DENVER - Besides looking like a college student – wearing a black T-shirt, rumpled pants, grubby sneakers and a ball cap – social activist Michael Moore quickly won over his Auraria Campus audience on Nov. 3 by saying the government should pay students to get a degree.
“Name just about any other civilized democracy and you’d be here free,” he said. “We should not be putting debt on our young adults before they even go out in the world. You need them entering the world without the ‘boot of a bank on their necks.’”
Nearly 500 students and others filled the Tivoli Turnhalle for an hour-long talk by the filmmaker, who shot to fame with his documentary “Roger and Me,” about the plight of auto workers in his hometown of Flint, Mich. His Denver appearance – part of a national tour to promote his new book, “Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life” -- was co-sponsored by the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver and the Community College of Denver. A spillover crowd watched a video feed in the Tivoli food court.
Moore galvanized himself as a left-leaning provocateur with the 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” a commentary on America’s gun culture spring boarding off the tragic events at the local high school. Moore said he’s long been troubled by the image of a solitary man – the uncle of one of the victims in the 1999 Columbine massacre – who, after standing behind the police tape for an hour, broke through and ran toward the school before being tackled by police.
He said that in America today, as evidenced by the current Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s less willingness to stand on the sidelines. “I don’t think people are as willing to stand behind the line and do as we’re told any more. We’ve got to take care of our kids. They’re OUR kids.”
He quickly hit on other subjects that have been subjects of his films, including health care and corporate greed. Moore pointed out that 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance due to escalating costs. “Do you think it’s ethical to make a profit over someone getting sick? Doesn’t that seem like basic morality 101?”
He doesn’t believe in capitalism, he said, at least not the current version which eschews true free enterprise and marketplace choice. Moore called modern capitalism a “rigged casino” where the few reap big profits and the rest are left with crumbs. “It’s an evil system,” he said. “It’s not something we should tolerate in a democracy. Democracy implies everyone has a seat at the table, making sure everyone gets a fair share. What we have now is the wealthiest 1 percent at the table taking 40 percent of the pie.”
Not surprisingly, he supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the other Occupy marches that have sprung up across the nation, including Denver. Moore planned to visit the Occupy Denver group after his book-signing.
Large U.S. corporations pay nominal taxes, said Moore, adding that if middle-class Americans skirted their obligation they’d be tossed in prison. “There’s something out of whack,” he said. “It’s this Occupy movement that I’m counting on to save us.”
He railed on conservatives for policies that are easy on the wealthy, hard on the middle class and intolerant to gays. However, he got laughs when he admitted to an admiration of the Republican Party. “They’re always organized. They can find their car keys,” he said. “They’re up at the crack of dawn. They are showered, jazzercised. They’re ready to kick some butt, while we’re sleeping off last night.”
He pointed out that the young vote propelled Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008. But he said liberals are disappointed that President Obama has been too conciliatory, and failed to seize an opportunity to enact legislation when his party held the solid majority in Congress. “You know the Republicans would have” capitalized on such an opportunity, Moore said.
Political fortunes shifted to the conservatives in the November 2010 elections, he said, because young people were disappointed by the lack of change they’d seen from Democrats. “You can’t pull the chain of young people and think you can get away with it,” Moore said. “They weren’t happy that Obama wasn’t getting the job done.”
He took several questions from the audience, which fell squarely in his political corner. He received loud applause when he said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s a participatory event. It doesn’t work if you’re on the bench. Everybody off the bench! That’s the only way we’re going to win.”