I wrote about the “Battle in Seattle” movie last year when I saw an advance screening of the film in Los Angeles. The post is here, talking about the recent court case awarding activists $1,000,000 for wrongful arrest on one of the days. Yeah, that took eight years in court.
Well, the film has yet to be picked up by a distributor, but it has begun to play at film festivals, including last week’s Seattle International Film Festival and is getting attention. Here is a trailer for the film:
And here’s a post from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer talking about the film, quoting David Solnit liberally.
The Film Website
I said before that I would give my thoughts on the film after others who are more intimately involved with the film and reclaiming the story have done so – and the are starting to, a bit. The website that I called “fledgling” in my last post is now a real website, called “The Real Battle in Seattle.” If you were in Seattle, I urge to go to this site and post your stories and reflections. You’ll notice that the film’s website has created this exact same content-sharing mechanism–not such a coincidence, and I’m sure they didn’t come up with that idea. It is particularly telling that the “join the movement” link essentially means you sign up to get updates about the movie, and that the “The WTO” link goes to the Wikipedia WTO article. Yeah. When I saw the film, I thought it did an OK job of presenting the WTO in a critical light, highlighting the mass movements against it (and other organizations). But linking to the uncritical Wikipedia article in lieu of creating or reprinting a critical analysis of the organization and of globalization in general is at best a missed opportunity or a sign of laziness and corner cutting, and at worst it’s, well, “Join the Movement” = join our mailing list. That does say it all I guess.
In a nutshell, there are a lot of good things about the movie. It portrays activists as central characters and most of the time treats them sympathetically. That doesn’t happen often. I’m sure you can think of movies where activists or “radicals” are portrayed as crazy or destructive, or at best well-meaning but misguided. The first two mainstream films that leap to mind are “12 Monkeys” and “28 Days Later” (where animal rights activists liberate monkeys infected with the “Rage” virus setting off a massive epidemic. That’s not too sympathetic). If I gave it a few more minutes, I could think of more, but I know you can fill in the blanks.
Tonight I attended a talk at CounterPulse by local muralist Mona Caron. CounterPulse, itself, is an amazing community gem – a performance and art space that often hosts lectures on politics, art, the city, history, nature, and other exciting topics. They do an entire reading series, and their schedule is here.
Mona is amazing. I’ve never met her or talked to her, but I’ve seen her work and it has aways moved me. The first piece I ever saw was the Market Street Railway Mural, at Market and Church.
Yes, I like doing book reviews, and for some reason, a couple of them have been printed in In These Times lately. Heres a link to my review of Visions of Peace and Justice: Over 30 Years of Political Posters from the Archives of Inkworks Press, called “Activism Illustrated.”
I wrote this review after attending the book release event at La Pena in Berkeley, CA. I was so moved by the event, and by this amazing and beautiful collection, I wanted to help them spread the word. Please support Inkworks by buying a book today, and use the book as an opportunity to reflect on the role of art, artists, printers, and collectively run businesses in the fight for social justice.
Thanks to everyone at Inkworks that made this happen, and all the artists who have created beautiful posters over the years.
The book, edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland, is an amazing and wide-ranging collection. The highlights are an article on the Haymarket memorials by Nicolas Lampert, and an essay on radical puppetry by Morgan Andrews. Read more at the ITT site, and check out interviews with Josh and Nicolas from May 1 at the Against the Grain site – Morgan will be appearing on the show in June.
With my current job at KPFA’s Against the Grain, I’ve been reading a lot more books. I’ve really enjoyed the kick-in-the-pants to not only purchase good books, but read and finish them.
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the new book by Kristian Williams: American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination on South End Press. We had Kristian on the show last week, and you can listen the audio on the Against the Grain website.
First, let me tell you a little about the book. In the book American Methods, Kristian argues that Abu Ghraib is not that work of a few “bad apples” but is a symptom of a larger system that not only encourages and enables such abuses, but uses torture and abuse strategically both at home and abroad. Throughout the book, Kristian uses testimony from detainees and torture victims, soldiers and police who have participated in torture, and witnesses such as interpreters to provide a detailed and well documented picture of torture and other abuses. These make up some of the more than 300 documented complaints of abuse from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo. While only 280 pages, this exhaustively researched book contains over 750 end notes and provides a clear analysis of how policy decisions made by the Bush Administration shortly after September 11 regarding strict and limited use of some torture techniques migrated from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan to Iraq, escalating along the way. American Methods firmly situates these policy decisions in a historical context, convincingly arguing that the foundation for Abu Ghraib was laid long before Bush. Not only does Kristian conclusively show that the U.S. has violated international law, he spends an entire chapter discussing the possible moral justifications for torture – and then debunks them. I found this discussion fascinating and felt it made his arguments stronger.
Now, here are my comments.
1. This book was difficult to read, and it is not bedtime reading. When I first started reading it, the first-hand accounts from survivors of abuse, as well as documentation from those who had witnessed torture was horrible. It was hard to get past. I think it was necessary for Kristian to tell these tales in detail because it impresses upon the reader to what extent torture actually happens, and how it happens. It’s more difficult to write off something as not that bad or a rare exception, but with the exhaustive amount of documentation, it’s impossible to do that.
Kristian shared with me a personal essay that he wrote talking about how reading accounts from survivors day after day was disturbing, and it makes me all the more appreciative of the work he did.
2. Sometimes I read a book or hear a news story, and I think to myself, why aren’t people freaking out about this? I mean, American Methods conclusively and thoroughly documents how the U.S. uses torture, that its methods are illegal, and that the U.S. doesn’t care what the world thinks (because we think we’re better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply). We should be up in arms!! So what is it about Americans that we hear this information and it doesn’t spur us to action? Or it spurs some people to action and not others? It makes me think about the nature of change and what it takes to inspire people to do something to change the world around them.
In the past I’ve thought that people need to be personally effected by something (like knowing a soldier who is killed in the war) to begin campaining against it – but something like torture by the U.S. Military (I won’t even talk about the part of the book which documents abuses in U.S. prisons and jails), won’t effect most Americans. Despite that, it is just so wrong, that any normal person should oppose it. To be against the war, instead of being personally effected by it, do people need to be reached with a critical mass of information to be moved to action? Is it only when someone learns about torture AND about oil AND ten other things? What does this mean for journalists and people who are trying to make change?
Of course the counterpart to being personally effected or to gaining enough knowledge is how important it is for people to know that they can make change. That their individual action or inaction makes a difference. And though I could go on for some time about how to do that, I realize I am off on quite a tangent here, so I’ll conclude by congratulating Kristian on an amazing accomplishment, and encourage everyone to pick up this book.