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Michael Moore & Cornel West on OWS, Iraq & the Progressive Discontent Obama Faces in ’12 Vote

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As Occupy protests against inequality and corporate greed continue across the United States and around the world, we’re joined by Michael Moore, Academy Award-winning filmmaker and activist, and Princeton University Professor Cornel West. “We expect [President Obama] to do the work of the people,” Moore says. “The people are not going to go away. So he can either go down as a historic president, who become the FDR of this century, or he can be remembered as the man who was in the pocket of Goldman Sachs.” West added, “What we’re trying to do is connect what’s going on on Wall Street with what’s going on in Harlem… If in fact we continue to have this kind of magnificent movement here and around the world, we want to be able to connect the corporate greed not just on Wall Street, but in the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the corporate-media multiplex.” [includes rush transcript]

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StoryNov 25, 2011Occupy Everywhere: Michael Moore, Naomi Klein on Next Steps for the Movement Against Corporate Power
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Occupy protests against inequality and corporate greed continue across the country and across the world. Just this morning, the Portland Press Herald reported police are looking for the person who threw a chemical bomb at the Occupy Maine encampment in Portland. Police responded to a call around 4:00 a.m. this morning and found a homemade bomb, which consisted of chemicals poured into a plastic Gatorade container. Police say the chemicals could have caused serious injury.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, police arrested about 130 protesters at the Occupy Chicago protest. This is the second mass arrest of Occupy Chicago demonstrators in the past week. About 175 protesters were arrested a week ago. According to the Occupy movement, there have been more than 2,300 arrests in the past six weeks.

In London Sunday, the city’s historic St. Paul’s Cathedral had to close its doors to thousands of Sunday worshippers because of protesters taking part in the Occupy London campaign outside the building. One of the protesters said that politics no longer made change possible.

OCCUPY LONDON PROTESTER: There is a political vacuum in the country at the moment. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, doesn’t matter what party gets in. The essential decisions are made, and what’s decided really is the same, no matter if it’s Labour or left, right, middle. You know, it’s all just middle now. So when there is no real choice there, because everything is the same, the people, I believe, feel like their voice has been taken away. And when you’re in a situation where your voice has been taken away, you have to make your voice

AMY GOODMAN: As the Occupy protests continue to spread overseas, the China Digital Times confirms that a list of search terms have been banned that combine “Occupy” with a location inside China. All but two provincial capitals are on the list.

To talk about more about Occupy Wall Street, in a moment we’re going to be joined by Princeton Professor Cornel West. But right now, Michael Moore is with us, Academy Award-winning filmmaker and activist, who’s been down to Zucotti Park, spoken to Occupy Wall Street protesters there. His new book is called Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life. Michael Moore was supposed to be doing an interview on CNBC today, but yesterday he tweeted this, quote: “I was to appear live Mon on CNBC @ 11am on Wall St. in front of the NYSE. I’ve just been told the NYSE will not allow this. On a public st.” Well, now he’s told them he will show up anyway.

Michael Moore, welcome to Democracy Now!

MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you, Amy. They’ve—CNBC has just called to say that—to try to work out a compromise: “Could we do it just maybe two blocks away?”

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, right in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street encampment?

MICHAEL MOORE: No, of course, they’ll go there, because, you know, the people will allow them there. But I don’t know what the problem is. I just said, “Look, I’ll be there. We scheduled this a week ago, and they don’t own—the New York Stock Exchange doesn’t own the streets of New York. Or supposedly they don’t.” So—

AMY GOODMAN: So why do they get to say, “No, you cannot be there”?

MICHAEL MOORE: I don’t know. I have no idea. I’ve no idea. This actually was a problem a few years ago when I had another interview scheduled there, and it was supposed to be at their booth that they have there inside the Stock Exchange, and the Stock Exchange would not allow me into their building, and so we had to do it out on the street in front of the Stock Exchange. Now I’m being moved off the street in front of the Stock Exchange down over to somewhere on Broadway. But, you know, in their defense, about 11 years ago, I went there with this band called Rage Against the Machine, and we did this thing there in front of the Stock Exchange.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, actually, you don’t have to describe it to us—


AMY GOODMAN: —because we have it right there—


AMY GOODMAN: —this music video that you directed, which features Rage Against the Machine—


AMY GOODMAN: —in front of the New York Stock Exchange, which is interspersed with scenes from a satiric version of the popular TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? You were briefly arrested during the filming of this?

