Michael Moore at OccupyDenver, 3 November 2011, with bodyguard at the left.
Trouble-maker Michael Moore came to Denver yesterday. And Deidre, the photographer, and I ran from his 2:30 talk at the Auraria campus Turnhalle to his appearance at OccupyDenver’s site on the sidewalk at Civic Center Park at 4:30.
I have mixed feelings about Moore. His films are extraordinarily visceral: Roger and Me, Farenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, Sicko. His books, not so much. I’m more of a “On the one hand, ….., but on the other hand…..” kind of person and Moore, in his books, plunges down one side of his argument like a DPW snow plow through a Michigan blizzard.
In person? His talk to an overflow crowd at the urban Denver campus that houses three commuter colleges: Metropolitan State College of Denver , UC Denver and Community College of Denver, was informal, passionate, and, dare I say it, incendiary.
Moore lumbered (there is no other way to say it) out onto the stage in his trademark baggy pants, layered tee and jacket, baseball hat and athletic shoes, and connected immediately with the audience (including the ones who arrived too late to get a seat in the Turnhalle and were watching on a live feed in the Food Court). He spoke for an hour , without notes. Topics ranged from his dropping out of a local community college at the beginning of his sophomore year because he couldn’t find a parking space (the crowd loved it) to gay sex. Watching the expressive face of the woman who stood to Moore’s left and was signing his talk was almost better than watching Moore. He stopped in mid-stream any number of times to check how she was doing, again to the delight of his audience.
And the audience was his. He owned us.
He joked about being familiar with the Denver area, with all its political and social weirdness. He had stayed in the area while researching the shootings at Columbine High School, in suburban Littleton. The resulting film, Bowling for Columbine, is a damning expose of the culture of killing and mass destruction fostered by the massive presence of Lockheed Martin as primary employer in Littleton. These kids who killed were not some anomaly but the product of a society that accepts “collateral damage” as a necessary by-product of a corporation that makes huge profits off of war. He shared with us the story of one bit of actual film footage, taken at the time of the shootings, that has stayed in his mind.
He spoke of the long time lag between the arrival of the police at the high school, the end of the gunfire, and the time the swat teams entered the school. The crowd that had gathered at the school – parents, friends, media, remained behind the yellow crime scene tapes, while the police waited….and waited…. and waited. Inside, the young shooters were dead, students and teachers were dead and dying. Bleeding to death while police and parents waited outside.
Finally, caught on video camera, one man in a white tee shirt, the uncle of one of the students within the school, sprinted forward, broke through the yellow tape and ran towards the door. He was immediately tackled by police and dragged back behind the yellow tape. But, only one person breeched the yellow tape. Parents, frantic with worry, held true to their conditioning to respect authority.
Moore then referred to the three planes that crashed into the Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11. The obedient middle class passengers were convinced that “someone in authority” would fix the situation, in spite of the fact that there were from 40 to 90 passengers ranged against 3 men armed only with box cutters. And they went to their deaths waiting for someone else to fix it.
At the edge of Civic Center Park, at the OccupyDenver site, the sun hung low in the sky and the air was chilled enough for Deidre and I to pull on our parkas, hats and gloves. Ranged along the sidewalk (because Governor Hickenlooper is worried that the Occupiers are killing the grass. Good grief, has he popped down to Louisiana to see what the BP blowout has killed?), were little mini-shelters with sleeping bags and homey arrangements of blue tarps, cardboard, and recycled wall-to-wall carpet padding.
Probably 200 to 300 people milled about, with signs ranging from “End the Fed” to “Single Payer Now”. I remarked to Deidre, as we hailed familiar faces, that “all the usual suspects” were in attendance. Plus a couple of hundred others.
One of the Occupiers, using the “human mic” suggested that we walk sloooowly and arrange ourselves in a circle, then sit down, leaving room for Moore in the middle. Deidre and I wedged ourselves towards the back, figuring that since we had front row seats at Turnhalle, we would give others the opportunity to be close to Moore.
And what Moore said wasn’t as important as how the entire crowd joined in and became a part of his message. It was on its way to becoming a classic call and response experience. Affirmations came from all parts of the crowd:
Yes! …. Uh huh! …. Say it! …. No way!
Along with the raised hands, palms facing out, and waggling fingers expressing agreement with the speaker. Hard to do with mittens on.
Michael Moore’s message to the people of Denver? Don’t sit back and expect the “leadership” to make the changes. Get off the bench and get into the game. Get involved. Break through that yellow tape. Don’t be pushed to the back of the bus.
And what is keeping the 99% of us at the back of the bus … or behind the yellow tape, when our fellow humans lie homeless and hungry and sick on the other side? Only the invisible chains that bind our thinking. Only our mental reluctance to envision another world. Only the self-imposed acceptance that what is, must be, forever.
Thank you, Michael.