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Actor Mark Ruffalo on His Decision To Speak Out Against the Bush Administration

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On Thursday, the group World Can’t Wait is calling for protests in over 170 cities and towns across the country to demonstrate against President Bush and his administration. This week the group held emergency gatherings in response to Congress passing the new Military Commissions Act. Actor Mark Ruffalo took part in an event in New York. He stopped by our studio to talk about his decision to speak out. [includes rush transcript]

On Thursday, the group World Can’t Wait is calling for protests in over 170 cities and towns across the country to demonstrate against President Bush and his administration. On Monday night, the group held emergency gatherings in response to Congress passing the new Military Commissions Act.

In Oakland, Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg spoke alongside poet and author Alice Walker and hip-hop artist Boots Riley. Here in New York, speakers included former British ambassador Craig Murray, attorney Bill Goodman and actors Olympia Dukakis and Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo stopped by our studio yesterday to talk for the first time about speaking out against the Bush administration.

  • Mark Ruffalo, actor. His latest film, just released, is called “All the King’s Men” where he stars alongside Sean Penn.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Oakland, Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg spoke alongside poet and author Alice Walker and hip-hop artist Boots Riley. Here in New York speakers included former British Ambassador Craig Murray, attorney Bill Goodman, actors Olympia Dukakis and Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo stopped by our studio yesterday to talk about his participation in the event. His latest film, just released, is called All the King’s Men, where he stars alongside Sean Penn. I began by asking Mark Ruffalo if this marks the first time he’s speaking out.

MARK RUFFALO: Actually, it is. I started to get involved during this election, in the last election with Kerry, and I went and campaigned for him in my home state. And I had never really been politically sort of motivated. My second child was born, and I started to feel, you know, I had a responsibility to them and a responsibility as an actor, you know, to — I don’t know — to give back a little bit something. And, you know, I started to feel alarmed by what I had seen happening with the Iraq war. And so I started to read up and get involved. And I voted, and I wrote letters, and I called people, and I gave them my time and my money, and I felt like we just — I wasn’t being heard. There’s a huge constituency of Americans that just aren’t being heard. It isn’t — what we’re asking isn’t being reflected in the way this administration is governing.

And I started looking around for a forum, enabled to feel like I could be heard, and these people, all these people, who were feeling the same way as me could be heard. And I saw an ad for World Can’t Wait in the New York Times a few months ago. Many people that I respected and, you know, had always been interested in their political point of view were a part of it. And so, I called, and I asked how I could get involved. And little by little, here I am now.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking out.

MARK RUFFALO: Speaking out, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Your latest film is All the King’s Men?

MARK RUFFALO: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think this can be put in this political context? What is it about?

MARK RUFFALO: Well, I think ultimately it’s based on Robert Penn Warren’s book by the same title, and James Carville told me early on that it was the sort of underground political manual for American politics. And, you know, it’s about a man who is the governor of Louisiana, who actually steals from the rich and gives to the poor, which is an anomaly in itself. But —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking Huey P. Long?

MARK RUFFALO: Yeah, Huey P. Long. And, you know, the book sort of plays in that moral ambiguity. And Walter Mondale said you could always tell a politician by the deals he makes. Are the deals generally for the people or are they deals that are just awarding a small constituency of people, a small group of people? And I feel like this administration is just, you know, awarding this small group of their own friends and interests, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: How dangerous is it or popular is it to speak out in Hollywood?

MARK RUFFALO: I’m terrified, really, to be honest with you. I know that a lot of people in Hollywood feel the way I do. A lot of people who have come out, have been, you know, severely maligned in the media, this crazy liberal media that we keep hearing about. They come down like a hammer to people who speak out, especially from Hollywood.

But I feel like — I don’t know — I feel like it’s not enough just for me to complain to people in closed quarters. I feel like I have to sort of put my money where my mouth is, not unlike Sean Penn does. And because I might have a disproportionate amount of — I don’t know — influence on people or my voice is more able to be heard, I feel like I have a responsibility to speak up.

AMY GOODMAN: When you spoke out at an event this week, you read a statement of Sean Penn?


AMY GOODMAN: What’s the most powerful part of that statement for you?

MARK RUFFALO: Well, you know, Sean also has this incredible wit, which is included in here: “In fascism, one serves a state. Let’s show the world that with democracy we can make the state do our bidding. And that such bids would not be the blind ones given exclusively to the friends of power, but rather the domain of the people of freedom everywhere. This in an administration that advocates torture, deceives the public, spends billions of dollars on a failed war. This is an administration, where in the year of Katrina ExxonMobil claimed the highest profit margin in the history of world business. It is an administration that belittles, demeans, deceives, and indeed kills our brothers and sisters, our sons and our daughters. In the human family, the President is indeed pushing his wheelchair-bound grandmother down the stairs with a smile on his face.”

