Sunday, September 22, 2013

Movie Night

You don't need a Weatherman to tell which way the wind blows...

I've heard about the "Weather Underground" film done by Sam Green for KQED in San Francisco for a decade now, but until yesterday, I hadn't seen the whole thing. Well... (I recently signed up to Snag Films on the internet, where "Weather Underground" and a number of other films and documentaries I've wanted to see are available free but not without commercial interruptions... like with some of the other online film services you have to turn off your adblock software for the duration.)

Memories... I wasn't part of SDS or the Weather Underground back in the day, and by 1969 I was becoming somewhat more socialized to a standard adult lifestyle though hardly as a member of the bourgeoisie.

The rebel in me would not permit that.

Though I wasn't part of the Revolution by 1969, I followed SDS and Weather Underground more than casually, them and the Black Panthers and American Indian Movement and so many others who actually engaged in a kind of Revolution as the '60's got going and then petered out, slip-sliding through pools of blood and misery right here at home. Not quite on the scale of Vietnam, no, not even close to that scale, but the bloodshed here at home had a profound effect on the counterculture.

Let it be said and let it be known.

What hasn't been explored, however, is how the bloodshed here at home affected the Establishment, because it most profoundly did. We who were not Establishment rarely look at things from the other side, so it can be difficult to grasp and gauge what kind of effects the radicals and the revolutionaries were having in real time, and it's still difficult to understand how those effects have played out since then.

Sam Green's film doesn't directly explore the question of how the radicals and revolutionaries affected the Establishment, either, and Mark Rudd, Todd Gitlin and others interviewed essentially declare that the Revolution was a failure and leave it at that -- as they go back, with a big sigh, to their sinecures in various academic settings and NPOs.

Oh. Yes. Wasn't it all such a very big waste in the end?

I've been hearing scuttlebutt for years and years that Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayres, Mark Rudd, and other prominent Revolutionaries who took over the SDS and precipitated all kinds of hoo-hah and mayhem back in their day were actually FBI infiltrators and operatives. I don't think that's necessarily true, but after watching this film, and considering some of the other contacts I've had over the years with people who were part of SDS and or least peripherally with the Weathermen and the Weather Underground, and knowing some things about COINTELPRO that aren't part of the film, I came away with the distinct impression that the Establishment influence on the survivors is all but total now, and that more than a few prominent infiltrators from the various spookeries and policing agencies were deeply embedded and  were part of every revolutionary development during the '60's and '70's. If these prominent figures from the Movement were not infiltrators and/or provocateurs, they sure acted like they were.

In retrospect, it seems obvious. It was obvious to some at the time.

One of the ways the Establishment coped with Revolution in those days was by co-opting the Revolutionaries. Those who couldn't be co-opted were... disposed of in one way or another. The murder of Fred Hampton being one of the most egregious "disposals." But there were many others.

Mark Rudd lives in Albuquerque now, and he came to visit the (Un)Occupy encampment one day in February, 2012, while I was there, and he and I and a number of others got into quite a fierce discussion regarding the question of "violence" and Occupy. This was not long after the J28 action in Oakland. These days, he doesn't just advocate nonviolence, he is militantly anti-violence to the point of absurdity. This didn't seem to be  some kind of Buddhist "do no harm" idealism, it is a full on attack on anyone and everyone who would militantly oppose the present day Powers That Be, regardless of whether they actually engaged in "violence" or not. His point was that anything the PTB could interpret as "violence" (such as wearing black or bandanas) is -- by definition -- violence and it must be avoided, denounced and abjured.

I was far from the only one who challenged him on this absurdity, and on his complete surrender, if you will, to the Establishment he once was purported to lead the fight against.

WTF, dude?

His argument was that "violence doesn't work" and it will bring down the full weight of the government against whoever they designate as "violent" -- so it doesn't make sense to even hint at violent rebellion. When I pointed out that Occupy, by its very nature and self-definition, is a non-violent resistance campaign (link is to 157 pg pdf of Chenoweth/Stevens methodology -- be warned), regardless of what participants wear or any peripheral or sporadic vandalism -- vandalism that may well have been precipitated by provocateurs (some instances of vandalism associated with Occupy, particularly in Portland and the Pacific Northwest, and all the so-called "terrorist" planning incidents were  almost certainly the work of infiltrators and inspired by provocateurs). He simply dismissed the notion, something I have run into a number of times with critics of Occupy who insist that their notions of non-violence are the only valid ones, and anyone who disagrees is the equivalent of a  "violence advocate."

