Filmmaker/activist Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, Capitalism: A Love Story) is on the war path against America’s greed-is-good uber-rich. On Sunday he impulsively flew to join protesters in Madison, Wisconsin–and he is as angry as Inside Job Oscar-winner Charles Ferguson, who declared at the Academy Awards: “I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong.”
Moore’s latest missive relates how he wrote and delivered a rousing 20-minute speech to 50-70,000 people outside the Wisconsin state capital entitled “America is Not Broke” (see email and video below). In it he points out that “the 400 richest Americans have more wealth (cash stock and property) than half of all Americans–the assets of 155,000,000 Americans–combined.” He calls it a “financial coup d’etat…Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic.”
How I Got to Madison, Wisconsin …a letter from Michael Moore
Sunday, March 6th, 2011
Early yesterday morning, around 1:00 AM, I had finished work for the day on my current “project” (top secret for now — sorry, no spoiler alerts!). Someone had sent me a link to a discussion Bill O’Reilly had had with Sarah Palin a few hours earlier about my belief that the money the 21st Century rich have absconded with really isn’t theirs — and that a vast chunk of it should be taken away from them.They were referring to comments I had made earlier in the week on a small cable show called GRITtv (Part 1 and Part 2). I honestly didn’t know this was going to air that night (I had been asked to stop by and say a few words of support for a nurses union video), but I spoke from my heart about the millions of our fellow Americans who have had their homes and jobs stolen from them by a criminal class of millionaires and billionaires. It was the morning after the Oscars, at which the winner of Best Documentary for “Inside Job” stood at the microphone and declared, “I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong.” And he was applauded for saying this. (When did they stop booing Oscar speeches? Damn!)
So GRITtv ran my comments — and all week the right wingopoly has been upset over what I said: That the money that the rich have stolen (or not paid taxes on) belongs to the American people. Drudge/Limbaugh/Beck and even Donald Trump went nuts, calling me names and suggesting I move to Cuba.
So in the wee hours of yesterday morning I sat down to write an answer to them. By 3:00 AM, it had turned into more of a manifesto of class war — or, I should say, a manifesto against the class war the rich have been conducting on the American people for the past 30 years. I read it aloud to myself to see how it sounded (trying not to wake anyone else in the apartment) and then — and this is why no one should be up at 3:00 AM — the crazy kicked in: I needed to get in the car and drive to Madison and give this speech.
I went online to get directions and saw that there was no official big rally planned like the one they had last Saturday and will have again next Saturday. Just the normal ongoing demonstration and occupation of the State Capitol that’s been in process since February 12th (the day after Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt) to protest the Republican governor’s move to kill the state’s public unions.
So, it’s three in the morning and I’m a thousand miles from Madison and I see that the open microphone for speakers starts at noon. Hmm. No time to drive from New York. I was off to the airport. I left a note on the kitchen table saying I’d be back at 9:00 PM. Called a friend and asked him if he wanted to meet me at the Delta counter. Called the guy who manages my website, woke him up, and asked him to track down the coordinators in Madison and tell them I’m on my way and would like to say a few words if possible — “but tell them if they’ve got other plans or no room for me, I’ll be happy just to stand there holding a sign and singing Solidarity Forever.”
So I just showed up. The firefighters, hearing I’m there, ask me to lead their protest parade through downtown Madison. I march with them, along with John Nichols (who lives in Madison and writes for the Nation). Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and the great singer Michelle Shocked have also decided to show up.
The scene in Madison is nothing like what they are showing you on TV or in the newspaper. First, you notice that the whole town is behind this. Yard signs and signs in store windows are everywhere supporting public workers. There are thousands of people out just randomly lining the streets for the six blocks leading to the Capitol building carrying signs, shouting and cheering and cajoling. Then there are stages and friendly competing demos on all sides of the building (yesterday’s total estimate of people was 50,000-70,000, the smallest one yet)! A big semi truck has been sent by James Hoffa of the Teamsters and is parked like a don’t-even-think-of-effing-with-us Sherman tank on the street in front of the Capitol. There is a long line — separate from these other demonstrations — of 4,000 people, waiting their turn to get through the only open door to the Capitol so they can join the occupation inside.
And inside the Rotunda is … well, it will bring tears to your eyes if you go there. It’s like a shrine to working people — to what America is and should be about — packed with families and kids and so many senior citizens that it made me happy for science and its impact on life expectancy over the past century. There were grandmas and great-grandpas who remember FDR and Wisconsin’s La Follette and the long view of this struggle. Standing in that Rotunda was like a religious experience. There had been nothing like it, for me, in decades.
