base for future wins. Democracy is not a quick-fix project; it's built over the long haul by grassroots people who are principled, passionate … and skilled.

To get involved in Camp Wellstone, call 651/645-3939, or go to www.wellstone.org.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

John Tierney, New York Times, Wal-Mart, Nobel Peace Prize, sweatshops, STITCH, Wellstone Action, Paul Wellstone, John Hall, David Loebsack, Time Walz, Keith Ellison

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