Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

The Take

This is the season of political documentaries with meditations on the degradations of late capitalism as well, of course, as Bush-bashing films, suddenly being seen as commercial fare.

Most of the recent entries in the field aim to take down myths and debunk conventional wisdom. Whether it's Bush's unnecessary war, FOX News's hypocrisy and bias, the dramatic degree to which the corporate sector has impinged on civil society or the rate at which Big Macs will poison you, one hallmark of the new documentaries is their critical/reactive edge.

And, these times certainly do call for activist chroniclers keeping corrupt politicians, corporate flacks and lying diplomats accountable. But we need at least some hope too, a sense that another world really is possible. And what's much more unusual--in journalism as well as film-making--are projects which focus on positive alternatives to the many negative trends afflicting modern society.

A chance at an optimistic perspective is one of the many reasons to see Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's new film, The Take. [Full disclosure: The film-makers are also personal friends and are affiliated with The Nation.] Written and produced by Nation columnist and best-selling author Klein, The Take is the film to watch after seeing Fahrenheit 911, Outfoxed and The Corporation--when you're tired of being enraged and are ready to fight back.

Filmed in Argentina over the course of eight months, The Take documents the beginnings of a new social movement that took place under the radar of the world's media. The recent economic crisis that shattered Argentina caused widespread dislocation and pushed more than half the population into extreme poverty. However, at two hundred factories, schools, supermarkets, and health clinics, something remarkable happened: rather than allowing their workplaces to be closed down, they turned these bankrupt businesses into productive, democratically-run cooperatives. The Take tells this story of working people forging genuine alternatives to the brutal economic realities of the Washington Consensus--a story whose implications are universal, and more important than ever.

Up until yesterday, The Take had only played at film festivals, where it has been warmly received: In Buenos Aires, there was a memorable "workers' premiere" projected onto the side of an occupied textile factory; at the other end of the cultural spectrum, The Take was part of the official selection of the Venice Film Festival, where the working class heroes of the film had to compete with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for attention (they held their own!)

Yesterday, the doc opened to a full-house at Film Forum in New York City in its first public release in theaters in the US. It'll be playing there until at least October 5, after which it'll get rolled out across the country. Bookings in Seattle and San Francisco and set and the films's distributor is working on making sure audiences coast to coast are able to watch this historical tale of industrial workers changing their own fates.

The reviews could hardly be more positive. The New York Times called it "a stirring, idealistic documentary." In New York Newsday, Gene Seymour wrote that "If Michael Moore could calm down just a little and maintain a watchful distance, The Take suggests the kind of film he'd make!" The New Yorker calls the workers in The Take "admirable, displaying a melancholy eloquence and a genuine revolutionary spirit." Even Rupert Murdoch's rabidly rightwing New York Post praises the doc's achievement in "personalizing the globalization debate."

You can also get a good sense of what the film is about by clicking here to listen to a conversation between Klein, Lewis and Brian Lehrer from this past Tuesday's episode of WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

So, if you're in New York City, click here to buy tickets to a Film Forum showing. If you're not in the New York area, ask your local theater to contact The Take's distributor, First Run/Icarus Films, and bring the doc to your town, and click here to watch a trailer no matter where you live.

Mobilize for Public Schools Today

This won't be a surprise to Nation readers, but with Congress back in session, the White House and the GOP majority are pushing hard to continue shortchanging America's public schools. A memo leaked from the president's budget office shows deep cuts planned for nearly every education program in 2005.

In response, the Campaign for America's Future--along with The Nation, MoveOn.org, the National Education Association and more than 40 allied groups--is working to forge support for a national movement with the power to force Washington to make our public schools a priority.

One of the many ways that CAF is suggesting people help their campaign is to sponsor house parties on September 22. Similar gatherings have proved effective venues for discussing critical issues with many people at once, allowing them to ask questions and get the information they need to effectively organize in their own communities. So, please consider hosting a house party for America's public schools. Already, many thousands of teachers, parents, students, and community members have signed up to host events. Click here to sign up. With your help we can build the largest national mobilization for public schools ever.

As a house party host, you'll receive a free video to show, and a resource kit to guide you every step of the way. A house party can offer the opportunity to get your neighborhood working together and making a difference.

Sept. 11th Families for Peace

Nearly three years ago, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was born out of a shared belief that America's military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks "which took our loved ones' lives would result in the deaths of countless innocent civilians and increase recruitment for terrorist causes, making the United States, and the world, less safe and less free for generations to come."

Click here to read the full statement from Peaceful Tomorrows, issued on today's third anniversary of the tragic attacks, click here to listen to a BBC radio interview with Lisa Mullins, one of Peaceful Tomorrow's founders, and click here to help support the group's work.

