This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012


As media attention to Occupy dwindles to a faint echo in the background, many people are asking themselves what happened and whether the dream of revolutionary change it inspired can still be realized. Finding the answer requires us to thoroughly and unflinchingly critique its successes and failures in light of historical precedents provided by previous efforts to effect radical change.

You say you want a Revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world.

Many of the lessons learned in the 60s in the struggle for the rights of women, Blacks and the Peoples of the United States and other nations were nicely summarized in the Beatles’ classic song Revolution. Ironically, the song was not calling for political revolution but suggested that individual transformation was enough to change the world. Sadly, that has proven not to be the case. Once the immediate crisis of the Vietnam war passed, the urgency of the need for individual and national soul searching seemed to pass with it. We are now paying the price for having not demanding democracy at the time, when so many had seen through the lie and so many had died to expose it.

You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan.

Efforts to unify to fight an oppressive system that is crushing the life out of the middle class, destroying American society and perverting the American dream into a nightmare from which many U.S. citizens have yet to awaken will not succeed without a comprehensive strategy. The most fundamental flaw in the Occupy movement was the stubborn insistence of the leaders of this "leaderless" movement that having a specific agenda would be counter to the spirit of Occupy.

You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're all doing what we can.


The Occupy movement has been largely led by youth who for the most part have little or no understanding of the lessons to be learned from revolutionary movements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of us who had lived through the last such effort in the 1960s tried to be heard but were ignored by those who each had their own agendas but no plan to realize them. The movement was doomed from the start by the essential split between those who understand that societal change is a process and those who naively expected that somehow they could unify the 99% and transform American society by demanding it, while simultaneously calling for abandonment of the electoral process.

This rigid mindset is as fruitless as that of American society in general, the majority of whose members are so deluded by their own assumptions about what is "politically possible" that they can't see the need for revolutionary change. The problem is not so much the dysfunctional political process itself as it is blind adherence to a failed approach that assumes that only by working within the existing political power structure can the people of the United States acquire the power to change it.

Party loyalists believe that despite an increasingly uphill battle to elect candidates who will put their interests over those of the 1%, somehow they will make progress if they just work harder for the politicians now in office who got there in the current system. They have no higher aspiration than to elect more candidates from their own party in the blind hope that somehow they will do the right thing if they have a large enough majority, despite the fact that both parties have come to put re-election of its members over all other interests. The primary reason that Congress has about a ten percent approval rating is that its members are beholden to their corporate backers and the rich. That guarantees ineffective reform of campaign finance at best, until we can make a candidate's stance on the issue the deciding factor in congressional elections around the country.

The debate about whether Occupy supporters should be reformers or revolutionaries missed the point that both are required to create fundamental change that will stand the test of time. In a society whose dominant response to Occupy ranged from apathy to ridicule to violent reprisal, revolution will first require constitutional reformation of the electoral process, which in itself would require a revolutionary change in political consciousness. This can only happen if voices are encouraged to emerge from the anarchy of Occupy which can compellingly articulate the values that bind Occupiers to the rest of the 99% and the need to unite behind an effective strategy of political reform with the goal of creating a revolutionary change in the US government.

Loyalty to the Democratic and Republican Parties is a major reason for resistance to change. As long as party stalwarts continue to treat politics as a war between conservatives and liberals, they cannot achieve the consensus necessary to force their representatives to respond to the demand to work together to serve the interests of the 99% and not those of corporations and the rich. When the terms conservative and liberal are used in their traditional meanings, it is clear that neither major party can be said to be truly either, since neither tradition has historically held corporate power over government to be a fundamental value. While the Republican Party may have abandoned this principle long ago, Democrats have to do more that pay lip service to checking corporate power to regain the trust liberals used to invest in their party. As long as they assume that winning elections depends on putting corporate interests over those of people, they will not serve those who elected them but those who paid for their campaigns.

In its effort to distance itself from a corrupt political system, Occupy missed a crucial opportunity to marry libertarian support for Occupy with liberal ideals that could have served as the basis of building the mass political movement with the potential to Take Back America for the People. We cannot afford to miss such opportunities to forge links between the self-identified Left and Right if we are serious about wanting revolutionary change.

You say you'll change the constitution. Well, you know, we all want to change your head.

