Oct. 16, 2014

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Citizen Koch filmmaker talks with UUPers

uupdate 10-16-14

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Tia Lessin said Citizen Koch isn't an expose on the Koch brothers, but a look at how billionaires and their political front groups are working to undermine democracy.

Lessin, a former adjunct at SUNY Purchase and a UUP associate member, spoke to nearly 100 delegates after a screening of the documentary Oct. 16 in Albany. Delegates were in town to attend the 2014 Fall Delegate Assembly, Oct. 17-18.

"We weren't trying to be literal," said Lessin of the title, which raised more than a few questions following the screening. "For us, (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker is Citizen Koch. (Americans for Prosperity president) Tim Phillips is Citizen Koch. We weren't trying to suggest that this was a film about David and Charles Koch."

The film, co-directed and co-produced by UUP member Carl Deal, details how the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling has led to unlimited campaign spending and the resultant attack on labor unions.

"We focused on union-busting because it explained to us the connection between Citizens United and the fight in Wisconsin," Lessin said. "It wasn't about wages and it wasn't about pensions. It was about trying to undermine the power of working people."

Three Wisconsin union members, all Republicans, were featured prominently in the film.

"Billionaire backers are charting a course for their party," Lessin said. "We found the stories of Dee, Brian and Mari Jo interesting because they were struggling with their lifelong commitment to their Republican values and they were telling the stories we weren't seeing on TV.

"If you look at mainstream media, the Republicans are only wackos on Fox News or wackos in D.C.,” she continued. “There is a whole class of people that are being overlooked and that the Republican Party itself is overlooking. They are losing white, working-class people. I think that's pretty extraordinary. They're willing to lose their own for their radical agenda."

Lessin encouraged her union colleagues to show Citizen Koch in their SUNY classrooms, and said she'd be happy to address students. Several UUPers, such as Cortland Chapter member Jen Drake, left, talked with Lessin after the screening about the documentary.

"You could have heard a pin drop everyone was so riveted to the film," said UUP Secretary Eileen Landy, who introduced Lessin. "And that's rare when you've got a room full of academics."

Lessin addressed delegates in an Oct. 17 workshop called “The Koch Brothers and Anti-Union Sentiment in America.”

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