Grassroots Solutions to American Crises

When the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit the US on September 15, 2008, filmmakers S?lvia Leindecker and Michael Fox began a journey across the country to see how the economy was impacting people’s lives. Their interviews, which span two years and nearly 40 states, draw from farmers, truck drivers, homeless people, workers, immigrants and more. The result is the documentary Crossing the American Crises: From Collapse To Action, a film full of desperation, hope and grassroots solutions.

Leindecker and Fox are the makers of the earlier documentary Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, and Fox was an editor of the book Venezuela Speaks!: Voices From The Grassroots. Like these earlier works, Crossing the American Crises highlights the voices of people participating in grassroots activism and everyday struggles for a better world.

The first stop of their trip is Detroit, where the camera cuts to empty store fronts and factories. “Detroit is what it is because of industry and the industrial revolution, and capitalism, and so-called democracy and how all those failed. And this is what we have left with it,” Jon Blount of the activist collective Detroit Summer tells Leindecker and Fox. Such bits of hard-won insight from streets, factory floors and living rooms across America are interspersed throughout the film.

The next visit is to the Rosebud Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where they speak with Alfred Bone Shirt. “We’re seeing that there’s a segment of our society that feel we’re left out, neglected, abused; rights are violated. We’re in a depression down here so bad that people just wanna give up.” His words are underscored by footage of the reservation itself, a place crushed by economic depression.

After stops in Utah, Oakland and Los Angeles, they head out onto Route 66, where, Fox tells the camera they want to “see the direct effects on the local community.” And indeed, that is what they find at nearly every stop in their tour; very real life stories of how the US economy is making life difficult for people from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

In New Orleans, they speak with people in the Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood that was destroyed by Katrina in 2005. Robert Green and his family lived in this community for 38 years before Katrina hit, and at the time of the shooting of the film they were still living in a FEMA trailer. Green is interviewed with his daughter and wife next to a string of empty lots ? places where his neighbors’ homes used to be located before the storm destroyed them.

Fox asks Green what he thinks about the government bailout, the major issue of the day. Green tells him, “It’s ironic that it only took [the government] two weeks to issue a $700 billion check. It took them three years after Katrina and this is what you see.” He pointed to the empty lots, saying the names of the families that used to live there. “So basically every house, every family that’s gone actually was a family that should be here now. And if they would have been given the money in two weeks like the way they did in Congress, the way they did in Wall Street, then every last one of these families would have rebuilt their houses, and this whole Gulf Coast area would have been rebuilt because everybody in the Gulf Coast is basically like the people down here: family first.”

This story conveys a sentiment shared by many of the interviewees in this film: outrage at the disparity between the government’s concern for Wall Street over the people bearing the everyday grind of the crisis.

Crossing the American Crises then turns to the hope people felt in the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Yet after the election, the camera cuts to a stream of grim economic news, and stories of people struggling to make ends meet. One college graduate appearing in the film went through 109 job interviews before finally finding a very low-paying position at Staples. A homeless man on the Gulf Coast tells Fox and Leindeker he’ll ask them for money after the interview so he can get some lunch.

On a cold, snowy street corner in New York City, they interview John Lambertus, a homeless man who lost his job in May of 2008 and couldn’t find new work. Lambertus points to a plastic bag he’s carrying, saying, “You see this? This is my blanket, another jacket in case this one gets messed up, and another pair of pants ? and that’s my situation.” He worked in a printing press for thirty years before losing his job. “I’ll be 51 in April and I’m in the street,” he says, the cold wind thundering against the microphone.

So what is to be done with all of this bleak news from the American crises? That leads to the second part of the film: Action. Crossing the American Crises goes on to include many solutions to these economic and social problems, focusing on inspiring stories of grassroots alternatives and responses.

There is the Vermont Workers’ Center fighting for affordable healthcare for all, the Green Worker Cooperative in the Bronx that sells recycled building materials, the Santa Fe Alliance in New Mexico advocating for local producers and businesses over tax-dodging multinational chains, and the Iraq Veterans Against the War struggling for veterans’ benefits. There are stories of people working for affordable housing, jobs, better working conditions, improved public transportation and prison justice.

These groups are largely led by the people who are impacted the most by these various crises. Organizers are meeting these challenges in states across the country. “Organizing is the key! Organizing is the key!” JoAnn Watson from the Detroit Council tells a boisterous crowd at the US Social Forum in her city.

Alongside these stories of hopeful organizing is a vision for a better world. “The people have to act through their own organizations to implement their vision of what life should be like,” explains Kathleeen Cleaver, a law professor at Yale University.

That’s a central message of this film ? that when the politicians, banks, bosses and economy fail to work for the people, it’s the people that have to form the backbone of movements for economic justice, peace and equality and rights. In the midst of these crises, those movements are already thriving across the US today.

As Robert Green from the Lower 9th Ward says, “Basically, we need to start taking back our government, taking back our taxes, start taking back our control from our elected officials because they’re not putting us first.”

Such insight from people across the country makes Crossing the American Crises an impressive film that captures the spirit of America today. Its stories of human hardship, solidarity and hope paint a portrait of America that is both heart-breaking and inspiring. This documentary is a powerful reminder of the countless social movements working each day to transform this country, from the fields of Oklahoma to the streets of New Orleans.

Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Paraguay and is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press) and Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.


More articles by:

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South