- Michael MooreAcademy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist. His new book is a memoir titled Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life.
Filmmaker Michael Moore was among the worldwide audience watching Democracy Now!'s live coverage from outside the prison where death row prisoner Troy Davis was executed on September 21—despite significant doubt of his guilt. Moore describes how he was inspired by one of the people Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman interviewed at the protest outside the prison shortly after news of the execution was announced. The man, who introduced himself as Wesley Boyd, immediately called for a boycott of the state of Georgia in response to the execution of Davis. Moore watched the coverage and told Democracy Now!, “He's right. I’ve got to do something.” Moore says he asked his publisher to recall all copies of his new book from stores in Georgia, saying, “I don’t want any commerce being done in my name in the state of Georgia.” When he was told the books were already on shelves, Moore said he would donate proceeds from the sales in the state to the Innocence Project and a voter registration drive. Moore also discusses his previous work on the case of a death row prisoner who shares his name, a topic he writes about in the chapter, “The Execution of Michael Moore,” in his new memoir titled Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life.
See all of Michael Moore’s Interviews on Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: Michael, I wanted to ask you about an execution that took place on September 21st, the execution of Troy Anthony Davis in Jackson, Georgia, despite the significant doubt that has been raised around his case—1989, the killing of a white off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, Troy Anthony Davis is convicted, sentenced to death. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses recant or change their testimony. He has four death warrants signed for him. Ultimately, though, and Democracy Now! was there on the death row prison grounds in Jackson, September 21st.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, I watched it.
AMY GOODMAN: Quite astounding to see this process play out. Troy Davis will be buried on Saturday in Savannah, where he grew up. The point person on the Supreme Court was Justice Clarence Thomas. Not far from where Troy Davis grew up, he grew up in Pin Point, Georgia, which was a community founded by freed slaves. But ultimately, there was no stay of execution from the Supreme Court. Let me play a clip of Troy Davis speaking during an Amnesty International conference call that his sister, Martina, hooked up in 2009.
TROY DAVIS: This is just the beginning of something that’s about to blow up to the point wherein we’re going to see some sort of success. We’re going to win this fight. We’re going to continue to open eyes. We’re going to continue to open these prison doors. We’re going to continue to hold accountable all those that are in charge of these unjust systems. And we’re going to force them, through our actions and our humanitarian work, to do what’s right, instead of just turning the other cheek, because there is no reason why innocent people should not have an opportunity to prove their innocence. Time should not be an issue, especially when someone’s life is in jeopardy. Together, we’re going to work this out. I’m going to walk free. And we’re going to have a day of celebration once again. But this time, I’m going to be on the outside of these prison walls working to help others, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Troy Davis speaking from death row in 2009 in a conference call that was hooked up. Michael, you have responded to his execution.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, first, let me say that I watched your broadcast that night live. I was actually in the kitchen at Tom Morello’s house, who’s a guitar player for a band called Rage Against the Machine, and he has his own solo thing called The Nightwatchman. And so, I was out in L.A. on my book tour, and I had stopped over to his house to have dinner. And he and his wife and their two little boys and we just stood there in the kitchen watching you on this little, tiny kitchen TV set. And we couldn’t talk. We were paralyzed by what we were watching.
And just—it was just—and then, after the execution, a man, tall man, in bibbed overalls, African-American man, came up to you. He wanted to say something. And you gave him an opportunity to speak. He’s the kind of guy that the mainstream media would never allow on camera. And he stood there and eloquently, in his own way, begged people to boycott the state of Georgia. “Do not buy Georgia peaches. Do not buy Georgia pecans,” he said. Right? Do you remember this? He went down this whole list—
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, yeah.
MICHAEL MOORE: —of things, and he was just right into the camera, just reaching right out to every one of us, saying, “Please! Yes, this may hurt”…
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the moment after the execution.
