- And Its Activism Antidote - Will Lead to Bush's Downfall
April 8, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The
Let's talk about a subject that remains mostly hidden in
American social discourse: depression. And, in particular,
where personal depression meets economic and political depression
- and, even more specifically right now, when all these states
meet at the nexus of the U.S. war on Iraq.
Depression is a sane, normal way of dealing with overwhelming
grief, loss, confusion, shame - in this instance: cluster-bombs,
depleted uranium weapons, children being slaughtered as "collateral
damage," and all in our name. Because depression shakes us
up, it provides opportunities, once we regain our energy and
focus, for effective political action.
All three depressions can be agents of powerful change: The
economic depression that likely will follow our current economic
doldrums; the society-wide depressive anxiety that keeps the
citizenry from turning on the rulers responsible for the current
economic/political mess we're in; the personal depression
affecting so many, resulting from heightened fear and uncertainty.
Add all those together and you get a populace that is in
a condition of numbed stasis - a state that suits Bush&Co.
just fine. In fact, in many ways they helped engineer such
a state, and are planning on its continued operation in order
to run their agenda without too much opposition.
The Coming Economic Depression
Even if there were no growing international boycott of American
goods and services, even if foreign holders of American bonds
choose to hang onto those financial instruments, even if the
dollar were not to be replaced by the Euro as the world's
common currency - even if all those things didn't happen,
the U.S. economy is still due for a disastrous fall.
It's not just that the Bush Administration is determined
to spend on both guns and butter at the same time - you'd
think American politicians would have learned the lesson by
now that austerities and sacrifices are called for in wartime
- but it seems determined to further weaken an economy already
For no good reason that I can see - other than the crass
political one of paying off their major supporters - it is
pushing yet another huge tax cut through the pliant Congress.
This tax cut, as was true for the one before it, will benefit
mainly the wealthiest sectors - they'll get the prime cuts,
so to speak - with a tiny crust handed out to middle-class
taxpayers to make them feel they're not being neglected.
It's the old trickle-down economic theory, which promises
that money given to the wealthy will work its way down the
ladder, resulting in more jobs, more production, more cash
in circulation. The problem with this theory is that, on the
whole - as was embarrassingly obvious during and after the
Reagan presidency - it doesn't work.
The well-to-do sock away their wealth, or move it offshore,
and little or nothing drips down to the working and middle-class,
who often then find themselves worse off than before as services
are cut, the economic machine stagnates, and the cost of living
rises. (The "percolate-up" theory - that the economy gets
a huge boost when poor and middle-class folks have more cash
to spend, and that social investing by the government means
more prosperity for everyone, including the already-wealthy
- is quickly dismissed by conservatives.)
The end result of trickle-down economics often is a bad recession,
where a relative handful - buoyed by the tax breaks they
received - are able to ride out the bad times with ease,
while the rest of us have to struggle even more just to stay
afloat. Add the international boycott/bond-calling/Euro factors
into the mix - the non-violent revenge of foreigners against
Bush's imperial adventurism - and you can just about smell
the huge economic depression that is heading our way, and
that will take a good share of the world down with it.
And don't count on the old "safety net" to save us, or at
least to ameliorate the pain. There isn't going to be much
of a safety net. Welfare is but a temporary salve these days,
and you're expected to get a job quickly - but what if there
aren't any in a depressed economy? Medicare? Social Security?
Head Start? Education? Pollution-control? Other social programs?
Not bloody likely. One aim of Bush&Co. HardRightists is to
slice away at these programs, and/or privatise them, until
they barely exist. And, best of all from the HardRight perspective,
they won't have to attack these popular programs frontally;
they simply blame the permanent war, which, in order to guarantee
"national security," will have to absorb more and more of
the budget, leaving little left over for funding anything
So, what can be done about this coming economic depression?
We can take a lesson from the Great Depression of the 1930s.