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, yes. We were playing on the steps of Federal Hall across the street from the Stock Exchange where George Washington took his oath of office, and the police attempted to shut it down. And when they did, they arrested me, and the band took off and headed over—and took the crowd with them to run into the New York Stock Exchange. And the Stock Exchange shut the doors to the place.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to a moment of that music video.


AMY GOODMAN: The song is called “Sleep Now in the Fire.”

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: [performing “Sleep Now in the Fire”] The world is my expense
The cost of my desire
Jesus blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
So raise your fists
And march around
Just don’t take what you need
I’ll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed
Crawl with me into tomorrow
Or I’ll drag you to your grave
I’m deep inside your children
They’ll betray you in my name

Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

The lie is my expense
The scope of my desire
The party blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire

AMY GOODMAN: That was Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire.” So you were all arrested?

MICHAEL MOORE: No, only the person who was the slowest runner was arrested. That would be me. And they took me away. They took me actually inside Federal Hall and—in handcuffs, and I was able, inside the hall, to talk my way out of it and to get them to take the handcuffs off and not take me downtown. So I don’t know how that happened, because I don’t know—usually that’s not the case with the NYPD.

But they, though, went across the street, like I said, with the crowd. And the Stock Exchange saw them coming, and they locked the doors automatically. And then these big steel shutter doors came down over all the doors to the Stock Exchange. And they literally, even though this was still during the trading day—I don’t know if they’ve ever actually had to shut the place down while they were in the business of capitalism there. But—so that—but this was 11 years ago, and I think they still are upset about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of the arrests, Princeton University professor, renowned civil rights activist, Cornel West, is with us, and he was arrested on Friday afternoon here in New York during a demonstration in Harlem against racial profiling. Professor West was in New York to protest the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say disproportionately targets blacks and Latinos especially. Reports show New York City police carried out 600,000 such searches last year, with 87 percent of the targets being black or Hispanic. This is Professor West.

CORNEL WEST: We stand here in front of the police department to say, in a spirit of love, we don’t hate anybody, but we love young people of all colors. But we zero in on the black and brown who are disproportionately targeted, and we simply say, “We care for you. We’re concerned about you. And we’ll go to jail for you.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Professor West. He was then arrested. Only seven percent of stop-and-frisk searches result in arrest. Some suggest the practice does little to reduce crime, is likely unconstitutional. Professor West, arrested along with 30 other people in this protest. They locked arms in front of the NYPD’s 28th Precinct, as hundreds looked on, including a contingent of supporters from Occupy Wall Street. Professor West’s arrest in New York comes just a week after he was handcuffed on the steps of the Supreme Court, one of 19 people arrested there last Sunday during a protest against the increasing role of money in politics. There he spoke in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

CORNEL WEST: We want to bear witness today that we know the relation between corporate greed and what goes on too often in the Supreme Court decisions. We want to send a lesson to ourselves, to our loved ones, our families, our communities, our nation and the world, that out of deep love for working and poor people, that we are willing to put whatever it takes, even if we get arrested today, and say we will not allow this day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial to go without somebody going to jail, because Martin King would be here right with us, willing to throw down out of deep love. And I want to add a special word for our brothers and sisters in the police force, because we want to let them know that we are standing with them as working people, as well.

We’re here to bear witness with, to be in solidarity with the Occupy movement all around the world, because we love poor people, we love working people, and we want Martin Luther King, Jr., to smile from the grave that we haven’t forgot his movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor West was arrested just down the road from where President Obama was dedicating the Martin Luther King Monument on the National Mall. Professor West, with Michael Moore today. Two arrests in one week—what’s happening, Professor West?

CORNEL WEST: Well, let me just first say I’m blessed to be here, and congratulations on the New York Times piece. And to just be in the same room with Michael Moore, in the same country, on the same planet, is inspiring to me. The brother’s brilliance and his deep love for people just is quite—it’s just—it’s a national, international treasure. And that’s very important, because we’re right in the middle of a movement, and to see that kind of quality of sacrifice and service is a beautiful thing. It’s a sublime thing, very much so.

But now, what we’re trying to do is connect what’s going on on Wall Street with what’s going on in Harlem, because if in fact we continue to have this kind of magnificent movement here and around the world, we want to be able to connect the corporate greed not just on Wall Street, but in the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the corporate-media multiplex, so that we have an inclusive, systemic analysis, even as we’re willing to bear witness to the love for poor and working people.

