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Stephen Gyllenhaal

Stephen Gyllenhaal

Posted: July 10, 2010 11:04 PM

Roots, Oil, and Real Change

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As I sit on the set of GrassRoots -- our comedy about a small city council race in Seattle back in 2001 -- there are so many images that float through my mind. The extras getting ready, sure. The crew setting up the lights and our RED camera (some of the new digital technology). We're shooting in Seattle, trying to recapture what happened up here during that local election, trying to capture what it meant/means in a larger context. Just a little campaign (I'm not going to give away what happens but I will say that the production is small -- in Hollywood terms -- which has actually made it easier for us to create images that are more real -- less gloss -- the feel of a genuine Seattle -- grunge humble.)

Then there are other images that float to the surface of my mind, not so humble, but far grungier -- images of the BP oil spreading itself quietly over our gulf, for instance, its consequences seemingly now less a problem since the media has let it slip away as other stories move front and center (poor Lohan, lucky LeBron).

New "big things" to pay attention to.

But isn't it the little things (growing) that entangle us so dreadfully? Those first cancer cells? Those termites, untended? How does a civilization collapse? How do powerful businesses go belly up? Isn't it the little "unpleasantries" ignored, that ultimately bring about demise?

The unpleasantry of a cheap safety valve, for instance, or of an over confident BP executive, an under zealous regulator with the easy answer that those that work hard and succeed in business or in government are capable of -- more or less -- doing the right thing.

The easy answers -- almost always dangerous, too often catastrophic. And from where I sit looking out at the state of our world, the easy answers just aren't gonna cut it anymore. (Did they ever?)

Regulate Wall Street and the banks. Not easy. Clean up the BP disaster. Not easy. Get decent humans elected to office. Not easy. Get our citizens, all our citizens, decent jobs. Not easy. Global warming. Deteriorating wars. Not easy. Not easy. And so on...

But, frankly, it may be impossible for the people now running our world to do anything substantive about any of this.

It may be, for instance, impossible for Obama not to wage his various wars (too much money being made, too much power being accumulated and too much strength and grit being shown by doing it). It may be impossible for the rich (seemingly no different now than the royalty of old) to get out of their high powered cars, their air conditioned mansions, their plush first class seats, their yachts.

So what's to be done?

And that's when I come back to our little movie, back to that little Seattle City Council race, in which Grant Cogswell (unemployed and broke) decided that a monorail system -- a serious public transportation approach -- was absolutely necessary for the survival of a genuine Seattle (interesting in the light of all that oil spreading itself across our oceans now -- Grant's concept of mass transportation -- which obviously uses so much less of BPs wayward product).

The results of what Grant was trying to do back in 2001 may not be fully felt for a long time to come. Hopefully our little movie will help -- help to push the discussion of grassroots politics, grassroots thinking, grassroots approaches -- ideas, actions and commitment from the ground up, not from the "royal top," not from that utterly strange Republican/Reagan/Royal concept of "trickle down". What an interesting approach: "trickle down," just a trickle, folks, that's all you get. And it will trickle down to you like manna from heaven -- but how about the concept of trickle up, which after awhile becomes something, say a little bit bigger than a trickle, something -- say -- closer to a flood that washes away the mess of what our 19th/20th/21st century royalty has been all about?

So there it is from where I sit, trying to make this little movie, Grassroots -- real change seems to come only from the bottom. Don't recent events make it sadly too clear what "change" from the top looks like -- our laughable financial reforms, our new health-pharma-corporate care, the various wars that continue to expand and bleed us, particularly bleeding the bottom (that expanding group below the working class)?

But what's so worrisome in all this is that change from the bottom isn't usually pretty, boiling up in violence and rage, whether from the right or the left or even the center. So how do we nourish such change from the bottom without being destroyed by it? Well, it was grassroots that got Obama elected. But it was also those very grassroots that Obama had to ignore to function with the royalty of Washington, NYC and in the other world capitals.

But he does it at his peril.

And it's even more perilous for the rest of us because it seems to me that it's those at the bottom who feel the pain of the mistakes from the top most acutely and most clearly. It's also at the bottom where we finds roots, the real roots, working their way into the good earth (both metaphorical and real) from which, as I understand it, the sustenance for everything else is delivered.

 
 
 

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