Monday, January 16, 2012

2012-01-16 "Napa activist featured in Sundance documentary" by HOWARD YUNE from "Napa Valley Register"
She has campaigned for the local Democratic Party and camped out during the Occupy Napa protest. Next week, Joanne Gifford’s political activism will travel beyond Napa County: to movie screens at the Sundance Film Festival.
The longtime local Democratic Party figure will share both her campaigns against corporate excesses — and her own and others’ struggles in a sinking economy — in “We’re Not Broke,” a documentary slated to debut Sunday at the annual film exhibition in Park City, Utah.
A middle and high school teacher by trade, the 53-year-old Gifford has been active in local Democratic circles for more than a decade, and won new attention in October by helping to organize the local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement at Veterans Memorial Park.
“I’ve been an activist as long as I can remember,” said Gifford, who was raised in Napa and returned to her hometown in 2001. “I like to describe myself as the blue sheep of the family,” she added, wryly hinting at her youth in a conservative household.
“We’re Not Broke” focuses on various U.S. corporations which activists accuse of lowering their tax bills by steering funds overseas, beyond the reach of the Internal Revenue Service. The film is set to open on the fourth day of the Sundance festival and be shown through Jan. 28.
Filmmakers in early 2011 captured footage of demonstrations and flash mobs staged outside stores and offices of firms accused of tax avoidance. Sprinkled through the film are interviews with seven Americans whose job prospects have been crimped by the recession — including Gifford, a substitute teacher who earned her teaching certificate in 2007 to gain full-time work only to see budget cuts shrink her job market.
“They were so desperate for teachers” five years ago, “it was almost annoying how many calls you’d get every night. And them, boom, nothing,” she recalled.
Discussing the film last week, Gifford described her role with the energy of the Occupiers half her age she had accompanied last fall — mixing a “Can you hear me now?” routine in Washington, D.C. mocking Verizon Wireless with calls for more muscular tax enforcement instead of more funding cuts and austerity.
“The idea that we’re overtaxing corporations is absurd,” she said Wednesday. “There isn’t only one way to balance the budget, cutting and cutting, saying we can’t afford this or that. We need to get the revenue base to where it once was — especially since corporations are such heavy users of our infrastructure, our legal system, our law enforcement.”
How wide a distribution “We’re Not Broke” will gain after Sundance remains unknown, but Gifford was hopeful the documentary would get the chance to change at least a few minds.
“I’m excited we’ve gotten this much traction,” she said, “because these are things that for so long, the other side has captured the debate and held it hostage.”
Whatever the film’s impact, Gifford declared her work far from done.
“The older I get, the more injustice I see, the more driven I am,” she said. “I don’t see a reason to hang it up. ... I’m not reliving my youth; I’m growing into this as I go on.”

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