05/15/2012 12:05 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

There Is Still Reason for Hope, but Here's the Catch

Why am I blogging for The Huffington Post? Maybe because two movies are being made about me.

Hear that? Two. Movies.


How often does that happen to a non-famous person? What did I possibly do for such a thing to happen to me? I've asked those questions of myself a lot lately, and I may have an answer.

But first, a little bit about the movies. The first is called Grassroots. It's based on my first book, a memoir about my experiences managing a political campaign for a crazy friend of mine in Seattle. It was 2001, and I had just been fired by the alt-weekly The Stranger when my friend Grant Cogswell -- poet, music critic, activist, and walking anger management problem -- asked me to run his political campaign to unseat one of the incumbents on the Seattle city council. Grant's a strange dude: He's so passionate about his adopted city that he has a tattoo of the city logo on his left bicep (it helps that the city logo is actually kind of cool-looking).

Anyway, Grassroots tracks my experiences on the campaign trail as I try to turn the loose-cannon Grant into a serious candidate with half a chance of winning. Jason Biggs plays me, Joel Moore plays Grant, Lauren Ambrose plays a fictionalized girlfriend, and Cobie Smulders plays a fictionalized local activist who briefly tempts me away from Lauren Ambrose (yes, it is funny to say that "I" slept with Cobie Smulders, thanks). I've seen the movie and I think it's fantastic; I'm headed to the International Seattle Film Festival in June for its premiere, before it opens in theaters in Seattle, Portland, New York, and points beyond.

The other movie is a documentary called I'm With Phil. It tells the story of how I, Phil Campbell, organized a convention of people named Phil Campbell to join me in the tiny town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. Yes, it is a real town, and yes, it shares my name. I was actually organizing an "International Phil Campbell Convention" last year -- a stunt, really -- when a devastating tornado struck the town on April 27. I watched the crisis unfold on the news, from 900 miles away. Twenty-seven people killed in a town of only a thousand people.

Nearly a hundred homes destroyed. Uprooted trees and overturned cars everywhere. If you were there that day, you wouldn't know what to make of it; the destruction to that tiny town was indescribable.

So what is I'm With Phil about? The other Phil Campbells and I banded together and had a relief effort to help the town of Phil Campbell. We raised $40,000 for the town -- $2,000 for emergency relief, the balance to build a Habitat for Humanity House for a displaced family of five. The documentary is about strangers doing what they can for others in a time of need. The film is in production right now. Seventy percent of whatever money we make on the film will be donated to the town of Phil Campbell for rebuilding projects.

I think about these two films, and, yes, I'm pretty pleased. Grassroots is going to get an excellent reception, especially among college students and twentysomethings. And I'm With Phil has the potential to creatively and profoundly tell a story about how different people respond to tragedy.

But becoming famous through these films is not why I'm blogging. In reality I care more about the projects that inspired these films than the films themselves. Because I didn't set out to be filmed. I set out to be involved and to, you know, do good. Those projects were spontaneous acts of civic engagement. And we need more people doing more of them.

There are plenty of reasons for pessimism. The economy, despite what some economists say, is still in the toilet, with young people suffering the worst of it. Our political leaders bicker over the deficit rather than effective job creation. Income inequality has never been higher, which means that, more than ever, corporate money is influencing our elections and threatening the basic concept of democracy. There's a general consensus that this country is losing its way.

There is still reason for hope, but here's the catch: We all need to work to make change happen, because our leaders won't just do it for us. We all need to find ways to actively engage with our community and our country, to find ways for positive change. Yes, I'll be blogging about these movies Grassroots and I'm With Phil in the coming weeks, but ultimately that's just a smokescreen for my real motive, which is to (hopefully!) inspire people to positively engage more with the communities in which they live.