While it is true that gratuitous and negative Facebook rants have never been a source of inspiration for me, real “boots on the ground,” grassroots activism gets me totally pumped.
I learned of an independent film called “One Big Home” by first time film maker Thomas Bena. It deals with issues of gentrification, income inequality, and conspicuous consumption on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Even though an undertaking such as this had every indication of being a two-dimensional, “dime-a-dozen” documentary, complete with righteous indignation and moral judgement, it turned out to not be that at all.
As a matter of fact, it was 12 years in the making, and as the time elapses, we watch Bena evolve. He begins as an angry carpenter with a black and white agenda, but we watch him get engaged and marry the woman of his dreams (Mollie, the film’s story adviser) and be thrust into first-time fatherhood. As the movie progresses, we see Mollie come into an inheritance and our protagonist struggle with the idea of having his own dream house designed and constructed.
This was no easy pilgrimage and we learn that Bena put the film down for years as he struggled with his own existential confusion and shifts in his priorities.
All of this changes when he looks up one day and notices a monstrosity of a mansion being built in Chilmark, Bena’s section of Martha’s Vineyard. In the final scenes, we see the filmmaker as a concerned father who goes through the proper channels to help get new regulations passed on the size of the structures that are allowed to be built.
The bottom line? Real significant change was enacted after Bena became passionate about his outcome and stopped at nothing to see it through.
But there was more to it than just self-righteous rage and ranting. As Bena explains, “I was making myself angrier and angrier, and as I filmed I was making enemies and being thrown off job sites and after about eight years of working on it I had a cut of the film. I showed Mollie, my girlfriend, who would be my wife years later, and as the credits rolled the first thing she said was, ‘You look like an *ss.’ She asked me why I was dumbing myself down and playing this angry surfer. ‘You’re a smart guy asking really hard questions.'”
Bena was confused about why she didn’t see that he was fighting against “the man.” He was fighting against this ridiculous brand of conspicuous consumption. He was fighting against income inequality.
And, as all of this swirled through his mind, the epiphany came: against!
That was the key. Negativity. Complaining. Mollie was trying to get him to see that he was not going to make a significant impact unless he changed the scope of his passion from fighting against to fighting for something.
Dr. Wayne Dyer used to always bring this point up when he spoke of Mother Teresa, one of the world’s most effective activists and forces for change. She was quoted as saying, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
I am bringing this up because our beloved president just reduced two national monuments, Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah, by 85 percent and 50 percent respectively. We’re talking about millions of acres.
And, while many of my friends are angry, in shock, or ready to just throw in the towel, I find it heartening to know that those are not our only options.
As I drove into work this morning listening to the depressing news of what took place in Utah, film subject David Silverman’s words kept playing through my mind:
“People always talk about rights being given. Rights are never given. Rights are seized—they’re demanded. It requires people to organize and to fight.”
What are you fighting for?
Author: Billy Manas
Image: Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Khara-Jade Warren