KRISTEN STANCIL: The court-ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis has been carried out. The time of death is 11:08 p.m. At this time, the media witnesses will be coming out to give their firsthand account of what happened during the execution. The coroner’s van will be coming out very shortly. It will be a black van. Media will be able to move up to get video of that van. At this time, we may have some people who were at the actual execution who may come out to do interviews. We will wait for them to come out, and we will be sitting—in the same area if they do choose to do interviews. But again, the time of death is 11:08.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, prison official sharing the news that Troy Anthony Davis was executed at 11:08. That was the time of death. I’m standing with…
WESLEY BOYD: Wesley Boyd. And I’d like to say this has been a travesty of justice. And I’d like to tell the—America ought to be ashamed of yourself. And God help America. And if you’re alive in America, please don’t come to Georgia. Don’t come to Georgia. Don’t buy any Georgia pecans. Don’t buy any Georgia peaches. Don’t buy any trade with Georgia. The whole world, don’t buy anything with Georgia. God bless America. God bless Troy Davis.
AMY GOODMAN: Wesley Boyd, standing on the grounds of the death row prison, just after learning of the execution of Troy Davis. Michael?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, as soon as he—as soon as he said that—I’m watching there, I’m sitting there in the kitchen watching that—I picked up my Blackberry, here, and wrote a note to my publisher. And I said, “I want you to stop shipping any of my books to Georgia. I want you to recall all my books from the bookstores. I don’t want any commerce being done in my name in the state of Georgia.” And then I went online and asked, you know, people to—we need to participate. We need to heed this man’s call to not go to Georgia, to not participate in the state of Georgia, and anything to do with it. Now, you know, remember, this is a resident of Georgia who’s saying this, and he’s—he will be hurt by this, obviously, because that’s what happens with boycotts. If you don’t buy the products, the people that work in those fields or in those factories, you know, they may have to cut back. They may lose their job. There’s a potential of that, so… But he’s saying that, you know, he wasn’t worried about his own personal sacrifice. He was asking us fellow Americans to not participate with the state of Georgia until they change.
So, a couple—the next day or so, the publisher informed me that they would not recall the books, could not recall them at this point, and so then I responded publicly by saying, “Fine, then I’m going to donate whatever royalties I make on this book to the Innocence Project, which is a group who has got many people off death row. And I’m also going to donate to a voter registration drive.” There were 600,000 African Americans in the last election that were not registered to vote in Georgia. Georgia is one of these states that is making it increasingly difficult for people to register to vote and to vote on Election Day. And so, I’m going to—I will not touch any of the money that this book makes from the state of Georgia. I just don’t want anything to do with it, and I canceled going there, to Atlanta, on my book tour. I won’t go there. I will not participate.
And myself and my website guys, we’ve been talking to the African-American students at Morehouse and some of the colleges down there. And we’re going to—there’s a number of people that are going to have a much more organized response to this with the state of Georgia. We’re going to identify those politicians, and we’re going to identify corporations in Georgia, like Home Depot and Coca-Cola and others, who contribute money to these politicians that allow this death penalty to exist.
I just want—can I say, too, that I come from the state of Michigan? We were the first English-speaking government in the world to outlaw the death penalty, back in the 1840s. We have never had, as a state, the death penalty in Michigan. I was raised with that, and even Republicans in Michigan, nobody would even think of putting a measure on the ballot to have the death penalty. It’s immoral. You do not have the right to take another human’s life, unless it’s in strict self-defense. And—
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, you worked on another campaign for another death row prisoner.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, yes, I talk about this in the book. There’s a chapter called “The Execution of Michael Moore.” And that execution does not refer to mine, because I’m still here, but of this man on death row in Texas whose name was Michael Moore. And one night they were showing the inmates one of my films, and he saw my name and me there in the movie, and he wrote to me, and he said, “I have your name, but they’re going to kill me, and can you help me?” So I started an internet campaign—this was about 10, 11 years ago—to get him freed from death row. He didn’t say that he didn’t commit the crime, but to be put to death was just simply wrong. It’s just—it is cruel and unusual punishment. And we got a big campaign going on the internet. A lot of letters were sent to Texas. A lot of attention was paid to it. And the appeals board, the court there, whatever, they granted him a stay. And that stay lasted for the better part of a year. I mean, this is unusual in Texas, any kind of a stay, because they’re just a—they’re an assembly line in Texas, their death row.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Perry, himself, has, what, proudly presided over more than 200 executions. And the cheer that—
MICHAEL MOORE: And was applauded for it, yes, right, that is correct. So, but 9/11 happened that year, and then, after 9/11, there was—you know, that was the end of that. There was—he didn’t have a chance. There was no—people did not want to stop the execution of a murderer. And we were—we, as a country, just started to sink, you know, into this bloodlust of, who can we invade, who can we kill. It was on so many levels, this sort of mean-spirited, sick nature of—it was just opposed to everything that I was raised with in that Irish Catholic household. It was just against everything I believed in.
