CANNABIS CULTURE – Trust filmmaker Velcrow Ripper to not waste any time getting to the heart of the matter.
His latest picture, Occupy Love, had only been rolling for a few minutes before one of the dazzling array of activists who speak in the film put the often complex and puzzling goals of the global Occupy movement into perspective for the audience: “There is no one to fight. There is no other in this revolution. There isn’t any difference that can’t be understood; there isn’t any conflict that can’t be reconciled.”
Wow! How does a ‘dominator’ society that relies on spooks and boogeymen (whether they’re commies, pot smokers, liberals or moslems) to find momentum and cohesion, deal with a growing throng of people from around the world who have had enough and are saying that a paradigm that relies on anger and hatred to move forward isn’t welcome anymore?
More dangerous than anthrax on the wind, LSD in the water supply, or nuclear weapons in Iran, Occupiers are broadcasting a message that marginalizing our neighbours isn’t necessary. Gated communities aren’t necessary. In this movement, Ripper shows us, all of the prohibitions constructed by the dominant society to encourage people to stay in line are questioned as the politics of fear are slowly disassembled. The vision that Occupy Love communicates as the film’s cameras visits Occupy camps around the globe, is one where people have finally come together to share their deep belief that the worldview they have been given by the corporations, and the shell governments that give them credibility, is not the only option.
The emerging view that Occupy Love presents is that our current model of operating in the world is not working, and that it’s bullshit that there are no other choices to explore. For people like myself, who caught the tail end of the sixties and have been active in anti-nuclear, anti-war and environmental causes through the decades, this is nothing new. What is truly groundbreaking is the approach that the Occupiers have taken to solving their problems. Rather than resorting to Molotov cocktails, riots and violent demonstrations, the movement has taken the most archaic road possible – the path of love and compassion.
Before going any further, it’s perhaps important to confess that in today’s world, it’s not surprising that many people feel cynical towards the Occupy movement. The media has presented its participants as little more than unemployed drifters who live off of handouts, and have nothing better to do than paint kooky signs and chant slogans in the rain. As is often the case with this kind of movement, there is the danger that the participants’ powerful messages won’t take flight and that activists will continue simply preaching to the converted while the powers that be keep on plying business as usual.
It’s also easy to be cynical and believe that the Occupiers were only permitted the illusion of democracy as they carried on proselytizing to a tiny circle of caring individuals, and that real change only happens when the powers that govern a dominant society are good and ready. Of course, none of this is lost on Velcrow Ripper, and throughout the film he does a very good job of portraying the sliding dichotomy between power and powerlessness that the Occupiers experience as they try to make sense of a period in Western history where the rich and poor have become more separated than ever before. In times like this, as the Zen teacher Joan Halifax tells Ripper and the audience, there are only two choices: extreme resignation or engagement.
As in all of Velcrow Ripper’s films, Occupy Love offers a melding of the personal and the universal. By portraying his own reaction to the events taking place around him, Ripper’s individual road through the Occupy Movement and all of its metaphors is interwoven with our collective journey to make sense of the world that’s unfolding around us during this very difficult time in our history. What emerges as the film begins with Ripper’s bicycle commute to ground zero on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a deeply held belief that power and love are the two clashing forces that shape the world, and that the climate change crisis and all of the struggles surrounding it can be transformed into the ‘greatest love story on earth.’
Ripper follows up on this utopian idea as he visits the G20 summit where he sees evidence of the huge chasms growing up between people – who either saw the black-booted, shield-pounding security that patrolled the event as much-needed protection or as cruel tools of the power elite. The Canadian social activist and author Naomi Klein tells the film’s audience that she believes a global struggle is underway that will be much more difficult than simply overthrowing a dictator. Overthrowing neo-liberalism is much more difficult, she says, because there isn’t a single, identifiable bad guy. Like many people, she believes that corporations are engaged in a final colonial pillage before time runs out for them and their actions are criminalized, and as evidence she posits the Alberta tarsands as the best example of this willful devastation.
Watch the Occupy Love trailer.
We are also experiencing alongside this, as the acclaimed British biologist Rupert Sheldrake adds, the final “separation of humanity and nature.” Our recent interactions with the economy and the environment have all been able to slip past the gates of common sense due to what the American economist, Jeremy Rifkin describes as “a failure to get over the centuries old ideas of the market place, and the world that couldn’t have foreseen a population of seven billion or our capacity to destroy the environment.” These are all heavy, complex ideas to try and grapple with, but thanks to Ripper’s wonderful script, arresting images and careful pacing, they never weigh down the story he tells or the concepts he shares.
