(Note: this essay originally appeared at Other98.com)
We live in crazy times.
Here in Oakland, CA, the tech bubble has become a scorched earth of rent hikes, evictions, and mass displacement. Like many cities across the country, this multi-racial, proudly blue-collar town (the city that birthed the Black Panthers, revolutionary artist Favianna Rodriguez, and football star / dance sensation Marshawn Lynch) is being bulldozed by an onslaught of luxury condos, cat cafes (I wish I was making that up), and so many white people that even Portland is getting jealous.
Meanwhile on a global level, climate change has been extra busy lately, fucking up every island in the Caribbean, most of Florida, and the only parts of Texas that I actually like. Every day brings record high temperatures (105° in San Francisco! 128° in Pakistan!). And at the top of it all, a small class of CEOs and politicians, profiting off all that displacement and destruction.
The pain and the outrage is real, but in my years of writing and organizing with everyday people who don’t read Trotsky for breakfast, I’ve learned that most folks don’t need to be lectured about how shitty things are. We need joy and humor and the very humanity that we’re fighting for in the first place.
So rather than opt for another sad Al Gore power-point presentation, my filmmaking friends and I decided to explore the local and global forms of climate change by talking about weed, Drake, and the weird-but-true thing that happens when polar bears start kicking it with grizzly bears.
The result is The North Pole, our just-launched comedic series about the city (Oakland, CA) and planet (Earth) that I call home. The series follows three best friends born and raised in North Oakland, CA — better known to locals as The North Pole — who fight, dream, and plot hilarious schemes to remain rooted as their neighborhood becomes a hostile environment. Across seven episodes, the show hits on the big issues of our time: gentrification, global warming, and yes, gluten-free donuts.
If we want to change the politics, we have to change the story.
The conservative movement in America is great at telling stories. I hate the story Donald Trump tells – racist fear, hyper-capitalism, and now apparently banning people from the country of Chad to visit the U.S. – but damn if he doesn’t understand the power of controlling the narrative.
The left has to become better storytellers. And as often is the case, the best place to learn is from the artists.
We live in a golden age of smart, funny artists pushing the political edge — from trailblazing comedian W. Kamau Bell (who just won an Emmy…and also makes a cameo in The North Pole!) to the women of color web series Brown Girls (just picked up by HBO!), to the hilarious, feminist Muslim comic Zahra Noorbakhsh.
The North Pole comes out of a brilliant team of artists too (shout out to Yvan Iturriaga, Darren Colston, and my Movement Generation squad). And since even the greatest piece of art can’t change the world by itself, we also linked up with the Climate Justice Alliance and Right to the City Alliance: fighting on the frontlines across the country, from East LA to Eastern Kentucky and back.
We can carry it all. The joy and the pain, the eviction notice and the Tinder date gone horribly wrong. If we want to get serious about changing the world, maybe the best move is to not be so damn serious all the time.
Otherwise, the joke’s on us.