Last night (Friday, July 9) I saw the documentary 9500 Liberty with a few friends who are political activists at Piper's Alley. Eric Byler, the director, took questions from the audience.
Byler, a film maker, and his girlfriend Annabel Park, began making video of a controversy unfolding around them.
Greg Letiecq, publisher of the blog Black Velvet Bruce Li, built an audience by publishing anti-Latino and anti-immigrant entries. Politicians saw the potential to convert BVBL's audience into a political movement by enacting an ordinance that required police to check immigration status of people they suspected of not being citizens or legal aliens.
Byler and Park published the video on You Tube as the events unfolded.
The film 9500 Liberty uses these clips to tell a complete story. Roger Ebert (Sun-Times) gave the film 3 1/2 stars.
This extended trailer makes most of the points made in the movie. However, I think most people will find seeing the film rewarding after seeing the trailer. The story engages the audience emotionally.
The arch of the story is much like films and stories about the McCarthy era. Opportunistic Right Wing politicians used red-baiting to heighten fears and then used the fears to energize supporters and bludgeon opponents.
At the end of these films and movies a heroic character stands up to the excesses of McCarthyism and everybody realizes the whole thing was unreasonable and everyone lives happily ever after. (Example: The Majestic)
In the discussion, Byler said he expected the story to end when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing on the law. When Linda Chavez challenged the politicians who enacted the ordinance to explain what data they had connecting illegal immigration to crime. The politicians responded that they measured the perception of the community based on emails and contacts by constituents. Obviously, the perception was nurtured by Letiecq's blog.
However, the end of 9500 Liberty is more like the typical anti-McCarthyism film. Eventually the residents of the county apprehend that the ordinance is bad policy for a variety of reasons. An indigenous coalition emerges that overturns the most noxious part of the ordinance. Even the two politicians who championed the ordinance as part of their re-election campaigns vote to gut the meat from their own ordinance.
I have attended a large number of meetings of local government, especially school board meetings.
9500 Liberty captures the tension of local deliberations. The dead time (closed session) and redundant testimony is edited to capture the vibe accurately and remove the other stuff.
Many people have brought video equipment to local meetings, but few have the time and expertise to edit the video into something snappy.
I suspect that in the future, having video equipment and having the software, equipment and skill to edit video will be a bigger part of local activism.
When I discussed this point with Byler, he expressed interest in writing a book about using video at part of local activism.
Byler is the co-founder of the Coffee Party Movement.