“The Organizer” a Big Hit at the Festival des Libertes

ACORN ACORN International Community Organizing Organizing
mural on National Theater commemorating the Festivale and a critique of the war

Brussels      Perhaps the most interesting question I have gotten at a screening of “The Organizer” in a long time came from Professor Philippe van Parijs of the University of Louvain in Belgium, a noted scholar long recognized over many decades as an expert and advocate of universal basic income.  He asked a several part question, as many did, but the second half was the unique part of his inquiry.  After watching the movie and living along with the audience the ups, downs, and ups of ACORN and the victories and defeats I had experienced, he wanted to know how I managed to weather the storm and seemed “so relaxed and happy” as I stood to answer questions after the showing?

My answer was my usual.  My perspective on the work – and life – as a struggle to be met every day in a battle to resist, persist, and sometimes prevail.  Perhaps in fairness, he might have observed what should have been obvious to the audience.  It was hard NOT to be relaxed and happy.  There was a full house for this first ever showing of the film with French captions on the biggest screen I felt I had ever seen, partially perhaps because I had ended up after a TV interview sitting on the second row on the aisle feeling like the whole film was sitting in my lap.  The hosts had been prepping Adrien Roux of ACORN’s affiliate, the Alliance Citoyenne and me, about the details since shortly after noon – six hours before, so it was great to finally have this part over and hear the repeated and appreciative roar of applause from the audience.

Somewhere in the heat of the experience was also just the wonder and adventure itself, and my feeling of pure luck at getting to be a part of it all.  Not knowing what to expect from moment to moment, but being open and ready to accept the experience, enjoy it, and even learn from it, is part of the key.  The Festival des Libertes was not your usual film festival.  It was a multi-media kind of event that focused on empowerment and social change.  I had not realized it until the afternoon, but the “debate” listed on the program was not another word for question-and-answer period, but after the screening and the Q&A, it was actually a back-and-forth about the value and impact of community organizing.  How great is that?  No matter what rocks might be thrown, the fact that the film and the story of ACORN’s experience had triggered a discussion already proved the fact that community organization was steel plated.  Opinions had to be registered and weighed.  Organizing and building organizations, unions, and social movements was serious business and had to be considered soberly as a subject of inquiry and engagement.  Debate?  What debate?  From the opening bell, we had already won any possible argument, leaving the rest to naysayers and back-benchers.

More than 100 people had saddled back up for this second session and, unbelievably to me, they hung in until after 10pm, way past the point of common sense and good judgement.  I was tired and hungry, but I couldn’t have had more fun or been more honored to have been able to participate and in such a great event.

the crowd filling up the seats for the screening