Friday, April 22, 2016

What Does It take To Have A Revolution?

Revolutions aren't won by people who give up. I’ll go out on a limb and say that in the recorded history of the world quitters have never led a meaningful revolution. The Bernie Sanders' political revolution will crumble because too many of his supporters are in it for the inspirational speeches and the sense of purpose that comes with being associated with a popular movement. If Bernie's followers were serious about their “political revolution” they would start at the local level where it’s easier to influence the allocation of tax dollars and election results. I have a friend who covers local politics in Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Roanoke. One would think that city council meetings would be “Bern-ing” with all the support Bernie Sanders has on the campuses of Virginia Tech, Roanoke College, and Radford University, but you’d be dead wrong. One tragic irony and fatal flaw of this movement is that it can lure 20,000 people to a park in any city USA to play hacky sack, beat a drum, and sing crappy folk songs, but it can’t get a few dozen people in municipal buildings to participate in actual governance.

It gets harder everyday to ignore the incessant whining on social media by the #BernieOrBust movement. I read the comments sections of the blogs and political websites I have bookmarked; it’s obvious that many of Sanders’ supporters understand the social, environmental, and economic realities we face, but most don't have a clue what to do about them. This fact sits at the center of the secular savior complex some of his most ardent supporters have developed; Instead of going out and doing the hard work necessary to shape their communities, many believe electing Bernie will free them from their social responsibilities. Most of the people engaging in this revolution are doing so from the comfort of their laptops, tablets, or smart phones. Social media has trapped them into a false sense of activism. Getting a clever hashtag to go viral doesn't matter if you can't get your local representatives to put it on a docket to be debated publicly.

In my travels throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia it’s become painfully obvious that Fox news and conservative talk radio are beating the hashtag activists when it comes to pushing their political agenda. The language I hear parroted during public discussions is full of the tired tropes and stale talking points I’ve heard for the last twenty years. There’s a reactionary segment inside the baby boom generation that wields much more power than their children and grandchildren. They have this power because they’re  actively engaged in the political process; while their kids are busy trying to pay for the healthcare and education their grandkids are upset about, they watch multiple hours of Fox news and go to school board meetings, city council public hearings, planning commission workshops, and budget sessions and shape policy in the image of Bill O' Reilly and Sean Hannity.  

Whether Bernie is the most progressive candidate or my favorite, “the last best hope for America” is completely irrelevant if he can’t get his followers to do more than tweet and phone bank. If you want to be a revolutionary- while maintaining a comfortable distance from the work and danger that comes with being a revolutionary- then this is your movement. If all you’re interested in is a cool story to tell 20 years from now jump on board. This revolution is being fought by an army of entitled adults and children; too many Busters have never experienced the nastiness that comes with being on the underside of society. Some inside this movement never developed the thick skin necessary to be a good fighter. Their inability to process defeat and handle disappointment has stunted their emotional growth. Movements are hard. The word revolution is used in such a cavalier manner that it’s lost much of it’s meaning. Three 18th century revolutions (American, French, and Haitian) altered the course of history in the western hemisphere. What made them truly revolutionary actions was the way they completely unhinged the status quo. The American colonies successfully overthrew a despotic monarchy to create their own government. French citizens ended de facto feudalism and absolute monarchy, and the Haitians overcame colonization and slavery. Those revolutions were fought for by men and women who didn’t know what a safe space was. Their feeling weren’t spared from the harsh realities of life. If the political revolution Bernie Sanders is calling for is to ever materialize he’s going to need better soldiers. In many respects, social media is worst thing to happen to this crop of militants. Yes, technology has made spreading a message easier, but it's also created a generation of keyboard activists who equate shares and retweets with real world activism. While Millennials get their causes to trend on twitter their grandparents are busy helping make policy decisions at the local and state level.

“To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”

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