for ISKCON News on May 16, 2012
A review of Today We Have the Power – A Documentary by Christopher Timm
Having trained as a literary critic, with an aversion to numbers except the ones at the bottom of typed pages, to me the global economy has always seemed above my head. I also had not heard much about the “Seattle Battle” that overshadowed the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) international summit in 1999 in Seattle, USA, where 40,000 people showed up to protest against the greed and destructiveness of multinational companies. However, I was very curious what a Vaishnava monk`s take could be on global social and political issues, and how would he deliver his insights through the medium of film. So I decided to attend the screening of Today We Have the Power – a documentary directed by Christopher Timm a.k.a. Radha Vallabha Das.
Sitting on an hour-long train ride to the screening at New York University, several questions were in my mind. First of all: living a monastic life, why does Christopher even care? Second: having been removed from worldly affairs, how much he could really understand of it? Third: would he be preachy, or would his message be appealing to and resonant with audiences outside of his faith as well?
Christopher narrates the film, appearing in saffron dhoti and with shaved head, straightforwardly informing the audience that he is a Krishna-believer and monk, who did not personally take part in the Seattle protest -- which made a huge impact on his life regardless. His film, he says, is his attempt to put the whole thing in perspective: to understand what happened there and why it changed so many people’s lives.
At the beginning of the film he informs many of us who might not know that the WTO is an organization that intends to supervise international trade. It deals with regulation of trade between participating countries; it provides a framework for negotiating and formalizing trade agreements for the member governments. In other words, these guys are the driving force behind globalization.
In the opinion of many people, however, – as the film points out - they are some sort of evil force to be blamed for a series of major environmental, economical and social problems.
We learn that in November 1999, tens of thousands of people from all over the world converge on Seattle to raise awareness of issues they want the WTO to address at its conference.
The outside event starts off something like a carnival. Protestors are happy to be able to freely express their concerns, to sing and dance together in front of the buildings where WTO officials, government members, influential bankers and multi-national company leaders gather. A lady in the crowd blissfully declares: “Today WE have the power!”
The first group of protesters Christopher introduces is the “Turtles.” In their weird, homemade shells, they strike me as a bunch of naïve Halloween trick-or-treaters but I learn that they are animal rights activists who are serious about their mission to give voice to the endangered sea turtles who are about to become extinct due to the U.S.’s shrimp fishing policy. (Apparently, the turtles regularly get caught in the fishing nets and die.)
It is indeed a bad thing, I thought, that animals die unnecessarily; and the problem of the poor sea turtles is not an issue I would previously have pondered.
Then Christopher presents another group of environmentalists, whose main issue is deforestation. Their concern is that every two seconds an area of forest the size of a football field is lost due to uncontrolled logging by certain large multi-national companies. Not only does this contribute to climate change but it also represents the destruction of much biodiversity on the planet, and is one of the leading causes of species extinction.
I have never been to a rain forest in my life, but the distinct voice of one of these environmentalists resonates with me. It is that of an old Native American tribal chief who warns us: “We have to re-evaluate our relationship with the world’s sacredness. We have to stop raping Mother Nature.”
Graphic enough and to the point.
Now, it seems, we encounter even darker crimes. We meet yet another protesting group speaking out against corporate agricultural practices that produce genetically modified foodstuffs, which – they say – are not only cruel, but also represent health risks for millions of people. At the disgraceful sight of cows being injected with some genetically modified serum to try to get more milk out of them, I turn my head away. I hear about tens of thousands of Indian farmers, who, not being able to keep up with the competition with GMO-based industrial agriculture, commit suicide.
I was not aware of all that and am appalled.
Then there is a series of interviews with WTO leaders and global economists. I understand what they are trying to say about stopping illiteracy and famine and attempting to help Third World countries, but none of their arguments seem truly convincing.
Then boooommmm! We view smashed shop windows, and a group of anarchists in action. It’s unclear whether they or riot police start the fight -- but we realize that it is the end of the peaceful protest and the beginning of the “Battle,” as hell breaks loose in Seattle. Burning cars, nightsticks and blackjacks, resultant bleeding heads, smashed postal boxes, mayhem everywhere. Shocking images.
More than ten years after the Seattle Battle, many desperate people still feel that purposeful destruction it the only way exploitation can be stopped and global issues solved. Last year’s London riots and the recently started “Occupy” movement are new manifestations of that approach.
Luckily - the film points out – there ARE other ways.
At one of the movie’s most dramatic moments, we meet a white-haired, pious looking man sitting next to of an altar with burning incense. I presume he is a celebrant of some kind, perhaps Buddhist, now in front of the camera remorsefully confessing to personal responsibility in the disaster in Seattle. Is he a repentant anarchist?
No. I turn to the guy sitting next to me to ask if I’ve understood it correctly: yes, he confirms, it is the former Chief of the Seattle Police, who ordered an end to the protests whatever it took. He stepped down immediately after the event and took to a spiritual path. He says he feels terribly sorry that partly due to his mistakes, a historical opportunity to have a meaningful and peaceful dialogue about some of the world’s main issues had been missed; and if he would have looked at the depth of the issues, personally, he would have been on the side of the peaceful protesters.
He got converted.
The former Police Chief’s confession is followed by a series of short interviews with representatives of spiritual organizations, pastors and nuns. One of them points out that “it is interesting to see that these days mindfulness becomes a revolutionary act.” The film concludes with the words of Christopher’s own spiritual master Radhanath Swami, who, very succinctly, says: “It is purifying the heart from greed that is the real solution to the problems. Everything else we do is cosmetic and superficial.”
After seeing the movie, this statement hits home with me, bringing a whole new understanding of the essence of Vedic philosophy in contemporary terms.
Throughout the film, we hear in Christopher’s voice his passion for the topic; though in his narration and tone he tries to remain “impartial” and “objective.” I don’t have the feeling that he is trying to convince me of something. Calm-voiced and reliable, he is guiding me on a journey.
A journey where? Well, he guides me deeply into my conscience. He makes me care. He makes me feel responsible for extinct turtles, dying forests, the “rape of Mother Nature” and the suicide of the Indian farmers. He makes me think about what I might do in my own life to stop the exploitation of other living entities.
I firmly believe that good filmmaking is about making people stop and look deeply into their own hearts -- to turn each of them into a better person. Today We Have the Power
has the potential to achieve that.
I get up the next morning determined to skip the nearby supermarket franchise and pay a visit to the local organic, non-violent farmers, and to be more serious about my spiritual practices.
To watch the film:
For more information visit: http://todaywehavethepower.com/
About the author: Krisztina Danka (Krishna-lila Dasi) has received her Ph.D in literary criticism specialized in Indian literature from the University of Budapest, Hungary. She got her professional filmmaker certificate from New York University. She is the producer-director of over thirty videos and documentaries of various spirituality related topics.