The words of Fredrick Douglass stream over a montage of activists storming city streets with banners and painted bodies. As Douglass’ words end, an anti-war song picks up asking listeners: What is war really good for? We see a frightened boy as a bomb explodes behind him, followed by the image of chestnut caskets wrapped in American flags. This is The Activists, a film that explores protesting in forms extending from community organizing to the dramatic public reenactments of torture methods imparted by US troops abroad.
In this manner the film continues to give us an inside look into the beginnings of the American wars in Iraq and Vietnam, and those working to prevent these US interventions. During the international protests of February 15th 2003, coordinators of United for Peace and Justice explain that there “were over 400 demonstrations in the US and the outcount was over 900 all around the world.” With that, we are shown protests in New York, Paris, Istanbul and South Africa condemning the potential American invasion of Iraq. These protests are presented as remarkably similar to those 30 years earlier against the war in Vietnam; both are filled with businessmen, teachers, nuns, students and people of all different backgrounds united for these protests. We see the work of these protestors in contrast with thousands of unmarked tombstones for fallen soldiers in Washington, DC, helping us to understand how little the protesters’ words meant to the government.
Ovid.tv film follows the rebirth of American activism
In black and white footage, we watch many different faces walk by as the narrator speaks to the diversity of the crowd, united by their distaste for the Vietnam war. We then watch Jane Fonda speak against the war; her appearance placed between the words of former President Richard Nixon and words from former protestors of the Vietnam war.
The film shows activists use street theater, rallies and other non-violent approaches to anti-war demonstrations. Women — clad in pink clothing, peace signs, feather boas and cowboy hats —beat on drums, chant, or sing as they protest together as a part of a group called Code Pink. These women advocate for peace and liberty, with some opting to reappropriate the visage of the Statue of Liberty to one more pink than green. Another group called The Iraq Veterans against the War, staged guerilla warfare theatrics at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Participants ran around and clashed with Iraqi civilians, volunteer actors, in hopes of drawing attention to the reality of the Iraqi-American conflict unseen by American civilians.
We see young women shouting in megaphones as armed police officers watch on the curbside. In one scene, a woman – later revealed to be the cofounder of Code Pink —stands in front of a line of stony faced police armed with batons and shouts “let’s stop putting all our money into the military and police and start putting it into people’s needs.” Our bright pink heroine stands ahead men in black riot gear, creating a profound visual contrast that to this writer, seems an appropriate redefinition of democracy.
If you, like this writer, are interested in the political conversations of today, such as defunding the police and freedom of speech, you too may find it extremely powerful to see past generations echoing the sentiments of today’s youth. The Activists will appeal to any interested in the history pre-dating recent American protests.
Rob Constantine (narrator)
Creative Team: Melody Shemtov (Director, Producer, Writer, Editor), Michael T. Heaney (Writer, Producer), Marco Roldán (Producer, Editor, Animator) Aaron Barnes (Music)
About the Author:
Camille is a senior at the University of Chicago where she studies Literature and Philosophy. There, she is a reporter for the Maroon, as well as a photographer for the student run culinary magazine: Bite. Her activism extends largely towards youth education, and she is currently an organizing executive of MUNUC the Model United Nations conference put on by UChicago students for over 1,500 international high school students annually. After college, Camille plans to continue writing creatively and professionally as she pursues a career in international human rights reform.