Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite
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The following is an excerpt from Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011) by Bruce E. Levine.
How many Americans believe that their voice matters in determining whether giant banks, insurance companies, and other “too-big-to-fail” corporations get bailed out? How many Americans older than twelve believe that they have any influence over a decision by the US government to invade another nation?
There are a slew of books and articles out there providing analyses of the profound problems of American democracy and offering recommendations aimed at improving matters. However, these analyses and recommendations routinely assume that Americans have sufficient personal energy to take action. Instead, what if many Americans have lost confidence that genuine democracy is possible? When such fatalism sets in, truths about economic injustices and lost liberties are no longer enough to set people free.
While a charismatic politician can still garner a large turnout of voters who are angry with whichever party is in power, the majority of Americans appear resigned to the idea that they have no power over institutions that rule their lives. At least that’s what I see. I was curious if what troubled me also was troubling others, so I wrote an article titled “Are Americans a Broken People?” It was republished on numerous Internet sites, and I read more than a thousand reaction comments (some of which are included in this book). I was swamped with e-mails and received several media interview requests to discuss the article, which had apparently touched a nerve among those who identify themselves as progressive, libertarian, or populist. They too wondered why so many Americans have remained passive in the face of attacks on their liberties and their economic well-being. Some of the questions that I first raised in that article and will answer more fully in this book are:
• Has “learned helplessness” taken hold for a great many Americans? Are many Americans locked into an abuse syndrome of sorts in which revelations about their victimization by a corporate-government partnership produce increased anesthetization rather than constructive action?
• What cultural forces have created a passive and discouraged US population? Have so-called right-wing and so-called progressive institutions both contributed to breaking people’s resistance to domination?
• And most important, can anything be done to turn this demoralization and passivity around? Is it possible for people to rebuild their morale and forge the connections necessary to support a truly democratic populism that can take power away from elite control?
Elitism—be it rule by kings or corporations—is the opposite of genuine democracy. It is in the interest of those at the top of society to convince people below them that (1) democracy is merely about the right to vote; and (2) corporations and the wealthy elite are so powerful, any thought that “regular people” can achieve real power is naive. In genuine democracy and in real-deal populism, people not only believe that they have a right to self-government; they also have the individual strength and group cohesion necessary to take actions to eliminate top-down controls over their lives.
If people lose sight of what democracy really is, or if they lose hope of the possibility of attaining it, then they lose their energy to fight for it. The majority of us, unlike the elite, will always lack big money, so we depend on individual and collective energy to do battle. Without such energy, the elite will easily subdue us.
Get Up, Stand Up is, in large part, about regaining that energy. There exist solid strategies and time-tested tactics that people have long used to battle the elite, and these will be detailed. However, these strategies and tactics are not sufficient. For large-scale democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. With these energizing building blocks, it then becomes realistic—and not naive—to believe that large numbers of people can take the kind of actions that will produce genuine democracy. The belief that their actions can be effective provides energy to take actions, taking actions strengthens the faith, and an energizing cycle is created.