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Are Progressives Depressed or Too Privileged to Produce Social Change? Or Are We Just Failing to Organize Effectively?

Real change seems almost impossible. What are we doing wrong?

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While I have been in that afflicted group for part of my 53 years on the planet, in my last couple of decades, I have gradually been inching into the comfortable group. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in New York City (Arverne in Rockaway) which both Democrat and Republican politicians fucked up into a jobless, impoverished, third-world wasteland, as powerless parents watched helplessly. Throughout my junior high school and high school years, I had that scared, helpless, powerless feeling that comes from worrying about my draft lottery number, and knowing that the bastards -- especially Kissinger and Nixon -- couldn’t care less if I was maimed or killed in Vietnam. Then in my 20s in clinical psychology graduate school, I felt like I had exchanged a wasteland neighborhood for a wasteland profession that was increasingly about manipulating, modifying and medicating alienated people to fit into an automaton society.

I no longer feel so powerless. I get to write articles for CounterPunch, AlterNet, Z Magazine, Huffington Post and other publications that give me a platform and a voice. If I actually got paid for these articles, I would be disgustingly comfortable. However, in order to make a living, I still must partake in shit-eating financial dealings with the health care-industrial-complex. But what I actually do in my practice itself is not alienating. So while I have burned too many professional bridges to allow for a comfortable prof job, I am far more comfortable than I once was -- and far less afflicted and demoralized than many other people. Comfortable enough to be helpfully afflicted by certain truths.

Years ago, I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and its most powerfully afflicting truth for me was not anything about distant U.S. history but something relevant to the present:

In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers....They become the guards of the system....If they stop obeying, the system falls.

Zinn is absolutely right. Most of my clinical psychologist training was pretty much about socializing me to be a "guard of the system." So thank you, Howard, for that great affliction.

I don’t know how financially comfortable Les Leopold is, but I know that he has a platform, as I do. He writes for some of the same 'zines I do, and we have both published books with the same publisher. He also has what appears to be a non-alienating job as director of two nonprofit educational organizations (the Labor Institute and the Public Health Institute). So by my standards, Les is comfortable and should be able to handle some affliction.

Les begins his critique of my article with this: “I feel compelled to respectfully disagree with his basic analysis." Les then explains that "political action doesn’t fall from the sky; it requires deliberate political infrastructure." Who can disagree with that? Not me. The question is, why is powerful action not happening?

Les sees the answer in our "political infrastructures – our activists and leaders, our political parties – and not by analyzing "U.S. citizens’ at large." If Les is simply pissed off at the failure of activists, leaders and political parties, I have no quarrel with him. However, shouldn’t all of us -- including U.S. citizens at large – be part of the "political infrastructure"?

I am glad Les does not shame U.S. citizens at large, but I have trouble understanding why he doesn’t want to recognize the demoralization of many of them, understand its root causes, and then confront the institutional sources that break people’s spirit of resistance.

 
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