Director: Ben Rekhi
We have rights, but we also have responsibilities Mark Gerzon explains in the concluding summary of Ben Rekhi’s documentary The Reunited States, which argues that the polarisation in two-party politics both causes and reflects deeper social divides. Politics in the US is broken and by following four families, activists and politicians, this film available now from iTunes, Google Play and Xbox explores ways to heal the divide.
Based on Gerzon’s book, The Reunited States argues that extreme loyalty to party ideals dehumanises individuals, causing deep emotionally-driven rifts in a country where many people genuinely believe race, in particular, is no longer an issue. Independent candidates are denied entry to a system that hands power between two major political players while failing to provide material improvement in the lives of individual citizens. For UK audiences much of this will feel familiar.
It may seem a little pat but tackling these problems requires interaction and understanding. Yet, far from empty gestures and platitudes, Rekhi’s film looks at four groups making a practical difference in their own way. One of the most eye-opening is the story of Erin and David Leaverton who travelled to all 50 States to hear local stories by hosting dinner parties between Democratic and Republican supporters; the result was fascinating.
Having sold their house to travel the country in a tour bus with their three young children, David, a former Republican staffer who didn’t believe any division existed, and his wife Erin, who admits voting for Trump, soon realise that divisions go far beyond political affiliations as they meet Americans with stories of poverty, discrimination and persecution that showed the couple they were part of the problem. This wake-up call is riveting to watch as the couple humbly accept their mistakes and take steps to help others in their original community to see the true picture. Erin summarises that understanding when she notes that being American means different things to different people and reality is not the fairy tale USA they are told about.
Susan Bro demonstrates how to turn the emotional impact of hatred and division into a practical campaign for justice and equality using the Heather Hyer Foundation, which she established when her daughter was killed protesting a Confederate statue in Virginia. Bro’s determined story is shaped by the trial of the perpetrator while meeting groups all over the South to create education opportunities, inter-community conversation and pressure to expand hate crime legislation.
The final two strands focus on movements to bring about change within the political system as Greg Orman undertakes a rather dispiriting campaign to become the Independent Governor for Kansas and finding fear among an electorate unwilling to risk helping the opposition by voting outside traditional party lines. Steven Olikara’s Millennial Action Project has created a Caucus for members of Congress between 21 and 40 to help facilitate cross-party working and unity across the political system in the hope of seeding fundamental change as these future leaders rise through the ranks.
America may be the focus here but there is much for the UK to learn from Gerzon’s work and The Reunited States as the pandemic offers a chance to reflect on what future political and social structures should look like. The impact of these four stories may not be felt for some years but whether opening the door to an individual conversation or improving politics from the ground-up, Rekhi shows there is hope inside and outside the two-party system.