Naked in Nuhaka: The Tide Turns
THE TIDE TURNS
MAYBE ITS BECAUSE THE WINTER SOLSTICE HAS JUST PASSED, maybe its the unseasonably warm weather, but for some reason recent events in the world indicate to me that the numerous "very bad things" going on may have actually bottomed out. Indeed, things may have actually started to get better.
I had a dream the other night that I was in a theatre watching Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11, and as the film started onscreen I found myself uncontrollably sobbing. It was partly subconscious energy, and partly because I'd read way too many reviews of the film in the previous days (1). But ultimately, it was a foretelling of a future moment where someone (Mr. Moore) will finally present to me (and the world) an understanding that what's been going on lately is seriously wrong, and that its now time to turn back the tide. Its time to reclaim the future.
I haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 yet. Nor will I any time soon, unless I travel up to Auckland or down to Wellington for various premieres and fundraisers. So I'll bide my time until it goes into general release and makes its way down here. I have downloaded the preview of the film (2), and must admit I got a real kick out of it. On Sunday, I read through a 50-state outline of last week's premiere across America, posted online at Michael's website (3). Along with being really excited about the public reaction to the film, I got a real nostalgic kick some of them. You see, the postings from people at the screenings were from places I'd been to and theatres in the States that I'd seen movies at.
Hey, I remember going to the Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY, and walking past that mega-sized multiplex! Hey, I too have stood outside the San Francisco West Portal cinema waiting to get inside to see a movie! (4) The Nuart in Los Angeles is opposite the spot on Santa Monica Boulevard where my Mom met my Dad (a 50s coffee shop now a mini-mall!). I once grabbed a quick indy flick at the Canal Place in New Orleans (the only theater in Louisiana playing the film!), and took photos outside the San Jose 50's style multiplex where young teens camped out for the Star Wars premiere in 1999.
Reading across all 50 states, I was touched by how this film was affecting the lives of so many Americans. Even in Texas – Bush Jr. heartland – there were huge crowds and lines outside and in. Many emails to Michael Moore mentioned armed guards and Police waiting outside the theatres. Activists trying to register voters got pushed out into the carparks. A theme across America, theatres packed to capacity and screenings ending with emotional standing ovations. This from San Francisco:
"I found myself in my car driving home, tears uncontrollably rolling down my face. Tonight I saw nothing many things I already knew, yet how you shared your thoughts and ideas will effect me for the rest of my life. I am deeply saddened by all of this, but yet thankful for all that you have done. So many American and Iraqi lives have been given, all in the name of greed." - M.P.G.
I thought of people I knew in the States, and places where they might be seeing the film. Cousin Mark, on Long Island, perhaps seeing the film at his local multiplex. My friend Andy, recently returned from exile in Paris (a positive sign in itself!) perhaps lined up in Boulder, Colorado. Lindis, a kiwi gal I know who's at the U.S. Green Party convention in Milwaukee, making her way through the crowd of 1,000 already converted to the Moore cause, at the grand restored Oriental in the Wisconsin burg's grand restored downtown (5).
Actually, the U.S. Green Party itself did something really positive over the weekend; another sign of sensibility and growing unity against Bush. At their meeting in Milwaukee, they decided not to endorse Ralph Nader in his run for the U.S. Presidency. Though Nader wasn't seeking to be the Green Party Presidential candidate, he was seeking their endorsement (and all important spots on state electoral ballots). Nader had even announced his Vice Presidential co-runner, Green Party Senate candidate Peter Camejo.
The U.S. Greens did not endorse Nader; instead, they put their support behind David Cobb, a candidate who has already made a strategic decision not to run in "swing states" where a leftward turn of voters to the Greens might run the risk of boosting the chances of a Bush win (as it was reputed to have done in 2000). Mr. Cobb's strategy is instead to only run in solid Democratic states (California, New York) or Republican states (Texas) to start building the "growth of America's true opposition party." (6)
Apart from the Fahrenheit 9/11 premieres across the country and the Green Party convention in Milwaukee, residents in America's largest cities would also have been hard pressed not to attend their local gay pride parades. Post a gay marriage frenzy in the City of San Francisco that spilled over to New Paltz, NY (endorsed by a Green Mayor!) and then achieved state-level legal status in Massachusetts, anyone at the parade would not only have seen a lot of really Gay people, but also a lot of very very very Happy ones!
In San Francisco, two floats drifted down Market Street bedecked with the Mayor (a Democrat, who made the landmark decided to let the marriages happen), the City Judge (who performed them) and dozens of happy couples with poster sized copies of their marriage certificates! (7) Meanwhile, President Bush's murmurings of changes to the nation's constitution to protect marriage seem remarkably distracting when there's perhaps bigger issues he should be focusing on?
