Occupy The Movies:
A dozen reasons the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is just like
the Occupy Wall Street movement:
You have probably seen the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, starring Jimmy Stewart. It is based on the 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. Though, it all could be happening right now…
1. Handmade Signs
In It’s a Wonderful Life, Mary Hatch Bailey (played by Donna Reed) makes a hand-painted sign that reads, “George Lassos The Moon”.
The Occupy movement is known for its thousands of hand-made protest signs. We have some sample photos at our onthewilderside Flickr: here.
2. Place names get switched back and forth, in a struggle with the 1%.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” starts in the homey, imaginary town of Bedford Falls. In the alternate reality scenes of It’s A Wonderful Life, the small town of Bedford Falls becomes Pottersville, after the greedy banker Henry F. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore). At the end of the movie, when everything is restored to normal, it is Bedford Falls again.
In NYC, there was a park called “Liberty Plaza”. In 2006, it was renamed “Zucotti Park”, after John Zucotti, the CEO of a property management company that is cozy with the NYC Mayor. In 2011, the occupiers reclaimed the space for liberty and the grassroots, by renaming it “Liberty Square”. [Background info at Wikipedia: here]
3. There’s a run on the banks.
Well, there is definitely a run on the banks in “It’s A Wonderful Life”.
There may be a run on the banks in post-occupy America, if the economy continues to slide downhill. Though, what Occupy Wall Street has participated in is an attempt to take money from the megabanks — who tanked our economy and received bailouts and bonuses — and put that money to better use in community banks and credit unions. For more information and credit union info, see our Peace Couple post about Bank Transfer Day and International Credit Union Day: here.
To re-live the scene where Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey, nurtures the goodwill of his community, and explains the value of his small, local, building and loan, see this Youtube clip from It’s A Wonderful Life below:
4. The 1% control the leadership and stifle true opportunity.
In the movie, George Bailey becomes disgusted, exclaiming, “This town is no place for any man unless he’s willing to crawl to Potter.”
In 2011, the folks who became Occupy Wall Street realized that having our US government crawl to the whims of bankers and corporations, was destroying all hope for justice and opportunity in America.
The official Declaration of the Occupation of New York City states: “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments…They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them…”
5. The police force can be friendly, but fickle.
In the movie, Policeman Bert is super-friendly. He even works with the friend of George’s who runs a taxi service to sing barbershop-style and to create a romantic evening for George and Mary (played by Donna Reed), who become stranded in Bedford Falls on their honeymoon. Though, in the alternate reality scene, Bert becomes a scary bully.
With the occupy movement, there are some policeman who are friendly towards demonstrators and strive to be professional. Though, the way our system of government and policing is set up, there is great inequity in how demonstrators are perceived versus shoppers, and how the crimes of the poor are treated versus white collar crime. There are also some police personnel who have done some surprisingly shocking and violent things towards unarmed demonstrators. [See very upsetting photos images of police reactions to occupiers at The Guardian UK: here.]
6. There’s really good music, with a little folk mixed in.
Some songs from the soundtrack of the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”: Buffalo Gals, Charleston, My Wild Irish Rose, and Auld Lang Syne.
Some music from the Occupy Movement: Lots of drumming (especially from Pulse drum circle); This Land is Your Land; We Are The 99% song; lots of parody songs; lots of chants, including “We Are the 99%: Who Are We?...”; and now, some Occupy Christmas Carols.
6B. PLUS some opera…
In the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, the music “Avalon” is played, based on a piece from the opera “Tosca”.
In the occupy movement, there is a woman, “The Opera Lady”, who often sings opera during demonstrations. I think this is her in the Youtube clip: here.
Also, Occupy Wall Street has kind of adopted an opera. Philip Glass wrote an opera about Gandhi’s principle of nonviolence, titled Satyagraha. After a recent performance of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera, Philip Glass showed his support of the occupy movement with a mic check. [See story at Peace Couple, with video: here]
7. The rabble of the community did most of the work.
In Bedford Falls, it was Potter versus the poor, hard-working townspeople. George tells Potter, “Just remember this, Mister Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”
In America, Occupy Wall Street has made people realize that it is the super-rich 1%. and the corporations they control, versus the poor, hard-working 99%.
8. The banksters go unpunished.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was started in response to the fact that the bankers crashed our economy, took bailout money and bonuses for executives, and never went to jail.
But, did you realize that in It’s A Wonderful Life, the guilty banker goes unpunished as well? Going against the censorship rules of the time, Mr. Potter hides, lies about, and steals the money from the building and loan. And, no one ever finds out, and Mr. Potter (ie: the bad guy/evildoer) is not brought to justice. [See article mention: here.]
9. The bridge scene is important
In the movie, the key dilemma is a disheartened George Bailey, standing on the bridge, ready to jump into the icy water and die.
