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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 this may describe individuals Levine has encountered, I can’t buy it as a political justification. I believe we can find more compelling reasons by looking at our own political infrastructures – our activists and leaders, our political parties – and not by analyzing “U.S. citizens" at large. These "abuse" brush strokes are too broad and cover up the detail we need to examine.

Mass demonstrations are almost always the product of hardcore organizing. (The major exceptions were the spontaneous riots that ripped through our country in the 1960s like the ones triggered by the assassination of Martin Luther King.)

Those who have been involved in organizing mass demonstrations know how much effort it takes. If the infrastructure to do all of this hard work is not in place, it’s an impossible task. Or if those who control the infrastructures (churches, unions, environmental groups, political parties, etc.) decide to sit it out, you won’t succeed very often. (Clearly, some moments are riper than others. In 1965, for example, the Students for a Democratic Society shocked themselves and everyone else when 50,000 turned out in Washington for their first anti-war demonstration. But it still took considerable resources that came from organized groups including the labor movement.)

Take the 2000 election that Levine uses as an example. The response from the Democrats and the Republicans was quite different. The Republicans flooded Florida with their top dogs who participated actively in the recounts. I can still recall Bob Dole glowering as he challenged every Democratic hanging chad. The Republicans also concocted faux demonstrations by flying in staff.

Meanwhile the Democrats relied on the legal process even though they could have organized massive demonstrations all over Florida. What did Al Gore, the leader of the entire party, do after the Supreme Court decision against him? Nothing. He meekly accepted the results and moved on. He refused to call us to join him for mass protests at the steps of the Supreme Court because he believed in the judicial process, however flawed. He refused to rock the system because he was so much a part of it.

You weren’t there and neither was I because of choices made by Gore and the Democratic Party, including its major constituent organizations. But I find it difficult to blame us or the American public for Gore’s lack of will. You know full well the Republicans would have fought to the bitter end. (Why don’t they suffer more from abuse syndrome?)

So rather than looking for the problem in the "American People" we should examine our failure to create and mobilize progressive infrastructures that have the wherewithal to organize large-scale protests (like the French seem to do with great regularity and success).

Do the Totalitarians Want Us to Know the Truth?

Bruce Levine offers an intriguing conjecture that totalitarians might be using the truth to beat us into submission, to further humiliate us into inaction: "Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?"

To back up this point, he cites comments given by George W. Bush just before the 2000 election: "What a crowd tonight: the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."

This remark, Levine believes, should have angered us to the point of mass upheaval. And because we did not rise up, he cites this as a sign of our abuse syndrome. Further, he believes this suggests that Bush and company may have understood that the truth could be used to "demoralize us even further."

 
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