When Adbusters proposed the idea of Occupy they suggested that the movement focus on campaign finance reform through constitutional change and the curbing the power of the banksters. This sensible idea was almost universally ignored by those who responded to the call to Occupy America in favor of an amorphous form of protest billed as direct democracy, where any idea supported by a general assembly was afforded equal weight to any other.

It is obvious that both of the major political Parties have become so dependent on campaign funding by corporations and the rich that the only way to alter or abolish the corporate monopoly on political power is to demand that politicians of all parties and independents support a constitutional amendment that would end the of ability of the wealthy and powerful to buy the loyalty of candidates for Congress. This is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign, which aims to make support for such an amendment a litmus test in all congressional elections by 2014. Until Occupy or its successor can find unify around this core issue that is at the root of all the others on its agenda, it will continue to be dismissed as a protest  rather than a call for a peaceful democratic revolution.

The revolutionary movement in the 60s was unified by opposition to a war that personally affected every member of the generation then coming of age. When the US government called for war this time, a small proportion of American youth would bear the burden for all of us. This encouraged Americans suffering the consequences of an economy wracked by corporate excess to put aside concerns about the wars to focus on surviving the resulting economic calamity. In the process, those who were seduced into the idea that by fighting a “war” on terror they were serving the interests of freedom were also largely forgotten.

Had Occupy heeded the lessons of the Vietnam protestors they would have put more emphasis on the fact that all wars in the modern age are fought for corporate Empire, tying the issue of another unpopular war with the economic and social costs of living in a nation whose government is one of, by and for corporations. Had Occupy focused on the connection between corporate power over the US government and war, lack of access to health care, the destruction of the environment and the economic crisis bringing the US to its knees, it would have gained rather than lost momentum in its first year. If individuals and groups working on all these issues come to recognize the purpose in rallying behind the issue of constitutional reform, Occupy can yet realize its potential.

But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.

Occupy has failed so far because the anarchists and the black block faction demanded that their goals of instant gratification and the use of property destruction be accorded the same or more respect as the ideas of those who they disparaged as reformers rather than revolutionaries. This was the same split that fractured Students for a Democratic Society, which was for a time co-opted by self-styled leaders who demanded that others follow their dictates. A modern parallel is the stubborn insistence of well-established groups and associations of groups such as Move to Amend that only by following the strategy of the few who claim to speak for the movement can we realize our mutual goal of constitutional change.

In suppressing dissident voices in the amendment movement they claim to lead, a small number of self-proclaimed leaders have missed the opportunity to play a part in influencing the Occupy movement. They failed to realize that eventually, those who endorsed their efforts would realize that the “leaders” did not necessarily speak for them because their goal was to build a network of followers who would not question their decisions on strategy and tactics. They not only failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam but did not grasp the opportunity to ride the wave of Occupy in rejecting the simple notion that no individual, group or association should be allowed to co-opt a revolutionary movement.

The answer to the question "can Occupy succeed?" is a resounding yes, but only if those who refuse defeat can stop demanding that others follow their strategy, listen to each other and develop a plan that the movement can rally around. First and foremost, we must refuse to accept that violence against people or property can ever achieve their goals, as the frustrated revolutionaries who gave in to violence in the Vietnam era learned to their everlasting regret. Violence was met by overwhelming violence by the government they sought to overturn. As we have seen, the threat of state violence to crush nonviolent resistance to a system that serves only the interests of those in power is just as real today.

The first American Revolution was born in violence because the colonists had no choice. In this era, the fact that the struggle must take place in occupied territory demands that we avoid violence. In order to assure that those who fought and died for the ideal of freedom did not do so in vain, we must also realize that radical change must begin from within the system if we are to replace it with one in which liberty and justice for all is a reality and not just an empty promise.

Don't you know it's going to be all right....

The American Revolution could not have succeeded in defeating the forces of British fascism in the 1700s if the colonists had not realized that their common enemy was an unholy alliance of corporate and state power. When a critical minority convinced a doubting majority of the necessity of overthrowing the government, Americans recognized that they had to put aside their differences in order to defeat the might of an Empire built on the idea that a privileged elite had the divine right to rule them.

