Protest in the Belly of the Beast

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Review of 'Last Party 2000', directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Donovan Leitch

Why watch a documentary made three years ago about the last US presidential election? Surely the world has changed so much in the time since that it couldn't possibly teach us anything? But this documentary looks at the elections through the eyes of those excluded from the process - protesters, the poor, minorities and many other groups.

The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman narrates the documentary. He says he agreed to because he felt 'ill-informed' and had an 'aversion to politics'. Six months before the vote they hit the campaign trail, going to the Democratic and Republican conventions, and talking to those outside.

We are guided through the documentary by a range of interviews - Noam Chomsky, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and Eddie Vedder, along with ordinary activists - explaining what's wrong with the two parties of business competing to run the US for the rich.

Hoffman is visibly worn down by the party conventions - the huge amounts of money spent, the mindless sloganeering for Bush at the Republican convention, Al Gore's autocue with the important words underlined to sound like he means it, and the fact that although the conventions might look a little bit different, what they are saying is basically the same.

A break from the empty razzle-dazzle of the big conventions comes with the campaign for Green candidate Ralph Nader. We see the huge support for him at the super-rallies that were held, despite the fact that the mainstream media kept him out of the process.

Michael Moore explains how working people are conned into looking to the Democrats to bail them out of their situation, but that 'it doesn't work'. He also speaks at a Nader rally, saying that no legislation, Republican or Democrat, has made life better for ordinary Americans, but Nader's campaigning had been responsible for a raft of environmental legislation that had made life better. Given Moore's recent support for General Wesley Clark as the Democratic candidate, perhaps he should watch this documentary.

The really inspiring parts of this documentary are when we're reminded of voices of protest 'in the belly of the beast'. Protests are shown from the point of view of protesters, starting with Seattle in 1999, and ending with the demonstrations against Bush's theft of the election at the end of 2000, taking in the protests outside the two conventions and the conventions that were held to hear alternative voices. The film doesn't flinch from showing the brutality of the state towards those who dare to stand up against the big parties and corporate power - the rows of riot police, the plastic bullets, the clubs. And it points out that protests do make a difference - anything that has benefited ordinary Americans has had to be fought for.

Hoffman is wonderfully, unashamedly partisan. He often interrupts his left wing interviewees to agree with them, and nods enthusiastically when they make anti-establishment points. From his previous position of being 'ill-informed', he sees in all its ugly reality what the political system in the US is doing to people.