This documentary concerns the battle of the indigenous Sami people of Russia’s Kola Peninsula to protect their Arctic homeland against encroachment by mining companies. The mining operations (fossil fuels, platinum, gold and aluminum) are destroying the pasture of the reindeer herds the Sami depend on for their livelihood. Unable to support their families, many have abandoned the tundra for Russian cities. Those who stayed are organizing to preserve their collectively owned land.
Most of the political organizing is done by Sami women. To counter the Russian government, which tends to support the mining interests, the Sami have set up their own parliament in Murmansk. Sami women are also working to strengthen community solidarity in their villages.
One parliament member, a Sami woman named Sascha, is shown meeting with a potential reindeer farm more financially viable. Filmmakers also follow her to Norway, where she meets with Sami activists who employ direct action (eg a hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament) to force concessions from Norway’s mining industry. Linking up with Sami activists in Norway, Finland and Sweden has greatly enhanced the strengthen of Russia’s Sami movement.
This documentary argues for shifting major political power away from countries to cities, in part due to the current paralysis national governments face in enacting legislation and in part to the greater likelihood of bottom-up democratic participation in decisions that are made locally.
The filmmakers interview various political scientists who argue for a return to the system of city-state governance that was prevalent prior to the era of colonization.
They give three recent examples in which cities have collaborated with grassroots citizens movements to enact reforms which went on to have major national and global influence:
1. Seattle (Washington) – which in 2014 voted to enact a mandatory $15/hr living wage.
2. Eindhoven (Netherlands) – where citizens collaborated with business leaders and elected officials to create a high tech hub to replace 36,000 jobs that were lost overseas.
3. Hamburg (Germany) – which has retained its pre-1871 city-state governance structure as a federal state within the German federation. As such, it takes on numerous functions normally performed by a national or state government – such as collecting taxes and running schools and universities. It allows its citizens to enact legislation by binding referendum, and in 2014 they voted to buy back the energy grid from a private Swedish company (to hasten its transformation to renewable energy).
This inspirational video is about the massive British resistance movement that arose in the 1990s to oppose the frenetic highway building spree of Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Majors. It culminated in the Battle of the Newbury Bypass, which destroyed nine miles of pristine old growth forest to build and extension to the M3. The stand-off between tree sitters and police lasted three months. The protestors were eventually evicted and the highway built – but at immense cost to the government. By the time the protest ended, public opposition to the highway expansion scheme was so strong the government had to end it.
The documentary depicts quite elegantly the advanced technical expertise required to carry off a massive tree sitting campaign, as well as the powerful sense of community that evolved between the protestors who assembled from across the country. Surprisingly the hardest aspect of this type of direct action is boredom, ie the long wait for the police to take action.
The footage of the police and security personnel brutally removing protestors from hundreds of trees is ugly enough. The scenes of majestic hundreds of years old oaks and evergreens being felled are heart wrenching.
This Al Jazeera documentary examines the undemocratic nature of the European Union and it’s role in allowing banks and multinational corporations to colonize Europe. It begins by focusing on the EU Parliament, which meets in secret and bans public observation of its proceedings. Elected members of the EU Parliament lack the authority to initiate legislation. They can only rubber stamp laws proposed by the non-elected European Commission.
Croatian philosopher Srecko Horbat examines the right and left wing movements that have arisen in reaction in response to the massive economic dislocation (job loss, low wages, high housing costs) people have experienced following the creation of the EU.
The far right tends to campaign against the massive influx of migrants, which they blame for their declining standard of living. The left, in contrast, is more focused on rebuilding European democracy from the ground up.
For me, the most interesting part of the film was its examination of various European experiments in direct democracy. Examples include
The grassroots movements in Hamburg and 170 other German cities and towns that have bought back electric power companies from private companies to hasten their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Ada Colau, the radical mayor of Barcelona,* who is working to transform squats into cooperatives and forcing banks to make vacant buildings available for social housing.
Greece’s parallel economy, which operatives massive “no middlemen” food markets in reaction to price gouging by corporate supermarket chains.
*The capitol of Catalonia, which is organizing a popular referendum to declare independence from Spain – see Showdown in Spain
The Whole World is Watching celebrates the vital importance of citizen journalism (and the Internet) in a time of growing corruption and repression on the part of governments who serve corporate paymasters rather than the people they’re supposed to represent.
Highlighting growing police attacks on journalists and photographers, the filmmakers outline the laws regulating filming and taking photos in public places. In essence, a person standing on public property has an absolute right to film anything within their line of vision – provided it doesn’t violate another person’s reasonable expectation of private (eg if they’re undressing). The police are behaving unlawfully by demanding to see a photographer’s identification, deleting their photos or confiscating their photos, videos or equipment.
The documentary features Will Potter, independent journalist and author of Green is the New Red, about the ongoing US effort to criminalize environmental activists. See his blog at Green is the New Red
Māori TV showed How to Change the World last night. It relates the story of the 1971 founding of the international environmental group Greenpeace. Based on archival Greenpeace footage and retrospective interviews with its founders, the documentary makes it appear as if the organization founded itself by accident out of Vancouver’s strong anti-Vietnam war movement. During the late sixties and early seventies, the Canadian city was a magnet for young American expatriates fleeing the draft.
The accidental pairing of eco-freaks with antiwar activists in a sea protest to block a nuclear test on the Aleutian island of Amitchitka led them to coin a name – Greenpeace – representing both camps.
Bob Hunter, an environmental reporter for the Vancouver Sun, went along on that first protest in his journalistic role. When the popular uproar generated by that first protest resulted in the shutdown of the Amitchka nuclear test site, he resigned from his newspaper job to spearhead the Greenpeace Save the Whales campaign. His genius lay in creating media “mind bombs” with spectacular footage that instantly riveted popular attention.
The documentary replays the original footage from a confrontation with a Soviet whaling ship off the California coast. It’s graphically cruel and bloody and definitely unsuitable for children’s viewing.
The founders allowed the name Greenpeace to be freely borrowed by environmental groups all over the world. Which, as with most grassroots organizations, led to significant growing pains. Hunter made a number of unpopular decisions without consulting the rest of the group. One of the most contentious was his decision to accept the CIA ‘s offer of free fuel and intelligence an the location of Soviet whaling vessels.
The film can be viewed for free for the next few weeks at the Māori TV website: