Filmmaker Dennis Trainor Jr. on his new film and the challenges facing the Occupy Movement
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
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A new documentary called American Autumn: An Occudoc essentially invites people to join the Occupy movement. Here’s a little clip from the film.
UNIDENTIFIED: There is something more important than the richest people becoming richer when we have the highest rate of child poverty in the industrialized world. When is enough enough?
UNIDENTIFIED (VOICEOVER): You know that scene from the Oliver Stone film Wall Street when Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in a role that would win him an Oscar, appears at a shareholders meeting of a company, Teldar Paper, to defend his actions and his grotesque worldview and delivers the now famous speech where he says:
GORDON GEKKO (MICHAEL DOUGLAS): “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
JAY: Now joining us to talk about his film, from Groton, Massachusetts, is Dennis Trainor Jr. He’s currently the host of a web series, Acronym TV. He’s been writing and producing editorial video commentaries since 2007, published over 800 of these short videos, many of which have gone viral on YouTube. He was an adviser, a media adviser for the Kucinich campaign. And he’s the writer, producer, and director of this newly released documentary, American Autumn: An Occudoc. Thanks for joining us, Dennis.
DENNIS TRAINOR JR., WEB SHOW HOST AND FILMMAKER: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: So, Dennis, just give us a little outline of the film, what you hope to accomplish with it.
TRAINOR: Well, I hope to entertain people and answer the question, why Occupy. I’m looking at the Occupy movement not as a series of single issues but, say, people interested in single-payer [unintel.] people interested in the antiwar movement or just people interested in anti-austerity measures can choose to fight alone, or they can choose to get under the big banner of Occupy and push that fight up the hill together, so that the single issues—working alone, standing alone, people on the far left have been working and mostly failing to demonstrate any successful victories for the past several generations. So in my opinion, Occupy—and I think Occupy’s still a baby and the future of it has yet to be written—is the best chance that we have of getting our country back and moving the center back left.
JAY: One of the ideas in the film, I think, that comes out very strongly is there needs to be a counternarrative to the presidential elections in this next coming period. And while I understand that the idea that whether one section or the other of the elite gets to rule can’t be the only choice for people, do you not think there needs to be some kind of engagement, some form of electoral strategy for this movement? And I say some form of electoral strategy, ’cause at the end if you don’t have one, at best you are trying to just ask for and influence the current parties, whichever one’s in power, to do something, which one of the voices in your film says people should stop doing.
TRAINOR: There’s a big strain within the movement, a big thread within the movement of people saying, we should not be asking this system for anything—we shouldn’t be asking them for permission, we shouldn’t be asking them to improve our lives. We should instead create our own world. Now, that’s a big dream, and I don’t see that happening in the short term. But Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign speaks very eloquently about this.
BILL MOYER, ACTIVIST, EXEC. DIR. BACKBONE SOCIETY: Some of us knew better, that you can’t—there’s no Messiah going to get elected by this system and deliver hope and change we could believe in.
UNIDENTIFIED (VOICEOVER): So how will the Occupy movement that has wisely stayed away from promoting political parties or individual politicians navigate the minefield of the potentially co-opting force that is the presidential election cycle?
TRAINOR: So voting, yes, people should go and vote their conscience or they should vote tactically, they should do what they will. I don’t think that this movement should be wasting too much time or energy on the electoral process. We saw big fights within the movement happening about—in the wake of the Madison, Wisconsin, failed recall effort of Scott Walker and people splitting hairs over strategy and should we back Democrats who are only slightly better than Scott Walker—the Democrat that was put up against Scott Walker there was almost as antiunion as Walker himself.
So should we be—is it true to say Obama is a more attractive presidential candidate, a little more—yes—than Mitt Romney? Of course. Am I going to personally waste much time working or campaigning for the Obama administration? No, of course not.
JAY: And what about some of the alternative parties that espouse many of the ideas that you see in the Occupy movement, whether it’s the Rocky Anderson candidacy with the Justice Party or Jill Stein with the Green Party? What’s your attitude towards that?
