On August 20-21, Firelight Media partnered with The Andrew Goodman Foundation on two-part online screening of the acclaimed documentary film, Freedom Summer. The film had a national broadcast in June on the PBS series, American Experience, to mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s company Firelight Media has launched a yearlong effort to use the film as a tool to inspire, engage and motivate the next generation of Freedom Summer activists.
The screenings took place on a new, innovative online platform that allows viewers to watch films online and participate in live chats with panelists. The back-to-back screenings aimed to explore the political climate that led young people to take to the streets in 1964, and today in 2014.
The first panel featured Stanley Nelson, Rev. Julia Chaney-Moss (the sister of slain civil rights worker James Chaney) and The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s very own David Goodman. The conversation quickly turned to Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, and what motivated them to get involved in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. David spoke of the progressive household that nurtured Andrew’s commitment of social justice, but countered the mythic hero narrative that often accompanies stories of these men. He says, “To me, James, Andrew and Michael, were three of nine hundred ordinary people who did something extraordinary. It is important to remember there were hundreds of brave young adults. All nine hundred were passionate about our constitutional promises.”
Re. Julia Chaney-Moss provided much needed insight into her brother, James, who, as the only native Mississippian of the three, tapped into a deep well of courage when he chose to take action. She described him as, “just a fun loving guy, who was also conscious of our living environment, educationally, politically and economically. He was captain of his high school football team and had many friends, male and female. However, when he made the choice of his ’life’s work’ not any of his young friends joined him in this endeavor.”
As we closed out the discussion, director Stanley Nelsonnoted that, “it’s important that historical films don’t live in a bubble but inform our world today,” which offered the perfect transition to our second conversation. Our second panel featured Mississippi State University Prof. Ravi Perry, VotoLatino’s Jessica Reeves, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez from United We Dream and Racialicious.com founder Latoya Peterson.
The animated conversation flowed from the power of Fannie Lou Hamer to the links between undocumented students and those organizing in Ferguson.
While the panelists applauded the efforts of Freedom Summer they wondered if the focus on the vote has lost its appeal among youth. Professor Perrysuggested that, “one of the many challenges with increasing the number of registered eligible voters is confronting potential voters’ disillusionment with the political system and what they perceive as dysfunction in American government.” Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez furthered that idea, noting, “voting is only one way to engage young people. The truth is we need to address the important issues our communities are facing. Telling people to vote is not enough.”
Instead the panelists pushed viewers to consider the importance of multiethnic and multigenerational alliance building to affect change. Racialicious blogger Latoya Peterson argued that, “we have a lot of conversation that assumes familiarity with movements, but I think solidarity is more complicated than that. For us to move forward, we have to know and share in each other’s histories.” Professor Perry concurred, stating that, “Freedom Summer taught us that the fight for equality necessarily involves everyone and is successful when groups of varying background work together.”
With the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri on everyone’s minds, undocumented activist Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez ended the panel with a stirring call to action: Our struggle for equal treatment under the law is not over. Some of us are fighting to be full citizens, others to become citizens of the country. Regardless of what angle we take, we need to push forward and contribute in as many different ways as possible. Voting, protesting, and tweeting.”
We hope the film continues to inspire more people to take action on issues that affect them, from voting rights and quality education to police brutality and immigration reform. For more information on the film, visit www.freedomsummernow.com.