Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Moore's Immoderation

Judith Warner questions Michael Moore's approach to activism:

I listened to Moore talk, in the morning, of “us.” (“I know where you come from,” he addressed an absent Barack Obama, his tone oddly menacing. “You come from us.”) I listened, in the evening, to him talk of “them”: “the rich … the Goldman boys.” I heard him threaten Blue Dog Democrats (“We will come after you, and we will remove you from office”), watched him whack a meaty fist into his palm — thwack! — as he recalled the hardball tactics of health care reform’s most stalwart opponents, and as he reveled in the thought of bringing down those who now oppose a public option: “It will make what was going on at those town meetings in August look like a tea party!”

“This is why some of us admire the other side,” he said. “Because they’re relentless. They never stop.”

. . .

And I found myself thinking, over and over again, of Molly Melching, the founder and executive director of the nongovernmental organization Tostan, which works to teach human rights and democracy and has helped more than 4,000 communities in Africa end the traditional cutting of girls. Melching, who has succeeded where any number of other women’s rights and global health organizations have failed, explained to me in an interview this summer that the secret to her group’s success lay in the fact that she had learned, through years of trial and error, that to reach people you had to meet them where they were. Respect them. Acknowledge their social norms, beliefs and practices. Find common ground. Build on shared human aspirations — for safety, for dignity, for a better life for one’s children — then discover how those shared aspirations might reasonably translate into ending practices that cause suffering. “If you come in and say, ‘You are awful people,’ people tune out and say, ‘Who do you think you are?’” she told me, speaking first from Senegal, where she has lived for the past 35 years. “Making people feel bad about what they’re doing doesn’t work; they only get defensive. What does work is getting people to discuss together what are their rights and what they mean. It’s not just a question of blaming and shaming people but educating and empowering them.”

“It’s a question,” she elaborated in her D.C. office last month, “of changing the script.”

. . .

These thoughts came back strongly while listening to Moore chuckle and brag, and while sitting through his new 127-minute opus of vilification. Moore’s script is the farthest thing possible from Melching’s truly radical — and, as it turns out, effective — vision of change. In fact, watching “Capitalism,” it felt as though he’d dusted off an old playbook, as though he was reliving the battles of the beleaguered Bush/Cheney years, just for the sheer fun of it.

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