AMY GOODMAN: These, the words of Sean Penn?


AMY GOODMAN: So, you speak out now. You were active in the Kerry campaign at the end. Do you think Democrats have the answer?

MARK RUFFALO: I think they’re — they seem to be a little hamstrung right now. You know, this intelligence act that just passed that basically throws habeas corpus out the window — habeas corpus, which is basically the right at the seed of civilization that you have if you’re put in a prison cell, that someone has to come up with a piece of evidence to tell you, that tells the world and you what exactly they’re holding you for. Well, they’ve tossed that out the window now. And that’s to any enemy combatant, which is really a prisoner of war. There’s a mandate for rights that these people have. Well, we’ve tossed that out the window. That’s been around since 1252. And the Democrats rolled on that, hoping that the Supreme Court will take care of it, hoping not to look soft of national security. To me, that’s fundamentally the basis of democracy. And I don’t know what else to do. I’m frustrated. I think many people are frustrated.

AMY GOODMAN: You went down to New Orleans after Katrina?

MARK RUFFALO: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you do there?

MARK RUFFALO: I looked around. You know, I had spent a month in that city, living there with those people, enjoying it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you filmed All the King’s Men there.

MARK RUFFALO: Yeah. We filmed All the King’s Men there. All of it, Baton Rouge —

AMY GOODMAN: Through the hurricane.

MARK RUFFALO: No, no, no. It was before the hurricane. And then we left, and I hadn’t been back since. We went and premiered the movie there. And there are parts of that city that are an absolute war zone. The Ninth Ward hasn’t been touched, where all those poor people who are in Dallas and Houston, all what we call “refugees” now in America. American citizens, we call them “refugees,” all over the United States scattered to the wind. Their homes are still sitting there, rotting. Nothing’s been done.

Now, we have a president who says, “The buck stops here.” So, the next thing you have to say is, “Okay, if the buck stops here, then you’re to blame for these people’s lives being completely destroyed.” And no one — they’re Americans. No one’s there to help them. And now it’s silent. Now, there’s no questioning about it. It’s forgotten.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you considered organizing within Hollywood?

MARK RUFFALO: I, you know, I try. I talk to people there. I do it in my own way. I feel like someone’s got to make a step. be the sacrificial sheep, so to speak. And then, I’m hoping that people will sort of get behind me, you know. They do. And they do in a quiet way. You know, I’m terrified to show my face as the sort of, you know — there’s a lot of outspoken people, and Sean is certainly one of them. And I’m following in his footsteps, and Paul Haggis and Harry Belafonte, and, you know, there’s many, many others.

And I feel like as things get ratcheted up and people start to come out more, certainly World Can’t Wait, you know, this October 5th protest, I feel like for every person that comes out, there’s a hundred more people who feel emboldened in their lives throughout the United States. So, for me to come out, maybe that will give other people a feeling that there’s a place to voice their concerns and their dissatisfaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the protest.

MARK RUFFALO: Well, it’s World Can’t Wait to Drive Out the Bush Regime is October 5th. And it’s in 175 cities. It went from 60 cities to 175 cities since last week. I think something like, there’s nine cities in Texas, Bush’s home state. There’s something like 28 protests in 31 of the red states. This thing is — people are finding a way to sort of voice their discouragement through this thing. And that’s why it’s grown like wildfire. And there’s another — we had an ad in the USA Today. There is an ad in the New York Times. There’s another ad coming in the New York Times, I think, next week.

And there’s just been an outpouring of people’s contributions and concerns, and sort of people have come out to embrace this thing. And, you know, maybe — it’s a coalition. None of us really share the same political beliefs, other than that we don’t want a theocracy. We don’t torture people. We take care of our own, i.e., Katrina. We don’t want to be in Iraq for an illegal unjust war. These are things that everyone in America feels. I’d say 75% to 80% of the people in American feel this.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have a next project?

MARK RUFFALO: I’m working on a movie right now with Joaquin Phoenix that Terry George is directing called Reservation Road. And I have Zodiac coming out, the David Fincher film, in January.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Ruffalo is an actor. He’s starring with Sean Penn in All the King’s Men, was in Collateral. He’s speaking out against war, against the Bush administration, against torture for the first time.

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