Originally posted on Life at ERG: Blog of the Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley.
How does one jump-start a movement?
In a way, Robert Reich has been trying to do so for his entire career. The Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, and previous secretary of labor in the Clinton Administration, His recent movie, Inequality for All, which was shown this past February 5th, 2014, to a sold out crowd of 700 people in the Wheeler Hall Auditorium. The director Jacob Kornbluth, and the Dean of the Public Policy School, Henry Brady, moderated the after-movie discussion.
After the movie, the crowd asked Reich about many questions about the many different social intersections of economic inequality: racial inequality, the true potential impact of labor unions, the presence of inflation, and many other concepts. One thing was apparent during the question-and-answer portion of the night; even off the big screen, Reich can command a room, even one as large as Wheeler Auditorium.
Over his experienced profession, Reich has used many tools at his disposal to get out his message about fixing the American economy. If you visit his website, you’re instantly bombarded with his blog posts, his television appearances with the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, and his own personal explanatory videos about low wage workers, inequality, immigration reform, and many other topics.
The movie, which won both the Special Jury prize at the Sundance film festival and the Audience Award for the Best Documentary at the Traverse City film festival, deftly mixes Reich’s expert economic opinion about the current and historical state of the political economy, with the teaching of the Berkeley class, Inequality and Poverty, alongside aspects of his own personal memoir.
What’s the most artistic part of the movie? In fact, it’s the way these three seemingly unrelated topics come together to tell a whale of an economic tale. To the average movie goer, Inequality for All might contain more graphs, develop more relationships, and explain more about money, than any event they’ve seen. And yet, somehow the movie fits it all together using Reich’s natural stage presence and their constantly evolving storyline. These separate parts of the narrative become deeply ingrained cogs of an economic engine: economic inequality, labor unions, tax policy, globalization, technological development, and many other parts. Interestingly, the confluence of Reich’s experience, his life story, and his Berkeley course functions just as effortlessly.
Such quality, however, is not due to Reich’s life work and nimble delivery; for this, the genius of the director cannot be overstated. Though it seems to be a party where Reich is the master of ceremonies, if one looks deeper, one can find out how much influence the director had on the movie’s progression. Kornbluth explains his main motives on the Inequality for All website: “I decided my goal with this film, first and foremost, was to take a conceptual and abstract topic and find a way to tell an approachable and human story about it.” In his words, during the question portion, he stated “You have to believe in the messenger to believe in the message.” That belief is necessary, then, to incite a movement to jump-start our economy.
Reich stated that he understands that economic change of which he advocates for requires conversation with, and motivation from, diverse communities. In the same breath, he goes from lecturing to his UC Berkeley course, to conversing with Republican laborers about the importance of worker lobbying, to chopping it up with venture capitalists. In a way, it’s a visual example of one particular thing; for our economy to work, we need buy-in from each of these disparate groups, to move forward towards common goals.
Even is one doesn’t agree with Reich’s suggestions, you must agree that inequality has become a massive issue in our society. Reich includes conversation about the passionate Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protests, and adds such protests are symptoms of our communities being upset with inequality on large scales. Even President Obama recently stated in his recent State of the Union address, that ‘Inequality is the defining issue and challenge of our time.’ Needless to say, this isn’t an issue to take lightly.
The solutions to these issues, however, won’t come as easy. He states: “The issue is at a point where there is a possibility…It can be tackled. It’s not an easy answer; there has to be a movement…”
Well, one thing can be made for sure: whether Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, the points made in the new movie are hard to put down. Watching the movie, might be your first step.
Interested in learning more about Inequality for All? Check out the website here.