I’m With Phil: Documentary metaphor for post election America


Indianapolis, November 9, 2014 – I’m With Phil should be a metaphor for post-election America. The documentary showed at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis last month and it showed how America can, and will, grab the proverbial bootstraps together.

Phil Campbell, Alabama, was named for a railroader who was promised a legacy if he’d run the rails through that settlement and build a siding. When he met his part of the bargain, Phil Campbell, Alabama, was born. It was 1911.

Agriculture and industry flourished, following the typical pattern of 20th-Century rural America. Continuing that pattern, Phil Campbell lost industry and its young people, as futures dried up. Nevertheless, the town planned a 100-year celebration, a Hoe-Down, to commemorate the centennial.

The name had consequences. Phil Campbell, a Brooklynite, had visited the Alabama town in 1995, when a whimsical get-together of Phil Campbells from around the world had shown up for a festival.

He approached locals with the idea of repeating the “family reunion” in connection with the Hoe-Down. Though the town didn’t want to lose focus, they said, “Sure.”

For months, “Brooklyn Phil” corresponded with other Phil Campbells around the world, drumming up a publicity stunt, pretty much just for the heck of it. But then, on April 27, 2011, a huge E5 tornado hit Phil Carpenter, leveling much of the town and killing 26 residents.

Hundreds of families were displaced. In the tornado’s mile-wide path, 85% of buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Phil Campbell, Alabama was on the ropes.

Brooklyn Phil, rather than calling off the get-together, now had a cause: bring the Phil Campbells of the world together on-schedule in Alabama, and help rebuild the town.

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And come together they did, from New Zealand and Australia, Wisconsin and Alaska, the United Kingdom, and points in-between. Phil Carpenters (and Ms. Phyl Carpenter, daughter of yet another Phil Carpenter) converged early on the town, and chipped in.

They raised money, and more-importantly gave their own sweat to clearing rubble, cleaning up the wrecked park, and rebuilding morale in the ripped-up town. Details, including the DVD, are available at ImWithPhil.com – they can still use your help.

Phil Campbell, Alabama is a metaphor for the United States.

Ripped apart by a sudden tornado of partisanship and socialism, it took years to organize a relief effort. On November 4, 2014, the country came together – blue as well as red states – to heal the country, to put into action a tornado defense, and to start repairing the damage.

Clear the rubble.

Just as in Phil Campbell, the United States has suffered a cataclysm, with lives, jobs, and futures destroyed; faith in age-old systems and traditions shattered, families torn apart.

Now, there is a new hope across the land. As with Phil Campbell, Alabama, the damage to the nation is severe and traumatic. It will take years to fix, but if Republicans can come up with a plan (unlike the Phil Carpenters in Alabama, there is no concerted effort, yet) that returns the landscape to pre-socialist ideals under the Constitution, there is hope for a strong recovery.

As Donald Trump tweeted late on election night: “Now the Republicans have to get together and get the job done.”

And the president – the tornado that came out of nowhere to spread destruction on the land — needs to get out of the way. Elections, as he said, have consequences. At least that’s the plan.

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  • Tim Kern

    Of course, it’s Phil CAMPBELL (as in the sign!), not Phil Carpenter. I have no idea how I do these things, sometimes!

    And ah, yes, the full disclosure thing: the producers of I’m With Phil could have had no foresight about the 2014 election. The idea of the metaphor is completely that of this author.

  • Tim Kern

    The DVD is not for sale, by the way. The producers are still working on distribution.

  • Phil Campbell


    The only problem with this story is some of the information not provided in the film. I am, you see, am an unapologetic liberal. An ACLU-card-carrying, Planned-Parenthood-donating, gay-marriage supporting, union-friendly, Obama-voting liberal. And so the conclusion to this article for me is downright bizarre.

    Let me explain: I organized Phil Campbells for Phil Campbell, Alabama because we Phils represented all points of view in America and around the world. We were a non-partisan effort to help other people, period. If anything, I’m with Phil represents what happens when people put political and cultural differences aside for a good cause. I remains friends with these Phils and with many of the (often conservative) residents of Phil Campbell; we have had our arguments about politics, some of them have gotten a bit feisty, but we remain friends throughout.

    Frankly, I find it kind of odd that a politicized message like yours would be used to interpret this film. Because that’s not the point of it at all.


    Brooklyn Phil
    I’m with Phil Executive Producer

  • cf2k

    Because making it possible for millions of Americans to obtain previously unaffordable health insurance is the same thing as a tornado which kills a bunch of Alabama residents. Right. Got it.

    • Tim Kern

      I don’t want to start a litany here. I’m trying to show that a group of people with goodness in their hearts and some elbow grease can help fix big problems not of their own making.