TRAINOR: I think that the Green Party has been working towards a lot of the things that most people within the Occupy movement who are very young and newly awakened to the movement—the Green parties were working towards those for decades unsuccessfully. Part of that could be some organizational problems within the Green Party, but a bigger part of it, as Ralph Nader has pointed out on Real News over and time and time again, is the exclusion from—any other candidates from the conversation.
So I think that, you know, for people who live in states that Obama’s going to carry, if you’re really worried about that, if you can’t find it within you to vote your conscience and find a candidate that you are attracted to, then you can vote tactically and give your vote to Jill Stein. Now, maybe the Green Party and Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala can get a little bit more of a slice of the conversation if they get 2 or 3 or 4 percent. This is a tactical vote. And for me, that’s how I approach the election. But I don’t think people should take electoral advice from me. I’ve never voted for a winner.
JAY: Now, in a longer-term way—this isn’t going to happen this round, and it’s hard to say how many years it would take, but there seems to be, in my view, a kind of false dichotomy. There’s either movement or there’s electoral process. And one would think—I would think if you look at places even like Egypt where you had a massive movement but very little for—parties ready to take—participate in the electoral process, except Muslim Brotherhood, and so you wound up having this mass—it’s hard to imagine a bigger mass movement than what happened in Cairo and across Egypt, but completely unable to take advantage of the electoral process. I mean, what I’m asking is: doesn’t there need to be both, not one or the other?
TRAINOR: You know, I think that’s very possible. And one of the things that I try to present in the movie is I don’t try to present myself as a policy wonk or a talking head that would normally be on a show like yours. I’m a regular guy who lives on a main street in a small New England town, who looks at the world kind of honestly and thinks that it’s completely screwed up
TRAINOR: I mentioned at the beginning that this movie is an invitation for you to join the Occupy movement, but there are no membership dues, no papers to sign. All that is required is the willingness to see the world as it is and decide that you were going to be part of the solution. Occupy is less of an organization and more of an organism, a living, breathing, multi-tentacled force that refuses to find a niche or be pushed into a corner. This organism is still a baby, and the narrative it will be telling in the years to come is yours to write.
TRAINOR: [snip] greed is a homicidal force in our culture and that we need a cultural shift. And some day, if we can shift the culture, then perhaps we can shift the body of government that governs for, of, and by that culture.
Right now, to say that we have a government of, for, and by the people is a cruel joke. You know, Citizens United may have been the last nail in the coffin, but the giveaway and the corporate takeover of our government’s been a process that’s been going on for a long time.
JAY: Well, yeah, I do want to take up this concept of greed as the problem. You know, in your film you have—as we showed in the clip, you talk about Gordon Gekko’s piece about greed is good in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street. And there was a mass movement against greed, and it had great effect, and that’s called early Christianity, and it eventually got assimilated by the state. And part of the issue is, I think, that—is there’s too much emphasis on the idea of the morality rather than, you know, the fundamentals of the system, and the most fundamental thing about the system, how stuff is owned. I mean, I don’t know how many ordinary people, if they were given controlling shares, or even just a big stake of Goldman Sachs, you know, wouldn’t all of a sudden discover greed is good, in the sense that it’s sort of inherent in the fact that if you own the commanding heights of the economy and corporations are about making maximum profit, not modest profits, not reasonable profits—you know, that is the essence of a corporation, to make maximum profits. Then why is it about greed? Why isn’t it about who owns it? And then the issue of public ownership obviously emerges.
TRAINOR: Paul, I do think it is a moral issue that I hope that the Occupy movement can awaken something in a culture that sees a shift in that.
And like you said, you know, in the past year we can now talk about capitalism as not, you know, something that’s the be-all and the end-all. We can question it without being painted red and painted into a corner. So in the infancy of the movement, we’ve accomplished that, opened up the door for people to think about a new way, a new system that should govern the way they go about their lives.
JAY: Okay. Well, there’ll be a link to Dennis’s film underneath the player here if you want to take a look. Thanks very much for joining us, Dennis.
TRAINOR: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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