October 24, 2003
This essay is from Michael Polignano’s book Taking Our Own Side, available in hardcover, paperback, and PDF download here.
Last night I attended a screening of We Interrupt This Empire, a documentary video presented as a fundraising event for anti-FTAA activists on the University of California, Berkeley campus. (The “FTAA” refers to the “Free Trade Area of the Americas,” a proposal that would extend NAFTA to cover the western hemisphere.) The video covers the massive protests that occurred in San Francisco the day after bombing in Iraq commenced, the so-called “direct action” protests designed to shut down the major corporations for a day.
The documentary not only does an excellent job at informing its audience of the relevant facts, it also instills in viewers a spirit of rebellion, a sense that acting directly against an unjust system is the way to go. The video highlights the underground wheeling-and-dealing and insider bartering between the corporate leaders and politicians who direct our foreign policy.
It shows a clip I have never seen, even once, on the mainstream media: Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s, back when Hussein posed no threat to US economic interests.
It shows how all the major media networks fell in line to support the war, giving the hundred or so pro-war marchers in Washington almost as much coverage as was given to the hundreds of thousands who marched in San Francisco.
It shows Bush’s vacuous, simian countenance attempting a look of genuine gravity and profundity the night the bombing started.
It accurately depicts the misguided “patriots” who naïvely believe what they’re told to believe. It interviews Muslims who have been affected by the PATRIOT act, and it reveals Ashcroft’s smirk as he’s asked a question regarding a change in the national mood ring color from yellow to orange.
It shows the capitalist system at its worst, though its worst is the only conceivable outcome after all feelings of higher loyalty to the environment and to one’s race and culture have been removed. Yet it also shows people taking their anger and striking back against the system.
Most of my life I’d considered myself a conservative, and had thus viewed New Age types, long-haired hippies, and pot-smoking activists with suspicion, and rightfully so. Many have character flaws as well as unrealistic, unnatural attitudes about how the world works. I had always assumed most of them dressed and acted as they do simply to spite their parents or to rebel in an “approved” way, a way that doesn’t truly address what’s wrong with the country.
Yet my opinion has changed over the past few years. I underestimated the general intelligence of most of them, and I’ve discovered that many can argue quite articulately for why America’s “war on drugs” or the “war on terror” should be ended.
Of course, I will never become one. Nearly all tote politically correct ideas about race, and few are willing to admit any genetically based, immutable differences in ability between individuals. Thus their socialist visions would spell disaster for America.
Yet those of us who are not as naïve about race have much to learn from these leftists. We need to emulate their level of social activism and their ability to organize and protest effectively.
More importantly, we need to get our message out using every resource available to us, as they do. We Interrupt This Empire left me feeling invigorated and inspired, and wanting to participate in future protests. It expresses a revolutionary spirit more and more people are beginning to share, a spirit of outrage and contempt for the self-serving oligarchy that rules this country. It shows people justifiably enraged at the fact they’ve lost control over their government. And it shows them defying authority to oppose it.
I’m convinced of the power of video to deliver a compelling message that affects the viewer on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one. It’s now time to design documentary videos that expose America’s racial disparities in graphic, sensual detail.
No technological impediments stop us from achieving this goal. Sophisticated editing that used to require expensive, specialized equipment can now be done on a personal computer. The number of people who have high-speed internet connections capable of high-quality streaming video will increase exponentially in the next several years. In the future many satellite and broadband cable TV networks will be “wired,” and viewing a website will be as easy as switching a channel . . .
In other words, the dominoes are all lined up. All we need to do is act.
Note: The entire movie is now available on YouTube: