The Movement for Youth Liberation

Common Notions: Handbook Not Required

Directed by Carla Berman and Corine Browne (2016)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a “youth liberation” space called The Purple Thistle a group of Vancouver BC young people ran between 2001-2015. This project was started by eight teenagers as an alternative to school. They involved a series of adult volunteers to sign the building lease, apply for grants and help them find mentors for their various projects.

The film features commentary by several activists and educational specialists who explain the phenomenal success of The Purple Thistle. They feel it’s a big mistake to exclude young people from the community by confining them to a classroom. At all levels, we need to focus more on teaching people to work collectively.

The only rules at The Purple Thistle were no alcohol, no drugs, no assholes (ie no racism, sexism or homophobia and clean up after yourself) and no sleeping (naps were okay). Kids at The Purple Thistle governed themselves via anarchist-based principles of consensus decision making and mutual aid.*

Most of the film focuses on on various creative projects Purple Thistle teenagers undertook.

The project was forced to close in 2015 due to funding cuts. (See letter to the community)


*The principle of mutual aid creates a safe space for people to ask for and offer help. It also promotes economic solidarity whereby no member of the community is allowed to go without.

 

 

Rebel Voice: Biography of Woody Guthrie

Bound for Glory

Directed by Hal Ashby (1976)

Film Review

Starring the late David Carradine, this is a feature-length biography of radical songwriter Woodie Guthrie. For me its greatest strength is its unflinching portrayal of the brutal poverty and physical violence (by corporate-hired thugs) of the Great Depression.

The film begins with Guthrie’s early married life in rural Oklahoma and his struggle to support a wife a two kids as a sign painter and occasional fiddler for square dances.

Hoping to find work picking fruit, Guthrie, along with thousands of other unemployed men, hitchhikes and hops freights to California. Those who don’t have at least $50 are stopped at the state line by Los Angeles police and turned back.

Penniless, Guthrie finds alternative entry and is sardined into a work camp with thousands of other out-of-state families. The massive worker surplus translates into starvation-level pay.

Guthrie falls in with union organizer Ozark Bule, who recognizes his talent and helps him land a gig with a local radio station. Owing to pressure from sponsors to censor his songs, Guthrie chucks it in (included a gig an agent lands him with CBS) to retain his political and artistic freedom.

Of the songs featured, my favorite is Do Re Mi about the blockade at the California state line.

Although the film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, it can be viewed free at the following link:

Bound for Glory (1976 – Hal Ashby)

 

Subvertising: Countering Mind Control in London

Subvertisers for London

Dog Section Films (2019)

Film Review

“Subvertise” is the millenial term for what baby boomers call “culture jamming.” (See  Culture Jamming: The Grassroots War Against Mind Control) Their aim is to minimize the societal threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it. The technique has the potential to reach millions of people, using humor to jolt them into questioning the status quo.

The British artists who engage in “subvertising” go much further than merely editing billboard ads. Typically they will replace an entire bus shelter or underground ad with a a professional-looking poster conveying an ironic political message. Examples in the film include

  • Data Misuse is Our Business Model (Facebook, Google)
  • Theresa May Will Follow Donald Trump to the End of the World
  • Suck My Goldman Sachs (David Cameron)
  • Fresh Mucus
  • Sorry We Got Caught (Volkswagen)

They also make fake Royal Navy recruitment ads for suicide bombers and a fake street sign reading “Curfew: Social Cleansing 7-9 pm”

 

Culture Jamming: The Grassroots War Against Mind Control

Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture

Directed by Jill Sharpe (2001)

Film Review

Culture Jam is one of my favorite documentaries of all time. It describes a guerilla movement which started in the 1970s and was popularized by the Billboard Liberation Front. The goal of culture jamming is to counter pervasive the consumerist messaging in contemporary society.

The movement came to wide public attention with the publication of Canadian anarchist Kalle Lasn’s 1999 book Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America and the launch of  Adbusters magazine

The main focus of the Billboard Liberation Front was to covertly “improve” on billboard advertising to help it more accurately reflect post industrial capitalism. Some examples below:

Other culture jammers featured in the film include a woman who operates solo pasting anti-consumerist stickers on cash machines and other high traffic targets and Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping. Filmmakers capture Reverend Billy and his flock praying with Disney Store customers in Times Square to help them resist their compulsion to purchase new Disney products.

The film, which can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, can be viewed free at Culture Jam

Fighting Globalization by Rebuilding Local Economies

White Widows

Directed by David Straub (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns work by the Indian-German Peace Foundation to assist rural Indian villages in diversifying their economies. The goal is to make them less vulnerable to exploitation by the global commodities market. The village featured in the film is Dahnoli, which produces cotton. The Foundation is assisting local farmers in constructing a textile facility based on hand looms.

Most of Dahnoli’s current economic problems stem from the introduction, in the 1990s, of Monsanto’s BT resistant cotton seed. Although this genetically engineered seed initially increased yields, over time the cotton plants lost their resistance to BT and other pests and required increasingly heavy application of pesticides. As yields plummeted, farmers sought to return to traditional cotton seed, but it was no longer available.

Owing to the higher costs of patented seed and pesticides, many farmers became indebted to money lenders. Nationwide more than 300,000 farmers committed. Thousands of others have died from pesticide related health problems.

At present 65% of India’s population works in agriculture. When crops fail, many move to the big cities – where a total of 8 million live in slavery.

 

Rebel Geeks Spy on the Spies

Rebel Geeks – The Critical Engineers

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

This documentary is about three engineers (Russian-born Danja Vasiliev, New Zealander Julian Oliver and Stockholm based Bengt Sjolen) responsible  for launching the first civilian Earth to stratosphere scan to monitor government surveillance activities.

The purpose of their experiment was to monitor surveillance drones various governments use to spy on their populations. Their methodology was to attach radiofrequency detectors to a helium balloon. The balloon burst once it reached the upper stratosphere, and the monitoring equipment returned to Earth.  Hackers in Belarus retrieved the payload and uploaded it to an encrypted network. See Deep Sweep data

Naming their project the Deep Sweep, the engineers are presently working on a low cost Open Source template that people in other countries can use to investigate government surveillance activities.

Vasiliev and Oliver are also responsible for the Newstweek project.  If a device called Newstweek is plugged in at a wireless hotspot, then people connected to that Wi-Fi can have all media content modified, changed or otherwise edited by a hacker who is operating from a remote location.

Reverse Mergers: Americans Caught in Chinese Investment Scams

The China Hustle

Directed by Ted Rodstein (2018)

Film Review

This documentary exposes a recent scam which some 400 small Chinese companies used so-called “reverse mergers” to list their companies on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) – a move enabling them to attract American investors.

At preset, the Chinese government bans direct foreign investment in China’s businesses. However between 2006 and 2012, two enterprising US investment banks (Roth and Rodman and Renshaw) enlisted small Chinese companies to enter into “reverse mergers.” Locating legally registered US companies that had ceased operations, the two banks recruited Chinese companies to legally “merge” with the defunct companies. This, in turn, enabled the Chinese companies to register on Wall Street and sell shares to US investors.

A pattern emerged, in which Roth and Redman and Renshaw obtained high accreditation ratings from their auditor (Deloitte) and aggressively promoted the stocks. Then they sold their holdings just before they collapsed – reaping hundreds of millions in profits.

Becoming suspicious, Dan David, co-founder of the due diligence firm Geoinvesting, became suspicious and went to China to visit some of these companies. In every case, he found they were exponentially overstating the size and volume of their operations, as well as the revenue they generated.

He first took his findings to the investment bankers at Roth and Redman and Renshaw, then to the SEC (which is theoretically responsible for preventing this type of fraud) and finally to Senator Pat Toomey. The latter was part of the Senate committee investigating n the potential risk China posed to the US economy.

When it became obvious there was no other way to end the fraud being perpetrated on US investors, David began collapsing the share price the companies he investigated by short selling* their stocks.

In this way he ended 40 reverse merger scams by shutting down the companies.

Before the massive fraud came to public attention, public pensions funds lost more than $14 billion in reverse merger scams, with private investors losing $20-50 billion. Rodman and Renshaw was eventually forced into bankruptcy.


* Short selling involves the sale of an asset that the seller has borrowed in order to profit from a subsequent fall in that asset’s price. It commonly has the indirect effect of driving the share price down.