When the situation got bad enough, the citizenry woke up and
finally put the blame where it belonged - on the "leaders"
and their rotten policies. They focused their anger, elected
progressive candidates, threw out the old crowd, and began
climbing their way back to a "new deal" for the American people.
Translated to 2003: Organize, organize, organize. Talk to
your friends, colleagues, neighbors, religious fellows; write
letters to the editor of your local paper; besiege your elected
officials with reasoned, passionate letters about what needs
to be done (and don't put up with their weasling non-answers);
get yourself or other good candidates elected at the local
level; take over the local, district, state party structures.
Work for electoral and corporate and accounting reform -
not the kind incumbent politicians and CEOs like, but genuine,
hard-hitting reform. Don't let up. Hold their feet to the
fire. Demand democracy, and make it work. As the momentum
builds, impeachment of our highest officials will become more
practical, even inevitable.
I don't think I have to describe what I mean here. You and
your friends and associates and colleagues - all of us -
are affected by the general anxiety associated with a world
seemingly spinning out of our control, with little we can
do (so we're led to believe) to alter the situation for the
Terrorists are coming to get us, the rest of the world is
unbelievably angry at America, the economy is in sad shape,
there's no money for education or anything else, you may not
have a job next week, your kids' after-school programs have
been eliminated. Not even the election system is in your control;
you cast your ballot for candidates and, even though they
may have received the highest vote total, someone else assumes
office, either appointed by a political faction on a court
or through some hanky-panky in the software-programming for
those computer-voting screens.
The whole system seems corrupt, from the top on down: from
corporate gougers and their crooked accounting firms, to Administration
officials with huge conflicts-of-interest, to legislative
politicians beholden to the highest bidders, to priests in
the church and their superiors who protect them, to policemen
on the take, to mass-media who seem to make it their policy
not to inform us, etc. etc. More and more, making your way
through this slimy maze - survival, in other words - is
enough of a daily chore. Not much is left over for positive
thought and action.
And so a society-wide depressive anxiety sets in. Not much
energy or desire to act, just enough to try to get through
the month as best as one can, always waiting for the other
shoe to drop, the social or economic or terrorist or personal
disaster that lies just around the corner. For so many, it's
better to join a fundamentalist church that has all the simple
answers, or turn on the telly and watch sitcoms or survival-metaphor
shows. Hunker down, keep your patriotic nose clean (lest John
Ashcroft's thought police come and ask you questions), survive
This generalized depression ensures a passive society, one
easily rolled by the ruling party faction - the same faction
that, surprise!, controls the mass-media. Permanent war means
permanent anxiety means permanent passivity means control
from the top.
But this situation doesn't have to continue that way. The
great thing about dealing with depression is that once we
work your way through the grief and sadness and release the
anger and frustration, a grand, energized opportunity exists
to make sweeping changes in both our immediate personal situation
and in our social situation as well.
When the populace agrees that enough is enough, the energy
for action will be enormous, with devastating consequences
for those who have engineered our state of anxiety and manipulated
our fears. Watch out! A citizenry with blinders removed and
revenge in their hearts is a fearsome thing. Bush&Co. will
fall swiftly, nastily.
A number of therapist friends report that their clients in
the past several months - not just liberals but conservatives
and middle-of-the-roaders as well - are experiencing virtually
identical symptomology, as folks attempt to deal with heightened
fear and depressive anxiety.
What you and I and a lot of others are feeling these days
may not be full-bore clinical depression, but there are some
When in the grips of clinical depression, experts tell us,
you have very little energy. Picking up the phone to call
a friend for help is virtually impossible; you sit or lie
there, unable to do much of anything but the bare basics.
