Okay, my wife and a friend are waiting for me to eat dinner, so I better go before they give me a hard time or, worse, they don’t leave any food left
Thanks again everyone.
Again, if you want to write me, you can do it via my website
Yup. You got it right about unions. So few Americans are now in union, that few people are aware of the internal battles. I go into great detail in Get Up, Stand Up about how union power has been decimated.
Consumerism or what I call “fundamental consumerism” is a big deal in terms of breaking people and I rail about this in many of my articles and books.
There is nothing that breaks us more than this. In terms of reducing self-reliance, increasing self-absorption which makes it more difficult for us to connect, and for several other reasons, fundamental consumerism is a major issue that we need to fight off, and many people “get it” and are trying to fight it off.
No I don’t. But every time I hear Chris Hedges speak, he brings it up, so the world is certainly hearing about this.
Thank you, Jon, for hosting this. And thanks to everybody else for their comments, and I’m very sorry if I didn’t respond to all comments. I will stay on a little longer, and you can also email me with questions and comments via http://www.brucelevine.net
I did want to make sure I got this is for demoralized critically-thinking populists who want to have hope without having their intelligence insulted.
There is one more divide, I believe, that not only divides true populists from one another but also divides many of us internally. That divide is about the belief in the possibility or impossibility of our actually defeating the corporatocracy.
Less than a decade before African American slavery ended in the United States, the idea of abolishing slavery seemed like an impossibility for most Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, who even doubted whether it would be possible to stop the spread of slavery (I have a Lincoln quote about this in Get Up, Stand Up).
Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events weakened the Soviet empire.
The lesson from history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and the people’s ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. You never really know until it happens whether or not you are living in that time when historical variables are conspiring to create opportunities for seemingly impossible change.
Yes, economic boycotts –even if they only affect profits to a small degree– scare the hell out of the corporatocracy and should be regularly used.
But we must all keep in mind that we just don’t want to be constantly reacting to our oppressors. We also want to proactively create economic self-reliance for our selves.
So, being from a union family, I am all for them because I had firsthand evidence of seeing how they can create self-respect and collective confidence, the building blocks of democratic movements. But unions are not an end in themselves but only a beginning to complete democracy in the workplace, such as worker coops.
Again, we must do what we can to stop the power the corporate elite have over us but ultimately we must create our own self-reliance and power.
Yes, the corporatocracy is not a monolith, as the profits of one industry affect the losses of others, and so there is some possibility of “divide and conquer” here.
Re: health insurance. When other members of the corporate elite start to realize that insurance companies and Big Pharma is taking too much of the loot from the elite pie, there is a opening for us transforming the oppressive health insurance we have in the US.
I think this is a good point.
There are many “battlefields for democracy” and the corporate elite would like you only to play on those fields that money controls the outcome (e.g. national elections where basically tv advertising dollars controls to a large extent nominations and ultimate winners.)
So, a key part of Get Up, Stand Up is recognizing there are multiple battlefields for democracy and engage on those in which large amounts of money are not so important.
As I make clear in Get Up,Stand Up — especially for critically thinking pessimists who have given up hope — history teaches us that you never know until the moment it happens when the right historical variables will come together to encourage people to let go of their fear and gain the energy to resist.
So in Wisconsin occurred, if not a perfect storm, about as good of a storm as I’ve seen in many years. State employees had actually agreed to eat considerable crap, agreeing to accept a major increase in what they pay toward their pensions and healthcare benefits, but even those major concessions were not good enough for Governor Walker, who continued to demand the elimination of collective bargaining in key areas. Telling a union that they have no collective bargaining rights on health insurance, pension, and work safety is a blatant effort to try to completely crush it. By this “union death threat,” Walker put workers and union leaders in a position of having virtually nothing left to lose in terms of having a union—and when people lose their fear, watch out!
There are many kinds of successful activism against corporations. City Life/Vida Urbana, for example, has won victories over some of America’s largest banks, including the Bank of America, and prevented many foreclosures and evictions. I detail this and other successful anti-corporatist efforts in Get Up, Stand Up.
Generally, the successful activism is very pragmatic. City Life understands what banks don’t want to have — bad publicity — and they use that against them.
It’s very important to understand the power of money, and the fear of the corporate elite here. They really don’t give a damn about millions of people protesting if it is not going to cost them any money. But, even if protests are small as in the case of City Life, if they threaten the money of the corporate elite, they are effective.
Yes, “divide and conquer” is really the major tactic of the corporate elite. They’ve done it racially, ethnically, religiously, and more lately on private vs. public employees.
I think we need to be aware of this, and work hard to stay focused on what we all have in common.
It’s important when we have conversations with fellow populists across the spectrum to realize that many issues that divide us –e.g. gun control, same-sex marriage, etc. — can be quite emotional ones. But if we have respect for one another on these issues, I give examples and anecdotes in Get Up, Stand Up, we can all better unite and stay focused on the BIG issues of how we are all being SCREWED.
Yes, that’s true.
Generally, what’s extremely important in energizing democratic movements is both solidarity and success. Successes — even small ones — can build greater solidarity, and solidarity creates greater success. This replaces the vicious negative cycle we have now for many Americans of hopelessness creating inaction which creates no successes which creates more pessimism.
That is why I also took a look at successful strikes in American history to see how they pulled it off. The Flint Sit-Down strike in the midst of the Great Depression has lots of lessons to teach about solidarity and success.
And also, i liked looking at “wildcat strikes” that were successful, which are often strikes against management and union leadership, which wAs the case of the Great Postal Strike in 1970, which I have some personal interest in as my father was one of the strikers in this successful wildcat strike against management and union leaders.
Yes, I am very much interested in worker coops and producer coops, as I think that wherever we can create workplace democracy it will make it more likely that we can create democracy through society.
