On the day that Donald Trump was elected president, Michael Tubbs became the youngest and first African-American mayor for the town of Stockton, California. A city of abysmal ratings across the board, where poverty and crime were daily occurrences. As Washington and the world braced for the disaster that was about to come, Stockton saw for the first time in years light at the end of the tunnel.
Documenting Tubbs’ first four years as mayor, director Marc Levin brings the camera as close to the daily routine as possible, allowing us to stand on the front lines and stare down what’s coming. This is a rough city, a place that went wrong at some point thanks to the failure of capitalism (among many things), and never got a chance to get back up again.
Enter Tubbs, a Stockton born and raised man who, after graduating from Stanford, returns home to make a difference. His plan is aggressive and unheard of, at least on an American standard: Universal Basic Income for 125 randomly chosen people in the city. A $20 million dollar grant for a scholarship program designed to get Stockton high-school alumni enrolled in universities. And finally, a program for anti-gun violence to help return wayward youths back on the straight and narrow.
Everywhere else in the world this would sound like business as usual, but to showcase how far to the right wing America has fallen, Tubbs is treated like a madman with his reasonably center-left ideals. Helping others, it seems, is a radical agenda. What’s more incredible is that Tubbs himself admits that without backing of those more powerful and wealthy than himself (his campaign was endorsed by Barack Obama and financed in part by Oprah) he would not be in a position now to help others himself. Yet still his pleas seem to fall on deaf ears. As if the very concept that everyone needs help at some point is utterly alien to others.
For Finns, STOCKTON ON MY MIND is necessary viewing to allow a glimpse into what America truly looks like on the inside today. Most people halfway around the world will only know what they read in the papers, and that story is rarely truthful. Witnessing Tubbs’ uphill struggle to raise his home back on its feet is something that most, if any, Finns will be able to grasp as our system has been designed entirely the opposite from Stockton. It’s a vital reminder to understand how good things are here, and how deeply passionate we must be to fight for these rights as others attempt to strip them away.
Levan is there at every turn, interviewing both citizens affected by and opposed to Tubbs’ new vision for the city. Remarkably fair for a portrait that doesn’t hide its idolization, STOCKTON talks to everyone who’ll come forward, allowing for a reasonably whole idea of how difficult these first baby steps really are.
Alongside Tubbs, the most interesting person in the documentary is Raymond Aguilar. A former convict who, at 16 years old, shot a man to death for allegedly robbing his grandmother. Aguilar spent much of his life in jail and now works as a youth counselor to guide others away from the path that he once chose. In an ironic twist, Aguilar was cellmates with Tubbs’ father, who remains in prison. Even he gets a chance to speak to us, and his pained realizations of everything that he’s missed, and will miss, is heartbreaking.
STOCKTON ON MY MIND does suffer from one major antagonist: time. We don’t know yet how Tubbs’ grand plan has turned out. His first term as mayor comes to an end next year if he isn’t re-elected. We can only see the foundations at this point, and can only hope that a sequel some ten years later will reveal a brighter, more egalitarian future for all.
But precisely because of our limited scope, Levan’s documentary remains vital viewing. It’s a showcase of how grassroots movements can grow fruit, and how important a leader with vision can be when they’re surrounded by those who wish to do good. It’s an indictment of dated systems that have been designed to keep the poor on the ground with now way up.
In the years to come it will be an important time stamp in history to show where change began, or in the worst case, a message from a time when we still had hope.
However it turns out, STOCKTON ON MY MIND is essential viewing. Don’t miss it.