Too often in progressive/left circles there is a tendency to examine what is wrong with things and not present viable solutions. There is an endless supply of stories that can easily upset most anyone, but there doesn’t seem to be as much of an effort to share stories about what people are doing to make a difference. Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow is a book highlighting the success stories of people who are making a difference.
Written by Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco, the book is organized into three main sections: alternative economics, political organizing, and examples of personal transformation. In the alternative economics section, the authors begin with the story of Organic Valley Family Farms. Organic Valley Family Farms was born out of the family farm crisis of the 1980s, when numerous small farmers in Wisconsin got together to discuss how they could survive in an agri-business friendly market. These farmers realized that they needed each other and formed a co-op that not only saved their farms, but led to a dynamic model of sustainable farming that provides organic food to thousands of people. One principle they follow that was refreshing to read was that the co-op decided collectively what to do with the profits made off of sales, instead of individual farmers just taking their share.
Another great example of a cooperative model that works is the Union Cab Cooperative. This endeavor got its start when a commercial cab company in Madison, Wisconsin fought an effort by the cab drivers to organize a union. Out of desperation, the cab company shut down its operation in the hopes that the union would be defeated. Not to be outdone by this move, the cab drivers decided to start their own business on a cooperative model that provides a better wage, benefits and a pool of full-time mechanics to keep the vehicles safe and efficient.
The political organizing section features stories on voter registration, the campaign for clean elections, and the living wage campaigns being organized by ACORN. The last section looks at examples of personal transformation, with an emphasis on the religious community’s involvement in environmental stewardship. The example I found most interesting was the conversation of an ultra-right wing evangelical minister in Idaho who became a strong environmental advocate. Tri Robinson historically fit all the stereotypes of an evangelical-conservative, anti-gay, patriarchal, and a supporter of recent Republican administrations. However, Robinson eventually began to think more about his responsibility to the non-human world and before you know it he was preaching sermons on sustainability. The minister’s public declarations in favor of the earth gave members of his church a space in which to voice their opposition to environmental destruction and soon the church was at the forefront of the evangelical environmental movement.
The book is a little light on a larger analysis of capitalism, globalization, and power in the US, but it does remain true to its stated purpose of sharing inspirational stories. Many of people are ones that the authors have encountered while touring in recent years for previous books and campaigns. Another great aspect of the book is that after each of the three sections the authors provide a list of organizations and campaigns to support and become involved in. Those of us who work for change would do well to learn from the importance of sharing similar stories of people taking matters into their own hands and fighting against the odds to create more humane ways of living.
Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco, Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, (Wiley, 2008).