I compare the landmark windchange in the United States to the odd fervour stirring here in New Zealand around our Civil Union Bill. Our Prime Minister Helen Clark dampens down talk that this is a "gay issue" (she herself said she would have preferred a civil union to a marriage) and took the role of spokesperson for the Bill away from (out gay) Cabinet member Chris Carter and gave it to (out straight) David Benson-Pope. I listen to National Radio to how Civil Unions will be the "same as marriage" except in name only. I thought, "Well, why didn't Helen Clark (after she got married), just go around saying 'Peter and I just had a Civil Union (which it is except in name only!)'"
Yes, the Civil Union Bill will give heterosexual partners an ability to legally cement de facto partnerships in a manner "not called marriage", but ultimately the Bill – because it extends these rights to same sex partners – is going to impact upon gay and lesbian people the most and extend rights to them that were not there before. Why no one has been brave enough to say "Let's just have gay marriage – like Holland and Denmark and Massachusetts do!" is beyond me, but its good to see New Zealand quietly making progress on this issue, like we always seem to do, in our own way.
What Civil Unions lack, I guess, that Marriage doesn't, is passion. Gay rights activists in the States have their eyes on a prize, and that prize is Marriage. With all its associated fun, frivolity, excitement and passion! You can see it in the eyes of the many hundreds of couples who got hitched in San Francisco City Hall last Valentine's February (before the California Supreme Court quashed Mayor Newsom's civil disobedience). The San Francisco Chronicle now has an online album with photos of over 350 couples who married during that time. (8) (I defy anyone to look at this photo (9) and not smile!)
There really isn't the same level of passion and excitement in Civil Unions. I mean, really, could anyone (no matter what each person's gender is) ever really get excited if the love of their life says: "Darling, will you Civil Union me?" America, in all its messiness, has begun to engage in the issue of gay marriage and San Francisco's groundbreaking dash to the gay marriage starting line really changes something in the cultural zeitgeist. Polls of Under 30s in the U.S. shows a general level of majority support for legalised gay marriage, so it is literally only a matter of time before it truly becomes a reality. Both there; and here.
The other area where the tide is turning in Aotearoa NZ is the emergence of the Maori Party. It now has a logo, a structure, members and an establishment date (a National Hui is set for early July in Otaki), but (unfortunately) no website yet. The Maori Party is reaching out for the Pacific Islands vote, has Pakeha members, and should be heartened by a recent poll that found more Non-Maori people are watching Maori television that Maori people. Whilst the Maori Party is emerging in the polls, Labour's also bumping back up, with Helen still in a dominant spot over Don Brash as preferred Prime Minister.
Now all that needs to happen is some progressive change with the upcoming local government elections. I could go on for quite a while here about how Mayor Banks' version of the "truth" around the economic, ecological and social impacts of the proposed Eastern Motorway reminds me of another fellow who's last name starts with "B", but I'll leave that commentary for a future posting. I do, however, think this select quote from today's Herald says it all: "I don't want to destroy any more of Hobson Bay than I reasonably have to meet the demands of moving goods, services and people across Auckland," Mr Banks said. (10) "John Banks: Self-Confessed Destroyer" – now that's a great campaign slogan! (10)
I myself have been musing on local political moves (I even thought briefly about running against Hone), but since my Mum has already confirmed she's running again for Wairoa District Council (11) I think I'll have to be on the backup team this round. And, of course, put more of my voluntary time and effort into some of the local projects I've been working on, like the recently launched Wairoa Maori International Film Festival (12).
There's still two or three months of cold weather left here in Nuhaka before the buds of spring start to peek there way through, but I can't help but think that perhaps the world's future is already a bit brighter. It's hard to imagine Bush actually carrying himself into a second term in America; I'm hoping for the best, and finding it really hard to expect the worst. And, sure, the political tide is tilting right-wards here in New Zealand, but I also can't help but think there's an innate sense of fairness and goodness and progressiveness here that sets us apart and bodes well for the future. Plus we've got MMP.
Last year I wrote articles about the bad things going on in the world and finding myself looking for more and more negative signals of what was going on. This year I find myself looking for the positive signals. Positive signals to support a little contention I have that perhaps is becoming a conclusion.
That the world's awoken from the nightmare, and the tide is starting to turn.
The first public screenings in NZ of Fahrenheit 9/11 are the NZ Film Festival screenings in Wellington and Auckland on July 20th. http://www.enzedff.co.nz
Russell Brown has an excellent run-down on the Civil Union debate at http://www.publicaddress.net. His critique of NZ media drawing on overseas opinion on social values is particularly important.
The best and most thoughtful review of Fahrenheit 9/11 I've found is by Steve Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/06/29/DDG5L7CFSS1.DTL
The worst, on Slate.com, is by the vagabond Christopher Hitchens. Though maybe I'm biased?
NOTES & LINKS:
(13) Have I even mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court decision to extend full rights of citizenship (and legal representation) to detainees in Guantanamo Bay? How about Governor Schwarzenegger vetoing Federal mandates to not support low emission vehicles?
ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes essays on ecology, identity, culture, place and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ.