A Filmmaker’s Journey to Change the World: From Helping the Poor to Getting Money Out of Politics
by Holly Mosher, award-winning filmmaker
In 2006 I started off on two different film journeys. One was to make a film on world visionary Muhammad Yunus and his amazing creation of microcredit and social business that was selflessly helping millions of people and closing the economic gap in Bangladesh; the other was to follow the path of political corruption through the selfish influence of corporate money in the United States. The irony of working on two films, one following the influence of less than $100 on people’s lives versus the other showing the influence of over $10 billion spent in the last election cycle, was not lost on me.
Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus shows how social business can create a more just society and give people a chance to lift themselves out of poverty, while Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes, highlights how – just as in the game of Monopoly, American politics has become winner-take-all, morphing our country into an oligarchy (as was confirmed by the recent Gilens and Page study that came out of Princeton and Northwestern).
While making Bonsai People I learned much about the field of social enterprise and how it can change lives, altering the balance of wealth in society for the better. In Pay 2 Play, I witnessed my own country being destroyed by a relatively few wealthy people willing to spend their millions (chump change for those who are worth billions) to influence elections across the country, supporting politicians who owe them legislative favors once they are in office, making it difficult for Congress to pass any bills that are good for WE THE PEOPLE.
In Pay 2 Play we began by following the story of Coingate in Ohio, where fundraiser and activist Tom Noe was using public funds from the Bureau of Workers Compensation and investing it in rare coins, LeBron James jerseys and Beanie Babies, while peddling political interest for his own and his party’s gain. Noe was later convicted for his crimes, but all too often the corruption continues unchecked, as corporations use their get-out-of-jail-free cards, usually paying small fees compared to the large amounts they’ve “earned” taking advantage of others while breaking the law.
Little did we know when we started filming Pay 2 Play, that four years later the Supreme Court would open the floodgates of spending for political influence with its egregious Citizens United v. FEC decision allowing unlimited amounts of corporate spending in elections. And this year we saw the Supreme Court lifting certain limits on individual spending in the McCutcheon v. FEC decision, allowing individual donors up to $5.9 million per election cycle and even more incredulously allowing closely held corporations religious freedoms in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. The power of the Supreme Court to drastically change the balance of corporate power has, as of yet, gone unchecked.
People were willing to take to the streets to voice their concerns (seen by the numbers that came out in Occupy Movements around the globe) because they see how these decisions and corporate influence are destroying our democracy. MoveOn did a survey of their members in January 2014 and found that getting money out of politics was the biggest concern of their millions of members, and OurTime.org found that their members aged 18-35 said getting money out of politics was their second biggest concern.
WE THE PEOPLE understand the need to get big money out of politics if we are going to get any of the other reforms or protections passed in this country. Whether people care about sensible gun safety laws, the environment, the problems of mass incarceration, etc., corporate lobbyists are blocking real change by controlling the way their politicians vote. Further, there are many good people in office who have been corrupted by the broken system that rewards and encourages bigger donations every year.
In Pay 2 Play, we learn about the Powell Memo, which was first published in 1971 before Lewis Powell became a Supreme Court Justice. In the memo, Powell laid out a plan for corporate interests to gain power through a variety of methods, which have now been successfully implemented. We also find out about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of legislators and corporations that create model bills that are used to create laws from state to state including voter ID, stand your ground, and many other laws. Interestingly, ALEC has filed as a 501c3 non-profit for the last 40 years, even though they write model legislation bills with “insert your state” wording so that they can be replicated across the country.
I love that Pay 2 Play highlights activists who have been heard at protests and then leaked important information, and also features organizations who are working hard day in and day out to combat this attack on democracy. The Center for Media and Democracy has a website called “ALEC Exposed” which lays out all the previously mentioned model legislation bills that were leaked. And Color for Change successfully gets different corporations to leave ALEC when consumers work together to speak up.
One message that resonates strongly throughout both Bonsai People and Pay 2 Play is the power of one person to make a difference. Viewers walk away with a deep sense of empowerment, knowing that when they put their energy towards something for positive change, they will affect the lives of those around them. It was important in Pay 2 Play to offer concrete solutions to fixing the system, from public financing and full disclosure, to a constitutional amendment affirming that corporations are not people and money is not speech.
To help organize people around these actions, our film team has partnered with over a dozen organizations that are working towards these solutions. We want to harness the power of the people inspired by the film to use their energy to affect real change.
There are many actions our partner organizations are rallying around. For example, Money Out Voters In has worked hard to get Prop 49, the Overturn Citizens United Act, on the ballot in California this November. In Montana and Colorado, where there have already been votes to overturn Citizens United on the ballot, there has been an outpouring of support from the people with over 70% voting in favor. Public Citizen and Free Speech For People are working hard on both the Government By The People Act (H.R. 20) and the Democracy for All Amendment (S.J.Res. 19), which will be voted on in the Senate, September 8th.
The day after it was announced that Prop 49 was going on the California ballot, the Wall Street Journal immediately dismissed it, downplaying the feasibility of getting a Constitutional Amendment. We point out in the film how corporate media controls the messaging; they have much to lose if we take political money out of the equation. The corporate media makes megabucks on all those negative political ads everyone is sick of seeing. Les Moonves, President of CBS, put it very simply: “[S]uper-PACS may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.” Author and journalist John Nichols calls the get-money-out movement “America’s most dynamic (yet under-covered) movement.”
As a result of the media ignoring this issue, the overwhelming attitude on the street is that a constitutional amendment is impossible or will take forever. We must remember that we’ve already passed 27 Amendments since the country was founded. The map below shows that over 40 states have taken action towards a Constitutional Amendment. Remember, we only need 38 states to get there.
We have to remember Thomas Jefferson’s wise words: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” When our financial crisis happened I was filming Bonsai People in Bangladesh and I saw how the cost of milk quadrupled as a result of America’s crash. We must remember that what happens here affects the rest of the world and take responsibility to clean up our system, not just for our well-being, but for the well-being of the world.
We can also learn from world visionary Muhammad Yunus, who refinances loans to help people make their payments by simply adjusting the length and interest of the loan. If our banking system would look to his methodologies, millions here could have kept a roof over their heads and we all would have benefited. These companies that are “too big to fail” must also be “too big to bailout.” Let’s have the oversight in place to make sure that we don’t have to pay for their errors ever again.
As I end the journey of the two films, I’m hoping that people can take the messages, own their power, and use it wisely to take back our democracy. The stakes are too high not to do so.
You can see the trailer for Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus at- http://bonsaimovie.com
Article by Holly Mosher is an award-winning filmmaker who brings socially conscious films to the public. After graduating with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Holly produced a number of commercials and feature films. In 2004 she made her directorial debut with her award-winning documentary, Hummingbird, about two nonprofits in Brazil that work with street kids and women suffering domestic violence.
Afterwards, Holly produced two films on the pharmaceutical industry: Side Effects, starring Katherine Heigl, and Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety (www.moneytalksthemovie.com ). She co-produced Maybe Baby(www.howtocrackanegg.com/page/maybe_baby ), and executive produced Vanishing of the Bees (www.vanishingbees.com ),FREE FOR ALL! (www.freeforall.tv ), and the new Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes.
The second film she directed, Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus, is currently airing on American Public Television. The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the top up-and-coming independent film producers.