Our Bernie Sanders moment: This July 4, remember only true independence and revolution ever brings change
Tectonic change comes when people are hopeful and sense something new is possible. Here’s how we build on victories
One of the things progressives often get wrong has to do with how fundamental change comes about. The standard reasoning is that people are stirred when they hit the bottom of the bottom—a condition of diminished expectations. It takes an economic depression, or a lot of political repression, to prompt people to rise. We need things to get worse before they get better. Let the suffering come.
This appears to be an entirely logical dialectic. But politics as desperation, as we might call the thought, rarely, if ever, proves out. Almost always it turns out to be an error.
Follow this line, and you want the Kochs to smash what remains of the political process to smithereens. You want the Supreme Court handing down ever more irrational judgments, you want more cops-in-camo shooting African-Americans, you want more unemployment and more reckless ambition among the foreign policy cliques. Then, you declare, people will be stirred out of the stupefied apathy that grips this nation.
We ought to ask ourselves this July 4 the extent to which we are given to this argument. Speaking only for myself, I made the mistake too many times too many years ago not to have learned how wrong it is.
Those who, in another time, made revolution their work knew better. It is amid rising expectations, not falling, that people are most likely to exert themselves in pursuit of authentic change.
The key to this truth, I have always thought, lies in a people’s consciousness of themselves. It is when they get some worthy things done, and so realize the power they possess, that they use it to effect change with true dedication. Nineteenth century Europe offers many examples making the point. If I have my history right, the Russian revolution is a classic case. (And so is the Berlin Wall’s fall.)