Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Marc Levin
Writers: James Lester, Marc Levin
By Daniel Richeson
November 8th, 2016 is a day and night that has shaped American politics in vast ways. The obvious reasons revolve around one man who currently sits as the President of the United States. The 2016 election year was full of arguments, debates, false equivalencies, and some broken relationships. Families and friendships strained by “politics”, or should it be said that human rights arguments became politicized. However bad or troubling that election year may have felt for people, there was a small shining light in Stockton, California.
Michael Tubbs, a 26-year-old Stockton resident won a Mayoral race making him the youngest Mayor in the city’s history as well as its first Black Mayor. Stockton has long been the focal point of the issues facing America since it’s 2008 recession. Foreclosures, city bankruptcies, homelessness, and violent crime surges have made Stockton the image of how a city can fail in the worst ways. Mayor Michael Tubbs set out to heal the city and nurture it back to its former glory. This is the subject of “Stockton on My Mind”, a documentary by Marc Levin through HBO. The film follows Mayor Tubbs through his “controversial” policies set forth to install new programs to radically change how young people can succeed and stay out of the streets.
Throughout the series of interviews, this film continually comes back to how important it is to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mayor Tubbs started out in life with the deck stacked against him. A single mother, a father serving a long sentence in prison, and the constant struggle of being a black person in America. He lost friends and was challenged to return and make a difference instead of taking his career out of the city. Through some personal conversations with him directly and his interactions with colleagues or speaking to kids, Mayor Tubbs tries to hit home that he never thought he would be the Mayor during his formative years and how much of a surprise it’s been for him.
“As a documentary film, there isn’t going to be any high praise in the way the subject is presented, but the viewer is left with a grand sense of hope upon the conclusion of the film.”
“Stockton on My Mind” revolves around the time in office for Michael Tubbs, but it also features voices from around the community that is associated or are involved in programs by the Mayor’s office. A few kids in area high schools are featured as they navigate their way through troubled home lives or even run-ins with criminal activity while trying to make their way to college using Stockton Scholars. An incentive program rewarding high-school alumni enrolling in a four-year college with scholarships.
While this program reinforces kids in school to stay on their path, other programs feature ex-convicts reaching out to troubled youths in the area and preventing them from making the same mistakes they made in their life. Director Marc Levin asks many questions about these programs and the historical context about why they were created but stops short of offering any sort of political questioning into whether these programs are sufficient.
In today’s political landscape, the labels of Democrat or Republican feature in more than just political conversation. Topics about race, religion, guns, and abortion have become staples of the left or the right and when a political figure is known as a Democrat or a Republican, certain prejudices immediately come to the surface. Tubbs’ programs are created to give money to the less fortunate and try to rebuild the floor of Stockton, but of course, some time is given in the documentary to a few protests and even an attempt to recall him by some Stockton citizens.
They are predominantly white in the film and seem to be concerned with how their tax dollars are being used to “pay criminals” and how the idea of Universal Basic Income is just a way for lazy people to not work while these hard-working citizens try to feed their families. It’s a comment that has been tossed around ever since Progressives have tried to implement any sort of assistance to low-income people. Even in these moments depicted in the documentary, the bite of making political statements seems to be lost.
“Stockton on My Mind” is a must-watch for anyone interested in local politics and how each and every person could be the change they see in the world. “
There’s no doubt that Michael Tubbs is a progressive Democrat looking to change and challenge the status quo of this country, but in today’s political landscape, even leaders of any leaning have been questioned by how committed they truly are to the causes they champion. The film almost obviously seems to stray away from eliciting Tubbs’ political leanings but also embraces his commitment to healing his city, which is an indictment of itself. Not everything needs to be laced in political commentary, but there is an opportunity to revisit this topic in a few years when Tubbs may be looking to advance in his political career and also to see how the city of Stockton has responded to these programs he’s implemented. The success or failure of these incentives could become major talking points in the endless debates of every election year faced by this country’s citizens.
“Stockton on My Mind” is a must-watch for anyone interested in local politics and how each and every person could be the change they see in the world. It only takes a few steps to get into positions where we can instill change. As a documentary film, there isn’t going to be any high praise in the way the subject is presented, but the viewer is left with a grand sense of hope upon the conclusion of the film.
“Stockton on My Mind” is available to stream on HBO services