As Goes Janes – Community Cinema


Tuesday, October 30 at 7:30

Community Cinema is a groundbreaking public education and civic engagement initiative featuring free monthly screenings of films from the Emmy Award-winning series Independent Lens. Community Cinema is on location in more than 95 cities nationally, bringing together leading organizations, community members, and public television stations to learn, discuss, and get involved in key social issues of our time.

Screenings will be held in the Quad Theatre of the Circle Cinema. Seated is on a first come first serve basis.

About the Film

Mary Wilmer sits in front of Janesville City Hall with an optimistic look on her face.Gayle looking cheerful on a weekend home from the GM plant a state away.Governor Scott Walker and business advocate Diane Hendricks discuss economic policy relating to development in Janesville.Thousands of people holding protest signs swarm around the Wisconsin State Capitol to protest Scott Walker’s proposed bill to limit collective bargaining for public sector workers.

Janesville, Wisconsin is not unlike a lot of Midwestern blue-collar, middle-class towns in America. Since the economy began its nosedive in 2008, Janesville residents, civic leaders, and businesses have been plunged into an extended cycle of hardship and uncertainty. And like other towns in other states across the nation, Janesville has found itself at a crossroads: As a place with more people than jobs, how can it reinvent and restore itself, and at what cost?

Almost exactly one year after the recession officially began, General Motors shuttered its Janesville Assembly Plant — the oldest GM plant in all of North America — where for decades locals had held down good-paying mostly union jobs making SUVs and pickup trucks. It was just before Christmas in 2008 and almost 2,000 Janesville residents were either out of a job or given an offer to transfer to one of several GM plants in other states. The nearest plant is a day’s drive away. For those with roots and family in Janesville, or kids in school, or a spouse with another company in the region, the prospect of leaving presented wrenching choices. Some Janesville GM alumni found work in other industries, or have gone back to school to retrain (sometimes incurring frightening levels of debt along the way).

Meanwhile, local business leaders believe they have a solution. If they can find a handful of companies who would be willing to relocate to Janesville, the jobs would come back, and the people of Janesville could stay and thrive. To accomplish this, they begin a persuasive campaign (its members dubbed “the ambassadors of optimism”) to woo promising companies, and to enlist the Janesville City Council to make them an offer they can’t resist with tax incentives and loan guarantees for private investors.

And then in 2010, the midterm election campaigns hit high gear, and perhaps nowhere did they reverberate more widely than in Wisconsin. Scott Walker, a young and fiery politician in Milwaukee, captured the GOP endorsement for governor with a platform focused on repairing Wisconsin’s battered economy and creating a quarter million jobs using deep cuts in the capital gains tax, incentives for small businesses, and rolling back spending on state spending — including measures to restrict the collective bargaining rights of public employees such as firefighters, teachers, and police officers.

Walker, who gave out “Wisconsin: Open for Business!” campaign bumper stickers, was swept into office by a hefty margin, and quickly introduced his “budget repair bill” in early 2011. The bill passed, but not before the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison was besieged by protestors and the Democratic members of the legislature (including Janesville’s representative Tim Cullen) fled the state in an attempt to block it.

Meanwhile in Janesville, there is ambivalence. A pro-business agenda at the state level is a relief to the local “ambassadors of optimism.” Those who have been lifelong autoworkers and union-members are nervous about wagering hard-won labor rights for a so-far speculative economic resurgence. But everybody in Janesville is eager for something — anything — that might help them keep their community in one piece.

The story of Janesville is a parable for cities large and small across the United States. In this era of economic challenge and ideological polarization, how might we redefine the American Dream?

Watch Focus on the Challenges That Janesville Faces on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Archive, Coming Attractions

About the author - Serving the Circle since 2006.
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