The “Act” in “Activism”

11 11 2011

One of my all time favorite movies is The Departed.  I could go on for an entire blog about why I think it’s not only Martin Scorsese’s best work, but ranks high among any film ever created. But that is material for another post.

As Frank Costello proves, appearances aren't the whole story.

In the film, Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) asks Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), “Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to pretend to be a cop?  It’s a simple question.  A lot of guys just want to pretend to be cops.  Gun, badge, pretend they’re on TV.”  It’s a question I want to pose to many people involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests (and affiliated “Occupy” protests all over the country).  Do you want to be activists, or do you want to appear to be activists?  A lot of people just want to appear to be activists.  Sleep in a tent, smoke some weed, chant about how some fat cats have “got to go.”

Like Queenan, I am challenging those involved in Occupy Wall Street to do something to change the situation, not just make a big noise about it.  Costigan has to be thrown out of the force, be convicted of a crime, then fall in as a criminal with Boston kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).  He has to not be the hero.  In fact, he doesn’t even succeed in bringing down Costello.  However, by denying his own glory, he provides the conditions in which justice can be served.

Occupy Wall Street (and Boise, and Portland, and Olympia, etc.) appears to be activist.  It’s very public, very apparent, and very eye catching.  While corporate zombies and pandas against police brutality appear to be grand statements, they are little more than that:  statements.  It is only in sustained and focused action and organization that any tangible change will come from these protests.  For that, the activists need to take off the costumes, stop the posturing, and get down to the business of electing the people who best represent their interests, promoting the causes they hold dear, and raising funds to raise awareness of those not convinced by buckets and costumes.  They have to not be heroes.  They have to take action outside  of notoriety.

This was taken at an Occupy Boise march during October. Photo: Lexy Leahy

I have volunteered at Treasure Valley Community Television for seven years, and I am deeply committed to its mission to provide a forum for non-commercial access to television broadcast and video equipment to all members of the community.  This provides the freedom of speech in a very pure form—unmitigated by corporate interests who seek ratings in return for funding through advertising.  This free speech is not limited to cable television—we stream online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  What’s more, community producers have access to video equipment they can use to put their own video content online—on vlogs or YouTube or wherever might best serve them.  These community members have access to equipment that most of them can’t afford.  I count myself among one of those. We have been providing a method to “Occupy” television—to combat the messages of corp0rate interests on their own turf, for ten years.  We’ve been doing this since long before the term “occupy” was applied to this kind of action.

Tonight, TVCTV is holding an on-air fundraiser to help to buoy the station in these trying economic times.  It will air from 7 to 9pm Mountain Time, and will be in the form of a talent competition.  Acts will perform for 15 minutes, and viewers can “vote” for their favorites by donating in their names.  In the end, the act with the most money collected will win 20% of the total amount raised.  The winner, of course, is beside the point.  The real winners of this fundraiser are the members of the Treasure Valley Community, who will continue to have this forum for their unencumbered free speech.  The acts that are competing are the real activists here–but they won’t appear to be activists.

Watch the fundraiser here:  TVCTV Online  Donate with a credit card by phone at (208) 343-1100; or using paypal at the website; or in person by coming to the station at 6225 W Overland in Boise.




3 responses

11 11 2011

i do not subscribe fully to the occupy movements nor entirely into any of them, for that matter. i believe, we as americans need to band together to affect change. things are not right. my question is: what good is voting, when the candidates are all hand-picked and financially supported by the very people we are up against. i vote every election, from local to national. almost every election i have voted in, over the last thirty years, my vote was AGAINST candidates whos’ ideals and ideas i was opposed to; not FOR a candidate i fully believed in. how do we remedy that situation, as most the hand-picked puppet candidates are members of the wealthy minority, themselves?

13 11 2011

Despite popular opinion, politicians put it a lot of time and hard work- campaigning, FUND RAISING, etc. They work long hours only to be treated like shit in return. There are so many things you can do if you don’t think voting is working: 1. Keep voting, 2. Volunteer for a campaign you believe in, 3. Join an interest group. Hell, START an interest group, 4. Call or write to your representatives. There are so many avenues to explore before asking some guy who writes a blog how to fix everything because you don’t like the candidates. 

12 11 2011
Contemporary Critique

Not voting is not participating in democracy. While you oppose the choice of candidates, voting for the choice that best fits your ideals (even while acknowledging that the fit is most certainly not perfect) allows you to hold the person accountable. Even if the person you didn’t vote for wins. if you haven’t voted, you have placed no real stake in the process. For TVCTV, we have successfully fought off two state bills introduced by lobbyists representing, among others, Time Warner, that would have effectively eliminated the existence of community television in Idaho. We did this by contacting our elected officials en masse and telling them (mostly Republicans–this is a very red state) that community television is important to their voters. The elected officials had no choice but to listen to us, even if many of us had not voted for them.
On a slightly more optimistic note, the issues you care about can become core issues for candidates through lobbying, through making your voices known at town-hall meetings and through letters to your representatives, and by supporting your own third party candidates. Often people cite “major” movements for political success like Women’s Suffrage or Civil Rights. I will point to Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a more recent example of an organization that started at a grass roots level and through effective organization and publicity change the attitude (and hence laws) of an entire nation. Before the late 1980s, drunk driving was a laughable embarrassing anecdote in a person’s life. Now, a conviction carries a stigma that ostracizes the person socially and can keep them from housing and employment. It isn’t just the laws that MADD has changed, it’s the entire cultural attitude. They achieved this not by dressing up and shouting (though they certainly do that to get attention), but by leveraging their support and voters in order to achieve their goals.

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