If you have iTunes on your computer, you can now download and listen to our Podcasts that way as well. Just go to the Music Store, select "Podcasts" and then type "Independent America" in the "Search All Podcasts" engine.
American expat Heather reflects on our 12,000 mile trip across her country. The food, the people, the food, the politics. And yes. The food. We're all pretty sure she can't wait to start feeding her Viva Epicurea food blog again once she's back in Kelowna. But wait -- there's more Independent America to be explore tomorrow, just south of Seattle. Stay tuned.
Podcast #10 with AMIBA's (American Independent Business Alliance) Jennifer Rockne.
This morning we had an inspiring visit with the folks from Powell WY who started their own department store after the corporate chains abandoned them (Western self-sufficiency at its best, so successful that Cody residents who already have a K-Mart and Wal-Mart actually head to Powell to shop at "The Merc"). Then we moved on to Bozeman MT to share our expedition's findings with Jennifer. She has encouraged us to undertake Independent America for the last two years. So we popped by her home office to bounce some of our discoveries off of a true veteran of the corporate wars.
Jessica Kolterman's family have lived in Seward Nebraska since the early 19th century. They also helped put it on the map by making it America's official July 4th Small Town. Jessica is an anti-abortion Republican who supports the President's "War Against Terror." This 27 year-old also has some strong views about what it takes to keep Seward independent -- she opposed the recent opening of a Wal-Mart Supercenter here. We thought on this Independence Day weekend, you might enjoy listening to this eloquent young woman on her diverse thoughts about Independent America.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities have the power to seize private property for the purposes of economic development if it serves "a public use." The specific case dealt with the economically depressed town of New London CT and how it wanted to bring in a Pfizer facility -- but a few homeowners resisted. So their houses were condemned, and voila, a huge court case.
This ruling from on high speaks loudly to what we've discovered during this expedition: for many towns abandoned by manufacturers paying middle-class wages, retail now constitutes economic development. So if a town wants to attract a Target or a Wal-Mart to the right area, it can now expropriate the property of unwilling property owners in the name of "public use" and jobs.
That's huge. So we spoke to Vermont Law School professor Janet Milne this morning about this very ruling. It's an appropriate place to discuss the law -- the opening salvo in the war against Big Boxes was fired here in the 1980's as this fiercely independent state split in two on the issue of Wal-Mart. In fact, Professor Milne helped host a "Big Box Symposium" earlier this year at the school, because it remains a statewide issue.
Please note: the heavy breathing you hear from time to time in the background is nothing more than Miles the Black Lab trying to find some shade behind the park bench where the interview was conducted. It's excruciatingly hot and humid in Vermont right now. Dog days you might say.
Texas -- the seemingly monolithic heart of Big, Conservative America. Yet, as we looked deeper, we also see Big, Beautiful and Diverse. Conservatives, and Liberals abound in George W's home state.
We call poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye a "Preservative." Her latest book, "Going Going" tells the story of how one teenage girl starts her own anti-chain campaign, to preserve Mom & Pop.
We chatted with this Palestinian-American dynamo over some Texas tea and a couple of New York City independent bakery cookies that she had carried back from the Big Apple that same day. She told us about why she thought the world was ready for the activist message of "Going Going." And we talked a bit of politics, despite their political differences, Naomi said she got along famously with George W. Bush -- the Texan governor. Especially after he heard her poem about endangered small town Texas [excerpt from "Mint Snowball" Anhinga Press, reproduced with the kind permission of the author]:
"It's hard to know how well a town is when you only swing through it on
suspended Sunday evenings maybe twice a year. Deserted streets. The
dusty faces of stores: elderly aunts with clamped mouths. I like to
think Monday morning still buzzes and whirls -- rounded black autos
roll in from farms, women measure yard goods, boys haul empty bottles
to the grocery, jingling their coins. Nothing dries up. I want towns
like Poth and Panna Maria and Skidmore to continue forever in the
flush, red-cheeked, in love with all the small comings and goings of
cotton trucks, haylifts, peaches, squash, the cheerleader's sleek
ankles, the young farmer's nicked ear. Because if they don't, what
about us in the cities, those gray silhouettes off on the horizon?
George W. Bush, when he was governor, came up to me the day after
hearing that piece and said, "May I tell you about some of the programs
I have to get economic development back into the small towns?" Then he
told me, kindly, with interest, about some of the projects. It touched
me that he took the time.
Clearly, this podcast is a must-listen, and while you're at it, check out "Going Going" (Naomi reads an excerpt near the end of the show).
Before leaving Durango, Colorado, we had a great conversation with Chamber director Bobby Lieb. He's a firm believer in the free market. And you have to believe that since his family used to be in the garment industry before that particular trade was wiped out by cheap imports. Lieb says Starbucks, Wal-Mart and everoyone else has the right to do business in Durango.
But he also warns that communities should not rely on retails sales tax as a form of economic development -- nor should they be giving sales tax abatements to lure corporate chains to their towns. The free market works both ways, and companies such as Wal-Mart have been accused of not playing on a level playing field because of its search for incentives.
Beautiful Durango, Colorado is the unlikely host to a long-simmering controversy over Starbucks. There were protests here when the first Starbucks set up shop near an Albertson's in a strip mall. But now there's a second one in downtown Durango, and it has been vandalized several times since it opened. It's odd because there are a number of other chain stores here -- for some reason, Starbucks has become a provocation.
John Steinbeck called Route 66 the Mother Road. It has long been bypassed by Interstate 40. But a number of people won't let the original 66 die, including John Pritchard. He runs the Hackberry General store in Hackberry, Arizona and is a passionate devotee of the famous road that runs in front of his establishment. Listen to what he told us about America's secondary highways, and what it takes to be a Mom & Pop these days.