And so it was in this setting, out of doors now on the steps of the Capitol, with so many people in front of me that I couldn’t see where they ended, that I just “showed up” and gave a speech that felt unlike any other I had ever given. As I had just written it and had no time to memorize it, I read from the pages I brought with me. I wanted to make sure that the words I had chosen were clear and exact. I knew they had the potential to drive the haters into a rabid state (not a pretty sight) but I also feared that the Right’s wealthy patrons would see a need to retaliate should these words be met with citizen action across the land. I was, after all, putting them on notice: We are coming after you, we are stopping you and we are going to return the money/jobs/homes you stole from the people. You have gone too far. It’s too bad you couldn’t have been satisfied with making millions, you had to have billions — and now you want to strip us of our ability to talk and bargain and provide. This is your tipping point, Wall Street; your come-to-Jesus moment, Corporate America. And I’m glad I’m going to be able to be a witness to it.
You can find the written version of my speech on my website. Please read it and pass it around far and wide. You can also watch a video of me giving the spoken version from the Capitol steps by clicking here. I will be sending you a second email shortly with just the speech so you can forward a clean version of it without the above story of how I abandoned my family in the middle of the night to go to Wisconsin for the day.
I can’t express enough the level of admiration I have for the people of Wisconsin who, for three weeks, have braved the brutal winter cold and taken over their state Capitol. All told, literally hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to Madison to make their voices heard. It all began with high school students cutting class and marching on the building (you can read their reports on my High School Newspaper site). Then their parents joined them. Then 14 brave Democratic state senators left the state so the governor wouldn’t have his quorum.
And all this while the White House was trying to stop this movement (read this)!
But it didn’t matter. The People’s train had left the station. And now protests were springing up in all 50 states.
The media has done a poor job covering this (imagine a takeover of the government HQ in any other country, free or totalitarian — our media would be all over it). But this one scares them and their masters — as it should. The organizers told me this morning that my showing up got them more coverage yesterday than they would have had, “a shot in the arm that we needed to keep momentum going.” Well, I’m glad I could help. But they need a lot more than just me — and they need you doing similar things in your own states and towns.
How ’bout it? I know you know this: This is our moment. Let’s seize it. Everyone can do something.
P.S. This local Madison paper/blog captured best what happened yesterday, and got what I’m really up to. Someone please send this to O’Reilly and Palin so there’s no mistaking my true intentions.
P.P.S. Full disclosure: I am a proud union member of four unions: the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (the last two have passed resolutions supporting the workers in Wisconsin). My production company has signed union contracts with five unions (and soon to be a 6th). All my full-time employees have full medical and dental insurance with NO DEDUCTIBLE. So, yes, I’m biased.
Here’s the text of the speech:
America Is NOT Broke …the Madison speech by Michael Moore
Delivered in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, March 5th, 2011. Video available here.
America is not broke.
Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.
Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have as much loot, stock and property as the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.
And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.
I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here’s what I learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state. But if those who have the most money don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the state can’t function. The schools can’t produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs. That too caused a reduction in tax revenue. Everyone ended up suffering because of what the rich did.
The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. Saying that the country is broke is repeating a Big Lie. It’s one of the three biggest lies of the decade: 1) America is broke, 2) Iraq has WMD, and 3) The Packers can’t win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.
The truth is, there’s lots of money to go around. LOTS. It’s just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn’t work, they’ve got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:
1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day — this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart — because you — yes, you, too! — might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep you head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.
2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. “Here! Take our money! We don’t care. We’ll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!”
The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).
Until now. On Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone who tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!
So how do we make this happen? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.
Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois — whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere. No, they had to have more — something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job. That’s how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilot who flew me here to Madison today. He told me he’s stopped hoping for a pay increase. All he’s asking for now is enough down time so that he doesn’t have to sleep in his car between shifts at O’Hare airport. That’s how despicably low we have sunk! The wealthy couldn’t be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They had to take away his sleep. They had to demean him and dehumanize him and rub his face in it. After all, he’s just another slob, isn’t he?
And that, my friends, is Corporate America’s fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement — a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don’t understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. “Why are they all standing out there in the cold?” I mean, there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!
“There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you …?”
America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!
Madison, do not retreat. We are with you. We will win together.