Get Up ,Stand Up – Some good ideas for our times

Posted: August 15, 2011 by admin in Uncategorized

A review of

 Get Up, Stand Up Uniting populists. Energizing the defeated, and battling the corporate elite

 Like many around the world at the minute I am watching the events unfolding in London and the rest of the UK loathing the senseless violence and greed that is being put on show. Along with that feeling was the sense that this was inevitable given the twenty years of Governments that were more concerned to keep the rich happy with endless tax cuts and bail outs than to serve the people who elected them.

Why  hasn’t there been more civil disturbance similar to London across the world, as the social fabric of countries have been ripped apart to staunch the self inflicted wounds of their financial elites.

In Get Up Stand Up, Bruce Levine proposes that a major reason is that our society as a whole is acting as anyone who had been abused chronically would act.  “How does one gain complete control over human beings? One reduces their self worth, self respect and self confidence, ultimately creating the belief that without their abuser, we could not survive.”p 49

We learn to be helpless, we become passive, we find ways to reconcile the dissonances that are around us all the time – the public purse is suddenly trillions of dollars lighter, but we are assured by those who lightened it that we will be better off for it – as an example, and we lose our integrity as we acquiesce to those who abuse us in this way.

We also find that instead of having solidarity with others around us, we become increasingly isolated:  students who in earlier times would have had the freedom to ask difficult questions, and then take some action, know now that they will be burdened by debt as soon as they study, and the yoke of that debt weighs heavy when they consider what their job prospects might be like if they are seen as a “troublemaker”…better just to say what the lecturer wants to hear, and then go home and chill out in front of the TV or PS3. As Levine says “When people are kept isolated from one another, they will not have their doubts about authority validated. They are less likely to consider that there are others such as themselves who could potentially band together, achieving greater strength and enough power to overthrow a tyranny.”p52

We accept that we need to be under surveillance in most public places, because otherwise bad things will happen to us from bad people. We never ask what or who we are being protected from, or whether we are losing more being “protected” than we are gaining. If those questions are asked, those asking are seen as being “naive”, or perhaps even one of those who the rest of should be protected from. Constant surveillance is another way to break the will, as many of us who have worked with abused people will attest to.

Another potent way to control is to be the only access to reward, and to punishment. Our society does this in a number of ways.  Going back to the English riots, the Government’s response there is to punish out of all proportion to the crime…six months in gaol for two bottles of water???… The clear message is “if you try to hit us, we will hit you ten times as hard, regardless of the provocation we have given you”.

Along with the punishment the abuser gives gifts, and so does our Governments and the corporates that they serve. If we are passive, and not questioning we will get a job, and get some of the shiny baubles we are told that we need. Of course the job is no longer likely to be permanent, or provide a career path, and it is likely to be provisional on the needs of the employer.  Levine also identifies another way that we are bribed to be compliant, especially those who are happy to go through the hoops: we are trained to believe we are the elite, the ones who are privileged to have knowledge, and to know how to impart that knowledge on others.  Levine writes, “Becoming an elitist encourages identification and loyalty toward a system of hierarchy and elitism as the natural way of life, as system that claims it is reasonable for people to be dependent of experts and not themselves to solve problems in their community. P111”

To dull the pain, the abused turn to drugs or other escapes to avoid the physical and psychic pain that they are suffering. As a society we do the same. We have the opiate of TV reality shows, and to distract people from the robbers in their back pocket, they are encouraged to barrack for their favourite football team-anything to keep them asking questions about why.

Levine spends some time discussing the use of drugs to make non compliant children compliant.  His “anti-authoritarian nightmare” would be “that every would-be Tom Paine or Saul Alinsky get diagnosed as a youngster with mental illness and is quieted with a lifelong regimen of chill pills”. P 108 How often are children diagnosed with ADHD or ODD or even both, when the reason for their behaviour is that they are questioning, intelligent, and don’t tolerate fools too well, even those in authority?

So what do we do?

It’s easy to point out what is wrong: much more difficult to propose practical solutions, and this is the weakness of Get Up Stand Up as well.

