[Videolib] people power coming from Hollywood

Steve Fesenmaier (fesenms@wvlc.lib.wv.us)
Fri, 27 Jun 2003 14:36:55 -0400

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HUFFINGTON: People Power Goes Hollywood

Arianna Huffington, AlterNet
June 26, 2003

Viewed on June 27, 2003

The dawn of the 21st Century has brought a renewed fervor
for social activism, as well as
proof that groups of committed individuals -- even small
groups -- can make a huge
difference in the world.

Want proof? Well, it's on its way to a multiplex near you
in the form of a fluffy comedy
with a heroine with a penchant for Jimmy Choos shoes, pink

suits, and Jackie Kennedy pill
box hats. It's Elle Woods, the ditzy but far from clueless

protagonist of "Legally Blonde 2."

Working as a legislative aide in Washington, Elle storms
the halls of power armed with her
trademark blend of brains, grit, and retro fashion sense.

Convinced that "doing the right thing is in everybody's
best interest," she initially tries to
operate within the Washington system -- only to discover
just how broken that system
really is. Even the seemingly goodhearted politicians are
irrevocably beholden to their big
buck backers.

Disillusioned, Elle makes a late night visit to the
Lincoln Memorial. Despite its corniness,
it's a powerful moment -- much the way that Jimmy Stewart
taking in Washington's
monuments from a tour bus in "Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington" can still send a patriotic
shiver up your spine and put a "proud to be an American"
lump in your throat.

Unfortunately, things in the real D.C. have only gotten
worse -- much, much worse --
since that 1939 populist classic. So bad, in fact, that
even a politician as pure as Stewart's
Jefferson Smith couldn't make much of a difference in
today's political quagmire. The
initiative for change now must come from outside the
system -- something Elle eventually
realizes. "I'm here to speak for those who can't speak for

themselves," she says. And these
days, that's a lot of people.

A frothy comedy is an unexpected place to find a clarion
call to movement building. But
that's okay, because it's this very unexpectedness that
gives the movie its impact.

When Elle announces, "I believe in the people," a cynical
Congresswoman replies: "The
people believe what you tell them to believe... You can't
get the people to care." But Elle is
undaunted: "Watch me."

She then launches a wacky and wonderful grass-roots
campaign, complete with
cheerleading interns, free beauty makeovers for dowdy
members of Congress, a phone
tree manned by Valley girl sorority sisters, and a Million

Dog March.

In real life, MoveOn.org, with its 1.6 million members,
proves that grass-roots campaigns
can spring from the most unlikely places. With just four
young employees working from
home around the country, MoveOn.org has raised millions of

dollars and become a force
to be reckoned with in the Democratic party's nominating
process as well as on the major
issues of the day -- from the war in Iraq to FCC

Elle and MoveOn.org both teach modern day activists a
valuable lesson: You can use the
system to defeat the system. Elle's weapon of choice is a
little known legislative maneuver
-- the discharge petition. As screenwriter Kate Kondell, a

30-year old Stanford grad, told
me: "We are hoping that 'Legally Blonde 2' will do for the

discharge petition what 'Mr.
Smith' did for the filibuster."

Elle's efforts culminate with a rousing speech in front of

a joint session of Congress in
which she reminds the rest of us how important our
involvement is to the well-being of our
democracy: "I forgot to use my voice... Now I know better.

I learned that one honest
voice can be louder than a crowd's... So speak up,
America. Speak up for the home of
the brave. Speak up for the land of the free gift with
purchase. Speak up, America!"

Sitting between my teenage daughters while watching Elle
take on the U.S. Congress, I
was struck by the palpable affect it had on them: They
left the theater inspired,
empowered, and talking about the things they wanted to
change, and the ways they might
be able to change them. None of which would have happened
as a result of a lecture from

Most studio executives blanch at the mere mention of
making a movie with a message,
often invoking the tired old show biz adage, "If you wanna

send a message, call Western
Union." As MGM's Chris McGurk told me, ""I know that
people run away from movies
that have a social conscience because they're afraid
they'll be received as spinach. But
sometimes the stars line up and you can produce a movie
that is both very entertaining and
delivers a powerful message." Besides, adds Kate Kondell,
"as Elle would tell you,
anything is more palatable if you dress it up in pink."

Of course, there is nothing more American than ordinary
people -- whether dressed in high
fashion pink or in overalls -- taking up the gauntlet to
solve the problems and right the
wrongs of our times. Elle's battle is to pass anti-animal
testing legislation, but throughout
our history, whatever the cause -- from the struggle for
civil rights and the drive for
women's suffrage to the fight to end the war in Vietnam --

it wasn't elected officials who
were in the vanguard, but outraged and engaged citizens
demanding reform.

So while the spotlight is currently on our political
leaders vying for control in Washington,
"Legally Blonde 2" reminds us that we can find the next
generation of leaders by just
looking in the mirror. And if you need to apply a fresh
coat of lip-gloss while you're
looking, go right ahead.

Arianna Huffington is the author of "Pigs at the Trough:
How Corporate Greed and
Political Corruption are Undermining America."

2003 Independent Media Institute. All
rights reserved.

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