Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Michael Moore & Me

I talked with Michael Moore once. He called the office, hoping to speak with the Mayor. As the Director of Communications for the City, I often fielded his calls when he wasn't available.

Lucky me.

Or so I was feeling as the receptionist put the call through. I was aware Michael was likely recording the call. Just what would he do with the tape???

This, of course, took place in the wake of Roger & Me, a movie that made all of us left in Flint feel a great deal of shame - like orphans, I suppose - like our wealthy parents had decided to quit providing us our necessary food and shelter, and embarrassed that some of our family members didn't know how to act in front of a camera.

Now, having grown up a little, some of us can look at bit more objectively at the movie and understand it was the parental abandonment of General Motors that Michael was filming about.

What do we do when the kids are left to their own accord?

But I was still bitter when Michael called the office that morning, having fielded so many calls, letters and questions from people who wondered if the show actually portrayed the community correctly. Back then, I said NO!, always adding that there are so many wonderful parts of the community - and so many wonderful family members who actually present themselves quite well whether it be on camera or not. Today, I say yes and no, especially as I see us in Flint repeatedly miss the point to so many issues. The show portrays a painful truth. When I was being honest, even then, I couldn't deny it.

But I still didn't want to talk to Michael Moore on the phone.

Sure enough, Michael was the guest on a radio show and he did inform me up front that I was live and on the air. He asked to talk to the Mayor. I explained that he was away at a conference, but offered to take a message for him. He then asked about the Mayor's efforts to improve the community. While I don't remember the exact phraseology, I do remember explaining to him that I - that we - simply wanted to be a part of a solution.

A couple people told me they heard me that morning - and that I didn't sound like a complete jackass.

I feel differently about Michael now, not because I made it through the phone call, mind you. Fahrenheit 911 was a powerful show. And I was among the few of my friends and family that found myself cheering at his "acceptance" speech at the Academy Awards.

As I read and heard of Davison voting against recognizing Michael, despite his Emmys and Academy Award, I once again became ashamed of my community. They voted to not recognize the achievements of Michael Moore when so many in the country - including myself - believed he was something of a hero. He alone was bold enough to take on the government and share with America very important truths about the war, about our country and its leadership.

I was pleased to be be able to work with his wife, Kathleen Glynn, when she was a guest of the Women in Education at Mott Community College last year. I spoke with her several times to arrange for her appearance. Surprisingly, she said it was the first time she had ever been invited to speak anywhere in the Flint area, despite being an Academy Award-winning producer and a voting member for the prestigious Academy Awards. We were pleased when we packed out the facility the day of her appearance, so many well wishers and fans she likely never knew she had in this city. She kept wonderfully humble as she described her success and the challenges that came with it. She and Michael have truly been partners in every endeavor.

Last night, I saw their latest effort, Sicko.

And again I feel shame.

As I walked out with my friends, I struggled with what I could do to make a difference, to improve not just health care offerings in this country, but also the human interactions to prove that I care about others as least as much as I care about myself. At the same time, I wondered how quickly I could move my family to Canada or France or Cuba, where there seemed to be a humanity Americans have lost, excepting the brief moments following a crisis. It's not just about health care and it is all about health care. It's not just about bad leadership and it is all about bad leadership. It's not just about money and it is all about money.

This I know - America needs to change. I want to be a part of the solution. I want you to help me be a part of the solution. If you haven't seen Sicko, I urge you to see it. If you have seen it, please do not let it's impact upon your heart and spirit fade. There is so much to distract us. There are many who want to distract us. Let's do something to show we care, to prove we care. I still believe we can be the change we all so desperately need in this country, in this community.

Tonight, I join many other Americans and applaud the man I once dreaded speaking to on the phone. If only I had another chance ...

I wish I could thank him in a more meaningful way...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Flint's Mayoral candidates need to push a little

I got a random call the other day at the office, someone touting the skills of Dayne Walling, one of seven folks running for Mayor. No question about it, Walling has been out there. I have received numerous mailings, emails (I have no idea how he got THAT!), phone calls - my street is lined with Walling signs. I learned early on, however, that signs don't necessarily mean a thing in an election. People agree to let a candidate put up a sign simply because they don't like saying no to someone standing at their door.

So the caller asks if I have any questions or concerns for Mr. Walling on the eve of the primary... Well, as a matter of fact I do... I told Walling's volunteer that I really wanted to see him come out AGAINST Williamson, the current Mayor, who appears to have this election wrapped up based upon the lack of questions being asked publicly about so many of his actions and activities.

I suppose that is why I read the Journal's account of the forum held this week. The headline caught my eye: Mayor, foes trade barbs at forum.

First, I am shocked that Williamson appeared. He doesn't usually. Makes me wonder if he isn't feeling some heat despite the relative calm. Secondly, I knew the account would be good. He can't help himself. A few pokes and he explodes and doesn't care who hears the tirade...

Why aren't the other candidates using that? They have to do so little. A little push and he does the rest...

The Journal's account didn't disappoint me - How shocking that it turned into a shouting match!! After a few short minutes, the incumbent yelled at one audience member to "shut up while I'm talking."

Later, her reportedly told the audience, "I feel like I need to apologize for you. It's too bad you have to be so small."

Then he left the building.

And people like this guy??

I feel stuck in this rendition of the Emperor has No Clothes. The newspaper doesn't trumpet the ongoing faults of this guy - so different from the constant attacks against the former Mayor, made up as they were. It's rare to see or hear a negative piece about him. In fact, it seems nary a week goes by when I hear of another someone who extols his virtues! WHAT?? Why oh why do I seem surprised?

He has the ear of the average citizen I'm afraid. They like that he paves streets and ignores laws. They think shiny new garbage trucks are better than fulfilling campaign promises of jobs with his own firm, cutting funding for social service agencies, refusals of partnering with other organizations. What ever happened to his sports center or the idea of starting a business using city employees?

Recently, my husband and kids went to Williamson's recycling center on Grand Traverse, or so they thought. The sign outside said it was his recycling center - and they had a trunk full of newspapers to unload. When they asked the woman attendant if they should just leave the stacks in the semi-trailer, she said sure, but added they were really going to the landfill. Mr. Williamson doesn't actually recycle them.


She then offered a $10 bill if they left the newspapers and asked them not to tell anyone.

They didn't take the money. They took them to CBC Recycling on Saginaw Street. But I am quite sure that many people have taken the money whether it be at the recycling center or elsewhere. And they love Don Williamson for the way that he is cleaning up this city.

Following the forum the other night, one resident commented, "The people in the back kind of got going, but maybe (Williamson) shouldn't have told them what he did because, as the mayor, that doesn't present a very good look for himself."

Whoever wins the primary needs to capitalize on that. Be it Walling, or Bryant or Weighill, they need to realize that they are running AGAINST Don Williamson -- and he's not in the habit of making himself look good.