I think part of the problem is that many of us who have been activist for a long time are tired. We have worked to change governments- In Australia we hoped that Rudd would be a breath of fresh air, but all we got was the same stale air. The poor souls who barracked for Obama, in the United States feel betrayed as he follows the same path as his predecessor.  We have protested, but now we are corralled in “Free Speech” paddocks away from those we want to hear the message, so they do not need to be disturbed by us. And if we dare decide that “free speech” means more than doing what you are told to do, we are brutalised, and then made out to be the perpetrators of the violence, then you do wonder what else you can do.

Levine’s beginning words in his chapters on how to reverse the abuse that he sees are a good lodestone for those who do want to see real democracy.

“Genuine democracy can only happen only if enough people believe in it, are capable of fighting for it, and are willing to fight for it. The belief in their worthiness comes when at an individual level, there is genuine self respect.

There are many battlefields on which individual self-respect can either be won or lost, and it is in the interest of the elite to make sure that their opponents lose sight of these multiple battlefields.  The family, the classroom, and many of the ordinary events of our day are battlefields of self-respect…

People seeking democracy, in addition to having individual self-respect, must also have collective self confidence – the belief that they can succeed as a group – if their goal is to be achieved and sustained.”  P121

In order to achieve the self respect and resilience that is needed for this battle, Levine points to the importance of building morale amongst those who want a real democracy, not the faux democracy we have at the minute.  Morale in the sense that Levine is talking about is one based on critical thinking, is realistic about the difficulties that may be faced to achieve a real democracy, but provides the confidence regardless to strive for the goal in front of us.

How do we build up the morale of those around us, so that they are willing and capable of fighting for the democracy that is truly of the people?


One of the first steps to develop morale, is to taste success.  Too often we are looking to the big successes on the horizon, which seem so far away and unattainable. The stepping stones to that far goal are the small successes at our feet, which we can celebrate right now.  We need to be able to identify both the far goal, and also the goals at our feet, so we can continue to taste success as we tread the path to that far horizon.

Without a moral compass, we can easily lose sight of that far horizon and just follow small successes into the wilderness.  We need to be able to know why we want democracy, what democracy looks like to us, what we will and won’t accept as compromises as we strive on the path, and what we are prepared to sacrifice to achieve our goal. All of these questions are important to answer as we start, and all of them are open to review as we continue.

Following a long and difficult path is almost impossible without companions, and the third essential part of morale is having the camaraderie of fellow travellers on the path you are treading. Instead of the isolated life offered to us by our current economic and political environment, if we are to win this battle we need to be prepared to look out for our companions, and see that we are much more likely to succeed if we depend on and therefore trust each other rather than try to go it alone.

Levine uses the example of the City Life/ Vida Urbana ( an activist group in the United States which advocates for people who are at risk of foreclosure from the banks) as an example of this approach to building morale.  He writes,

“For City Life, morality is both the argument they make publicly to shame banks into behaving differently, and the call to arms they use to maintain morale among supporters and attract new supporters.

However, morality is not City Life’s only energizer. When people come to City Life, they also gain support, solidarity, examples of success and the confidence that they fan gain power.  They  go through a psychological transformation from feeling like victims to becoming activists – not simply for themselves, but for others as well.”p129

Self Forgiveness

Levine uses his abused person analogy to say that we also need to free ourselves of the lies that we have learnt to accept the abuse we have suffered from our corporatist governments, and their masters.  He has six recommendations for this:

  1. Forgive yourself for believing the lies of the corporatocracy
  2. Stop allowing the abuser’s definition of you to shape your life.

The corporatocracy tried to convince you that you can be completely manipulated through your greed and fear.  This is not true. Your beliefs and values are important to you.

  1. Discover other survivors, Get energized by stories of survival. Form relationships in which there is mutual respect and affection.
  2. Wherever possible set boundaries with the corporatocracy and eliminate or limit relationships with corporatocracy apologists.
  3. Stop beating yourself up for having been in an abusive relationship.  It is a waste of energy, Energy is better spent on forgiving yourself and healing, and then working to change the abusive system.
  4. Use your energy to redefine yourself as a valuable and strong human being who is worthy of respect and can effect change. Use your energy to provide respect and confidence for others.  Increased self-respect and mutual confidence in others provides energy. P135-136

Building Community

Levine writes

“ Social connectedness and genuine community strengthen people. People can share information and receive mutual validation that their misery is not necessarily the result of their own inadequacy.  Fear weakens people, but with genuine community people become less afraid of the consequences of their resistance…The end of social isolation is the beginning of those bonds that provide people with collective self-confidence that they can overcome the elite.”  P136-137