      And for the record, I didn’t have health insurance before, and I don’t now. I pay my own bills. (In fact, I broke my back in April, and it didn’t cost you a cent, because I paid my own bills, without relying on socialistic medical tax schemes.) But I also pay the ACA fine, which I didn’t have to do before. But this column isn’t about anything specific like that — it’s about how a torn-up country (and I bet you can agree with me, that’s what it is) can be healed, when people get together on the things that really matter.

      • cf2k

        So, you paid for a broken back entirely out of pocket? Pardon my saying so, but to have that much ready cash lying around, you must be rich–although I know that nobody thinks they are ever “rich.” I’m glad you are wealthy enough to opt out of the U.S. health care system. I just don’t think the rest of us should have to be as well.

        But the other disanalogy that needs to be pointed out here is that whereas the tornado that hit Phil Campbell, AL, was indeed “not of their making,” the $4 trillion Second Iraq War and the world economic collapse, and, to put it frankly, the slow death of the American middle class, very much *are* exigencies “of our own making.” And repairing them is precisely *not* like rebuilding after a tornado, inasmuch as human-engineered destruction needs to be picked apart and understood if it is to be prevented. It is, frankly, to Obama’s eternal discredit that he shied away from holding either the GOP or Wall Street accountable for their crimes. But that hasn’t stopped them from seeking to destroy his presidency.

      • Deb Campbell

        “a group of people with goodness in their hearts and some elbow grease can help fix big problems not of their own making.” You’re kidding me, right? You honestly believe that the Republicans had NOTHING to do with the U.S.’ involvement in three wars and a ever-increasing income inequality? I agree that when people get together – really work together – they can accomplish great things. But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been in the mood to do that for a long, long time. If you can’t see that… well, do some serious fact checking.

  • Phil Campbell


    You can make whatever metaphor you like about I’m With Phil, but it was/is not a metaphor form anything. It’s the literal application of altruism – something that your worldview may not recognize. The worldwide Phils who showed up to help, kept showing up to help, and who have helped in whatever ways we could did this just because it seemed like the right thing to do. We wanted to help a small town which just by coincidence had the name that we all share. Politics were set aside, and have not entered into the equation since then.For me, I’m With Phil has been another step on my spiritual journey – one in which everyone (no matter what politics, religion, or philosophy) are small but essential parts of a whole, and if we can manage to set aside all of these differences we’ll be able to work together and achieve great things. The politicization of I’m With Phil that you have laid out is a part of the problem – not a metaphor for a solution.

    Chattanooga Phil

    • Tim Kern

      Thank you, Phil. As I said, the metaphor drawn was entirely my own. I see I’m With Phil as a beautiful, healing movie, and I also see this nation as one in desperate need of such healing.

      Six years ago, Democrats saw America as devastated; last week, Republicans did. What we agree on is that America is devastated. It doesn’t matter where the tornado came from — it’s time to rebuild.

      And thank you for being part of the “cast” of wonderful people who came together, put aside politics, and helped put a lovely town back on the map.

  • Phil Campbell

    I can’t speak for Brooklyn Phil, the other Phils or the town, but I will speak for myself. Your use of the plight of the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama, as a metaphor for US national politics is not only inappropriate, but offensive. To obfuscate your real purpose, you even encourage readers to support the town. If you cared about the town, or the people, or the cause, you would have just written about the town, made an appeal for it, and left politics out of the article altogether.

    I’ll be gentlemanly and stop here. I recommend you do the same.
    Chesapeake Beach Phil

    • Tim Kern

      Thank you, Phil. I have nothing but respect and admiration for all the Phils who helped Phil Campbell, Alabama. Sorry if my parallel offended you. And thank you for being a gentleman.

  • blang13

    Natural disaster and human suffering as a metaphor for partisan politics? I don’t mind points of view that I disagree with that make me think. Ask Brooklyn Phil. He and I have never agreed on, well, anything really. But he makes me think. This point of view you have put forth doesn’t make me think. It makes me ill. As a Republican, and more importantly, as a human being.

    • Tim Kern

      Well, I hope you like the movie.

  • EileenLoh

    This article exemplifies what’s wrong with modern American politics: the drive to take any and every situation and label it as “Republican” or “Democrat,” i.e. right vs. wrong, conservative vs. liberal, us vs. them. And what makes it so offensive in this case is because this situation was non-partisan to the core; in fact I’d call it anti-partisan. If the BS divisiveness of the American political system had infected the I’m With Phil movement, nothing would have gotten done.

    • Tim Kern

      Exactly the point I was trying to make. Thank you, Eileen.