AMY GOODMAN: And even as this happens, the protests here in New York, both on Wall Street and in Harlem, and all over the world, you have this announcement by President Obama that the U.S. will be pulling out of Iraq, the troops, by the end of the year. Over the weekend, I was in Louisville, Kentucky, where I spoke to demonstrators at Occupy Louisville in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a moment, we’ll play some of what they had to say. But one of the people there was a vet, actually from the Persian Gulf War. His name was Bruce Smith.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you serve?

BRUCE SMITH: I was—served in the Gulf War. I was in infantry, U.S. Army, Second Armored Division, First Infantry Division. Basically, we refer to it now as “Bush War One.” And it was kind of a start of all the issues that happened in Iraq, in particular. And a lot of us veterans feel that we were kind of a foil to start this entire process of the grab for the oil in the Mideast, the grab for resources, the grab for control. And we’re really disappointed with the way things have turned out. I’m disappointed that this ended with such a whimper, that the only reason we’re leaving Iraq right now is because the Iraqi parliament refused to indemnify U.S. troops from war crimes prosecution. If they had, we’d still be there for decades to come. We’re leaving because—for that reason only.

So, to me, it feels that there’s been a lot of useless death and destruction, a lot of broken lives, a lot of broken soldiers coming home to a country that, you know, promised them job training, promised them—you know, promised them healthcare, promised them housing, and they’re going to come back to a different country. And I just hope that we can step up and provide them—you know, at least fulfill the promises that were made when they stepped forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Gulf War vet Bruce Smith, speaking, oh, in the middle of the night on Saturday night. I was in Louisville. They were at Occupy Louisville. And we’re going to hear some more from vets and others there. But Michael Moore, you spoke out against the Iraq war, what, a few days after the war started, when you won the Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine. Let’s go back and take a listen.

MICHAEL MOORE: We like nonfiction. We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious of orange alerts. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michael Moore receiving the Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine. It’s now eight years later. You have an Occupy movement all over the United States and around the world. Michael, your thoughts right now?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I have not felt this good in a very long time. This movement has spread like wildfire, and it is happening completely on its own momentum. And it’s something that can’t be stopped. I literally—and I don’t know, maybe Dr. West maybe feels the same way. We’ve been involved in various movements and causes for many, many years, and it takes a long time to build these movements. And at the beginning of the movements, at the beginning of the civil rights movement, at the beginning of the feminist movement, at the antiwar movement in Vietnam, you didn’t have 59 percent of the American public with you in the first month of the movement. According to the National Journal poll yesterday, that’s what it says: 59 percent of the American public is behind Occupy Wall Street. This has happened so fast.

And yet, it was—the reason, I think, is because I think the people were already there. The feeling toward Wall Street, toward corporate America, toward what’s going on, has just been simmering beneath the surface, and it was just ready to explode. And that is what’s happened, and it can’t be turned back now. And the politicians are trying to figure out, “How do we deal with this? How do we either try and stop it” — in the way that the Republicans would like to do — “or” — the way the Democrats are doing it — “how do we co-opt it, how do we try to pretend we’re a part of it?” And frankly, President Obama, though he said some nice things last week, everybody is tired of saying nice things. Where is the action? Where is the actual action that people thought you, President Obama, were going to do when you were elected to this office?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you both supported President Obama.

CORNEL WEST: It was critical support, I think, we both had—

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, yeah.

CORNEL WEST: —because we looked at, of course, the right wing, and the right-wing takeover would have been even more atrocious. But I think both of us knew that he tended to move too much toward the center.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel that today, that a right-wing takeover would be more atrocious?

CORNEL WEST: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, when you look at the mediocrity, mendacity and mean-spiritedness among Republican candidates, you say to yourself, “My god! If one of those folk actually gain access to the White House, I’m not sure that we’d be—even be around, as it were.” But at the same time, we’ve got now a new space. I mean, what the Occupy movement is, it’s been able to show the ways in which both parties are tied to oligarchic rule, both parties are tied to big money. And we’ve got some real possibilities, I think, with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, I know you have to go do a BBC interview, and then you’re going off to CNBC somewhere, is that right?

MICHAEL MOORE: I’m going to go and stand in front of the Stock Exchange on a public street that I help pay for. So I’m—that’s where I will be at 11:00 a.m. And I told CNBC they can show up there if they want.

