At 9 a.m. June 25, the first full day of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in San Antonio, most of the round tables in Room 103B of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center sat empty. Those planning to sit at them were drifting around the cheese danishes and bagels in the showroom across the hall. But within 10 minutes, the room was full.
After a reverent introduction from The Colorado Springs Independent publisher John Weiss — “Every time you bring him to Colorado Springs, it’s like a rock band” — former Texas Observer editor Jim Hightower took the mic, wearing his signature cowboy hat.
“It makes me happier than a flea at a dog show to be here,” he began, “as we’ve gathered here to study the heady issues of the First Amendment.” Placing the audience in the company of Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair and Mother Jones, he said that alternative weeklies are the spirit of American journalism: “Sassy, scrappy, inquisitive and irreverent…essential.”
Though the onetime Texas Agricultural Commissioner (“a run for public office is the only downward career move you can make from journalism”) spent a lot of his 45 minutes talking about the state of American politics today, he spent just as much time focusing on the success stories of progressive grassroots organizing and the pivotal role of the alternative media therein.
In his introduction, Weiss had described Colorado Springs as a city so conservative that “for two decades the daily paper prohibited the words ‘public school,'” preferring instead the phrase “taxpayer-supported.” Hightower saw a silver lining in what’s going on in Colorado Springs, citing The Independent’s success in guaranteeing preservation of nature trails and open public spaces.
Quoting a chapter heading, “Never Have So Few Done So Much for So Few,” from his most recent book, “Thieves in High Places,” Hightower summed up the current political climate, and he emphasized that the voice of the alternative media is more important now than ever before. “People tell me Fox is the most powerful media organization in the country,” he said. “That’s bullshit — we are when we work together.”
Nora Ankrum is a proofreader at The Austin Chronicle in Texas. In her spare time she copyedits the zine Two Note Solo. This article was originally published in the June 26 issue of the San AANtonio Convention Daily.