May 20, 2013
‘9500 Liberty’: Documenting the Immigration Debate
Posted on Jun 30, 2010
By Emily Wilson
EW: Why do you think you got so many hits with your YouTube videos?
AP: The video that went viral had the word racism in the title. I think people are triggered by the idea of race and racism. Everyone has an opinion about it, but it’s very hard to talk about it in any constructive way, so I think people are looking for ways to talk about it in any constructive way. I think any time you put something out there talking about race and racism, it tends to get noticed. It’s one of those issues we long to talk about but don’t know how.
EW: How did you make the decision to make a more conventional documentary?
AP: I think we were always hoping we had enough there to turn it into a feature film to tell a complete story. Because when you have three-minute videos, it’s really not a complete story. There are stories that you can get out there, but we wanted to give people a comprehensive understanding of what happened and our personal journey. I think that the power of filmmaking in general is to get to people’s imagination in a deeper place then just their political positions by introducing people to human beings, real characters and their stories. Then you relate to immigration in a different way. It’s not just about policy, it’s not just about politics, you’re talking about these children, you’re talking about these people, and you’re talking about your own future. It’s that kind of take-a-step-back, bird’s-eye view that I think people need in a very volatile conversation like about immigration.
EW: How did you get so much access to Greg Letiecq, the head of Help Save Manassas and the controversial blogger who pushed for the legislation?
AP: I think at the time he was really proud of what he was doing. I think he probably feels good about the film in a way because we do allow him to talk, and it helps him to get his message out.
EB: And he felt good about the videos. Initially I e-mailed him and I let him know about Real Virginias for Webb because it was very easy for him to look up my name and that would come up. Of course he thought of Jim Webb as a bad senator, so I said we may not agree about some things, but I pledge whatever format this movie is shared with the public to make it a true representation of who you are and what you’re doing. I think that he looked at us as an amplification of the magical rhetoric he had concocted that was already spinning a web that was enveloping the county. If he could reach even more people through YouTube that would only increase his power.
EW: Why do you think he was so effective and his blog so drove this debate?
AP: I think we have a kind of political discourse that uses words that trigger a strong emotional reaction. It’s been done this way for a long time and some people are really good at it. Greg happens to have a certain gift for that. To be able to frame things in a certain way that would get people to think, “Oh yeah, that’s the way to see it.” Even with these ideas like “Illegal is illegal,” someone came up with that. In terms of policymaking it’s completely empty. It doesn’t tell you how much money we should spend. It doesn’t tell you what the law should look like, but you think, “Oh, yeah, that’s my position ¬—illegal is illegal.”
It really speaks to the level of discourse we have, and I think Greg is someone who’s learned how to manipulate it. He’s learned how to get misinformation out there like the Zapatistas are invading the county. Another one was we’re spending $60 million on English as Second Language in the county. Well, if that’s true, anyone would freak out, but it’s just not true, but these things got disseminated so quickly, and that’s the part that really worries me. We saw an example in Prince William County where you have a government that is just so vulnerable to the extreme few people who are organizing, and it’s not a democratic process because the majority of the people didn’t get a chance to speak up. And by the time they had an opportunity, it was so ugly and divided, most people just opted out.
EW: Do you think the response in Arizona was similar to what you saw in Prince William County?
AP: I think in Prince William County people were caught off guard. Immigration really wasn’t on the radar for most people, whereas in Arizona it’s always been an issue, so there was that difference. But the similarity is that I think most people are just not speaking up, so this is an issue that is being left up to people who are the most passionate whatever position you’re in, so the majority of the people are just being silent and opting out. That’s what we need to change. In general as a country, I think that’s what we need to change. We have to get the majority of people in a dialogue about these issues so that we don’t become polarized. We can’t approach everything as if we’re divided, and it’s about who wins and loses. We just can’t. It’s not sustainable.
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