But I agree with what Dr. West just said. I think that—you know, why don’t we just do this? Why don’t we just say, you know, considering the nine crazies that are running against Obama and that the majority of Americans aren’t crazy and that they will not vote for one of those nine, so let’s assume that President Obama is going to get that second term? So this isn’t really about electoral politics. The Occupy movement is not about who’s going to win next year, as much as it is that whoever is there—and let’s just assume it’s Obama—we expect him to do the work of the people. And the people are not going to go away. So he can either go down as a historic president, who becomes the FDR of this century, or he can be remembered as the man who was in the pocket of Goldman Sachs, who, as the Washington Post pointed out last week, contrary to what the New York Times had put out a couple weeks ago when they did the math, the real math—President Obama now receives more Wall Street money than all nine GOP candidates combined. All right? So let’s just call it for what it is. And we, we the people, the majority of Americans, I think are sick and tired of this, and we want him not representing Goldman Sachs, but representing the working people of this country. And I’m going to tell you, you know, people—

AMY GOODMAN: What does he need to do?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, any of a number of things. And it’s not just him. It’s all the Democrats. If they’re—every Democrat right now who’s running for Congress should just stand up and say, “I will not accept a dime of money from Wall Street or from the banks,” right away. Just, first of all, I think if you say that, that will almost virtually guarantee your election, because the mood of the people right now—the people have really, really had it. And it’s just the tone-deafness of the politicians, that they don’t understand what’s going on. There’s going to be a wave against this. So, yeah, President Obama needs to not only support legislation, in terms of taxing the wealthy, bringing back Glass-Steagall, getting money out of politics, etc., etc., he actually has to do these things. And when the Republicans say they’re going to filibuster, he has to say, “Well, then, go ahead. Stand up there for 48 hours and read from a cookbook. I dare you.” You know, have some guts.

You know, I was thinking, when you ran the piece—I was down there in Times Square last week. When you ran the piece of the Marine who just went ballistic, but in such a sincere and emotional way, in front of the New York police, who were getting ready to beat people’s heads in with those nightsticks, and I just watched the power of that man, and I just thought, that’s what Obama needs to do. That’s what these Democrats need to do. Where is the—what is their problem that they’re afraid to do that? Where is the courage? Where is the courage of the man who said, “Yes, put my middle name on the ballot: Hussein”? You know, I mean, that just took an act of almost sheer lunacy, but definite courage, in post-9/11 America, to put “Hussein” on the ballot. And yet, he still won by 10 million votes. That’s how much Americans wanted change. That’s how much they wanted him to go in there and do the job that he didn’t do.

AMY GOODMAN: And he won by many, many people giving very little money each. Now going for a billion dollars, he is going to massive fundraisers throughout this country—what, $38,000-a-plate, etc., fundraisers—continuing through all of this period.

MICHAEL MOORE: That’s correct. It’s—listen, it has been—

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Republicans are doing the same.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, but we expect that of them. We don’t expect that of him. And, you know, I don’t—I just think that this movement, instead of being penned in by electoral politics or issues or, you know, who’s the spokesperson here, everyone is a spokesperson. Everyone is a leader. There’s no one person doing—this is the mass of Americans doing this.

And I think people—I was down there the other day, and somebody stopped and said, “Who organized this? Who organized this Occupy movement?” And I just pointed up to the top floor of Goldman Sachs, and I said, “Actually, they organized it. They and Bank of America and Citibank, they were the organizers of this, because they made people’s lives so miserable.” “Well, what would it take for the occupiers to go away?” I said, “Oh, what would it take for them to go away? Give them their homes back. Give them their jobs back. Give them their healthcare back. Give them healthcare maybe for the first time ever. Let those students go out and have a life, instead of being saddled with $40,000 worth of debt at age 22. How about that?” I’ll tell you, if they do that, I think people, some people, might pack up and go home.

Others, though, want a fundamental change in this economic system that we have that is not fair. This economic system is immoral, because it’s set up to allow that the richest one percent get to have most of the pie, and everybody else is supposed to fight for the crumbs that are left on the table. That is an evil system, and that has to change, ultimately, because we’re just going to have—we’re just going to be back here at this table again with another problem next year and next year and next year, if we don’t fundamentally change the fact that we don’t have a democratic economic system. In other words, you and I and Cornel have no say in how this economic system is run.

AMY GOODMAN: Your film, your latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, has new meaning today.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, it certainly has an ending. Because I left—when I left there wrapping the crime scene tape around the Stock Exchange by myself, and saying, “That’s it. I’m not going to make any more documentaries, until I’m part of a movement.” There’s no more of me out here by myself doing this, or a few of us doing this. You know, this has to be a mass movement. And I said goodbye at the end of the film, and I said, “I don’t know if I’ll see you later.”