The bridge scene in Occupy Wall Street was the dramatic march over the Brooklyn Bridge. [Story and link: here.] The numbers of demonstrators helped show the power and positivity of the movement. The police reaction of arrests and brutality helped turn public opinion even more strongly towards the demonstrators.
10. The immigrant families are part of the 99% and struggle for justice.
The 1% (The modern banksters and the character Potter) work against immigrant families, while the good guys (Occupy Wall Street and the character George) try to join with and assist people who are from other countries and cultures.
Link to the Immigrant Worker Justice group at Occupy Wall Street’s New York City General Assembly page: here.
11. They occupy a closed up house.
One of the new strategies that Occupy Wall Street has developed to create justice and build community, is to stand together with families whose homes are being foreclosed on. They are also occupying abandoned or foreclosed upon properties, in order that they not be wasted, at this time when the economy is so bad and people need space. You can learn more about that strategy at occupyyourhomes.org.
Did you realize that George and Mary Bailey were among the first occupiers? There is a great scene, where the run on the bank causes them to spend their honeymoon money helping others. So, Mary create a makeshift honeymoon under the dripping ceiling of an abandoned old home she has always admired.
And, the most important reason that the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, is just like the Occupy Movement…
12. The old movie — and the new Occupy Movement — are so hopeful, they make you want to cry.
There is a great video, created back in 2009, which uses It’s A Wonderful Life clips to illustrate economic injustice. The video is by Banksterusa.org:
(Note on video: Notice that calling our representatives and depending on the
government for change back then did not fix things very much…)
Seven ways the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” differs
from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
1. While war is a backdrop to the movie, and to the occupation, it is treated differently.
In It’s A Wonderful Life the war is mostly taken for granted as a sad event which cannot be helped, and has the side effect of creating heroes and opportunity.
The occupation challenges the need for war, and more clearly shows the connection between war and the 1%. The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City lists as grievances against the government and corporations: “They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.”; “They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.”; and “They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.”.
2. The woman question.
In the movie, there is an early scene where George’s brother exhibit’s what we would now consider sexual harassment towards the family’s cook. In the movie, which is from 1946, his harassment is portrayed as not so bad, and showing some friendliness towards domestic help. The scene is never resolved as having been wrong.
Early on at Occupy Wall Street, there were some incidents of sexual harassment and possible sexual crimes against women. The Occupy movement, and other progressive and feminist organizations, dealt with the problems, spoke out about them, and worked to correct them. [See an announcement at Occupywallst.org: here.] In addition, there is now an official working group (caucus) of the NYCGA called WOW Women Occupying Wall Street.
3. Slow vs. Quick
Clarence, who was an Angel Second Class, had to wait 200 years to earn his wings.
The Occupy Movement has only been going on for a little over 3 months, and already: The Occupy Movement is a household word. There are constant government decisions made to appeal to (or posture for/appease) the grievances of the occupiers. And, there are hundreds of occupation, all over the United States, and all over the world.
4. Dreams of wealth.
One of the friendly and optimistic habits of the character George Bailey was wishing on a flame. First as a boy and then as a young man, George Bailey would say “I wish I had a million dollars”, he would tap on a cigarette lighter, and decide the flame was confirmation he would get his wish. [See details: here.]
The Occupy Wall Street folks don’t even dream anymore that the 1% will suddenly allow them a fair share at any million dollar wishes.
5. The policeman let’s them occupy an abandoned property.
Occupy folks who are trying to occupy foreclosed homes are under constant threat of police intervention. In fact, the NYPD Police won’t even let the occupiers have their old park back.
In It’s A Wonderful Life, Policeman Bert is a great guy, and understands that it’s better to use an old building, than let it go to waste. He and Ernie the Taxi Driver help Mary fix up the house for George’s surprise.
6. In the movie, throwing rocks at windows is considered adorable.
In It’s A Wonderful Life, one of the flirty things that George does, is show Mary how to make a wish, by breaking a broken window in the old house. For years, Americans have watched that movie, thought it was sweet, and forgiven the rock thrower.
Because the occupiers are protesters, the police and some members of the public, seem to worry that violence will erupt or windows will be broken. But, the Occupy Movement has committed itself strongly to nonviolence. They do not abide violence, and they do not cheer for broken windows.
7. George Bailey only had his vision and a soapbox when he speaks to the community. The Occupy Movement has The People’s Mic.
Mic check! Imagine if George Bailey understood the power of The People’s Mic? Perhaps he could have spread his movement of community building to all the towns around Bedford Falls?
Ultimately, It’s A Wonderful Life has a lot in common with the Occupy Movement. Let’s hope that the Occupy Movement has as much success as George Bailey, and is remembered fondly decades from now. I believe it will be.
You can buy the movie It’s A Wonderful Life at Powell’s independent, union book shop by clicking the image: