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"In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act." – George Orwell
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Column reprinted from Veer Magazine

We are living under a truly Orwellian political system that claims to work for the best interests of the public but in fact will only pass legislation and regulations in the interests of corporations. No matter which politicians are in office, the corporate capitalists dismantle social welfare programs, defund education, push down unions and wages, gut environmental regulations, escape taxation, and fund more war.

Politicians dare not call attention to the scam or speak out for campaign reform; they are raking in too much dough from all the legalized corporate bribery that they receive. So they hide behind nationalism, party politics,  and religion, thinking that they can keep fooling the masses.

Their efforts are aided and abetted by the mainstream media whose tills overflow with the record-breaking political campaign spending that is now allowed. These media barons would never bite the hand that feeds them and so they unquestioningly spout state propaganda that promotes empire and good ole’ American exceptionalism.

Such a mass deception necessitates a perpetual campaign of elaborate lies and denials orchestrated by our two party duopoly. Those who might stand up to the system –  truth tellers, activist journalists, and whistleblowers – are severely punished by the government in an attempt to keep other insiders from coming forth. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange could never receive a fair trial in this country.

And then there is Aaron Swartz, a less renown truthteller whose story will be presented on Wednesday, July 16 in the new documentary The Internets Own Boy. Swartz was a programming prodigy and information activist who developed the basic internet protocol RSS and then co-founded Reddit. Some years later, after cashing in on the sale of Reddit, he chose a life of strong progressive activism. But his commitment to change the world ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
In order to better understand Aaron Swartz, we can compare his actions to those of another young student living in Boston at the time. Mark Zuckerberg started his first social network project Facemash by hacking into Harvard University’s network to illegally obtain photos and information about fellow students. He went on to monetize his project and to receive the full backing of Wall Street.

Swartz ran in some of the same social circles as Zuckerberg in Boston and in a similar fashion as  the Facebook founder, he also breached the security of a major university, MIT. But Swartz’s motivation for his hacking was way different. He downloaded and made available for free the publicly funded academic and research papers that were distributed by a for-profit company, JSTOR.

In defiance of the Silicon Valley business model, Swartz was not willing to play the game that Zuckerberg played to create his individual wealth through the privatizing of the internet. Zuckerberg received the protection of the government, and all that was asked of him in return was to hand over his customer’s collected information to be used for worldwide surveillance.

In contrast, Aaron Swartz’ belief was in an open society with free and open information. But he knew that we must first fight for media democracy if there can ever be real government transparency. The monetization and exploitation of the early public airwaves of radio and television led to rampant commercialization that has served the interest of corporate empires rather than the democratic ideal of a well informed citizenry. Now these same forces were about to win control of the internet.

In 2012, Aaron organized a citizen campaign to keep the internet open and free. He fought an uphill battle against an entrenched Congress that represented industries attempting to control content on the internet in a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). His campaign went viral on the web and Congress was astounded by the public outcry against their underhanded actions. The politicians jumped ship and in a brief time, the bill was shelved by the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s easy to see why the government came after Swartz and gave Zuckerberg a free pass. The corporate state may be lenient on hackers, but activism and media democracy are the real threats feared by the establishment. Swartz was just too charismatic and smart to be left alone by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They charged him with felonies that carried a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. He fought the government for two years to gain his freedom and it bankrupted him as well as caused his depression. Aaron Swartz finally succumbed to the forces of darkness in 2013.

If Aaron was still with us today he would undoubtably be leading the fight against the current FCC efforts to squander the promise of the internet on large corporate interests. But his tragic and needless death has made him into an internet martyr for the digerati and young techno hackers. In trying to make an example of Aaron Swartz along with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the government has helped grow the movement for a free internet and for transparency in government. All the military-corporatist forces together cannot eradicate this new interconnected world conscience.

More Upcoming Film Events at the Naro

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, the relationships of four men and four women are entangled as they attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. When they are all invited to a summer solstice celebration at a beautiful country estate, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart. Director Ingmar Bergman’s crowning comic achievement. Showing in Faith in Filmon Sunday, June 22.

IF YOU BUILD IT From the director of Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills. The film follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina and just south of the Virginia state line. Showing Wed, June 25.

CITIZEN KOCH In this searing exposé on the state of democracy in America and the fracturing of the Republican Party, Oscar nominated directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (co-producers of Fahrenheit 9/11 & Bowling for Columbine) follow the big money funding the rise of the Tea Party and right-wing America. Showing Wed, July 2.

Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Showing Wed, July 9.

New Progressive Cinema May All Beings Everywhere Be Happy and Free
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Since the dawn of human culture, indigenous wisdom traditions have recognized and honored the spiritual powers within all nature. All animals are revered and considered nations unto themselves. They may be the deer people, the bear people, or the wolf people. Their voices are delegated to those who can speak up for them in tribal councils. In this way mankind has more or less maintained harmonious relations with the natural world and all the species that inhabit it.

