Erik Soulliard set out to create a positive project about a political issue. He did not set out to create a political project about a positive issue.
Semantics? Perhaps. The key word is “political.”
Soulliard’s heart was in the right place. It was his execution that was just a little off. Or maybe his timing.
Soulliard is a 46-year-old resident of Cornwall and a graduate of Cedar Crest High School. He is also a local actor, writer, director and filmmaker, the operator of Annubis Productions and the creator of the Facebook page We Are Lebanon, Pa.
Soulliard’s latest project for We Are Lebanon, Pa. is designed to celebrate the positive influences that local police have on the Lebanon community. He intends to do so through personal testimonials from local citizens with positive police stories to relate, as well as interviews with the officers themselves.
Soulliard’s project isn’t dead, but it is on life support.
“It’s not a political project,” said Soulliard. “But I think everything is political now. We’re in an election year. I just don’t want to be another megaphone for all the stuff out there right now. I’m not trying to start a revolution.
“I don’t think anyone thinks what happened [the police killing of George Floyd in May] wasn’t horrible,” continued Soulliard. “It was everywhere. There was a protest in Lebanon. But I’m burned out. I want to hear something positive with local police. I’ve had great experiences with local police.”
For now, Soulliard’s project has sort of entered a holding pattern, mainly due to a lack of participation or a lack of commitment from the public.
Since launching the endeavor about a month ago, Soulliard’s county-wide request for filming interviewees has produced just one lone subject, Elisa Rodriguez, an Annville woman who spoke passionately about her personal interactions with local police. Soulliard said that his numerous requests for police participation have been met with a resounding “no.”
“If I can’t get participation, I can’t do it,” said Soulliard. “I can’t force it. I was hoping to have four, five, six, seven or eight people in to be interviewed. I’m not getting a good response because people are scared. It’s perceived as political. People don’t want to risk the pushback.
“Unless I can get more people to volunteer, no, I can’t finish it,” added Soulliard. “I can’t make people do interviews. If this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I could take or leave this. But I think it’s a sad sign of the times we’re in.”
The pushback that Soulliard received was expected. He said he has heard from just as many local residents who have participated in protests and proponents of Black Lives Matter.
“Some protestors took time to message me,” said Soulliard. “It helped me to know where they’re coming from and it helped them to know where I’m coming. They were all very respectful. I think I learned a lot.
“I’m not taking a stand,” Soulliard continued. “I just like to tell these stories. I’m a storyteller. Right now, that’s not what I’m doing. I think there’s been enough coverage of that. It’s not needed. I just want to tell good stories. The Black Lives Matter protestors asked me [to tell their side]. But I think they’re getting enough coverage.”
Certainly, there’s plenty of unsettling bad news being reported throughout media outlets these days. Soulliard fashions himself a positive person and said that his intention with the project is to inject an element of good news, to sort of balance things out.
“The news cycle is burning me out,” said Soulliard. “I just want to hear something positive. I needed to get my positivity fix. Reality, for me right now, is depressing. I’ve talked to a lot of people who said, ‘I just need something positive.’ I did think it through. My friends all thought it was a good idea, but they did warn me there would be pushback.
“We Are Lebanon, Pa. isn’t a hard-hitting news outlet,” Soulliard added. “It’s simply a positivity project. The whole idea is to do short videos focusing on people who do positive things. The page has never been political. You can have multiple sides to the story. I’m not looking for a one-sided thing.”
The intention of Soulliard’s project was never to address controversial issues like systemic racism, police abuse or the dangers associated with police work — on a national level, or even how they relate to Lebanon County.
“Originally, my idea was to have officers come in to be interviewed and to tell their stories,” said Soulliard. “I wanted to ask them, ‘why did you become a police officer?’ I was told they were very appreciative of the offer, but that they were going to decline. Officers are kind of abused, and that’s sad.
“I don’t think everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero,” continued Soulliard. “I think heroes are heroes by what they do. Heroes step up. There are so many good police officers. I have two friends from high school who became police officers. They became police officers to help the community. The police officers I know are in it for the right reasons. There are good people and bad people in every profession.”
Creative minds like Soulliard, who wrote and directed the local horror flick “The Creek” in 2006, are constantly thinking outside the box. But in many ways, this latest project is like no other that Soulliard has ever tackled.
“It’s pretty much the same, as far as content and the idea goes,” said Soulliard. “But I’m not getting the response, which is why I see it as people not wanting to stick their necks out. I love interviewing people. But I can’t learn anything unless you talk to me.
“I would love people to understand that I’m not coming at this from a political angle at all,” concluded Soulliard. “But everything is political right now. It is what it is. I just don’t understand why it can’t be political.”
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
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