The film presents essentially the same viewpoint from the perspective of a somewhat sanitized history. I'd say that some things in the latter '60's and early '70's were quite a bit more dire than they are made out to have been by the film-makers, and yet some of the conflicting points of view are over-dramatized -- such as that between Todd Gitlin and his rivals for leadership of SDS. Those things aside, though, the film is a carefully rendered product that that seems to reinforce the idea that what used to be possible is no longer so, and even those who participated in the Revolution back then have -- for the most part -- absolutely rejected those methods and tactics. Those who haven't done so either were or are in prison. So don't try it. Hear?

Here are a couple of short videos from the (Un)Occupy Burque event mentioned earlier at which Mark Rudd holds forth in the first video and one of his challengers, Amalia, a Native American presence, makes headway in the second.


Another film I watched at Snag Films is Looking Toward Home, a documentary about Native Americans who were voluntarily or forcibly re-located to the cities during the 1940's and 50's and how they're trying to get their culture back. This film was co-produced by Beverly Morris, the Native American film-maker I mentioned I was sitting next to at a meeting up in Santa Fe last week. Prior to that meeting I had not encountered Morris or this film previously, but the stories told and the sights seen in it were very familiar and evocative.

Of course the scenes of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area in the 40s and 50s were familiar, given that I've lived most of my life in or near one or the other of those cities. Yet strangely, like some of the Indians in the film, I don't consider them "home." I might have at one time, but thinking back, I really don't believe I did.

I feel much more at home here in rural New Mexico than I ever did in California. Go figure. (I'm looking out the french doors in the living room right now at a very -- very -- California coastal fog scene that is actually giving me cold chills, for this is not something I expect to see of a New Mexico morning, though it is the second or third time I have seen it since moving here... the fog here is nearly identical to morning fogs typical of the California coast from Santa Barbara or even Ventura northward... where am I??)

For Indians relocated to the cities, the issue is both more fraughtful and more direct than any particular sense of dislocation I've felt. But Anglos have a tendency, I think, to make much more of the negative aspects of dislocation than those who have experienced it do. Many of the Indians don't see the experience as being all that bad at all. Many see going to the cities as a mind-expanding and life-changing opportunity they never would have had on the Rez. Many of the Indians in the film have become completely assimilated, acculturated and almost indistinguishable from anyone else who lives in the city.

This is a fundamental consideration that Anglos -- who may be obsessed with White Guilt for the genocide of Indian Peoples -- often have trouble with. Indians are no less capable of dealing with "civilization" than anyone else. The relocation program had many faults, but many Indians benefited well beyond expectations from it and their descendants continue to benefit.

But hat depends on definitions, doesn't it? What constitutes a "benefit" and what constitutes a "loss?" And who is to come up the judgements and definitions?

This film is told from a Native American perspective, and so the definitions are those of the Indians interviewed themselves, and most are highly aware of what's been gained and what's been lost in the transition between reservation and cities. Not every Indian could cope with relocation, however, and too many Indians still suffer the effects of cultural and physical genocide that took place generations ago. On the other hand, some Indians have created a new cultural fusion somewhere between their traditional Native ways and the dominant cultural lifestyles they're adapting to or are already adapted to.

Though the film doesn't get into it, this is part the mindset of the NDN movement among younger Indians in both urban and reservation contexts. It's a conscious fusion of elements of Native consciousness and spirituality with modern lifeways. It is without fear, but with more than a little humor.

Barbara Morris is highly acculturated,  as is Ms. Ché, but neither have lost their Native culture. Instead, they have adapted their culture to the dominant societies in which they live and have done or do their work.

From my perspective, they have an intimate understanding of their cultures, but they are assimilated and integrated into the dominant society rather than being restricted to a segregated society. At one time, I would have called it "White society," but it isn't that anymore; it is far less racially particularized, far more globalized and thus far more ethnically diverse.

At any rate, I rather liked "Looking Toward Home" and recommend it.

(I understand these films are also available on Netflix.)

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