An Open Letter to Michael Moore
Recently on the Left Hook discussion list, someone posted an article written by Michael Moore back in 1997. In the article he critiques the Left and, in doing so, lays out some of his ideas on what he thinks we need to be doing. One of our list member's wrote an open letter to him in response. Here we publish that open letter to Michael Moore, as well as Moore's original article which inspired it (below the letter).
Dear Michael Moore,
I don't even know if you will get this email - Farenheit 9/11 was brilliant and I am sure you are caught up in all the hullabaloo. However, I recently read an article by you to the left called "Is the left nuts?". I understand where the frustration must come from. Many members of the left are very sectarian - they can't see beyond their own books on Hegel. However, there are many members of the left that are not that way at all. They are going out, talking to real Americans and taking up what regular people are concerned about. Should the left be concerned about real working class issues? Damn straight they should - and there is a shift going on right now among the left where groups are coming together to deal with these issues (especially around the war and FTAA - which many labor unions oppose-etc.) The left, which has been defeated so much is having to rebuild. It is weak and it is small. However, the largest fetter right now on building the left is the Anybody-But-Bush argument that is making ordinary people who are opposed to the war, opposed to the Patriot Act, opposed to tax cuts for the rich and the privatization of health care accept a candidate which supports all of those things - John Kerry. As much as I enjoyed Farenheit 9/11 (and I tell everyone to go see it) the critique of the Democrats was minimal and the anti-war movement clips were almost non-existant. That leaves the audience with one solution for all their anger and their hatred: vote out Georgy boy in November and replace him with Kerry. I know because I stood outside of the theatre where I lived and I asked people coming out of the movie what they thought.
Kerry, the richest Senator in Congress, who has already said he wants 40,000 more troops in Iraq, supports the death penalty, opposes gay marriage, and said he would be all right with appointing anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court as long as they won't completley dismantle Roe-v-Wade, is some alternative! Kerry, who has already promised big businesses that he is going to look out for them. Kerry, who promises that he will do a better job in Iraq- so that the Iraqis will never know what hit them. Kerry, who is a part of a party that has pushed this country to the right for 130 years, has co-opted genuine grassroots movements and turned the leaders into conservative career politicians, has talked left and jumped right (and now doesn't even bother to talk left), and has prevented any left-wing alternative party from ever emerging in this country (for example, look at what they are doing to Nader now), which has crippled politics in this country and prevented major reforms from happening (compare the US to Europe). French workers get a six week vacation a year, most Americans are lucky if they get two weeks. Maybe that is because at one point they had a genuine labor party.
I hate George Bush just as much as you, if not more so, but I will not turn around and say vote for the other pro-war, pro-PATRIOT act, pro-corporate bozo just because of that. We have to build the movements, not support the party that tries (and usually succeeds) in co-opting them time and again.
I went to the March for Women's Lives in DC on April 25th and it was amazing. One million people marching for Roe-v-Wade and for free abortion on demand (so any woman can get one), for free childcare, etc. And you know what, the march ended up being somewhat demoralizing for me because instead of telling the crowds to get out there and organize, every speaker said to come out in November- like that would be enough, like that ever has been enough. Hillary Clinton got up and said that "for eight years we didn't need to march" because her husband was in the oval office. Clinton and the Democrats watched as slowly abortion rights are eaten away at (Planned Parenthood vs. Casey as one example) and did nothing. Today 87% of US counties don't have abortion facilities. So what was Hillary really saying? She was saying that when the Democrats are in control you are supposed to remain quiet - whether your rights are protected or not.
Now some people claim that Bush is a facist or very close to one and that is why we have to vote for the Democrats. It is understandable with the war in Iraq and the war on working people here at home that the idea seems realistic. However, there is a very big difference between Bush and his neo-cons and fascists. For one, Farenheit 9/11 would not only have been banned but you and anyone who helped you make the movie either wouldn't be alive or in this country if Bush were a fascist. Any form of dissent under fascism is not only not tolerated, it is completley wiped out. There would be no democratic elections, and if there were elections there would only be one option on the ballot - Bush. There sure wouldn't be another candidate campaigning against him. Some could assert that he stole the election in 2000. Yes, George W. Bush did and he learned it from many American politicians and presidents who have done it in the past. Disenfranchising working people is nothing new. Anyhow, Gore didn't even try to really fight him. When Gore was whinning about "pregnant chads" he should have been demanding justice for Black disenfranchised voters in Florida, for an end to the ancient and undemocratic electoral system etc. etc. But the Democrats support the electoral system, so he would never have said that. Instead, he accepted what happened and became a "gracious loser" even though he didn't lose! Why would he do this? What would be his reasoning? Maybe because the very things that Bush had so close to his heart, Gore did also. So even though he wouldn't recieve a personal career boost, he knew the country was in safe hands. Hands that he would shake before and after the election.
The Democrats aren't even trying to win this election. They won't come out against the war, which would ensure a victory, because they aren't opposed to the war. The Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement not to report on how the Bush administration misused or manipulated CIA warnings before the war in Iraq until after the election. Why would they do that? Those reports would make Bush look bad, as if he doesn't already. That could guarantee many more votes being thrown to the Democrats. Maybe the reason why they decided to cover it up is because those reports could show how the Democrats accepted and repeated everything the Bush administration said and lined up behind it to go to war. Or maybe because winning is not even that important to them (not important enough to renounce their beliefs). Or lets look at how they backed the PATRIOT Act, shredding American civil liberties that now they claim to care so much about. The Democrats and Republicans have been playing this charade so long it seems almost effortless.
So, should the left get their butts out there and talk to real people about real issues? Absolutley. Why? Because the understanding that the left can bring of who the Democrats really are and how grass-roots organizing (strikes, protests, etc) is the only real way to change our society is desperatley needed. Especially when all the liberals and even many prominent lefties are standing behind and supporting a pro-war president.
Criticisms of the left are needed and taken. But standing on the outside of the two-party duopoly doesn't mean you are cutting yourseld off from every day Americans. It pains me to say that left critique was left out of your movie, Mr. Moore.
International Socialist Organization
P.S. I still appreciate what that movie is doing in terms of radicalizing people against the war and what a fresh breath of air it was for all of us that have demonstrated against the war for so long.
Nation Magazine, Nov. 17, 1997
Is the Left Nuts?
by Michael Moore
Is it me, or is the left completely nuts? I won't bore
you with the details of October's Media and Democracy
Congress, but suffice it to say that the left is still
in fine form, completely ignoring anything that
really matters to the American public. I'm convinced
there's a good number of you who are simply addicted
to listening to yourselves talk and talk and
talk--MUMIA! PACIFICA! CUBA! ENOUGH ALREADY!
Speaking of talking to ourselves--just who the hell is
reading this? Who is the Nation readership? Is it my
brother-in-law, Tony, back in Flint, who last night
was installing furnace ducts until 9 o'clock? Is it
the bus driver at the airport who told me he's been
cut back to a thirty-hour week so the airport
commission won't have to pay the health insurance for
his asthmatic daughter? Is it the woman at Sears who
sells blouses by day and then waitresses at Denny's
from 8 PM. to midnight?
No. The person reading this would probably sympathize
with the one who wrote the flier I saw at the media
congress announcing a "Stop Police Brutality
Demonstration." The flier promised a rally "from 4 Pm.
UNTIL THE TRUTH COMES OUT!" Until the truth comes
out? Let me tell you, friend, the truth ain't ever
coming out to your rally, and neither is Tony the
furnace installer, 'cause he's got mouths to feed. But
you don't really want him there anyway, do you? What
you really mean by saying that the demonstration is
going to last "until the truth comes out" is that it
will go deep into the night, until all self-serving,
attention-starved "lefties" have had their hour and
fifteen minutes at the podium. Get a clue! Go away!
Is it true what they say about "the left"--that it
loves humanity but loathes people? I want to let you
in on a little secret I've discovered: "The people"
are already way ahead of "the left." After years of
being downsized, rightsized, re-engineered and forced
to work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits,
they already know from their personal experience that
our economic system is unfair, unjust and
undemocratic. They know the evil it does and the havoc
it wreaks on their lives. They know that corporate
America is the enemy, that the media are telling
them lies and that the Democrats and the Republicans
are actually the same party, and that neither is worth
voting for. Look at any Gallup poll and you'll see
that the public is very "left" on all the issues-the
majority are pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-labor.
Yet they despise liberals. If they knew where to find
the nutty left, they'd despise them, too. They see
liberals, progressives and lefties as arrogant,
self-righteous and dreadfully predictable.
They know you won't ever go have a beer with them, or
talk to them about how the Indians did in the Series.
Christ, can you even name a single Cleveland Indian?
And why should you? You've got The Nation and
Pacifica, the food co-op and your Working Assets
credit card. Don't get me wrong--I love The Nation and
Pacifica and food co-ops and not supporting Citibank.
But if you stop there and refuse to participate in the
real world, how are you ever going to effect change?
Back in the eighties thousands of you went to
Nicaragua in Sandinista brigades. Yes, that was
important work; our government was killing innocent
people. But I never saw a single one of you come to
Flint while the world's largest company was destroying
the lives of 30,000 families. Where were you when we
needed you? The people in Flint were ready--Jesse
Jackson beat Dukakis by a 9-to-1 margin there.
In the white suburbs, Jackson beat him by a 4-to-1
margin! You should have come! The right wing did. They
organized the Michigan Militia. It's no accident that
Terry Nichols is from the Flint area.
Here's the part I don't get. Remember the antiwar
movement, when we didn't have the American public on
our side and actually had to go out and convince
people the war was wrong? That was tough, but we did
it. These days, the difficult organizing work has
already been done for us by Big Business. It has spent
the past decade destroying the middle class and
brutalizing the poor. Beating up on the poor--
that's the way it's always been. But the middle
class? What a stupid error in judgment-and now there
are millions of Americans waiting to vent their anger
And where are we? Inside New York's Cooper Union
chanting for Mumia! I want Mumia to live, I've signed
the petitions, I've helped pay for the ads--hell, I'll
personally go and kick the butt of the governor of
Pennsylvania! But, for christsakes, the woman working
at Sears just wants to be able to spend an hour with
her kids before she heads off to Denny's. Can't we
help her? Do you want to help her?
It's taken me a while to figure it all out, and after
last month's Media and Democracy Congress I think I
have the answer: Because "the left" has lost so many
battles, it now doesn't know how to live any other
way. It's kind of scary, isn't it, to think that we
could actually reach a mass audience. Or that after
all these years of failure, real change could actually
occur in our lifetime. Better to fight among
ourselves! It's an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling,
isn't it, to get a whiff of a real populist progressive
movement taking shape. Better that we keep
those furnace installers and bus drivers away from
us--they don't read Chomsky anyway!
The signs are everywhere, but "the left" can't read a
road map. There's a whole New Politics taking place,
and it's being led by U.P.S. drivers and Borders
bookstore workers. I say, with all due affection and
appreciation for all of you and your causes, get over
yourselves, start talking like a real person, then
start talking to real people. You could begin by
hitting 0 every time you get a robot when you call
411. Have a chat with the human operator--the phone
company will eventually have to hire more of them. Or
sponsor a bowling team and put the name of your
local Labor Party or environmental group on their
shirts. Or try bowling yourself. It's where you'll