Perhaps some of you are unfamiliar with the these coops.
Workers owning their business collectively usually means that they all invested with a “buy-in” when they begin working at the cooperative. Worker-owners share profits—the surplus money left after expenses—as well as financial risks. Fundamental to a worker cooperative is that decisions are made democratically by the people who do the work, usually according to the principle of “one worker, one vote.”
“Producer cooperatives” –like what the Populists did– provide more power to small businesses. By banding together, producer cooperatives are not at the mercy of giant corporations, and have greater bargaining power with buyers.
Jon–just saw your comments about the Internet. Of course it certainly seemed helpful in the Egyptian Revolution. But we must also remember that the Populists didn’t need Twitter to get the word out that by cutting out their producer cooperatives were getting them more money and creating more self-reliance, self-respect, and confidence. And those Populists were perhaps the largest democratic movement in US history that really scared the crap out of the elite of that era. So, I have a chapter on the lessons we can learn from the great Populist rebellion, which damn near came close creating real democracy in the US without the Internet.
Generally, resistance requires greater strength and less fear. So another important element of those who are resisting is to form alliances.
In this battle against the corporatocracy, human relationships are vitally important. It is in the interest of the elite to keep people divided and distrust¬ing one another. It is in the interest of people working toward democracy to build respectful and cooperative human relationships across all levels of society.
The elite who maintain a hold on power are a small minority. Those of us who believe in genuine democracy—of, by, and for the people—far outnumber the elitists, but we are divided. The elite’s strategy of “divide and conquer” is one that routinely works, but not always. Their strategy fails when we recognize that the divides among us pale in significance compared with a common desire to have our fair share of power. And so Get Up, Stand Up is also about unifying people who oppose elite control so as to focus on our common desire for genuine democracy.
Across the political spectrum, anti-authoritarians on the left and libertarian fans of Ron Paul and Jesse Ventura agree on major issues such as opposition to the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, long and costly drug war, opposition to the Wall Street Bailout, opposition to the Patriot act and several other issues. Of course, there are differences, and I am not talking about forming a political party of anti-authoritarians but Ralph Nader and Ron Paul have been recently talking about coalitions and alliances on these HUGE issues, instead of simply being divided on things like gun control.
I have worked with many across this political spectrum on issues of mental health reform treatment. Both Erich Fromm, the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst and the libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz both are equally concerned that mental health professionals are increasingly being used to manipulate/medicate people into adjusting to a society that they really need to be rebelling more against.
This is a great point. Disruption is only way, and probably the least important way to transform the US into a real democracy.
At a larger group level necessary to build a democratic movement, take seriously what it is that people actually need to diminish their pain, and take seriously what you can create that actually helps to diminish pain in a way that actually provides greater self-respect.
I look at detail in Get Up, Stand Up at the “Populist Movement.” The Populist organization in the 1880s and 90s was called the “Alliance” and they experimented with lots of economic self-help ideas before succeeding with the first large-scale working people’s cooperatives in which by working together for the sale of their product, they eliminated the middle-man and gained higher prices for their crops.
The “Alliance” provided not simply the fraternity of like-minded people but tools for economic self-reliance—an antidote to pain.
One must do more than simply create an organization of like-minded idealists and hold demonstrations. One must create democratic institutions such as the cooperatives that actually provide something useful. With institutions such as the cooperative, people can discard a servile deference and regain individual self-respect, which is lost when one is dependent on despised entities.
Yes, social isolation is one of my 12 major categories for how Americans have been made powerless. For a variety of cultural and societal reasons this has happened. It was especially upsetting for me to read one well-done study which showed that 25 percent of Americans had NO confidants in their lives at all. This is a huge increase from just 20 years ago. Social isolation is important to keep people from resisting.
Resistance has lots to do with letting go of fear. And if you are all alone, the idea of risking with no social or economic support is extremely scary.
Yes, I address civil disobedience. There are wise and unwise forms of it.
Organizer Saul Alinsky’s criticism of gun-celebrating leftist radicals in 1960s: “A guy has to be a political idiot to say all power comes out of the barrel of a gun when the other side has the guns.”
But there is all kinds of civil disobedience.
A lot of Americans aren’t aware of this. But in July 2010 in Iran, following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 70 percent tax increase on businesses, Iranian merchants struck Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, shutting down their enterprise. This put the government in the position of either collecting 70 percent of zero sales—nothing—or reducing the tax. The merchants understood the mutual nature of dependency between themselves and the government, but they also understood that certain tactics would lead to the kind of violent struggle that they could not win. They chose the correct tactic. The Iranian government retreated from its original tax plan and raised taxes only 15 percent, which ended the strike.
So, if Americans think that civil disobedience — the right kind — can’t work — they are more dispirited than Iranians.
Certainly, one great way change is accomplished in American and world history is through “disruption” and I devote a chapter to this in Get Up, Stand Up.
Disruption as a strategy of power is essentially about stopping cooperation with authorities in a manner that creates significant deprivation for authorities.
Some examples include, Boston Tea Party, American Revolution, Abolitionist Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Flint Sit Down Strike,boycotts, Picket lines that disrupt business. Blocking evictions and foreclosures.
If American history teaches anything, it is that disruptive power can work, but that without its continual threat, the gains it produces disappear. In the Abolitionist Movement, the disruptive tactics of abolitionists and African American slaves were instrumental in the ultimate emancipation of the slaves, but the controlling elite in the South was able to re-create a system of racial apartheid and subordination of African Americans.
Disruptions take a great deal of energy and involve a great deal of risk. There can be a risk of lost of income, economic marginalization, imprisonment, or death.
However, certain “disruption” — at least the right kind for a specific adversar — can work.
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