I think that this is one of the most important suggestions that Levine makes in his book.  Over the last forty years, the predominant economic and therefore political paradigm has been the primacy of the individual over the community, and the results are now being seen in the London streets  (and I predict soon in the streets of Chicago, New York and a myriad of other cities in the US).  Part of the reason that violence was so incoherent and so self damaging was that these communities have been systematically broken down since the time of Thatcher, to the point that the only way to express discontent is by rioting on your own behalf, because you belong to no-one but yourself. Building community in these places will provide both healing to the people living there, and also provide a focus for the anger that they are feeling.  Listen to Cameron’s speech and he turns the rioting into the actions of individuals, not the incoherent anger of a community. The elite want this to be the result of criminal individuals rather than angry communities…much better they trash Tottenham, than take their anger to Chelsea.

Respectful Families

Families are where the next generation will learn how to relate, and if the family members are isolated and stressed we are teaching our children that is what to expect in their lives. Levine writes “ to the extent that adults have themselves lost their integrity, they find it normal and reasonable to pressure compliance and conformity that is detrimental to a child’s development.  This creates rebellion and/or resentment.”  He says elsewhere “In families that care about nurturing self-respect, conflict and disruption are not evils. Rather, there is enough time, strength, and concern to inspect these tensions and make judgements as to most respectfully resolve them”.  P148-149

For those of us working in the social welfare fields, this is a strong call to look at how we interact with the families that we deal with. Are we modelling a respectful relationship with those families, are we encouraging strength, or concentrating on weakness?

Forging alliances with unexpected groups

One of the effective ways that the political elites have consolidated their power is to set those who might oppose them against each other.  The time is right now to not listen to the elites and their mouthpieces, and look to see who are in fact, our allies in regaining our democracy. Levine talks in his book about the connections between some factions of the libertarian right and the progressive left in the United States. In Australia, we need to be having the same conversations with groups who appear at first sight to have nothing in common.

One obvious place are rural groups and the greens. The rural groups have been told the greens are either watermelons, or naive hippies from the inner city, and the greens have been told those from rural areas  are nothing but red necked gun toting conservatives who are only interested in raping their land.  Neither stereotypes are true, and there is a real community of interest between the two groups, that is not in the interests of the corporate class.  This is starting to become clearer for instance in the debate about natural gas mining on farming land. Both the farmers and the greens oppose this for the same reason, both groups want that land healthy and producing food in the long term, not defiled and producing short term profit for shareholders.  There is a similar community of interest in the forest debate. The greens push to reduce old growth logging in favour of plantations is more likely to guarantee jobs and lifestyle for loggers, than the corporate’s short term view of making quick and temporary profits from mining old growth forest. We need to ignore the corporate parties, and look to see what alliances we can make with other groups who are dissatisfied with our current political state.

So where do we go from here?


There are now many people who know that our political and economic system is in serious trouble, and we need an alternative. The time has come to make steps to a new way of governing ourselves, which is respectful, human sized, and builds up both communities and our world. This will not be done by starting up yet another party to compete in an already corrupt system. If there is to be change it has to be outside our existing structures.

What better place to change the world but in our lounge rooms?  I would argue that the first place to start our path to democracy, is by talking to our neighbours and work mates and acquaintances, and seeing how they view the world. Refuse to talk in party political terms – talk about what could be done better if we were doing it for ourselves and our community – what types of things would we like to see done in our community?  What would we like to see public money spent on?

Work in your local community. Get involved in local politics. Be active when there are issues of local concern, build relationships with others who are also involved, see where there are common interests that can be built on. What better place to start a human based democratic movement than in your local community!

Work in your workplace. How can you do your work in a way that encourages people to think of themselves with self-respect, that encourages people to see themselves as part of a community, rather than as a cog in a corporate machine? Sometimes the best corporate sabotage is to get someone to smile in the next cubicle, and help them to start to wonder if there is another better world than the one they are in!

Use the communications tools that the internet has thrown up. Twitter, facebook, discussion groups are incredible ways to talk across continents, and across backyard fences to others who are also passionate about democracy and how to take it from the corporates.

See you on the path to Democracy…

David Grace

Levine B E Get Up, Stand Up:  Uniting populists, Energizing the defeated, and battling the corporate elite Chelsea Green Publishing 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *