Breaking the Bank
The Independent Media Center has recently released
Breaking the Bank, a
video produced during and immediately after the A16 actions in Washington,
DC against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Breaking
the Bank uses video edits from the demonstrations to tell the story. “This
is our political moment,” says a young Asian American. “We’re here telling
the world that we know what they’re meeting about, what kinds of decisions
they’re making that are affecting our people, and that we’re just not going
to take it any more.” The video is composed of two half-hour segments.
Don’t expect an action-packed epic of street battles. Rather than document
every blow of the truncheon, Breaking the Bank uses interviews and spliced
segments to make its case against the corporate stranglehold that characterizes
the current world situation.
In addition, the videotape documents the demonstrators’ efforts to model
a new way of struggle and decision-making, based on consensus. A young
leader, who in a different life could easily have been barking orders to
take the intersection, is shown demanding instead democratic participation
in the decision: “What do you think?” he asks those around him.
It is a profoundly different type of training film, holding up the vacillations
in the crowd as a positive example of democracy at work. It shows, for
example, a decision in the street—reached by a form of consensus—to not
allow mainstream journalists through the lines. Arms linked, the demonstrators
refuse to yield to a journalist, standing firmer than they otherwise might
have: “It’s not my decision, it’s a collective decision,” someone shouts.
If there were such a thing, I would nominate Breaking the Bank for a Peoples’
Oscar. It reaches out to the best of the U.S. labor movement, presenting
a convincing argument that impoverishment and political oppression around
the world is directly responsible for the sucking sound of vanishing jobs
and shrinking wages in the U.S. The video shows how to bring in the union
movement without tailing behind it. Breaking the Bank also achieves a high
level of internationalism, not as a rhetorical concept, but in a natural
First we see the heartbreak and horror of structural adjustment programs
in the Third World, then a multicultural mash of young activists speak
with intelligence about the problems faced by their communities. A young
woman slams the point home: “Contract on America and welfare reform are
our own forms of Structural Adjustment,” she says while scenes of boarded
up DC houses flash on the screen. The camera zooms in for a close-up of
a young African-American woman as she reinforces: “We’re having Structural
Adjustment Programs enacted on our minority communities right here in the
A fight to save an imperiled benefit or against the privatization of a
housing project is correctly seen as the local focus of a global phenomenon,
and local battles in this context are presented as expressions of internationalism.
There is a great interview, done at the march, with a black- masked person
who is in DC as part of a mobile unit described as the “Black Bloc,” youthful
militants unafraid to build barricades or break through a police line.
Breaking the Bank presents the Black Bloc as controversial but positive,
and mindful of their need to unite with the less militant wings of the
movement. The black-masked tough interviewed as he marched along says:
“All the people that are down in Washington have consensed to make a lot
of space for different tactics and politics. I know we can all work together,
and the coalitions we form will change the world.”
At an initial screening of Breaking the Bank, an activist, recently returned
from the barricades in DC, gave credit to the Zapatistas for developing
the slogan which allows all the various forces to unite in coalition: “Many
Yeses, One No.” Although we may have differing visions of how the future
could be, we can unite in action against the “One No” of the present.
The video also uses culture to draw the line between the people and the
capitalists in such a way that most folks are properly on our side. It
interviews environmentalists, third world people, and members of an array
of communities of color in the U.S. We see the pierced, tattooed and black-garbed.
We see youth in suits. They are bound together in the fun of activism.
“Our side has more fun” is a clear message here and one that never hurts.
A line of dancing demonstrators snakes down the street. One looks up and
laughs, “There’s something uplifting about doing a kick line while we’re
being watched by snipers in a helicopter.”
In addition, all the general signs of alienation—tattoos, piercings and
other non-mainstream cultural expressions—are included as part of the movement.
By revealing exactly what the “something is that’s happening here,” Breaking
the Bank sounds the horn, calling for an outpouring of masses to join the
movement. “We need bodies, that’s how we’ll change things,” says a homeless
Breaking the Bank is the logical next step beyond the excellent piece,
Showdown in Seattle, released after the WTO protests last November. It
is possible to watch the development of the movement in videos like these,
produced by organizations including Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish Television,
and Big Noise Films, and an array of other video collectives and activists
who joined together to produce these amazing videos. In an even earlier
video, Blockade of Montreal, for instance, the demonstrators sum up that
after years of working to perfect the tactics of non-violent blockades,
they were “just about there.” Many activists and others saw Montreal as
part of preparations for Seattle. Showdown in Seattle documented a leap
in tactics and the raw power of the united front. Breaking the Bank celebrates
the proof in DC that Seattle was not an anomaly, and serves as a video
I lived through the 1960s, working diligently to build the movement. In
this video I see all the necessary elements for a movement successful and
powerful enough to make the 1960s look like the 1950s.
The most important element is hope for the future. Hope and determination
are back and reverberate from this video, reminding me of Esperanza’s famous
lines in the long-banned movie Salt of the Earth: “I don’t want to go down
fighting, I want to win.” There is clearly now a generation that can look
to a future with enthusiasm rather than horror. Breaking the Bank is the
manifesto of generation justice. Get it, spread it everywhere.
Showdown in Seattle and Breaking the Bank are available from IMC Seattle,
1415 3rd Ave, Seattle, WA 98101. Videos may be ordered on-line from www.bignoisefilms.com.