CORNEL WEST: You know, what I love about Brother Michael, though, you could just feel the love in his soul for working and poor people. You’ve got Martin Luther King, Jr.’s shadow all through him—


CORNEL WEST: —because what Martin was talking about was revolution. And that’s what I’m talking about, but it’s a Kingian revolution. It’s a love-based revolution that says we’ve got warped priorities, that says we need a transvaluation of our values and a fundamental transformation of our public life and a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats. It is not a matter of hating. It’s a matter of hating injustice. We don’t hate any persons; you hate injustice. And when you have that kind of righteous indignation and holy anger and moral outrage, that I have, that Brother Michael has, that the people, part of Occupation movements all around the world, that’s the makings of the kind of change we want.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, I know you have to leave, and BBC owes me big time, because for me to do their bidding and kick you out so that you can go on their show live around the corner.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah. Well, you know, but see, they’ve started a whole Occupy movement there. I mean, it really has spread all over. And so, I promised I’d give them a few minutes, because this is now a global movement.

CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: And the media, part of this?


AMY GOODMAN: Whereas all the network pundits say, “What do these people want?”

MICHAEL MOORE: “What do they want?”

AMY GOODMAN: And, “Seriously?”

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, exactly, right, right. Yeah, I mean, you’re asking that question, like why are they even asking the question? Where have they been? You know, if they—if the media had been—

AMY GOODMAN: They are saying—


AMY GOODMAN: “Seriously? This protest? Seriously?”

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, well, you know, good. They have treated—first of all, they’ve treated Occupy Wall Street—they started out treating it as a joke. First they tried to ignore it. Then they tried to ridicule it. And now they’re like, “Oh, this isn’t going away. It’s only getting bigger.” And it’s in Lexington, Kentucky, or it’s in Niles, Michigan. Niles, Michigan, a town of 11,000 people—that’s all there are in Niles, in a little—it’s actually a very conservative part of Michigan. Eleven thousand people. They had 100 people out there at Occupy Niles. Now, to have 100 people in a town of 11,000—let me just do the math for you, Amy, because I know you didn’t do that well in school with math—you know, you’re more a social studies kind of woman. That’s one percent of Niles.

AMY GOODMAN: And happened to like math.

MICHAEL MOORE: You did like math. Well, then I take that back. I hated math. But so, then you knew that that was one percent of Niles. If one percent of the United States of America showed up at a demonstration, that would be over three million people in the National Mall. We’ve never had three million people in the National Mall. That’s what’s going on. And even a Republican town like Niles, Michigan, has one percent of the town show up for Occupy Niles. That is going on. We don’t even hear about it. It’s going on all over the country, where there aren’t cameras, where the media is still ignoring it. And yet, the people don’t care. They’ve come out of the houses, and they are not going away.

AMY GOODMAN: I was in New Bedford, Massachusetts. There was an Occupy New Bedford movement. I took the train to Providence, Rhode Island. As we’re driving away from the train station, we see people marching down the street. There was Occupy Providence. Michael, I know you have to go. And we’re going to go for a moment to Occupy Louisville. It was in the middle of the night Saturday that I made it over to Occupy Louisville in Kentucky, where that day they celebrated the 50-year anniversary of another Dr. King march, as people marched down and were arrested in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of Muhammad Ali.

CORNEL WEST: Hey, can I just give my brother a hug on television?

AMY GOODMAN: You can—OK, let’s see if we can capture this.

CORNEL WEST: Can we break before this thing?

AMY GOODMAN: You’re going right in front of the TV.

CORNEL WEST: Oh, yes, yes. I dearly love you, brother. Happy to see you, man.

MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you. Thank you.

CORNEL WEST: Oh, yeah, definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: Cornel West and Michael Moore.


AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Michael.

CORNEL WEST: My dear brother. I’m sorry to interrupt, but—

AMY GOODMAN: Pull the mic off before you go.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Amy. By the way, Amy—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to—

MICHAEL MOORE: —what’s the square root of pi? Just wondering if you happen to remember that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it depends if it’s apple, cranberry, if it’s pumpkin.

MICHAEL MOORE: There you go.


MICHAEL MOORE: And she’s a comedian.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

CORNEL WEST: You got brave, but cut across [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll go to break, and then we’re going to go to Lexington, Kentucky.

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