MEDIA LINK: The Common Dreams site has put together a collection of archived articles published shortly after September 11, 2001. Click here to read pieces by Arundhati Roy, Barbara Kingsolver and Robert Fisk, among many others.

Assault-Weapons Ban Expires

In addition to a few big things like reproductive choice, and maybe evolution there are lots of smaller differences between Bush and Kerry. One of these--their position on gun control--is highlighted by the September 13 expiration of the assault weapons ban.

Four presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton) passed and renewed the ban, which Kerry also supports, but Bush has successfully blocked the bill's renewal, despite its endorsement by every national police organization and the support of about 77 percent of the American voters, according to most polls. The only people who stand to gain from Bush's killing of the ban are terrorists, violent criminals, and, of course, the corporations behind the gun lobby.

The bill outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it. And now that Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert have announced that they won't even bring a vote on the matter, gun manufacturers are gearing up for the scheduled expiration by taking orders for semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines that may soon become legal again, according to the Washington Post.

Click here for info on how you can get involved in the gun-control movement and check out the Stop The NRA site for info on the assault ban and what may still be left to do to defend it.

The RNC in Retrospect

This week's Republican National Convention brought fake compassion, fire-and-brimstone, terrible hair-cuts and even worse music from inside Madison Square Garden; close to 1,800 or so arrests in the streets of New York; a raft of progressive film screenings, concerts, readings and panels and protest activity everywhere.

It's unclear how much of this filtered into the US consciousness as ratings numbers and polls showed most Americans turning away from convention coverage, even in this heated election year, in record numbers. Aside from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's brilliant gift to the American polity and CSPAN's cinema verite coverage, TV offered little of value.

And, in the print and online worlds, there was lots of smart commentary, but, as usual, it was difficult to find, among the glut of decidedly insipid coverage. As is frequently the case, it sometimes helped to look abroad for the most incisive material. Below are links to some good articles from the last week.

S3 Wrap-Up; Jail Crisis by New York IMC, Sept. 3

Bush by Numbers by Graydon Carter, The Independent, Sept. 3

Vigor, Vitriolics but no Violence by Josh Robin, New York Newsday, Sept. 3

Protest Groups 'Empowered' by Large Turnout by Martha T. Moore and Charisse Jones, USA Today, Sept. 3

Flogging the Flag by Simon Schama, The Guardian, Sept. 2

NY Expressionism by David Segal, Washington Post, Sept. 2

The World Election by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, Sept. 2

Don't Send More Kids to War by Michael Moore, USA Today, Sept. 2

On the Differences Between Kerry and Bush by Noam Chomsky, International Socialist Review, Sept. 1

And, though it's self-referential for me to point out, I want to take every opportunity to draw attention to The Nation's special RNC week weblog, New York Minutes, which dispatched a team of Nation writers to report on the protests through a revolving series of more than 15 dispatches over the course of the week.

Click here and scroll down to read pieces by Victor Navasky, Katha Pollitt, Liza Featherstone, Jennifer Block, Eyal Press, Esther Kaplan, Richard Kim, Ari Berman, Tom Gogola, Debbie Nathan, David Enders and Kristin Jones. Also check out Tom Engelhardt's valuable website, produced in concert with The Nation Institute, which published lots of valuable material during RNC week.

Finally, watch this space for info on urgent campaigns and projects being undertaken in the next two months to unseat George W. Bush on November 2.

Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War

The first few days of the RNC have brought fake compassion from inside Madison Square Garden, more than 1,500 arrests in the street, and protest activity everywhere. With the convention wrapping up tomorrow night, United for Peace and Justice--the antiwar coalition which brought us last Sunday's massive march--is asking New Yorkers and others who have come from around the country to protest the Bush Administration's policies to create a closing RNC protest event at Union Square Park tomorrow night as Bushaccepts his nomination.

UFPJ's call: "We encourage people to come to Union Square after 8:00 PM on Thursday, September 2, with candles or flashlights, flowers, photos and other offerings to create a living memorial to those who have died or will die as a result of the Bush Administration's policies. As we create the memorial, we will gather in small groups with family and friends or people we have not yet met to share our stories and speak our truth."

Click here for more info.

It's Only Just Begun

It's now official that there are far too many anti-RNC events in New York this week for any one calendar, guide, website or publication to keep up with. But you can generally stay abreast of the panoply of protests, demonstrations, panels, film screenings, readings, concerts and other, more unconventional expressions of a robust civil society with these online compilations:

The People's Guide

RNC Not Welcome

The Imagine Festival



The Village Voice also published a good guide, available online, to the week. Check New York IndyMedia for up-to-the-minute reports on protests, demonstrations and actions from the activist perspective. On the airwaves WBAI will be broadcasting live coverage of Sunday's United for Peace march (assemble at 10:00 between 15th and 22nd Streets, from 5th to 9th Avenues) and will devote more airtime to the protests this week than any other New York media outlet. RadioNation's Marc Cooper will also be posting audio interviews, speeches and interviews from both inside and outside the convention hall on The Nation's website all week.

