Friday, November 19, 2004

Hotel Rwanda

I’ve noticed that there’s starting to be a glut of advertising for movies that are coming out this holiday season. Before you start making a list of must-see movies, let me suggest one that you might overlook. It’s called Hotel Rwanda, and it will be released nationwide on December 22. As a guest of the USHMM, Jeff and I went and saw the director’s premiere on Tuesday evening, and I now feel compelled to let you know about this movie.

Falling just under two hours in length, this movie completely captured my attention (which if you know me well, you know that that is a difficult thing to do). Without being documentary-like at all, it maintains the historical accuracy that is so often lacking in films about historical incidents. Without being preachy, it makes you question your values and actions. Without being sentimental, it makes you feel that there is good and hope in our world.

The film focuses on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which 800,000 people lost their lives in just over 100 days. But more specifically, it focuses on one man, Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), and his courageous efforts, which resulted in the salvation of 1268 lives. Paul, a Hutu manager of a Belgian hotel, is married to a Tutsi woman with whom he has four children. When the Hutus begin to massacre the Tutsis, Paul takes action to not only save the lives of his family, but also the lives of thousands of other people he doesn’t know, putting his own life on the line. While other Hutus turned on family and friends, creating one of the worst bloodbaths of the past half-century, he refuses the command to kill or be killed, and uses cunning, courage, and a bit of luck to prove that one person can make a difference. I’m not going to tell you more about the plot, because you have to go see this movie. While it does not shy away from the horrors of this brutal genocide, the movie contains no gratuitous violence, and much of the violence is implied…you think you see it, but you don’t.

What is spectacular about this movie is the range of thoughts and emotions it evokes without ever making any outright moves to tell you how to feel. One of the most powerful emotions for me was the shame that I felt at being part of a culture that turned its back on this genocide. When all it would have taken was the police force of a middle-size city to stop the murders, we refused to send any help and instead pulled out any forces we had there. Whether subconsciously or not, we (not just America, but the entire western world) said that the lives of these 800,000 people had no value to us. We looked at Africa and saw a distant, perhaps even “barbaric” land that had nothing to offer us. Unlike other wars, which we like to say we fight for “humanitarian” purposes, this one would have been a truly humanitarian fight. There would be no rewards in oil or power. There would only be the reward of peace and life. And apparently for us this was not enough. Like the journalist in the movie said, we watched it on TV, said how awful it was, and then went right back to our dinners. We were completely void of the empathy that is needed to make this world a more humane place. As humans, we must care about what happens to other humans, whether they are our friends and family or are people thousands of miles away who we do not know. They are still humans. They have the same kinds of feelings as us, the same kinds of hopes, and the same kinds of fears. It is our duty to speak up for them when they can’t speak up for themselves. One day we may need someone to speak up for us. After the Holocaust, we promised “Never Again.” But time after time, we break that promise. Rwanda. Bosnia. Yugoslavia. Darfur. Will we ever actually learn that it takes more than words. We have to have actions.

Thankfully, there are people who do take action. In Rwanda, there were a few UN Peacekeepers who refused to give up. There were some Red Cross workers who refused to leave. And there was Paul. His story is amazing. It overcomes you with emotion. It makes you wonder if you would have the same courage if you were in the same situation. It reminds you never to underestimate the power of one person to change things. It gives you a reason to hope that things will change, that people will change, that the world will change. And it inspires you to take action.

I don’t know exactly what to do. It’s a bit overwhelming. But I know I can’t just sit quietly, a hermit in my own immediate world, while so many people in the world are suffering. At the premiere, Paul Rusesabagina himself was there to talk and answer questions after the movie. He was an ordinary man, someone you’d pass on the street without never noticing. But what he did was extraordinary. He’s proof of what we all can be.

So go see the movie when it opens on December 22. And take action to make the world a better place. I’ll keep you posted on ways I find to make sure your voice is heard by more people than those you eat dinner with …on making sure that “Never Again” is more than just a fashionable catchphrase, but a reality.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Beavers in the News

This one is for my brothers.

I promise to do a real post soon. Life is busy.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Remember When He Said He Was A Uniter?

In yesterday’s speech in which Bush laid out his plans for our country’s future (or lack there of), he said, and I quote: “I’ll reach out to everyone who shares our goals.”

Is that really considered reaching out? For some reason, I thought reaching out meant going beyond your circle and attempting to bring other people into it. How, I wonder, is this going to help bring the country or the world together? Considering that a little less than 50% of the country and probably about 95% of the world doesn’t share his goals, exactly who is he planning to reach out to?

It’s already starting. We’re in for four more years of the same “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” politics, of the alienation of once strong allies, and of the deepening of the divide in America. Being President of the USA means representing all people, even those who didn’t vote for you. It’s not like being CEO of a company. You can’t fire me from America because I’m not on board with your policies. You have to find a way to incorporate me. Or at least I thought you did. But lately I’ve noticed that apparently a lot of the things I think are wrong, so hell what do I know.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

That’s My Future You Just Flushed Down The Toilet

I’m not surprised. But I am disappointed. Honestly, America, I had higher hopes for you. I thought that maybe you were better than that. Please, do tell me what inspired an ungodly amount of you to vote for Bush. What made you rally behind a man who has led us down one slippery slope after another for the past four years? Didn’t your parents ever tell you that just because one of your friends thinks jumping off a bridge is a good idea that you don’t have to do it too?

Really, I just don’t see what led you to do this. Was it the moronic grin and stupid faces he makes on prime time television? Is it the way he says nuculer instead of nuclear? Was it the fear and terror instilled in you by his sidekick Dick? Was it because you like being unemployed? Did training the foreigners who are taking over your job make you feel like you were having an international experience? Do you have some twisted illness that makes you enjoy being hated? Please, someone explain it to me, because I just don’t get it.

Exit polls show that over 20% of the people who voted said that their number one concern when deciding who to vote for was “moral issues.” And of these 20+%, the overwhelming majority voted for Bush. I don’t understand. Unless of course invoking God’s name every time you speak makes you moral. What, I ask, is moral about fighting a war that goes against every principal of the just war theory? What is moral about outsourcing jobs so that people here don’t have them and people abroad end up working for terrible wages in terrible conditions? What is moral about favoring the wealthy over the poor, about supporting unethical big businesses who leave their employees penniless? What is moral about the death penalty or the support of constitutional amendments that deny people basic human rights? Really, people, if morals are your concern, Bush isn’t your man. And if Bush is your man, be honest with yourself and don’t say that it’s about morals.

Yesterday we had the chance to stand up and say that we think America is a better place than Bush has made it and that we as Americans deserve better than what Bush has given us. We could have said that international cooperation is better than a “don’t mess with me or I’ll kick your ass” attitude. We could have said that the welfare of all people is more important than our own personal wealth. We could have said that what we want isn’t a second home in a vacation hotspot but a safe and secure home for every person. We could have said that war should be the last option and not the first. We could have said that love shouldn’t be restricted or dictated but rather given openly and freely even to those whose lifestyles we don’t always understand or agree with. But we didn’t.

We didn’t vote with our heads, but with our pocketbooks and our prayer books. We didn’t vote with our hopes, but with our fears. We didn’t stand up and say what needed to be said.

I’m afraid we’re going to regret it.