Learning from Film Festivals for “The Organizer”

with Beulah Labostrie at the New Orleans showing

New York City   Reasonable people might ask, “What does a community and labor organizer know about documentary films?” The answer would be darned little! I say this after having watched several develop over the last seven years or so as various filmmakers with different ideas and themes tried to get their arms around ACORN and organizing. Some abandoned the project, others combined, and now several have come to some fruition.

With Dan Russell and Mike Gallagher next to film poster at Woodstock

Over recent days with family, friends, members, other organizers and activists, and, importantly, members of the public, I have attended two film festivals in New Orleans and Woodstock, New York where “The Organizer,” a documentary by Nick Taylor from Toronto and Joey Carey from New York was showing. The film is a long look at ACORN and its arc from 1970 through today. I’m a bit too close to it to offer a comprehensive review or critique at this point, but as an organizer, I can offer some reactions from what others have said, and the questions and comments many have made after viewing the film.

People have almost universally been wildly enthusiastic and excited after the showings. They find it inspiring and motivating. That’s fascinating to me. Part of it lies in the fact that the film despite some “dark” passages uses archival and contemporary footage of actions which give force to the passion, resilience, and conviction of the members and leadership. Most of it lies, perhaps not surprisingly, in the classic “eye of the beholder.”

People are grabbing for the light. Most of the questions and responses were really not about the film at all, but tended to be more searching. What could be done now? How do we best organize and respond to the contemporary political crisis? Where can I go, and what can I do to help? This basket of questions were very moving and personal, and often accompanied by some sharing of their own personal situation and their need to act even with limited time and energy. Another bunch of questions I would characterize as looking for a way to understand the larger picture. Is there anything that can effectively counter rapacious capitalism today? What do we make of the impact of Bernie Sanders now? How can we merge the issues domestically and internationally, as ACORN is trying to do now, and is it possible?

All of the comments and questions intersected at the junction of organization and social movement. In the age of Trump, as we near a year since the last election, the frustration seemed palpable, as did people’s need to do something. People were clearly stirring the fire to find the embers of the resistance that moved them after the election. The fire in their guts is still burning, even where the flames are less visible.

I answered all of the questions asked, but my organizing critique, which I do know something about, is that I did not come prepared to offer them the answers they were hungry to hear, which is what they could do now and how to do it. I won’t make that mistake again. I may not be able to objectively evaluate the film, but I definitely know an organizing tool when I see and hear it.


Trump’s Butchering of Obamacare

New Orleans  For all the pluses and minuses of any debate on the Boy Scouts, they taught me one life lesson that I wish President Trump had also learned: don’t play with knives! Looking at the way he is trying to mindlessly hack away and butcher the Affordable Care Act, there is little doubt that this is a guy without a clue or a care about the damage that cutting can do.

In the last week unable to bend Congress to his whim or will, he’s signed one executive order after another in an attempt to gut coverage for millions. Recently one order will allow low-balling, bottom of the barrel policies without the Obamacare minimum standards to be sold. Now he’s also signing one that would cutback on support for lower income participants on subsidies and payments to insurance companies through cost sharing participation. Earlier, he drove a hole through the requirement that coverage for contraception be included if institutions offer the flimsiest objection. He has also effectively defunded outreach and navigation for people enrolling with the next open window only weeks away.

Admittedly, the President could care less about the consequences of these decisions. None of them will hurt anyone he knows or likely has ever known his entire privileged life. Seven million people, including many in red states like Mississippi and Alabama that are part of his hardcore support, will be hurt badly by these orders. Working with his political advisers, rather than any voices from public health sectors, he has probably made two calculations on the impact. First, that many of these people in the red states who are going to be hurt are lower income African-Americans and Latinos, who are less and less likely to ever cast a vote for him any day in the future. Hey, that’s the whole point of voter suppression programs by the Republicans anyway. Secondly, he probably sees – correctly – no prospect of a competitive alternative emerging to him in the Republican primary, given the knee jerk opposition there has been to Obamacare for years anyway. He’s sitting in the White House, essentially saying, “What me worry?

Reports indicate that there is some rumbling among Republican officeholders in Congress who might actually have to pay a price for Trump’s butchering of the Act. Trump, as always, takes no responsibility for his own actions, claiming he is hoping some of his hacking will force the Democrats to beg him to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act. As long as he insists on bargaining in bad faith where the only open door is repeal-and-replace, that’s not going to happen. The Democrats are clear all this pain and suffering is now on his shoes, so I’m not holding my breath.

One way or another he has once again forced the Act into the middle of every mess coming forward on the calendar. The lesson on playing with knives is that you can seriously hurt yourself. This may be a lesson Trump is going to have to be forced to finally learn, if we have folks willing to school him both at home and at the Capitol.