That relationship has radically changed ever since the advent of the modern industrial age some two hundred years ago. Yes, science has cultivated the knowledge and technology to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of humans.  But it has also justified the exploitation and abuse of nature through a dualistic Cartesian worldview that delegates consciousness only to humans. Western religions only reinforce the belief that only humans have an inner spiritual life. In turn, science strengthens the view that the universe is just mindless matter and energy.

But recently there has been new evidence provided by neurological and genetic biology along with recent research into animal behavior that is turning long held assumptions on their head. Intelligent animals such as chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants are found to possess self-awareness, self-determination, and a sense of the past as well as of the future. Animals utilize complex social interaction and language to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. These are qualities previously thought to be uniquely human. It’s what distinguished us from non-human animals. These findings call into question the exploitation of animals for our food, fashion, entertainment, and research.

Animal protection groups have begun to petition the courts to gain the recognition of legal rights for nonhuman animals. The now famous trial in the documentary Blackfish was a lawsuit brought by PETA against Seaworld and that corporation’s enslavement of orca whales.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is an organization seeking to establish legal personhood rights for intelligent animals caged within inhumane conditions. This group of lawyers carefully selects jurisdictions represented by sympathetic circuit judges to present their cases in an attempt to accumulate judicial precedence. Even though they have yet to win their first case, they are in the battle for the long term.

Utilizing a separate tactic, organizations in other countries have been working to establish the rights of nature. Bolivia has already legislated these rights into law and Ecuador has written them into its recent constitution.  The United Nations is now being petitioned to create a declaration that represents the rights of nature.

Most Americans are in agreement that natural systems should have some legal protections but feel that the granting of personhood rights goes too far. That would be the case if we had an ethical economic system along with effective government regulatory agencies. But the playing field is rigged.

Ever since the 1890s our democracy has been undermined by the legal precedence that grants personhood rights to corporations. Although these corporate beings exist only on paper, they have been given the same Constitutional rights as human beings. We have seen our government subverted by the illegitimate corporate power and money used to buy elections and to influence the passing of legislation that advances corporate interests over the interests of citizens and the biosphere.

A groundbreaking movement in this country includes the work of enlightened lawyers who work through CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund). The organization represents communities that have been exploited by corporate activity. Toxic activities such as natural gas fracking, the polluting of waterways, and the dumping of animal waste from factory farms onto agricultural fields. Ordinances have been legislated by local government councils stating that the offending corporation does not have personhood rights within that community’s jurisdiction. The targeted companies have yet to bring any suits against these communities fearing that an unfavorable ruling could expose and bring down their house of cards. Instead they have turned to state legislatures to put an end to these acts of self-determination by local governments.

The insidious and persistent desecration of the natural world cannot be effectively addressed in this country until legal personhood rights are stripped from corporations and in turn awarded to nonhuman animals and biological systems. The only path possible for such a transformation is through the judicial system since the political will is not to be found in a legislative process corrupted by corporate power and money.

Our legal system and so-called free trade agreements prop up a system of international corporatism that benefits mainly the top one percent. This system justifies and makes possible worldwide pollution, militarism and arms sales, wars fought for natural resources, destruction of the rainforests, and climate destabilization.

Except for a few homegrown hybrid groups like The Pachamama Alliance, we must look outside of our own borders for vibrant democratic movements such as in South America. In the very countries long exploited by western colonialism can be found the last vestiges of the indigenous wisdom tradition.

Industrial capitalism is the head of a ravenous beast that doesn’t recognize its own body. It lives solely off of an ideological belief in economic growth and corporate profits. This beast has little use for sustaining the natural systems of the world. It will consume itself if it doesn’t soon wake up to the reality of the seamless, symbiotic, conscious web of life that is the gaian mind.

Upcoming Naro Film Events

GOOGLE AND THE WORLD BRAIN This is the story of the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet. In 2002 Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a giant global library, containing every book in existence. They had an even greater purpose - to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay "World Brain". But over half the books Google scanned were in copyright, and authors across the world launched a campaign to stop Google, which climaxed in a New York courtroom in 2011. (90 mins) Showing Wed, May 21 with discussion led by Dylan Wittkower from ODU and ODU library administrator George Fowler.

FED UP Upending the conventional wisdom of why we gain weight and how to lose it, Fed Up reveals a 30-year campaign by giant corporations, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public. We have one of the largest health epidemics in history and the next generation of American children will now live shorter lives than their parents did. The many experts interviewed include Michael Pollan, Mark Hyman MD, David Kessler MD, and Robert Lustig MD. (92 mins) Showing Wed, June 11 with speakers and discussion.

GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights? Filmmaker Liz Marshall follows noted animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, author of "We Animals", over the course of a year as she documents important animal stories in parts of Canada, the U.S. and in Europe. Included are hopeful stories about animals rescued and protected by compassionate people and organizations. (93 mins) Showing Wed, June 18 with speakers and discussion.

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