The dream of democracy was born when the Enlightenment for the first time awakened people to the idea that they could create a government of, by and for the People. Because Americans were willing to talk to each other they were able to develop the consensus needed to stage a successful revolution. It was in putting the interests of all over individual interests  that the American character was defined. If we can return to that ideal, we can still realize the dream of democracy and assure that the last, best hope for Mankind does not perish from the Earth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


PTSD is in the news a lot today. Veterans returning from the various fronts of the “War on Terror” are overwhelming VA clinics. Among those for whom help is unavailable or ineffective are those who are committing suicide and murder in record numbers.  This is only the most visible sign of the toll that endless war is taking not only on vets and their families but on society as a whole.

Dr. Edward Tick argues in War and the Soul that the effects of war on the warrior are in large part determined by the society from which veterans come and to which they return, utterly transformed by the horror of war. Having killed, seen their comrades killed and maimed and learning of the effects of war on the civilian populations they were told they were sent to protect changes them in ways that American society does not encourage them to talk about. This has profound effects on the soul of the warrior and on the soul of American society.

Modern wars are fought for corporate Empire. They have been waged almost continuously in the name of peace, security and freedom since the end of WWII.  This has affected the collective American psyche to the point where few question foreign intervention, a dramatic change from the past. This is a symptom of the pathological response to living in a state of endless war. Average Americans and their society have become casualties of the war on terror, though few seem to recognize it. Just as repeated deployments increase rates of PTSD, so have the effects of endless war caused civilians to suffer many of the same symptoms of combat-induced psychological and spiritual dysfunction. Somewhere along the way, America has lost its soul. Dr Tick’s book suggests a way that it might regain it.

In healthy societies throughout history, becoming a warrior only begins with a trial by fire. The next stage is always a welcoming back into that society, where the veteran’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group and to uphold its ideals is publicly acknowledged and honored. Following this, the warrior is helped to re-integrate into society and to become a productive citizen. Having learned to respect the value of life, veterans in such societies have traditionally sought to preserve them by working for their betterment and opposing wars that did not serve the best interests of society.

In modern America, we mistrust everything our government does until it decides to send our children to war. Politicians and the corporate media tell us that the greatest military power in history is threatened by stateless terrorists and by leaders of nations who refuse to submit to the will of the Anglo-American corporate Empire. When the call to war comes out, like Abraham we dutifully offer our children as sacrifices to the God of war.

Americans tell themselves that they are fighting not only for our freedom but from those suffering under the grip of tyrants. They remain blind to the fact that today’s targets are often their former allies. More destructive to the national soul, they ignore the death and destruction of civilian populations we are told we are “liberating” when this unwelcome news is allowed to slip through the filter of the corporate media. Nothing unites a divided American society like a “good” war. Just as the damage done to a warrior’s soul comes from the necessity to kill in war, so has the damage to the American soul come from the acceptance of the idea that we must destroy nations to save them and to preserve an American way of life so morally corrupt that it can be defended only by force.

Soldiers come to view life as a struggle for survival. When they are raised in and return to a society that treats life so casually, it is no surprise that they find it difficult to change the mindset that others are either allies or enemies. Indoctrinated to hate “the other,” they often come to regard fellow citizens as enemies when they disagree. The result is a society in a perpetual state of civil war between self-identified liberals and conservatives. This leaves Americans too weak and divided to see that they have the power to heal their nation only by living up to the lofty ideals of liberty and justice for all in America and around the world. A People so divided cannot rule itself. The economic elite that sent our youth to war has fostered division in order to more easily assume control. The prospect of democracy will remain but a dream until Americans unite to make it a reality. Veterans cannot “come home” when the nation they thought they were defending does not exist.

The returning soldier is hyper-alert, sensing danger in unexpected noises or shifting shadows. Similarly, as the concentration of Americans is increasingly diverted to trying to make a living in an ever more hostile economic system, they are easily startled and frightened. The trauma of the attacks on 9/11 left the majority of Americans jumping at sudden noises in the corporate media that shift their attention to shadowy threats they are conditioned to accept as an excuse for war. Those who control their economic destiny use war to keep them distracted from seeing that one cost of endless war is its role in the destruction of the economy. Stuck in the belief that war is inevitable, Americans fail to question foreign interventions despite the obvious fact that their economic costs become unsustainable. The perceived necessity of an endless “war” on terror also obscures the fact that its real purpose is expanding and defending corporate Empire.

