Find me a few stars of stage, screen and song with the principle and courage that Frank Sinatra showed when he stood up for his brother Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1950's and you can change the world and help end this cold season of hardship and discontent.
At defining moments in American history, from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the civil rights movement to the Kennedy years, the literary and entertainment worlds have played a powerful role at the vanguard of great events. We are at such a moment today. Imagine (see below) if the stars of the remake of Ocean's Eleven would rally behind great causes today the same way the stars of the original Ocean's were early combatants for civil rights that made possible the Kennedy years.
Think how powerful it is that in a few short weeks possibly 650,000 people have closed accounts with banks that do not treat them fairly, and opened accounts with banks that do, as Arianna Huffington has long written we should, ahead of her time then, with an idea whose time has come!
It is no exaggeration to call the Occupy Wall Street movement the voice of our generation.
Coming from outside the conventional system, led largely by young people, OWS has brought to center stage a challenge to the great scandal of our age: the plagues of joblessness, poverty and economic distress afflicting the 99 percent of Americans who do not share the wealth of our new Gilded Age.
The Occupy movement stands at the historical intersection of Hollywood and hope, though so far, the cavalry of entertainment support has not yet arrived at a moment when the Occupy movement, and the jobless and poor, are entering a Valley Forge winter of hardship and challenge.
In our morning papers and on our evening news we are told that the American Dream is dying, that bailouts for banks continue in Europe on the condition that more jobs are destroyed and more wages are reduced, that the poverty rate will soon total 50 million Americans, that the grapes of wrath foreclosure crash will continue indefinitely, and that the "new normal" will be inequity and pain that should never even exist in America.
The authentic Occupy movement brings alive again the real people of the timeless Frank Capra films that lifted the nation in the 1930's and 1940's.
The true voices of Occupy are Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey battling the banking abuses of Mr. Potter on behalf of the idea that prosperity is made by building homes, not foreclosing them. They are Gary Cooper playing John Doe standing up for the average folks getting a raw deal. They are John Steinbeck battling the injustice of the Grapes of Wrath, the men and women Ernest Hemingway wrote about battling for democracy in Spain before the bell finally tolled, and the voice of Woody Guthrie telling tales of goodness and hardship from the Dust Bowl of the Depresson.
If this view is romantic, it is also true. Couldn't we use a little more romance and truth in our civic, political and economic lives today?
Frank Sinatra was once my client, through his talent agency. As someone steeped in Sinatra lore and history I propose that his finest political hour was not merely his support for JFK in the 1960s, but what came before: his courage in putting his body and business on the line for Sammy Davis in the 1950's.
When Sinatra refused to perform in venues that did not allow him to bring Sammy to perform alongside him, it was an act of friendship and loyalty from a white man to a black man he genuinely considered his brother in an age of segregation. And even more: it was an existential act of courage for civil rights, alongside many other existential acts of courage for civil rights, by many others young and old, that made the Kennedy years possible.
By standing up for Sammy, Frank was both respecting and challenging his fans and business partners, some of whom did not have the most noble ideas about race. In the end Sinatra was proven right. His fans remained true and his business flourished, as JFK was proven right, supporting civil rights even though he risked electoral votes in the segregated South which could have cost him the presidency, but gloriously did not.
We live today in another age when greed is glorified and a few make great fortunes through corrupt practices while so many endure crushing pain from the damage they cause, when the backlash for hope has begun again, and the 99 percent are being roused again, when the arrival of the cavalry of generosity from the talent and business stars of stage, screen and song can make a powerful difference in our too-tragic age.
What was so astonishing about Brad Pitt's spectacular work building houses in New Orleans after Katrina was his total commitment and immersion into homebuilding. Is there a Brad Pitt out there, perhaps reading this note, who will help the Occupy people improve the health and safety of their sites with the same depth that Pitt built houses in New Orleans?
What was so impressive about George Clooney's film Good Night, and Good Luck was the way he chronicled great moments of one the great broadcasters who ever lived, Edward R. Murrow, and Murrow's battle of intellectual, journalistic and creative freedom. Is there a Clooney out there who will use his or her brilliant talent to tell the story of the 99 percent today?
The political courage and clarity of Matt Damon, the generosity of spirit of Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie, the list of stars with soul is long, who will tell the stories that we should demand action to create more jobs, to achieve true pay equity for the women of our lives and generation, to end our grapes of wrath and champion the simple justice of a fair deal, a better life, and a dream that is never dead?
Who will be the Frank Capras and Frank Sinatras of our times because we surely need them now, and because they can make a decisive difference in the epic battle to lift our land above our modern Gilded Age, and proclaim that the denial of fair play and opportunity for all must never be the new normal in America?
Occupy will achieve great triumphs and make occasional mistakes. The earth that is shaking today will shake even more if the cavalry of creativity and goodness will journey once more, from the intersection of Hollywood and hope to the heartland of the nation, on behalf of the 99 percent.
Brent Budowsky can be reached at email@example.com.
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