National Commentary

‘Pride,’ the Movie, & Solidarity

nfbentonpicWith all the grizzly headlines about war and pestilence dominating the news these days, it is a genuine refreshment to see a film that presents such a bright and hopeful true story about the ability of humans under siege to come together to further a common cause of justice and equality.

The film, “Pride,” tells about when two dozen London gay activists gave their support to the British mineworkers in the nationwide strike of 1984.

The film is also a beacon of light in our darkening culture. It steps behind our current era where trade unionism is dead and gays, having been ravaged by AIDS, limit their activism to gaining legal acceptance to live behind little white picket fences like everybody else in a society where the difference between a one percent of super-rich and a struggling everyone else is becoming extreme.

“Pride” is a true story with most of its relevant facts absolutely confirmed. Sad to report that its hero, the Irish-born, 24 year-old gay activist Mark Ashton, as the filmmakers cite in the film’s postscript, was not to be long for this world, contracting AIDS and dying in 1987 at age 26.

But that reflects the pathos that was reality in that era.

The mineworkers’ strike was broken by Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher after almost exactly a year in early 1985, and AIDS was just about to take off as a deadly scourge claiming hundreds of thousands of young gay lives with horrid deaths. (One minor error in the film was when a poster was shown urging getting tested for the HIV virus. The test for the virus was not developed until March 1985, as I know very intimately.)

It was the ruthless strikebreaking of the U.S.’s President Reagan and Thatcher, working in tandem as the hard-core arch conservatives they were, and their not unrelated blind eyes to the growing AIDS scourge, that set the tone for the world we’ve come to know since.

The mineworkers’ strike was the same that was the backdrop for the film and musical, Billy Elliott, though taking place in a different part of the England. And its message is in many ways the same. As I wrote in my book, Extraordinary Hearts, “The Billy Elliott story affirms how, rightly, gay sensibility casts its lot with the underdog, the downtrodden, just as modern gay movement founder Harry Hay was first inspired by his role in the San Francisco longshoreman strike of 1934.”

As online critic Maryann Johanson of Flick Filosopher wrote, “Pride” is “one of the rare movies that gets everything right, bursting with happy tears emotion about solidarity, friendship and smashing bigotry.”

It is heartening because it strikes against all the cynicism of the postmodern era and the philosophies that go with it. It holds up the one word that strikes fear in the hearts of ruling elites everywhere, “Solidarity!”

If someone were ever to get the idea to organize America’s 99 percent today, that word is key to how. Sewing together alliances of often disparate groups, building a “united front” (another phrase the elites hate) to stand against social and economic injustice to enthusiastically overwhelm the oppressor is the right MO.

Sorry to say that as much as the Democratic Party wants to claim the leadership of such new activism, somebody there is doing more to kill off grass roots enthusiasm today by using emails to harass and intimidate their own supporters with disingenuous threats and degrading claims in fundraising pitches that just never stop coming. Nothing is more important in politics as building joy and enthusiasm, not cynicism.

The best scene in “Pride” comes when the older gay guy spellbinds everyone – his gay and lesbian colleagues and the union folk as well – in the union hall in the tiny Welch village of Onllwyn (population 1,214), when during a dance he jumps into the middle of the floor and boogies with an energy and rhythm that blows everyone away. Such radically joyful dancing was the essence of the birth of the modern gay movement in the early 1970s. I can, if not move so much, still dance like that.