Books: Andrew Kopkind’s polemic that power comes only from the barrel of a gun. Greg Olds had the fortune and misfortune of running the Observer during this period. He did a good job, somehow packaging, issue after issue, the impotence and rage of the time, while maintaining the flow of reportage and thought about reform. The Observer was assailed, as were all of the voices of reform on the left, by the anti-politicals, those who opposed effort through politics and called for revolution now and revolution only, ultimately probably for violence, and Greg fell in with them, although never on behalf of violence. So finally his period came to an end, not happily; for how could any social venture, involved in such a period, end happily? He, too, was faithful to his views and the time, and he kept the Observer going. When Kaye Northcott and Molly Ivins began as editors, the cultural revolution, already well launched, was flowing full force, a counter-cultural persistence of people who believe in people, but could not, any longer, in politics. Kaye never liked politics or politicians, generally, and the disgust she felt about the Legislatureits remoteness from any straightforward humanism, the unction, the ass-pinching chauvinism of its membersrequired of her a steeling, a gritting of her jaws, to go back in there, and back in again, to report their doings. Molly’s reportage in Minneapolis had seemed, to me, when I read it before she came, optimistic and hopeful about reform and idealism, but when settled into Each editor has expressed, representatively, the tendencies of his or her period the Texas realities, she laughed more and more, and her high wit became the mark of her work. Once, at El Rancho, a Mexican restaurant in Austin, I asked her when she was going to take any issue seriously, and she replied something to the effect that she would, as soon as she saw a serious prospect of reform. Look, after all, at what was happening nationally: Nixon, the McGovern debacle, Watergate, Ford. Yet Kaye and Molly delivered the Observer from the chauvinism that is an organic part of the Texas way, and being attentive to the ideas and causes of the counter-culture, they, too, expressed and represented the most hopeful impulses of their melancholy period. Molly gave us laughter, delirious, sometimes, the thing was so sad, but always laughter. Kaye ran a tight ship, she was faithful to her views and the humanist cause. And they, too, kept the 30 The Texas Observer Observer going, kept it intact and honorable. So each editor, until now, served conscientiously and well, and expressed, representatively, the tendencies of his or her period. All the while, two other people, and those associated with them, have been like the wheels to a car, like . . . through the Northcott years wings to a bird. Sarah Payne, the first business manager: she was the one who kept the office open 9 to 5, she was the one who made excuses for me and Willie when we were chasing around the state or holed up somewhere, she was the one who kept the papers going out to the people who subscribed. She was succeeded by a young man as devoted, as dedicated, as she was, Cliff Olofson. All these years since, Cliff has been, in his turn, the one who kept the office open, who supervised the promotional mailings, who kept the subscribers current. Cliff is such a basic to the Observer’s persistence and success, you can call the office damn near any hour before midnight and like as not he’ll answer. O So, we have been through all this, you, the readers, and we, the cultural workers, of the Observer. What I personally have learned is that the truth is not enough, and the movements of each period must take, willy-nilly, the tones that are given to them. Thus it is that I am now excited by the times that have arrived in the national history, for we have learned too painfully the intractability of power, even as we have begun to find new forms and doctrines for the control of corporations and the restoration of democratic power. In the Fifties we had hope; in the Seventies we have experience. What I was looking for, among the applicants for the Observer editorship for this next period, were journalists who understand that we are governed now by the corporations; that politics is the shadow of economics; that the truth is not enough; that people must act in their own real interests if they are not to be completely dispossessed. There were a dozen people among the applicants, or more than a dozen, who would have made good and interesting editors. There were three or four who would have made excellent and rousing editors. There were two or three who fully understood the things I have just specified as the keys to our social condition. But there was only one, Hightower, who knew all these things and had best shown beyond any kind of doubt his dedication, ability, judgment, and willingness to sacrifice personally for his views. I leave to him, and to his gifted new associates in the Observer venture, the description of their purposes. All there is need for me to say here is that when I looked for a journalist passionately and commonsensically devoted to ordinary people, with the proved will to sacrifice and the proved ability to arouse people to their own interests, I found Hightower. Whatever he says in his first column, I am reasonably sure he will not be saying much or anything about his book, Eat Your Heart Out, so I shall. This is the classic work on the American food industry. What Nader did on cars, Hightower has done on food. I have given away a dozen copies of the paperback edition; I have even given one to my mother, whose Scotch dander has become near-revolutionary zeal as she has experienced, week after week, the injustices that come to bear on the lives of people at the supermarkets. When national campaign manager for the populist Fred Harris, Hightower took no pay; he, like the other Harris staffers, worked for belief. They knew that the things Harris was saying were true; they knew the truth is not enough, you have to act; they acted. Now Jim has chosen to return from Washington to Texas to go back into the lived lives of the people, perhaps to refresh his own understandings, but also to help them see their own interests so they will act on their own behalf. I welcome him back to Texas and to the Observer with more enthusiasm than I have ever felt for any new Observer editor, not because he personally is better in prq.spect than any of them, but because the time for the truth about power joined to people’s action on their own behalf has finally, in my lifetime, come, and Hightower is the right person in the right place to help this time be. R.D.
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