Michael Moore is an Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author
Last night, on the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Wall Street Heist of 2008, I spoke at Bunker Hill Community College in the Charlestown section of Boston. It is not, to say the least, a wealthy neighborhood. It is roughscrabble and working class, a place where there are few magic doors that open to the Promised Land. (If you saw Ben Affleck's movie, "The Town," or the exceptional Broadway play this year, "Good People," then you have an idea of what the area is like.)
The college is, of course, named after one of the first battles of the American Revolution. And Charlestown looks like it could use a new Revolution these days. They, like so many millions in so many towns, have been sealed into a lockout of the American Dream. It is sad and scary to wander through it.
As I waited backstage for the college administrator to introduce me, he launched into something I, in all my years of speaking at hundreds of American colleges, have never witnessed. He began begging the crowd for money. Money for their student body's "Emergency Fund." The student body consists of many who are single parents and live below the poverty line. He didn't ask for tuition money or money for books. He begged the crowd for gas money. Babysitting money. Money to fix a car that's broken down, or for electricity that's been turned off. He listed all the things that cause a student to miss a class -- or drop out. Students (79% of them) who work near-minimum wage jobs AND try to be full time students at the same time. Community college is the only escape hatch they have, and even that is a crap shoot in this 21st century kleptocracy we live in.
He then told the crowd that he would hand out some envelopes and he asked them to put whatever they could in them.
Welcome to America! Where schools are turned into beggars as the rich on the other side of town post record profits and bonuses and the top corporations get away with paying no tax at all. I took the stage and began a 20 minute howl rejecting the America I just witnessed. A country that puts the education of its young dead last. DEAD LAST. A country that has purposefully abandoned the human right to an education in favor of sending millions of ignorant, uneducated, lost young people out into this world. This is no accident. Those in power cannot stay in power UNLESS the population they rule over are stupid and ignorant. To be smart is dangerous -- and they know that. If the ignorant were to know anything about civics (no longer taught in most schools), that could be nothing short of explosive. Because, if you are taught how to have a say, how to fight city hall, how to run for office and WIN -- well, look out, 'cause you will then have democratic change. The people who would make up a smart, educated majority would then start calling the shots. And we certainly don't want that because you know what those people from Charlestown, from Toledo, from Pittsburgh, from Raleigh, from Flint are going to do? They're going to stop the wars. They're going to spend the money on their kids' schools, on their parents' health care, on laying down some railroad tracks so they can get from Chicago to Milwaukee in a half hour. That and dozens of other things that benefit the many, not the few.
So last night, I just couldn't take it, folks. I turned away from this Dickensian "alms for the poor" scene and screamed "Enough!" I asked how many in the audience had come from the "other" sections of Boston to be here tonight. About half the crowd raised its hand. I then asked them to please put as much as they could afford into those envelopes and I would match it, dollar for dollar. By the end of the night we raised nearly ten grand for the Bunker Hill Community College Student Emergency fund (and with my match, it becomes a total of nearly $20,000).
And then I asked all who were in the arena to make a pledge with me to reject this vision of America that has been thrust upon us. Reject it, fight it, fix it -- and to fix it, it will require a rumble. But hey, I was in Charlestown, and if there's anyone who knows how to rumble ...! What I asked for was a nonviolent rumble of citizen participation.
The crowd spontaneously got up and clapped and shouted. I asked them if they would raise a ruckus in the months to come. The crowd shouted yes. And I believe they will. Here comes trouble? Ha! The kleptocracy had better brace themselves. It won't be long before they wish that had been just a cute title on an overpriced book.
(Speaking of ruckus, tomorrow on Wall Street, many brave souls have declared their intention to occupy it with a tent city and turn it into an American Tahir Square. They will be crushed within minutes. But they won't be the last ones to rise up. You can only foreclose on so many millions of homes, bankrupt just so many millions of the former middle class, and deny just so many millions access to health care (59 million now go without insurance at least part of year and Harvard Medical School researchers estimate that 44,000 died this year because they couldn't afford to go to the doctor or hospital.))
How long, Mr. Goldman, Mr. Sachs, Mr. Merrill, Mr. Lynch, how long? How high can you build the gates? I know you didn't receive a beggar's education, so that means you know the historical answer: You can't build them high enough.
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