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"Get Up, Stand Up": Do Americans Have What It Takes to Stand Up to Corporate Power and Does Wisconsin Offer Hope?

Bruce Levine discusses his upcoming book "Get Up, Stand Up," which analyzes why Americans have been crushed into inaction and how recent events in Wisc. offer hope for change.

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SW: What about young people, who are traditionally quick to protest against authority. Why aren’t they out on the streets? 

BL: They’re much less apt to protest because the primary socialization forces for young people pacify, zombify, and weaken them. For example, our standard schools teach compliance and following orders far more than how to think critically and resist authoritarianism. And television is such a superb pacifying force that America’s for-profit prisons uses more TVs instead of hiring more prison guards, and nowadays, kids are actually watching more television than ever, with more screens than just a television set. And for many kids I talk to, their only experience of potency is a virtual one, for example, winning a video game.  

For those kids who do rebel cognitively or behaviorally, and who don’t mindlessly comply with any and all authorities, there is an increasing presence of my business – the mental health profession – in their lives, with increasing medication for so-called disruptive disorders such as “oppositional defiance disorder.” And it is getting even worse for young people. Nowadays student-loan debt—more than two-thirds of college graduates are carrying student-loan debt, often huge amounts–crushes their ability to even consider resisting unjust authority.   

SW:  What do you think has led to the rise of the Tea Party movement and its subsequent power? 

BL: Certainly, a sense of powerlessness and anger has fueled the Tea Party movement, which is made up of many different kinds of people, and has now been exploited and co-opted by the Republican party. It is a mistake to focus only on the bigots in this movement and to focus only on the fat-cat financers such as the Koch brothers and to focus only on Republican politician opportunists such as Sarah Palin who are exploiting this anger.  

The Tea Party movement includes many grassroots members who have a genuine belief in liberty and freedom but, as with any movement, it also includes bigots and opportunists. Following the financial crisis of 2008 and losses—sometimes catastrophic—of homes, savings, or jobs for many, and following the controversial Republican-Democratic bipartisan Wall Street bailout, it would be expected that some kind of angry political movement would form. The corporate elite on Wall Street must have breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing how timid American reaction has been. The corporate elite must be especially delighted that of all the very tame reactions that have occurred, the largest—the Tea Party movement—has not been directed against Wall Street but at its junior partner, the federal government. 

SW: How would you compare Tea Party activists and those movements on the Left? 

BL: When it comes to cultural issues, there are major differences between those who attend Tea Party demonstrations and those who identify themselves as leftist populists; however, many people in both groups believe that elite forces who rule them do not care about ordinary people. Both left populists and Tea Partiers opposed the Wall Street bailout, and many grassroots Tea Partiers, like left populists, are opposed to the kind of corporate globalization measures—such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) —that have resulted in the outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas. Like left populists, many grassroots Tea Partiers actually oppose America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its longtime war against drugs. Many in both groups oppose the civil liberties abuses of the Patriot Act. At the grass roots, many Tea Partiers hold anger for both Democrats and Republicans, with some grassroots Tea Partiers having even more contempt for Republicans, whom they view as more hypocritical.  

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