A Whisper To A Roar: Democracy The World Over

This quote opens the press materials for the documentary film, A Whisper To A Roar.  I was hooked.  A Whisper To A Roar tells the story of five countries involved in varying stages of the struggle for democracy.  I hadn’t seen the Voltaire quote in a long time, but immediately thought of stories coming out of Syria, Iran, Russia and then leapt to our own upcoming elections.

I have to confess that my interest in global politics and news is still a fairly recent phenomenon.  Something changed for me, in a deep way, after interviewing Abby Disney, reading Leymah Gbowee’s book Mighty Be Our Powers  and meeting Leymah.  In the past, I’d read the news for a while, get disgusted by the corruption and hypocrisy and go back to a good novel.  So what changed?

In other posts, I’ve referenced something Abby Disney said when I interviewed her.  I was asking about the difficulty in watching, editing some of the footage from her film, Pray The Devil Back to Hell.  Hard, yes.  But also good.  I believe she mentioned watching the women in the struggle for peace in Liberia just shining as they moved forward.  Abby said that she’s one of the happier people you’ll meet because she’s not ducking and dodging the hard stuff.  This has stayed with me.  Conflict, pain, maybe even war are part of life.  People will come into government power, they will do good things, but they may do horrible things.  Power is a tricky beast.

I’m coming to a place where reading, thinking, writing about the struggle and the process of struggle are fascinating.  I know that I’m doing all of this from my cozy American home, not on the front lines, not in harm’s way or trying to protect my children, find food, etc.  But this is the first step.  I am paying attention.  This is exactly the kind of introspection that the film A Whisper To A Roar encourages.

Writer/Director/Producer Ben Moses (Good Morning Vietnam) worked with a highly collaborative team to make AWTAR.  The film was inspired by Stanford professor Larry Diamond’s book, The Spirit of Democracy.  Prince Moulay Hicham of Morocco was the film’s benefactor, conducted Head of State interviews and was part of the team as they formulated interviews, decided on the countries to be included in the film and traveled.  The countries featured in the film are Egypt, Malaysia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

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Each country has its own story, culture and history, but through AWTAR we see commonalities and universal values emerge.  Prince Moulay Hicham described the film as a lens through which to see these universal struggles.  Applying universal values to any set of countries can be tricky and make for a very complex story.  But Moses did an excellent job of bringing the stories to life and keeping everything clear.

Here’s one comment by Moses:

“What fills me with joy about watching the audiences with this film, is that both the hard-core right wing and the hard-core liberals love the film and believe it’s worth seeing and want to promote it.  At the screening, at the premiere in LA, I would say probably about 50% of the audience was Republican, conservatives and the other half was the other side.  And they all liked it.  That really gratifies me.  I didn’t want this to be a political piece.”

And Larry Diamond furthers that thought:

“…this is part of a global aspiration, a global desire, a global movement.  And that they should identify as global citizens of democracy.  Not just as citizens of one country, but we all have these desires, expectations and aspirations in common.  Hopefully people will be motivated to take a specific interest in these countries and in countries like them, where people are struggling for democracy under very, very difficult circumstances and trying to hold their leaders accountable under conditions where there’s not a level playing field and that that can be something very, very difficult to do.”

How is this accomplished?  How does the struggle play out in these various countries?  Protesting, organizing, voting.  The use of social media has proven an important tool recently.  Using cell phones, Facebook and twitter to get the word out, to organize and monitor voting.

Again, Larry Diamond:

” I think this is one of the most exciting elements of the kind of new era that we’re in– is how creatively and trans formatively democracy movements are using social media of all kinds, FB, twitter, mobile phones, texting—actually a wide variety of tools to mobilize their fellow citizens, to break the barrier of fear and to make people aware that their frustration is shared very widely.  Once you realize that you’re not going to be alone, you’re not going to be isolated, that when you come out to protest you’re going to have large numbers of your fellow citizens with you, the cost and risks of that acting are reduced.  These tools have also been technically extremely helpful in vote monitoring operations.  They are hugely valuable coordinating tools so they are game-changing. “

But Prince Moulay Hicham warns that social media is one tool in achieving freedom and democracy:

“But again, it’s [only] a tool.  Let’s be clear, it cannot substitute for organization.  And that’s very important.  It cannot substitute for long term, grassroots organization and the covering of the territory.  It’s only an auxiliary.  It’s not the principal thing.  In fact, you see it in Egypt.  These kids were very good about it.  They created the Flash Flood, but after the Flash Flood they couldn’t nourish it.  The Muslim Brotherhood came back because they had organization.It’s a tool that has to be at the service of a vision, of an organization, of a program and of a presence on the terrain.”

A Whisper To A Roar opens in Los Angeles on Friday, October 19th.  The film’s website has more information on screenings, updates on the countries and organizations discussed in the film and ways to get involved.

The conversation continues at The Huffington Post with Ben Moses, Prince Moulay Hicham and Larry Diamond.

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