AMY GOODMAN: Back on the Morehouse students, it was Morehouse and Spelman students that night—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —September 21st, who marched on Jackson. The corrections officers only allowed like 100, 150 people inside a vigil pen, a protest pen. And we actually had to fight to be able to be near the pen—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to be able to talk to people—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —because the way most people do it, the reporters, is they stand up quite a distance away, and it’s just the backdrop of the prison.
MICHAEL MOORE: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: But, I mean, the point of television and radio is to let people speak for themselves, like Wesley Boyd, who you just heard.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: That was a mighty battle at the beginning. But the students marched and were across the street, the intersection of the prison. There were almost a thousand people there. It was hard to see, because we were inside the prison grounds, these kids from Spelman, the kids from Morehouse. And it was at about 7:00, the time of the—original time of the execution, a roar went up, and you see how grapevine information works, because everyone thought, you know, this was—I was there in the pen, Ben Jealous was there, the CEO of NAACP, and the chair of the board of the NAACP, and Larry Cox, head of Amnesty International USA, and so everyone just took that to mean there was a stay, and they were leaping on each other, laughing, crying, saying, “We have achieved it.” But then, very quickly, someone walked up and said no.
MICHAEL MOORE: That was the—right, right. There was—the Supreme Court had issued a temporary reprieve, which meant that it might put it off for an hour. And that’s a—
AMY GOODMAN: Maybe someone was having dinner.
MICHAEL MOORE: Exactly. That’s right. That’s right. Can I just say, though—and if you’ll just let me say this and just accept the compliment—what’s so great about you and this show and the Pacifica stations is that you do give voice to people. And I just—when you turned to that man—I mean, here’s a guy in bibbed overalls, right? It looked like he might have had a tooth missing. I got to tell you, nobody in the mainstream media is going to go to that guy, and you just turned the microphone over. You had no idea what he was going to say. You—the fact that you exist, you’re our stand-in, really. I mean, you’re our conduit to people like Wesley Boyd, a man we’d—no one—who knew Wesley Boyd?
AMY GOODMAN: His family.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, well, his family, yes, and his friends. But most Americans don’t get that pulpit, don’t get that soapbox, don’t get that chance to speak to other Americans. The fact that this show, the fact that you went down there and did that, and would just generously turn the microphone over, so that I, standing in a kitchen in Los Angeles, could hear his voice and be motivated, myself, to say, “Whoa, he’s right. I’ve got to do something. I can’t—you know, I’m not in Georgia, but I have to do something.”
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, and, you know, it’s the amazing people I work with. We never would have been able to do this if I hadn’t been there with Renée Feltz, who has long covered the death penalty in Texas—
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —with Hany Massoud, our videographer and producer who had just come back from covering the Arab Spring in Tahrir—
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
MICHAEL MOORE: Of course, everybody here.
AMY GOODMAN: Mike Burke, who had raced out to Madison, as you had, Michael Moore—
MICHAEL MOORE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —to make sure we brought the voices of people in the freezing streets of Madison to the world.
MICHAEL MOORE: Who was the woman there with you in Georgia, one of your people that was so choked up she could barely—-
AMY GOODMAN: Renée, who is actually sitting right behind us right now.
MICHAEL MOORE: It was Renée, OK. Oh, OK. Well, it was so moving. As she started to hold back her tears, I could just feel everybody across the country who was watching this, watching you there live, feeling the same way that Renée felt—how we could do this in our name, murder a human being like this. It just—it was such a profound and powerful moment. It is why this television, the internet, all these things can be such a force for good.
AMY GOODMAN: And folks, again, Troy Davis will be buried on Saturday morning in Savannah, Georgia. If you want to see the full coverage of that night, you can go to our website at democracynow.org.