In their fear and anger, Americans are easily persuaded to strike out at any perceived enemies that the corporate media and politicians identify. In continuing to regard their fellow citizens and those in faraway nations as “the enemy,” they remain divided and easy prey of the Puppetmasters who have seized control of their government. Americans must awaken to the fact that they too will suffer under a corporate-controlled new world order where governments effectively become subsidiaries of multinational corporations. If they fail to rise up and join the international resistance, they will ultimately suffer the same fate as the surviving citizens of other targeted nations such as Iraq, Libya and Syria: control by an economic elite with loyalty to no nation or its people.

Unreasoning anger fueled by all-consuming anxiety leads to isolation and fear of confrontation by combat veterans and American civilians alike.  The costs of war to the veteran are easily seen by those who know the signs of PTSD. The effects of war on society are less readily identified. In a nation in which there is an almost universal belief that war is inevitable, it is hard to imagine how that society might look if its members did not accept without question that self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as veterans must learn to recognize the effects of trauma in order to heal, so must the members of the society that sent them to war come to understand the fact that their numb acceptance of the inevitability of war is the cause of much of their national malaise.

The trauma of war causes combat veterans to see danger in normal aspects if their environment. The smell of diesel, the sound of a slamming door, a flash of light seen in the reflection of the sun by a high window all bring back in a rush the sense of fear and panic they experienced when these normal experiences were paired with real danger in war. These reactions can cause such intense anxiety that veterans are unable to think rationally about what they are responding to. Only when they can talk about these experiences with others who understand their cause can the veteran learn to cope with them, allowing them to calm themselves and gradually learn how to prevent these responses.

After more than a decade of wars with no seeming end, Americans have also been conditioned to experience fear of what they once perceived as normal. Those who fight for justice for the poor and middle class are seen as agents of socialism by people who have forgotten the real meaning of traditional conservatism. Those who have accepted that predatory capitalism is not only normal but right see dissidents as enemies of freedom, prepared to seize by force if necessary all that they have come to hold dear.

Such people often see their guns as the only means to protect themselves from the class warfare they have been told represents a socialist assault on the American way of life. They do not see that they are part of the same class that is being assaulted by those who started the class war by attacking average citizens. The real soul of America is the idea that democracy is only possible the blessings of liberty and justice are shared by all. This will not happen until Americans can talk out their differences over how best to achieve that ideal. The civil war between those who hold two opposing visions of what the essential character of America will end when citizens of the US see each other as comrades in the battle to take back America for the People.

In the aftermath of so much war, we have learned much about how to treat the individual who has suffered the invisible wounds of PTSD. Is it possible to achieve the same result with a society torn by the trauma of wars for corporate Empire from Vietnam to Iraq and beyond? I believe that we can, once we realize that the common enemy of freedom is not our fellow citizens or those of other nations but those who would profit from war. Only then can Americans hope to recover from the effects of the trauma of war on society.  

Once they have completed the warrior’s path and healed themselves from their personal PTSD, veterans can play an important role in the healing of America. Every veteran has taken an oath to defend the constitution and the people of the United States. This oath was not to defend a government corrupted by the selfish, or only one side of an American people engaged in a civil war. Americans have been driven into a blind rage at their own neighbors, having been taught that they enemies they have been taught to hate war profiteers who sent them and their comrades into danger to further their ambition of an all-powerful corporate Empire. Veterans have been trained to maintain unit cohesiveness against the enemy and not to let personal differences divide them. If they understand that the enemy is those who would use the power of government to further the interests of those who sent them to war and not the interest of the citizenry they were told they were defending, they can form the nucleus of a united citizenry. There is one military value that is of supreme importance to fighting for the cause of freedom; the determination to leave no comrade behind.

Veterans who have overcome the fear of their own anger and the guilt they may feel for their actions in war can complete their journey to becoming warriors by joining the battle for freedom and democracy that is worldwide but whose central front is in the United States. Once they realize that as members of the US military they were unknowingly enlisted into the service of the soulless men and women whose blind ambition would enslave us all in a permanent fascist New World Order, they can cleanse their souls by joining the struggle to create the nation for which they believed they were fighting. They can continue to serve their country by fighting for the ideals for which they risked their lives so that all of us might be free.

To hear more from Dr Tick:

Listen here for his interview on SFPI Radio, the voice of Soldiers For Peace International


Listen here for a shorter interview on Take Back America for the People.

You can get automatic reminders and descriptions of upcoming episodes of both shows by hitting the "follow" button on either link.