Alcatraz Is Not an Island

James Fortier. | 60 minutes. Turtle Island Productions.

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On November 20, 1969, sometime after 2 a.m., a fleet of wooden sailboats holding 90 Native Americans landed on Alcatraz. For the next 19 months, the group forcibly occupied the island, hoping to reclaim the rock “in the name of all American Indians.” Although federal marshals eventually removed the protesters, and their demands — including title to the island and the construction of a Native American university — were never granted, scholars view the two-year protest as a springboard for modern-day Indian activism.

James Fortier captures this overlooked chapter of the civil rights movement in his documentary Alcatraz Is Not an Island, which airs on PBS in November. With its straight-ahead, chronological narrative, the film often has a dry, educational feel. Nevertheless, by weaving together interviews with student occupiers and never-before-seen archival footage, Alcatraz creates a powerful snapshot of this revolutionary incident and gives life to the words of charismatic protest leader Richard Oakes: “Alcatraz is not an island. It’s an idea. It’s the idea that you can recapture and be in control of your life and your destiny.”

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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