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How to Keep a Revolution Going in a Political Ice Age

Bernie Sanders is portrayed as a loner and cantankerous old senator in “Sanders’ endgame focused on keeping his ‘revolution’ alive” (Boston Globe, June 18, 2016). According to the article, Sanders main objectives are keeping his progressive/left movement connected to his presidential run and moving the movement into the future. Ending or lessening the income gap; creating an open primary election system within the Democratic Party; slowing and stopping environmental destruction; making college free or affordable; and getting big money out of the election process are some of the issues that the senator has championed during this presidential primary election season. But what does it take to sustain a revolution, even if that revolution has as some of its goals moderate demands on the economic, political, and social system?

Sanders wants to influence the Democratic Party platform with his ideals for change. What does that mean in the real world of politics? Platform positions are often jettisoned faster than the spent stages of a rocket flying off into outer space. They most often are hollow promises that are cast aside as soon as an elected candidate takes office. How real are the demands for electoral equality and social/economic equality once the very powerful have placed themselves in office once again? Without public interest  groups and masses of activists and protesters, the chances of changing the system of entrenched wealth are like the proverbial snowball. It could happen, but it’s not very likely, as today’s activists usually go on leading lives that were pretty much like they did before calls for revolution, at least here in the U.S. How much will college graduates care about reducing the cost of a college education once they’re out in the workforce?

Income inequality reform is even a tougher issue. It is linked to race and class, championed to a degree for some during the New Deal and reaching its high-water mark during the Johnson administration and has been on a steady and downward trajectory since the explosion of the global economy in the late 1970s. Arguments of am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper are quickly forgotten by those in power and those who call the tune for those in power.

The effects of a permanent war economy were given short shrift during this entire election cycle. Indeed, despite endless warfare around the globe, as the general election nears there is now a call among diplomats, including the current secretary of state, to more actively intervene militarily in Syria. That has always been Hillary Clinton’s position.

Billions of dollars spent on guns has a direct effect on butter, especially in a political and an economic environment that never was very good at providing butter for those at risk. Even the middle class has felt the effects of global warfare and a global economy as many good jobs have been shed over several decades and the role of government in the economy and social system has been lessened by forces of the political right and neoliberals.

Bernie Sanders energized hundreds of thousands of supporters, donors, and campaign workers.  Millions voted for him, with a lion’s share of those voters from the young. From a personal perspective, it was rewarding to be on the streets again talking about issues that actually mattered in people’s lives. Many people who answered their doors in the Northeast supported Sanders position on income inequality even if they believed that only Hillary Clinton could win in the general election. Rallies were electrifying experiences, and hearing this so-called cantankerous, old senator from Vermont was like manna from heaven after decades of drivel that passed for politics.

Will the young stay the course after the November election? It’s hard to stay connected to a movement when the whole political, social, and economic environment mitigates against action and every issue is turned into a nonsensical soundbite on the evening news and in the larger media. That’s why political movements have to be dynamic and fluid. Like the Vietnam anti-war movement and the civil rights movement, besides being exciting and at times dangerous, they enticed those with high ideals to join. And the young can take risks that many others can’t, or will not take.  The system wants citizens to consume and remain silent and it’s good at getting people to think that their only interests lie in increased consumption. But who would have guessed that a movement would have risen up like a Phoenix from the ashes of this failed (for some) system? And by taking part in that movement we were able to move it even farther to the left as was witnessed in Sanders June 16th speech to his followers. He made strong statements about gun control and against endless wars, positions that I believe he has come to realize over the course of his campaign are as important as environmental destruction, student debt, and income inequality. He also spoke about the need to put candidates in office with progressive beliefs and actions at all levels of government.

Some have championed candidacies such as the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein.  The argument is that Stein represents a socialist, environmental, and anti-war perspective superior to Bernie Sanders. While that may be true in some of the details of the candidates’ beliefs, the question is one of electability. The latter does not mean, however, that a vote for Stein is not a enviable act of conscience.

But enviable votes aside, readers may want to  read with caution “Warren being vetted as possible Clinton  VP pick,” (Boston Globe, June 21, 2016). The article begins by labeling Elizabeth Warren as a “Liberal champion.” While it may be true that Warren is liberal on economic equality issues, a closer look at her position on war and peace gives a glimpse into the neoliberal heart of the Democratic Party. Quite some time ago I wrote the senator about the issues of war and peace. In her response, she noted that she was a supporter of the war on terror (I would have much preferred her writing that she supported the intelligent use of intelligence agencies and humanitarian aid to combat extremist threats.). Could her endorsement of a potential wider war in Syria and other places by Clinton be far behind? And in another matter, despite my making direct contact with the senator’s science liaison, and following up with a written request, I never received so much of a perfunctory response to my appeal to the senator to act on behalf of myself and another writer in attempting to have the National Academy of Sciences examine the content of an audio tape recorded at Kent State during the May 4th massacre of students during an anti-war demonstration.

While the mole of revolution is out and about, it might be worth noting that a single issue is never enough to create the conditions under which change takes place. While student debt is onerous, other issues such as the guns vs. butter argument must be made to analyze and act on why so many grotesque inequalities exist in the US today.

The late activist Abbie Hoffman said of the movement days of the 1960s and early 1970s that  “There is absolutely no greater high than challenging the power structure as a nobody, giving it your all, and winning” (Soon to be a Major Motion Picture, 1980). It can’t always be quite that exciting, but it beats the deadly status quo.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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