By Joe Gandelman, Editor-In-Chief
The Moderate Voice

Just two weeks from today Americans go to the polls.

And, hopefully, when they do there won’t be scenes similar to those captured in No Umbrella: Election Day In The City by a simple, hand-held camera that immortalized a combination tragedy, outrage and grim comedy that unfolded on Nov. 2, 2004 in one of Cleveland, Ohio’s poorest neighborhoods. The people turned out in droves to vote and found they couldn’t.

The neighborhood happened to be overwhelmingly black. Overwhelmingly Democrat. And those good, frustrated citizens who stood in line for hours to exercise what they thought were their rights were the victims of either an incredibly incompetent bureaucracy or skillful voter suppression. It is a bit coincidental that there weren’t reports of similar scenes at upscale, white and Republican areas of Ohio. But, then coincidences do happen…

And there ARE real heroes out there.

The heroine of this remarkable 26-minute documentary is one Fannie Lewis (see photo below), a councilwoman who shows up and sees the chaos, notes the passions and frustrations, sees voters waiting fruitlessly on line — and who springs to immediate action. “It’s like we prayed for rain and didn’t bring no umbrellas,” she says.

Lewis works the phone — and gets put on voice mail. She gets the run around for hours, shunted from one department to another. The people she calls are seemingly falling all over themselves not to help her.

In one of the film’s most poignant shots, the camera captures a voter with a big tear dripping down her cheek, heartbroken because she has waited for hours and has not been allowed to vote due to gross bureaucratic incompetence, OR not-so-benign neglect of poor voters, OR a plausible-deniability attempt to keep Democratic voters from voting.

Or, perhaps, a combination of all three. Each viewer can decide, looking at the footage.

It’s all there in this short film in which director Laura Paglin just lets her camera record Lewis making dozens of fruitless phone calls amid a sea of increasingly angry and frustrated voters who took the time to come out and exercise what democracy was supposed to guarantee.

She documents Lewis getting nowhere with electoral councilman Michael Vu. Finally the needed machines arrive with no inserts. The inserts only come when Mayor Jane Campbell shows up and gets on the phone. But it isn’t Campbell’s shining moment: the Mayor seems giddily proud of convincing the library to let the waiting-forever voters to wait inside the library (they can read books at the same time!).

It’s Lewis who’s the heroine, holding her temper in check as she gets angrier and more outraged and championing the long lines of mostly black voters with her relentless phone calls.

And in the end?

Many voters had to leave because they couldn’t wait two hours and had to get back to work. Voters who were largely black, poor and Democrat…in a year when Ohio’s final ballot count in a tight election didn’t end in a Democratic triumph.

Does Paglin say what she believes happened? She runs a note at the end that notes the controversies over voter suppression.

No Umbrella is MUST viewing and must owning for everyone.

If you’re a Democrat who believes in democracy it will outrage you.

If you’re an independent who believes in democracy it will outrage you.

If you’re a Republican who believes in democracy it will outrage you.

And if you watch it and are happy that some voters were thwarted (intentionally or otherwise) from casting their votes then you are truly what conservative talker Bill O’Reilly calls a “bad American.”

You buy and can find out more HERE about this incredible, short documentary on DVD that will keep you thinking for days.

Perhaps especially on Nov. 7, 2006.