Thursday, June 22, 2017

Book Review: 'Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow' by Jim Hightower with Susan DeMarco

Review by Susan Gardner

Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow 
By Jim Hightower with Susan DeMarco 
John Wiley & Sons, $25.95 
New Jersey, 2008
It takes a special breed of Democrat to survive in Texas, one that’s savvy and naturally contrarian and boasting a streak of fatalistic humor that can see the party through its long, lean years. Molly Ivins and Anne Richards were both these kinds of Texans, and a great loss it was to America and Democrats in general when these two wonderfully sassy, big-mouthed women passed on to the great caucus in the sky. But we still have Jim Hightower and his sidekick, Susan DeMarco, to regale us with the populist tales and tragedies of fighting the good fight in the Lone Star state.
Hightower’s latest, Swim Against the Current tailors the raconteur’s art to political ends, as he and his co-author fan out across America in search of inspirational (and often raucus) stories of people who refused to be herded, cowed or otherwise shut up when faced with injustice or problems to be solved. Most of the organizations and individuals in this book were ones I was unfamiliar with--a bonus for someone as immersed in politics as I am on a day-to-day level. To read anew about fights against soulless corporatists from regions all across the country--and not just the ones many of us have come to know and love--is a delight.
The book is divided into three sections roughly equal in length-- Business, Politics and Life. In the first portion, "Business," the reader is treated to stories about people who bucked the corporate mainstream and either founded businesses or created business solutions that take into account much, much more than the proverbial bottom line. Fair trade coffee purchasing and co-op distributions are explored, as well as an organic farming co-op. In both cases, the impetus to discover new ways of dealing with producers, consumers and what falls between those two parties become part of a larger journey for the founders. Quality of life issues--time with family and friends, work that fulfills higher callings--take the front seat from many of these innovators. Breaking free of tired ways of thinking and organizing allow glimpses of a "soulful" path to smaller entrepreneurship than is suggested by the current models we all live with today.
One of the bonuses of the personal success stories told in this book is the recounting of the practical steps people took to get from here to there: No one woke up one morning with a pat, complex plan in their heads. Rather, the process of finding others, gathering information, testing the waters, starting small then growing cautiously, is outlined, step-by step.
A typical inspirational story is told about a self-organizing dairy co-op:
Even though Organic Valley is a business (a realm that normally celebrates and rewards self-serving greed), it is showing that a successful business can embrace the humanizing ethic of working for the common good. It has organized its business around what it calls the "partnership society," a collaboration among its farmers employees, customers and communities,
This "partnership" is a theme returned to in every story Hightower and DeMarco tell, emphasizing the underlying mutual dependence inherent in the populist worldview that lies underneath much of America’s can-do and know-how society. Whether it’s Chris Johnson in Austin, Texas, who cooperatively founds a pharmacy specifically for residents with no health insurance, or Charlie Alfero, who took it upon himself to design a health care provider system for a rural area with none, reliance on more than one’s own bootstraps--and risking all to get communities to "buy in" to the programs and "co-own"--is at the heart of all these stories that show the best of America on display.
The final third of the book focuses almost entirely on the unlikely new alliance--and the details about how it came about --between evangelicals and the scientific community around the challenge of the global warming. The historical distrust between the two groups was difficult to overcome, and the successful rapprochement only came about because of the willingness to risk by outstanding individuals on both sides of the aisle. The Christian notion that stewardship of the planet could be made to harmonize with secular science views was most definitely not an intuitive one for either faction, but visionaries within both camps refused to give up on the alliance, and its ultimate success in unification shows a great deal of hope for future unlikely endeavors in other realms.
Resources are provided at the end of each section for follow-up if readers are interested in learning more about the specific business and organizations; additional general resources are on offer as well.
This is primarily a book to buck you up with stories you haven’t heard yet, from people who are fighting the same fight you’re fighting in often more dire circumstances. We all need some inspiration from time to time to remind us of what we’re fighting for, not just against. Hightower and DeMarco provide it in these pages, thank our lucky stars, with the people and enterprises they highlight in Swim Against the Current.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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