Danny Cardwell's picture

    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 its 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.”




    Outstanding blog, Danny. You nailed it. And I couldn't agree with you more.

    Thanks Oxy! This new breed of political activist believe progress is built into the system. It's not enough to show up. They need to get down and do the hard work. 

    You've just created the definitive statement on this subject.

    This is the best thing I have read on this subject, Danny.  I am truly inspired.  Thanks for this.

    Thanks Danny. The Fanon quote is a jewel.

    Wonderful, Danny.  It's what we've been trying to say, only you say it infinitely better.  Thank you.

    This is a New Yorker article from 2010 by Malcolm Gladwell, pretty much explaining why the critical element for an actual revolution is missing from social media:


      It's a good read, and augments what you say.

    Nice instructive article - good it was from before the Bernomenon.

    It was also written before Arab Spring, where social media really did play a role in changing the status quo. Danny and Gladwell are correct that social media is not an effective petitionary tool. Likes and retweets are meaningless. But it can be an effective communication tool. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Ukraine, social media proved to be a more efficient version of the political pamphlets that promoted revolutions in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The revolution of the future uses social media to promote and organize real world activism. (That some of these revolutions have been short-lived does not contradict the point that social media has helped topple regimes.)

    Are Bernie's supporters just "keyboard" activists? Many are perhaps, but many more are out there calling and canvassing and donating, which is what activists do in presidential elections. We're not at "sit-in" stage yet. The real test will come next. Is the Bernie movement just a flash in the pan, or will it inspire long-term dedication? That remains to be seen.

    "You say you want a revolution".

    To bring about what? I guess you mean " to bring about the things that Bernie wants."  .  But  are those things enough? Or in fact are they all actually good things? Breaking up the banks has a nice revolutionary sound but it's not clear to me it would lead to more blue collar jobs Akron..

    Haiti was a well chosen illustration. The revolution was certainly justified. But it's been followed by two centuries of appalling living conditions compared to those in ,say, Martinique.

    More to the point what do you want to be achieved by a Revolution.




    One of the big reasons America grows more jobs is access to startup capital - venture capitalists willing take risks and easy access to loans, plus what had been a forgiving bankruptcy environment. Credit to own your own home has also been traditionally easier in the US. Despite the malfeasance in banking and mortgages, the banks remain part of the solution for improving the economy and growing jobs until someone invents a new economics/way the world works. The reason austerity is in general bad is that most people and companies can work more efficiently with a bit more capital, and taking on debt responsibly allows them to function more efficiently, which eventually allows them to either pay off the debt or then take on larger but still appropriate debt.

    Our discussions about taxes and higher pay and breaking up financial institutions in the same breath as trade agreements and growing jobs are often in conflict. Seattle's wage hike seems to be having an effect, but as usual, no one can agree on how much. Some interesting points made in this article from a franchise owner though - including # of jobs might stay stable as more people outside the $15/hour ring are willing to commute - even as people inside the city with high housing costs might lose their jobs due to rising costs & failing low-margin businesses (often those that are easier for minorities to access).

    Similarly, I find the Trade discussions always want to raise barriers to foreign workers and products (while laughing at Trump's Wall?), with the best criticism contending things got worse for *ALL* parties, yet many of those critics contend that they support helping the 3rd world (which has included China's 1.4 billion in most reckoning (though at $8800/year in 2014, perhaps that definition's a bit old, but 10 years ago it was 1/3 that). And of course China's factories are exceptional compared to the Pacific Rim, which are exceptional to Central Asia and Africa and the Caribbean. If they can't compete and are barred from our markets, will we just cut them a big check, or what do we expect? And does this factor in the Revolution's "success"?

    Some of the Bernie people fell in love with their first politician this cycle.  This was their awakening.  They will talk about it forever.  It's emotional.  So I'll forgive the rhetorical excesses as the primary plays out.

    But, you're right.  Change doesn't really happen after a lightning strike seizure of the White House. To get long term change that really works, it might really be better to elect democratic socialist dog catchers, PTA members and local councilors.  Elect a democratic socialist tax assessor or coroner.  Seriously.  This is how political careers are built.  The democratic socialist you put in city council today may never reach higher office, but he may help somebody like-minded do so.

    If the problem is the system and the system is big, built from the ground up, and reflects preferences over a long period of time, you can only fix it from the bottom and you have to be patient and perseverant.  Before you get to Barack Obama (decades before) you need a whole bunch of people like David Dinkins (who was also misunderstood and poorly appreciated) and before you even get to Dinkins, you need a whole bunch of people who few have heard of. Power doesn't hand itself over.  That's why it's power.

    Danny, I had a nice note in my rural mailbox, an invitation to a coffee, picture of a lady, kind of a neighbor. She's running for a board member of the county utilities commission and I immediately thought of your blog. Who is this woman, she might be a future Palin.

    So I would like to emphasize the point you made. It's one thing to be an activist in a campaign but it's involvement in  the community on an ongoing basis that is where the work needs to be done---and this is an arena in which the right wing has eaten our lunch.

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