In his debut documentary feature "Today We Have The Power: Spirituality and The WTO Seattle Protests," filmmaker Christopher Timm deftly presents a vital meditation on the bridge between spirituality and social justice, through the prism of the seminal demonstrations at the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle, Wa. His film is an incredibly timely look at how the issues and concerns that caused such a tumult in Seattle are even more resonant and relevant today.
Timm goes to great lengths to present a diversity of messages which present a clear and vivid outlook at the question of what globalization means to the past, present and future conceptions of the human experiment on this planet. We hear from such voices as environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva, Tom Goldtooth, the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, anarchist and primitivist philosopher John Zerzan, and David Korten, best-selling author and leading light of the critical movement against corporate globalization.
Timm impressively and honestly gathers perspectives from other poles in the debate over globalization, as he also interviews Jagadish Bhagwati, an economics professor from Columbia University and avid supporter of free trade, Mike Moore, who was the director-general of the WTO at the time of the Seattle protests, and Norm Stamper, who was the chief of police in Seattle at the time of the demonstrations.
The film has two dynamic layers that fit together. First, Timm provides an excellent and thorough overview of the influences behind the events of the "Battle of Seattle." The cross-currents of issues that brought so many diverse peoples together to Seattle, including concerns over free trade agreements that would increase destructive logging practices in Mexico, and damage to native turtle populations through insensitive fishing methods, as well as the upwelling of concerns over genetically modified foods, are all presented in a powerful panoramic. The effect upon the contemporary activist is powerful, for it calls into clear focus how many of these issues, and the fundamental problems they present to the sustainability of our humanity, have only become more pressing over the course of the last twelve years.
What is also impressive, and which adds immeasurably to the depth of the film, is the consideration of the philosophical foundations of capitalism itself. Timm explores the ideas of Adam Smith, as to whether the selfish impulses inherent within capitalism can be used in ethical and altruistic ways to improve the lot of our society, and he pulls no punches in saying that this idealistic vision has been largely crushed underneath the immense market forces which encircle our world.
He particularly highlights the astute observations of Korten, the philosophical heart of the film, who points out that we are by and large hardwired through a combination of materialistic Newtonian physics and Darwinian "survival of the fittest" ethics to exploit each other. It is a startling and profound framing of why we are in the mess we are in, and Timm's approach forces us to confront the nature of our own selves in potential complicity with the forces of oppression and injustice.
At a recent showing of the film at the Avery Fisher Center on the campus of New York University, a fellow filmmaker in the audience commented on this aspect by saying that "good filmmaking is about making people stop to look deep into their own hearts and turn them into a better person. This film is a skillfully guided journey to one's own conscience."
Timm's footage of how the "Carnival Against Capital" turned into a apocalyptic war zone during the course of the demonstrations is used with a refined perspective. Despite the visceral power of images of Seattle cops pepper-spraying defenseless protestors, and Black Bloc anarchists smashing the windows of the corporate presence in downtown Seattle, the imagery does not come off as sensationalistic and serves the higher questioning purpose of the film.
Ultimately, it is this higher purpose, through the spiritual lens, which takes "Today We Have The Power" to a very deep and unique level. Timm had spent the last 15 years as a monk in the Hindu Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, and from this experience he has come to understand that the real definition of the power that we hold today is based on the spiritual foundation of our dialogue and protest, which is the substance of the heritage of our forebears like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
It is through the spiritual lens that we see Korten and Norm Stamper as the spiritual heart of the film. Korten, for all of his other credentials in the fight against the vagaries of corporate globalization, is highlighted calling to the viewer to explore the unspoken, yet deeply present, spiritual element that underlies our collective activist spirit. Stamper is shown admitting his, and his police force's, main culpability in the violence, and sincerely admitting, in a mood of deep reflection and repentance, his own identification with the protestors and the issues behind the WTO demonstrations.
"Today We Have The Power" is an ardent call to all Occupiers, advocates, anarchists and Greens alike. It is an essential reminder that unless we address and deepen our spiritual consciousness, we will not be able to achieve the justice we seek. Most importantly, it shines the light on the real power we hold over those with the guns, the money and the influence: a deeply spiritual bond that can compel and propel any activist to be and create the change they wish to see in the world.