In December 2009, Bruce Levine penned a provocative article on AlterNet entitled “Are Americans a Broken People?” The piece touched a nerve among those who identify themselves as progressive, libertarian, or populist and quickly went viral across the Web. Many respondents and media members who later interviewed Levine wondered why so many Americans have remained passive in the face of attacks on their liberties and their economic well-being.
In his latest book, Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite, Levine has delved deeper into the cultural forces that have created a politically passive U.S. population. He questions whether “learned helplessness” has taken hold, keeping many Americans locked into an abuse syndrome of sorts. And most importantly, he suggests what can be done to turn this demoralization around. We chatted about his book and some recent efforts by Americans to in fact “get up and stand up.” Susan Warner: If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are so unpopular, why aren’t people protesting more? Bruce Levine: Most Americans feel they have no power over whether or not the U.S. invades another nation or for how long it will be occupied. Many Americans know that their government is run by “corporate collaborators” who don’t pay attention to their opinions on wars and other big-money issues that large corporations care about. So although polls show the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become increasingly unpopular—a clear majority of Americans now oppose them—fewer people are protesting against them. Actually, more protests occurred against these wars when they were more popular. Remember back in February 2003, when many Americans still believed the U.S. government’s “weapons of mass destruction” rationale for the invasion of Iraq? Even though the invasion was a more popular idea back then, there were many large demonstrations against the then-imminent war, including 500,000 protesting in New York City. Even larger protests took place in Europe, with a London protest of more than 2 million, the largest demonstration ever there. But Americans’ voices and the voices of the people of Great Britain, our junior partner in the Iraq invasion, were of little concern to politicians. Americans got the message. Their opinion may matter on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage or other issues that the corporate-government partnership—or the “corporatocracy”—doesn’t care about, but their opinion is ignored when it comes to issues where real money is involved, such as wars and the Wall Street bailout. SW: What can you say to frustrated anti-war activists? BL: Anti-war activists—and other activists—routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization, and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But as a psychologist who has worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it does not surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we gradually lose our self-respect to the point that we become psychologically too weak to take action. Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, understood this reality, and so did Bob Marley, who is sort of the poet laureate of oppressed people of the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley calls “mental slavery.” But unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse.” In Get Up, Stand Up I explain how this can be done, including how people let go of the fear of resistance. Continue reading this interview on Alternet. Bruce Levine’s Get Up, Stand Up is available for preorder now, and will ship in late March.