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Which way the wind blows


Who's Against Us


by Leroy Rodrigues



What happened to the momentum of the grass roots movement that seemed to be building in the days leading up to the newest attack on Iraq? How is it that demonstrations that were occurring around the world full of traditionally non-political people, many of whom had never participated in a protest in their life, could so quickly lose its steam? Well, just when you thought the very idea of resistance had become just another extinct species, along comes a new documentary to remind us that the fight we fight (or avoid fighting) today has a long and complicated history. Now playing at the Bloor Cinema and several indie cinemas in the U.S is "The Weather Underground" by Sam Siegel, a thoughtful retrospective on the most militant student organization to menace Corporate America.

The name of the film is taken from the infamous student organization of the seventies with the same name. That organization in turn took its name from the line in the Bob Dylan song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("you don't need to be a weather man to know which way the wind blows"). The Weather Underground, or "The Weathermen" as they were more commonly known, took the anti-corporate and anti-war fight to its most violent extreme. Known primarily for their use of homemade bombs to attack targets around the U.S, as well as their uncanny ability to have never have killed a civilian, the Weathermen were a disturbing yet logical reaction to corporate greed and state sanctioned murder symbolized by the Vietnam war. In a time when the names of terrorists seem impossible to pronounce and their religions are almost as mysterious as their countries, this new film reminds us that an enemy of the state is just as likely to be homegrown. This short lesson in activist history is a must for any of us who have at one time or another entertained the possibility of taking it to the streets.

The value of this film is that Siegel presents a passionate, fundamentalist organization in a balanced, thoughtful fashion. This is not a call to arms, or worse an advertisement for forming new domestic terror cells. This is not the flaming rant of a frustrated artist or an academic manifesto. Rather, it is a subtle, almost meditative contemplation on the fundamental choice we must make once we've decided enough is enough. Is it possible for example to fight for peace using violence. Siegel decided that he would let the members of the Weathermen tell their own story, rather than trying to recreate it for them. Naturally the film is supplemented with great archival news footage (there is a great clip of a young Tom Brokaw), and some of the Weathermen's own amateur video, but the majority of the film is simply five of the founding members telling their stories to the camera. These are not interviews however. The majority of the time we do not hear what the question was, nor are there very many follow ups to their answers or requests for clarification. Nor did there need to be. The former activists have a story and a powerful message for a new generation of activists and Siegel resists the temptation to give his own opinion, but rather presents the message for the audience to judge.

At the premier that I attended Siegel and one of the founding members of the Weathermen, Bernadine Dohrn, were present for a Q&A session after the film. Siegel began the session by thanking a few people who were instrumental in making the film. He then handed the mike to Dohrn, who spoke for just a few minutes, expressing how pleased she was with the turnout. She then asked the audience if we had any questions. For an agonizing minute and a half, the crowd fell silent. All of the inspiration and pride I had felt during the film in my new found distaste for the bourgeoisie quickly fizzled

As I squirmed in my seat and realized, it was we who were the problem. We the audience. We the willing slaves who choose our chains willingly and kiss the hand that strangles us. We who smile timidly as we watch one freedom after another stripped away. And then just as the tension was becoming completely unbearable, someone raised their hand to ask a tentative question. Thankfully that was the catalyst that was needed. What followed was a spirited, albeit typically Canadian discussion. There were a few polite jokes and no one raised their voices, but the questions were thoughtful and the answers insightful.

As I left the theater I still could not avoid a subtle feeling of disappointment. It had nothing to do with the film, but again had to do with the audience. The Q&A after the film made me realize that there is a genuine appetite out there for non-mainstream thought. While the majority of our generation seem content to watch the 'reality shows' and trudge to their boring jobs so that they can out buy each other in an endless accumulation of useless "stuff," there is a rising culture that is scrapping away the corporate-imposed veneer that prevents us from seeing our own reflection.

My disappointment stems not from who this rising culture is, but rather our reluctance to engage each other in real discussion. There we were, a diverse group of almost 200. We had all been in the same room for nearly three hours sharing a common memorable experience. And yet as we filed out of the theatre, we all seemed to resume our typical urban indifference to each other's presence. A girl that had stood behind me in line before we entered the cinema, also waited on the same platform for the subway going home. Did we talk? Of course not. Was it my specific juvenile fear of talking to a girl (she was kinda cute), or was it my general fear of talking to strangers for fear they may think I am mentally unstable? Either way I won't make the same mistake again. As the Weathermen used to say, "there are no spectators in this war."

And I for one want to start getting to know those who are on my team.


Know which way the wind blows? E-mail

Posted November 22, 2003 4:52 PM






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