You think strange thoughts, including, at times, suicidal
ones. The things that used to lift you, energize you, please
you, no longer have that power. The world is grey, lifeless,
In our current political depression, the forces arrayed against
us seem, at first glance, to be insurmountable: a Bush regime,
acting out of greed and lust for power, that is rolling over
everything in its path - other regimes, the United Nations,
the European Union, the Constitution, whatever. There seems
to be no countervailing power capable of stopping it. The
world tends toward greyness. Already here at The Crisis Papers,
we've received suicidal letters from readers totally bummed
out by the world and domestic political scene, uncertain whether
they have the strength or will to continue the struggle.
What bums me out the most is that I went through "The Sixties"
battling another war, the one in Vietnam - and, under Nixon,
fighting another lawless, arrogant, mean-spirited administration
- and I got scarred badly by the experience. Life was chaotic,
desperate, heavy. (The flip side of those hippiedippie days
was that it was also fun and energizing and rich in comradeship.)
I don't want to have to return to that turmoil-time again,
and yet I have no choice: the war is back (this one in Iraq,
and the upcoming ones beyond), a corrupt and arrogant administration
is in power - I'm back, like it or not, once again working
the alternative-press circuit. Then, it was the "underground"
press, now it's the progressive internet.
Back In The Activist Trenches
There are a lot of us ex-activists from the '60s and the
'70s once again participating in the current anti-war/pro-democracy
movement - and, just judging from the friends I know in such
circumstances, we're all personally depressed, irritable,
bummed out. We thought the U.S. never would get itself into
a Vietnam-type situation again, and yet here we are: the past
Actually, it's even worse: In Vietnam, the aim was to control
just a relatively tiny part of Asia; the far-right ideologues
of the Bush Administration have the entire globe in mind,
with the U.S. as a kind of Roman Empire, controlling and policing
the situation everywhere.
For the sake of our children, our grandchildren, America,
the world, we older activists are cranking it up once again,
both because the situation requires it, but also because our
soul requires it, our love of country requires it, our desire
to leave the world a better place requires it.
And, lo and behold, being active once again becomes, in addition
to an effective way of moving towards desirable social goals,
an antidote to despair. Organizing, agitating, analyzing,
marching, lobbying, using our released anger and energy for
good causes - all this is therapeutic, desirable, useful.
The most helpful part of this renewed activism is that a
whole new generation or two has joined in the battle for a
better world. More than ten million citizens from a wide variety
of nations have marched in the streets to oppose a war that
hadn't even started at that point - a true melting-pot of
humanity, of generations, most of whom met each other as a
result of internet education and activism. In short, already
in place is an internationalist Movement for peace and justice.
Exercise Those Activist Muscles
The first thing therapists recommend to their clinically-depressed
clients is to get into an aerobic exercise program - get
to the gym and work up those endorphins, change your frame
of reference. Similarly in our current predicament, activism
becomes therapeutic activity. Doing nothing just encourages
the forces of greed and oppression; but organizing with others
similarly inclined, all focused on the light ahead rather
than letting the shadow forces set the total agenda - this
is a powerful alternative to hopelessness, and an unstoppable
force for change.
Deep down, we know as we beat our heads against the wall
of indifference and repression that, in the foreseeable future,
all our pain and suffering and hard work will pay off. This
group of illegitimate U.S. "leaders" is so filled with itself,
so cocky in its arrogant bullyboy approach to the world, so
over-reaching in its haste to grab what it can get, so confident
that its lies won't matter and that its outrageous behavior
will not be opposed, that it is walking on the red carpet
of hubris. Its downfall is inevitable, its days are numbered,
regime change is in the air.
Months ago, I wrote: "Don't despair, things will get worse
before they get worse, then they will get even worse, and
then they'll start to get better." I think we're approaching
the end of the beginning, and thus are closer to the beginning
of the end. So keep the momentum building, don't let up the
slack, never give in. Organize, organize, organize. See that
light on the horizon? It's glowing brighter, don'tcha think?
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught at Western Washington
University and San Francisco State and San Diego State Universities;
formerly an editor of Northwest Passage in the '60s and '70s,
and then a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle,
he now is co-editor of The