After nearly three weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement is sprouting similar protests across the country in over 100 cities, such as Denver, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C. Inspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising and Spanish acampadas, protestors have taken to the streets to “express a feeling of mass injustice,” while facing blockades, threats of arrest and physical reprisals from police. Anyone can watch the Wall Street protests virtually via live streams and countless YouTube videos posted by participants and passers-by. But of course, for most of history, protests weren’t something you could tune in to anytime you wanted from across the country. Motivated by these events, we got to thinking about documentaries that chronicled past protest movements, including these five from the POV archive.
Berkeley in the ’60s
From the Free Speech Movement to the anti-war protests to the last stand over People’s Park, Berkeley, California became synonymous with a generation’s quest for social, political, and cultural transformation. Six years in the making, Mark Kitchell’s extraordinary chronicle of those years was named Best Documentary of 1990 by the National Society of Film Critics and was nominated for an Oscar in 1991.
During his 60-year career as an activist, organizer and “troublemaker,” Bayard Rustin formulated many of the strategies that propelled the American civil rights movement. His passionate belief in Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence drew Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders to him in the 1940s and ’50s; his practice of those beliefs drew the attention of the FBI and police. In 1963, Rustin brought his unique skills to the crowning glory of his civil rights career: his work organizing the March on Washington, the biggest protest America had ever seen.
In December 1997, Julia Hill climbed a thousand-year-old redwood tree vowing to not come down until it was saved from being clear-cut. She lived 180 feet off the ground for more than two years, galvanizing an already intense dispute over the fate of Northern California’s old-growth forests. Wolens’ film is a primer on forest issues and direct-action environmentalism, but most of all, it is about the spiritual journey of a determined, articulate woman nicknamed Butterfly who saved an ancient tree she called Luna. Watch the film »
The Camden 28
How far would you go to stop a war? The Camden 28 recalls a 1971 raid on a Camden, N.J., draft board office by “Catholic Left” activists protesting the Vietnam War and its effects on urban America. Arrested on site in a clearly planned sting, the protesters included four Catholic priests, a Lutheran minister, and 23 others. The Camden 28 reveals the story behind the arrests — a provocative tale of government intrigue and personal betrayal — and the ensuing legal battle, which Supreme Court Justice William Brennan called “one of the great trials of the 20th century.”
Revolution ’67 is an illuminating account of events too often relegated to footnotes in U.S. history — the black urban rebellions of the 1960s. Focusing on the six-day Newark, N.J., outbreak in mid-July, Revolution ’67 reveals how the disturbances began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America’s struggles over race and economic justice.
Please add your suggestions in the comments section. In tomorrow’s post we’ll pull together a selection of YouTube videos that have captured the events in Lower Manhattan so you can watch the movement grow from Day One.