Johnny Cash was NOT a Republican

The songs of Johnny Cash--"the Man in Black"--were beacons of light for those who were unjustly locked up, kicked down, and knocked around. He sang from his heart for the poor, the imprisoned, and the oppressed.

And, as John Nichols wrote in his Nation weblog after Cash's death last year, "Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans."

But it was his songs which really marked him as a man of the people. He took sides in his songs, and he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law--and by poverty and hard luck.

Yet, this Tuesday the GOP and the American Gas Association, a network of 154 utility multinationals, are shamelessly trying to appropriate the singer-songwriter's legacy by hosting an exclusive "celebration" of Cash for the Republican delegation from Tennessee inside the elite corridors of Sotheby's auction house.

In response, an ad-hoc group of activists have created a website to honor Cash's memory (www.defendjohnnycash.org) and to express what is safe to say would be Cash's outrage over the Bush Administration's malign neglect of the poor in this country. Do you think Cash would be supporting the President's economic policies? How about the Iraq war? If you think the answer is "no," then come join other Johnny Cash defenders at 4:00pm (dressed in black if you'd like) on Tuesday, August 31st, at Sotheby's at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan.

As the call to action reads: "Bring your black clothing, pompadour, guitars (real or cardboard), hair grease, singing voice, megaphones, jail-stripes, skeleton costumes, signs, art, posters, CD players, boom-boxes, musical instruments, Johnny posters and records, and, of course, your favorite political Cash lyrics as big as you can print 'em!"

Click here for more info, click here for a bio of Cash's life and click here to read some of the song lyrics that made Cash a legend.

And check out a Tennessee group that is doing work in Cash's tradition: Music Row Democrats, formed in December 2003 by a group of Nashville music industry leaders who were "fed up with feeling as if they had to apologize for being Democrats, particularly when they knew that Republican policies were negatively affecting the lives of the working class people who make up much of the audience for their music."

We'll continue to highlight some of the hundreds of anti-RNC protests, panels, presentations and parties as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

'Courageous Resisters'

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! is presenting an evening of performance to honor "Courageous Resisters" this Thursday, August 26, at 7:30 PM, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University in lower Manhattan.

Co-sponsored by The Nation and a host of other New York City-based progressive groups and organizations, the event will celebrate the courage of those resisting the conservative agenda sweeping the US today. Honorees include Aaron Lebowitz, a high school student in Darby, Montana who resisted a resolution to make creationism part of his school's curriculum; Toni Smith, the New York City college basketball player who refused to line up with her teammates during the national anthem as a symbol of her opposition to war in Iraq; Camilo Mejia, the first US soldier to go AWOL because of his antiwar stance (now in the brig); Juanita Young, a leader of the movement against police brutality in New York City whose son was killed by the police and Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, New York, who was charged with 19 criminal counts after he married gay and lesbian couples. (Click here for a complete list of the honorees.)

Numerous artists--graphic, visual and musical--will present original work in honor of the Resisters, including Odetta, Steve Earle, Andre Gregory, Dan Bern, Blair Brown, Vijay Iyer, Martha Lavey, Mari Mariposa, Ellen McLaughlin, Omar Metwally, Tracie Morris, Mikel Paris and Beau Sia. Click here for tickets and info or call 212-992-8484.

The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas is another of the many creative responses to the RNC and the threat posed by a second Bush term. A gala of more than 125 events mixing artistic and educational activities through a series of concerts, performances, screenings, forums, town meetings and artwork, the Festival takes place all over New York City from August 28 to September 2. Click here for the full schedule and click here to see The People's Guide for a daily calendar of RNC-related events generally.

The People's Guide

Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg offered, among other inducements, a ten percent discount at participating New York City Applebee's to all RNC protesters who picked up and presented a powder-blue NYC "Peaceful Political Activist" button.

The location of these Applebee's are some of the few points of interest to protesters not chronicled in The People's Guide, a free compendium of events, directions, legal resources, restaurant recommendations, hospital locations, and other valuable RNC-related material. "Intended to standardize communication among event-planners, protesters, media, tourists, wanderers, monitors, hangers-on, and friends," the recently published guide offers a tremendous amount of info on the anticipated protests, panels, presentations, performances and parties that are expected to greet the GOP delegates when they hit New York City.

Click here to check out The People's Guide, click here for a daily calendar of RNC-related events and click here for a list of suggested ways you can help the anti-RNC efforts. We'll continue to highlight various events, protests and campaigns as the RNC draws closer, so watch this space for details and let us know about any activities you think we should be featuring by clicking here.

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