From the G20, Ripper travelled into the heart of the Arab Spring in Tunisia that the Occupy movement grew out of. Many people cite the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in protest against the continual harassment of local authorities as the catalyst for the waves of protest that shook the Arab world in 2011. The Tunisian protests resulted in the country’s ruling dictator, Zine En Abidene Ben Ali stepping down from power after 23 years as leader. In the wake of this success, Bouazizi’s single act of desperation became a spark that sent off a chain reaction of revolutions that can be felt from Tahir Square in Egypt to Wall Street to this day.
Western people are funny. If Ripper’s film had ended with the uprising in Egypt, it might have become a mainstream hit (as much as any documentary can) because it would stay within our familiar zones and indirectly reinforce all of our prejudices. North Americans are comfortable giving films like Gandhi or Cry Freedom Academy Awards because they celebrate the ‘over there somewhere’ and the closer such morality tales get to our own shores, the more uncomfortable we get. When it’s about ‘others’ who deserve liberty, we’re fine, but if a film tries to tell us that we don’t have the liberty we may have thought we had, and that the corporations and politicians are fooling us, it doesn’t take long for people to get very uncomfortable and start backpedalling. Westerners like to celebrate liberation struggles that take place between yellow, black and brown people in the third world who follow ‘foreign religions’, but once the action moves closer to home many start feeling that the apple cart has been shaken a little too much and they start to feel threatened.
So, when Ripper’s camera zeroes in on the action in Spain as groups of people who felt they were being treated as pawns in the EU’s struggle for economic solvency took to the streets, the tension in the film palpably begins to rise. Ripper shows the audience that it was also here that the ethos of the Occupy movement began to take shape. Assemblies began to form that were horizontally and not ‘top down’ ruled, and large groups of people started to express a belief in a shift from hierarchical to lateral power structures. In one of the film’s most iconic and arresting images, an elderly Spanish woman approaches a policeman and takes his club from him. Before he can react, she envelops him in a bear hug and they both smile. From there, Ripper travels to Bolivia, a country with an aboriginal government, and learns from politicians there about how the country is in the process of abandoning the American ideal of ‘living better’ and returning to embrace their traditional idea of ‘living well’ in balance with themselves and nature.
Not surprisingly, most of the screen time in Occupy Love is dedicated to exploring the Occupy Wall Street movement that had its epicentre in New York’s Zucotti Park – which was renamed ‘Liberty Square’ by those who lived, listened, and practiced there. In an amazing series of images and vignettes, Velcrow reveals an intentional community that was based on process and not product, who had no predetermined demands, and who without megaphones or amplified sound learned other tactics to communicate solutions to create a better world. It is in this section of the film, that Velcrow Ripper most powerfully illustrates the power of the human interaction that made the Occupy movement so distinct.
In sequence after sequence, the camera captures people from very disparate backgrounds who would normally have no opportunity to meet each other, interact and realize that there is much that unites people who at first seeme very different from one another. When an old woman from Carolina talks with the director of ‘occupy the hood’ and says she’s never met a black person and excuses herself in advance if she says something dumb, the pure unaffected humanity of the exchange is enough to take one’s breath away. These are the type of town hall meetings we should be having in every city in the world. It would scare the shit out of every leader from Stephen Harper to Hamid Karzai if we did.
This is because, as much as anything, Occupy Love celebrates the spontaneity of the people in the movement who offer such refreshing alternatives to the staged, planned events that pass for debates in today’s world. The film continually reminds the audience that freedom is dangerous and that most world leaders are afraid of its implications. Yet, even with all the issues it has raised, it’s sad that more people couldn’t have taken part in the movement. As much as the aesthetics of resistance can be alienating for those who are inexperienced or who have relied on mainstream media for their information, Ripper intimates that if more people in suits had taken part, they may have found that the gulf separating them from the pierced and dirty people living in tents who form the group’s stereotype was not as wide as they may have imagined.
As Occupy Love winds down with footage that documents the closure of Occupy camps around the world, the audience is not left with a feeling of defeat. Instead, Ripper instills a feeling of purpose and power in those who watch the film. It’s not a power based on destruction or violent revolution, but at the same time, Occupy Love doesn’t encourage passiveness and despair. And, while corporations and big governments are often identified as the source of many of the world’s problems, the Occupy Movement as Ripper presents it strives for compassion for and dialogue with the corporations and governments so that truly no one is left behind and unaccounted for. People need to connect and communicate in non-traditional ways that bypass power structures in order to do this. In a world that is increasingly divided, the solutions to our problems are not technical; instead they involve making conscious decisions to solve them without hedging or caving to interest groups.
The work we have to do to heal our sick world often seems like more than anyone can take on. As I said before, it’s easy to be cynical about groups like Occupy, but the fact is that nothing has ever changed without a few brave people taking the first step. Occupy Love celebrates that bravery, and though there will be many pitfalls and failures along the way – as is true with any cause worth fighting for – in the words of Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, as he surveyed the dismantling of Liberty Square, “you can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.”
Go and see Occupy Love. It will give you the strength to act as you have always wanted to. It will make your life better.